HL Deb 21 January 1942 vol 121 cc443-56

THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY had the following Notice on the Paper: To ask his Majesty's Government whether the anomalous position that the A.R.P. personnel and factory workers in certain districts would be placed in, in the event of invasion, owing to being unarmed and untrained in the use of arms, has been considered; and to move for Papers. The noble Earl said: My Lords, my purpose in moving the Motion which stands in my name is to call attention to the anomalous position in which our civil defence workers and factory workers would find themselves in the event of the invasion of this country. Since putting this Motion on the Paper I have received various letters which have attributed to me the intention of advocating the indiscriminate arming of the untrained men of this country, and of paying no attention to whether they are organized or not. That is very far from my intention, which is to urge that we should approximate more closely to that ideal, which I presume is the ideal of every country that is preparing to repel invasion, which is to have every able-bodied man armed and trained and ready to take his part in defence of his country. My suggestions are directed towards that end.

As we know, we cannot at the moment supply everybody with rifles, but there are other useful weapons for which we want men. I know of, and I sympathize with, the desire of every man to have his own personal weapon, but that should not be allowed to stand in the way of training men. Now that the Government have the power of compulsion, they should use that power in order to make men who are hanging back with the particular idea in their heads that they have not a rifle of their own, join and learn so that they can play a useful part with one of the weapons that they can have. After all, a trained man is ready five minutes after you hand him his weapon, while an untrained man is of no use at all if you can give him a weapon. He is likely to be more dangerous to friend than to foe. In the Soviet war news we read of how Russian farmers and their labourers have on occasions armed with automatic rifles and other rifles of German make which they found, used those weapons against a German detachment and killed a great number of their enemies. But these men, of course, had had military training, and for a man who has been trained with one rifle it is not a very great matter to handle another if he is given enough time to learn it; a few minutes is enough. There is no great difference between a Mauser rifle and a Lee-Enfield rifle. To say that we cannot train more men because we cannot give every man a rifle, because we cannot arm them all, is, I suggest, a very feeble policy. We could, and we should, arm and train a great many more men than we do.

The training, however, is of little use without organization. The two must go hand in hand. The suggestions that I am going to make are either the result of my own observation, serving last year in a London suburban district, or are some of those that have been sent: to me since I put this Motion on the Paper. The particular district in which I served is, I suppose, typical of suburban districts, not only in London but in all our large cities. The same conditions prevail. There are to be found open spaces, broad streets and narrow streets that run right through into the heart of the city, large shopping streets, and small shopping streets, and large and small roads in the built-up areas. In all of these are scattered about certain Home Guard posts or positions suitable to the locality in which they are placed, each manned by a small Home Guard garrison, which has orders that it is not to evacuate its post on any consideration whatever. In the same district are a large number of sections of Civil Defence workers of all sorts, men in the prime of life, of a high standard of intelligence, among whom will be found many old soldiers of the late war, but these men are unarmed and largely untrained. All these men come from the same district, they are neighbours working together with the same purpose, to defeat the enemy and frustrate his knavish tricks; yet there is no real collaboration between the two organizations, the Home Guard and Civil Defence, although obviously very little can take place in any district that is not of important interest to both these organizations.

In the particular zone in which I served I believe there was a closer collaboration than there is in many districts, but it was not a real collaboration. I think there is a very great room for improvement in this respect. Closer relations ought to exist between these two organizations. They are, in fact, natural links—the Civil Defence workers for the defence of the civil population and the Home Guard for the Army. To ensure this the first thing I suggest is that the boundaries should be altered, if necessary, in order to bring the local Home Guard authorities and the local Civil Defence authorities in charge of the same area. If you once do that then you can bring headquarters together, and if you do not actually merge them, you can station them in the same building or in adjacent buildings, so as to ensure quick communications between the two and so that they should not be dependent, as they are largely dependent at present, on an overworked telephone system. This dual organization might be carried out also at battalion headquarters and company headquarters which should be in the closest connexion with the Civil Defence depot. There is very much that each could do for the other, and there are some services which in my opinion ought to be worked jointly—such things as transport, the evacuation and disposition of casualties, the distribution of food and other things which your Lordships will know.

