§ LORD MILNE rose to ask His Majesty's Government whether, in view of the fact that they have abandoned the time-honoured custom of publishing the dispatches of Commanders in the field, they will consider the advisability of giving more publicity, so far as the requirements of secrecy permit, to the names and deeds 857 of gallantry of units; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Lord said: My Lords, I feel rather diffident in making any remarks after the legal discussion we have had, but I cannot help thinking it is probably a good thing to bring our minds back at the present time to the actual state of the country, which, your Lordships will remember, is still at war. When I put this Motion down I had two reasons for doing so. In the first place I wanted to give the noble Lord (Lord Croft), who represents the War Office in your Lordships' House, an opportunity of enlarging on the statement he made on the occasion of the Vote of Thanks to the Forces on the conclusion of hostilities in Tunisia. The other reason was more important. It was to try and persuade His Majesty's Government of the general advisability of more generous publication of the names of the men and the deeds of the units which have taken part in the past, and will take par in the future, in operations on land, on the sea, and in the air.
§ It has come to my knowledge that a considerable amount of dissatisfaction and irritation has been caused by the statement of the noble Lord, not on account of what it contained, but on account of what it did not contain. Some of the units who were not mentioned have spent six years away from their homes. They have taken part in every operation that has taken place from the time of General Wavell onwards to General Alexander. Their relatives at home could not understand why their names were not mentioned. On what basis was the selection made, because if your Lordships would look at the names which were mentioned you would find that it is a rather strange medley and rather strangely put. The real reason was, I think, that there was some misunderstanding. The noble Lord, Lord Mottistone, asked the question which was answered by the noble Lord, Lord Croft, and as they were both yeomen, no doubt they were impressed by the fact that the Yeomanry ought to be mentioned. It could not possibly have been intentional.
§ I should like to say that any information I have got has come solely from the newspapers and from no other source. The names of distinguished regiments like the Rifle Brigade and the both Rifles, who fought in every battle and in the most 858 distinguished Corps in the most distinguished Army, were left out altogether. There was a little applause when the name of the Brigade of Guards was mentioned, but when I was in more active service, I remember, there was a certain amount of—shall we call it jealousy of the Brigade of Guards? In the Army they rather like to have the names of their regiments mentioned. It was unfortunate they were not. No cavalry regiment was mentioned at all. They felt that very bitterly. These things do hurt in the Army. The strange thing was that one of these cavalry regiments had taken part—I am not giving away any secrets because it appeared in the Press; sometimes the War Office look upon things as secret after they have appeared in the papers—one regiment had taken part in the entry into every town captured since the Battle of El Alamein right up to the entry into Tunis. It is a well-known regiment. If the Under-Secretary had been present, he might have said that the term "Royal Armoured Corps" covered all the cavalry regiments, but they do not think so. They do not quite agree with that idea. If it is the case that the whole covers the part, why should he refer to the Royal Artillery by the name of a very small part of the Royal Artillery? As Colonel of the Royal Artillery, it was difficult for me to understand what was meant. Then again the nerves of the whole Army—the Royal Corps of Signals—were not referred to at all. Nor was a Corps like the Pioneer Corps which, at one time, had to throw down their spades and pick up their rifles to hold a gap. They, too, felt hurt.
§ It is not good. The Army as a whole, since the war began, has had a rough deal, even in your Lordships' House. It was not their fault that they started the war ill-equipped and untrained, and it certainly was not their fault that on many occasions in that state they have had to be shoved into holes to fill gaps. They have borne the brunt and suffered heavy losses, as your Lordships could see only the other day from the statement of losses for the last three years. But that is no reason why the propaganda department of the War Office should be so singularly inefficient. There seems to be a dead hand somewhere which hides what is going on. If I may say so, it is not good for the country.859
§ I am really thinking more perhaps of enthusing the country than any other point. Most of your Lordships who have commanded men and those who have had to deal with men must know that there is something which runs through a collection of men. You may call it morale, you may call it esprit de corps, it does not matter what you call it. The commander of an army knows it. It is like a highly tempered spring; it has to be carefully nursed. You had an example of that happening after our defeats in Libya. You had an example of that sentiment recently when General Montgomery took over command along with General Alexander. It is a personal something which enthuses an army and which enthuses a nation. The Royal Navy have it, they know it, they have their own technique for it and a very high standard of technique it is. There is no ship too small, there is no rank too low, if a man deserves to be mentioned he is mentioned. You have only to look at the high standard of the Navy to see its value. The noble Viscount who was responsible for raising the Air Force, who I hoped would have been with your Lordships to-day to give me his support, thoroughly understood when he was in charge of the Royal Air Force the necessity of enthusing the young pilots with a sense of their duty and a desire for glory.
§ And that has been carried on most wonderfully by his followers in the Air Ministry. What happens? Within a few minutes or within a few hours of any great deed that is done by the Royal Air Force the whole world, not only this country but the whole world, is told what has been achieved, what has been done, and is told also the names not only of the leaders but of the sergeant pilots. What is the result? The Royal Air Force is held and rightly held, in the very highest esteem throughout the country. But the War Office—and I am rather sorry to say it without a representative of the War Office to contradict me—to my mind are sometimes inarticulate. They do not seem to desire to spread that feeling throughout the country.
§ Secrecy in war is most important, but secrecy is not everything. There is something else. There is enthusiasm amongst the troops, and what is more important, 860 there is enthusiasm in the nation for the work of the troops, and both of these are sometimes extraordinarily lacking in this country. I would remind your Lordships that the Army of the present day just like the Armies of the past is founded on that one great thing that we cherish in this country—at least I hope so—tradition. The British soldier, and I have known him for a great number of years, is a strange person but the centre of his loyalties and the centre of his affection is the regiment. It is his pride in the traditions of his regiment that will sustain him in the greatest difficulties and even in the field of battle. He will die for his regiment when he will not desire to die for some of those strange names invented for the purpose of covering his regiment up in another corps. Now in high places to-day there seems to be a lack of appreciation of the immense psychological and practical value of that great asset that we have in our Army and in our nation. To my mind that is a calamity.
§ Why are we told so little about our leaders in this war? It