At present I think there is a great deal of overlapping and in our efforts in this direction we are departing very largely from those two well-known principles, concentration of effort and economy of force. If you had such liaison at the top it would work down and make it very much easier to carry out some of the suggestions which I am about to put before your. Lordships. The first of these suggestions is that all Civil Defence personnel should enlist and be passed through the Home Guard for weapon training and training in the Home Guard duties of their particular locality. This training should aim, at making men efficient for the static defence of their own district. When qualified in this respect the men could then be passed on and put under the Civil Defence authorities, except for a limited number of drills which they would have to do to maintain their efficiency. In order to maintain close connexion with their Home Guard unit, Civil Defence personnel could continue to belong to their own unit, and do their drills with that unit, and all drills and instruction should be imparted to them by the battalion staff of the battalion to which they belong, which could if necessary be augmented for that particular purpose. By this means Civil Defence workers would come to be looked upon as the first reserve of their Home Guard unit. Consequently their training would be considered of vital importance to that unit, and great care would be taken of it.

To show the object of this suggestion, I would ask your Lordships to consider for one moment the conditions which would exist where an invading force tried to get through the suburbs into the heart of London; and the same considerations would apply to any other great city. We can take it for granted that if the enemy made an effort of that sort he would use his best troops, who would be highly trained men, ruthless and very efficient. They would be very quick on the trigger, shooting on sight, not waiting to discriminate between a Civil Defence worker and a soldier or between a soldier and a civilian. In the circumstances in which these men would find themselves it would be impossible and ridiculous to expect them to wait. They would not know when they might be shot at from a window or attacked from round a comer. They must be quick in self-defence, and I hope that our own men would be equally so if they were in that position. The enemy, I take it, would be advancing on a particular area by every way by which they thought they could penetrate, and largely under the cover of the dust and the smoke of the fires which they would themselves have created by shelling and bombardment from the air, so that every man who was trying to put out the fires would be actively working against the enemy, and taking part in the defence. No one in these conditions would know what was happening to the right or to the left, or how far the enemy might have succeeded in penetrating. At any moment one of the Civil Defence units might be surprised by a small party of the enemy, and the first thing they would know-about it would be hearing the rat-tat-tat of a Tommy gun.

What could unarmed men do then? They could do one thing only—that is, to die. But I am not interested, hard as it may seem, in their unfortunate fate. What I am thinking of is how useful they might be if they were armed, or partially armed, because everyone knows that a few resolute, determined men on the spot at the moment might be worth a battalion half an hour later. But it is difficult to be determined and resolute in face of an armed enemy, if you have nothing in your hand but a branch pipe or a hose. There must come a time when Civil Defence workers will have to abandon their special tasks in the face of an advancing enemy. What are they to do then? Suppose that these men had all been trained and had between them a proportion of arms for their own defence, that through that training they were familiar with the position of the Home Guard posts and were acquainted with the officers and men manning the posts, what value they might be as reinforcements! Imagine some small Home Guard post, with perhaps a large proportion of boys in it, and several casualties, and no apparent prospect of help. To them enter half a dozen trained personnel, trained men ready to take part in manning a machine gun, or Northover, or to handle an automatic rifle or Tommy gun. Such a reinforcement at the right moment might make all the difference between the abandonment or surrender of the post and successful resistance.

I do not suggest that the local Home Guard authorities should have the right to call on the Civil Defence workers to come and join the unit. That must be decided, if it is done, by higher authorities. But when it is done, or when any small party of Civil Defence workers find themselves unable to carry on with their special tasks, I suggest that it should be their duty, and that they should clearly understand it to be their duty, to make for the nearest defence post and take part in its defence. There is nothing revolutionary in this suggestion. Army Council instructions allow of part-time Civil Defence workers joining the Home Guard, but that of course is optional on their part, and I do not think it is very largely carried out.

I say no more about Civil Defence workers, but I should like, if I may be allowed to occupy your Lordships' time for a few minutes more, to turn to the case of the factory hands. In the zone in which I recently served there are fifteen miles of river frontage, and ten of them are lined with factories standing shoulder to shoulder, in some places two or three deep from the river bank. Thousands of men and women work in those places, untrained as regards any military knowledge and unorganized immediately their factory has to close down. Some of those factories have excellent Home Guard detachments, others have detachments not quite so good, and many have none at all. In no case, I believe, were more than 30 per cent, of the men of military age working in the factories enlisted in the Home Guard units. A small percentage of them no doubt belonged to Home Guard units in their own districts, and some were in the Civil Defence Service. That area to which I refer is, I imagine, very similar to the outskirts of any large centre of production. Production very rightly takes precedence of everything else; but what happens when production has to cease because of the wrecking of the factories by bombardment, or shelling, or the near approach of the enemy? Then men and women will come pouring cut, and as the men have no weapons, and would not know how to use them if they had any, there is nothing much for them to do but what men naturally would feel inclined to do, make for home to look after their own people.

The majority of these factory workers come in the morning and go out in the evening. They do not live near the factories. Therefore you would get crowds of people pouring along the roads and meeting the troops coming down to reinforce and to try and hold the invaders. We all know what that sort of thing leads to. How different the picture might be. The factory Home Guard units were originally raised with the object of guarding their own factories against sabotage, and men were told that they would not be used outside their own factories. Not all factories have Home Guards. It depends largely on the managements, and an inert and supine body of directors does not trouble to give the necessary encouragement and support without which no factory can maintain a Home Guard unit. I am sure, in fact I know, that it is not the fault of the factory workers themselves, it is because they are not supported and not helped with the organizing of the unit and with the arrangements necessary for training. I suggest that all factories should be compelled to maintain their proper proportion of Home Guards. It should not be possible for slackers to sit back and let their more spirited or efficient neighbours guard their property for them. The idea that Home Guards should not serve outside their particular factory should go. The men of a certain area should be organized to defend that area.

Compulsion should be resorted to if necessary, to ensure that managements did their duty and that every firm recruited its proper quota. The numbers of men in factory Home Guard units should be considerably increased not only by augmenting the strength of the unit itself but by forming a first reserve, made up of men who might be trained up to a certain point, though they could not give as much time as the others from their production work for training. Every able-bodied man should know where to go and what to do in order to take his part in the defence of his own district. Women, too, must be organized. This must be done by factories because these men and women have no other loyalty, except, of course, their innate loyalty to their country, but are bound to their factories. Given encouragement, I am perfectly sure that experienced men in the Home Guard units in the factories will be only too glad to extend their activities to training the men for the first reserve. I venture to think it is only by such means that you can prevent panic, the blocking of roads by refugees and the general confusion which always leads to defeat.

Of course, arms would be necessary to make the resistance effective, but not necessarily rifles. In fact, in this type of district which I have in mind a very large proportion of short-range weapons would be very useful. Among the ruins of buildings, the heaps of slag and refuse, in the narrow lanes and ways. Tommy guns, pistols, bayonet standards, boarding pikes, clubs, sticks, stones and knives would all be valuable if the men who handled them had been trained in their use. The men would be eager enough to play their part if they had regular stations and something definite to do. It is not knowing what to do that leads to panic and confusion. As factory after factory had to close down before the enemy's advance, resistance would automatically become stronger and stiffen against the invader already taxed to the utmost to find his way over very difficult ground, and the same men who might otherwise be crowding up the roads and impeding the advance of the troops would be helping to keep the roads clear for them and holding up the invader until they arrived.

I have not dealt as comprehensively with this subject as I could have wished, but I appreciate that there are other noble Lords who know more about the Home Guard than I do, and whom your Lordships will wish to hear. I would like, if I may, to conclude by recapitulating the points which I have tried to make. They are: much closer contact between Home Guard and Civil Defence organizations; training (and arming as far as possible) of all Civil Defence workers to form a reserve to their local Home Guard unit; the passing of Civil Defence workers through the Home Guard units so as to ensure training and knowledge of the Home Guard in their own locality and continuation of that connexion by periodical drills; the organization of factory Home Guard units to defend the areas in which they work; all factories to be made to maintain a proper quota of Home Guards for this purpose; a much larger number of factory workers to be organized and trained, the majority as reinforcements for the Home Guards, others for such essential duties as keeping order and showing people where to go and what to do. All should have a duty with a greatly increased number of men trained to bear arms. I beg to move.


My Lords, I think you will agree that the noble Earl has made out a very good case. Every few days we are told that this country is likely to be invaded, and the Prime Minister has told us that in that event we shall have to fight, as indeed we shall fight, on the beaches and in the streets. In the event of an attempted storming of a town, what are factory workers going to do? Are they supposed to stay put and go on with their work, or are they to be expected to wait in the hope that the Home Guards and the military will be able to stop the enemy getting to their gates? As things are at present I visualize that on the approach of the enemy crowds of unarmed men and women, as the noble Earl has said, would go out and clutter up the streets, and generally act in a way which would tend to prevent the soldiers coming to help them. The only alternative would be to have them evacuated beforehand. What a waste of good fighting material!

No country knows more about invasion than Soviet Russia, and I have it on the highest authority that since October 1, 1941, all factory workers in Russia have had a hundred hours' training in the use of rifles, machine-guns and hand grenades, and also, of course, in tactics. When the time comes all factory units go into action. They wear no uniform. I should like to see the same training carried out in this country. Each factory should have its armoury, stocked with rifles, if possible, and other equipment. The noble Earl, being a sailor, talked about boarding pikes. By all means give the men boarding pikes until the rifles can be obtained; I am sure they are extremely good weapons. But whatever weapon you provide, these armouries should be set up so that these men would be able to seize their weapons, rifles or whatever else were put in place of them, and go to their appointed stations in order to defend their works. It is true to say that in many factories there are now Home Guard units, but why should not all suitable men be trained for Home Guard service instead of the very small proportion now serving in the Home Guard units in factories? These Home Guard units at the factories are meant for the protection of the works and the workers.

I realize that there are many aspects to this question such as the wisdom or otherwise of conscription at factories, the question as to under whose orders the men should serve, the appointing of men from outside the factories, the question of uniforms, and the granting of the necessary time for training. Given the will, all these problems are capable of solution. I have referred only to people working in factories, because although the noble Earl has made out a very good case and put forward some extraordinarily good arguments for the A.R.P. workers, that is such a complicated subject that I do not dare to go into it. As I say, the noble Earl has made out a very good case. He has put his finger on a very weak spot in our defence system, and I shall be very much interested to hear what the noble Lord who is going to reply has to say about it.


My Lords, the noble and gallant Earl who has raised this question may be assured that this is a matter which has been for some time in the mind of His Majesty's Government. Your Lordships will appreciate that the classes of men to whom reference has been made are, for the purpose of International Law, civilians, and, as such, would not be provided with military uniform or bear arms, any more than any other class of civilian. If they are to be given weapons, they would at the same time have to be given combatant status by being enrolled in a part of the Armed Forces of the Crown, the Home Guard, and thus provided with uniform and with military training.

So far as factory workers are concerned, the problem is to a great extent governed by the amount of time which factory workers can give to the necessary military training. In those factories engaged on war production, and in many of the public utilities, many men are already engaged for very long hours on work of vital importance, from which their energies ought not to be diverted; while considerable numbers are already performing fire guard and Civil Defence duties outside their working hours. Your Lordships would not, I imagine, think it desirable to arm men who have not been given, and who cannot be given, training in the use of weapons. Every important factory, however, already maintains a Home Guard detachment organized primarily to deal with the local defence of the factory against air-borne landing or sabotage; and, generally speaking, there is no objection to these units increasing their numbers by enrolling men whom it is possible to train.

I would add that, although at first the idea was to confine these men entirely to the factories concerned, a great many of them have, I understand, expressed a readiness to join in any operation for the defence of the area exterior to the factory. I noticed that the noble Earl mentioned that not all factories had Home Guard detachments. I am sorry to hear that, because I was under the impression that almost every important factory had a Home Guard detachment. I am glad that this question has been raised, and we will look into it. The Ministry of Supply and the Ministry of Aircraft Production are doing everything in their power to encourage the formation of these units in every factory, because clearly that is desirable. The issue of weapons to such units as we are discussing would, of course, be governed by the order of priority laid down for the issue of weapons to the Home Guard as a whole; and this, as your Lordships know, is arranged according to operational requirements generally and according to the actual role of each Home Guard unit. The noble Earl referred to what would happen to factory workers if the invasion reached their area. In that event factory workers who are not armed may no doubt tend to leave the factory and make for their homes. According to present instructions, Home Guards, Civil Defence personnel and personnel detailed to carry out the necessary immobilization will remain. If time permits, the rest will be sent home, in small numbers, in order to avoid traffic congestion.

The noble Earl also referred to the case of A.R.P. workers, and their case is somewhat similar. The approved policy has always been that members of the Civil Defence Services should be allowed to join the Home Guard as far as they can be spared. I am aware that a desire has been very widely expressed that Civil Defence workers should be allowed to join the Home Guard in larger numbers than is the case at present, particularly in those areas where the numbers of the Home Guard and of those available to join it are dangerously low. It will be appreciated that where the available part-time man-power to provide adequately for all forms of national service is nearing exhaustion, the careful integration of the demands of the various Civil Defence Services and of the Home Guard is necessary. Further, the operational role of the Home Guard in an emergency has to be related to prior demands on those members who have important Civil Defence or other duties to perform. In passing, I should like to refer to the noble Earl's suggestion that all Civil Defence workers should immediately rally to the nearest Home Guard post. That would clearly conflict with the duties for which they are engaged, and which they should at that very moment be performing.


My Lords, I do not wish to interrupt the noble Lord, but I clearly stated that that should be only when they were unable to carry on with their special duties.


My Lords, I think that the noble Earl, and your Lordships generally, will realize that that is precisely a case where these very highly trained Civil Defence workers will in fact be most actively engaged on the tasks for which they have been trained. I am not in any way, however, combating the idea that the respective duties of the two branches might not in certain circumstances be woven together. In agricultural districts it is clear that a suggestion of that kind might be considered; but in the great cities it might be inadvisable, at any rate at this juncture, to suggest this divided kind of duty in the case of the very pressing emergency which we have in mind. I should like, however, to assure my noble friend that this subject, which is somewhat outside the purview of the War Office, is one upon which at this very moment discussions are in progress, and I regret that, for that reason, I am not able to give any more definite information to my noble friend.


My Lords, I confess that I am very disappointed by that answer. I took especial care to try to make it quite clear that I was referring to Civil Defence workers who were ordered to cease their particular duties, or who were unable to carry on with them. There must come a time when men become separated from their units in the confusion of an invasion; I cannot see how it can be otherwise, and I am sure that many of the Civil Defence workers are alive to that fact and wish to be able to carry out combatant duties when they can no longer continue their work as civilians. Surely after what has happened in Russia and elsewhere we ought to give up this talk about International Law, and about one man wearing one kind of uniform and another man wearing another. You will see a man in the smoke and grime of an invasion wearing a dark blue uniform, and you will not know whether he is a Civil Defence worker or an Australian airman or a member of one of the French or Belgian contingents. That man will be shot if the enemy find him in the street and if he is not quick enough to shoot first. For the sake of the men who will be working in these districts, it is unfair to continue this old talk about International Law, when we are fighting ruthless men who do not know what International Law is.

I have done my best to raise this matter. I believe that what I have suggested is practicable and ought to be introduced, and I can only hope that the consideration which, we are told, is now being paid to this question will lead to something of the kind being done. Yesterday we were warned in the most solemn way that time is everything; and, while we are going on with these deliberations, I believe that we are gradually getting into greater danger than we were in a short time ago. However, I do not wish to make another speech, and I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.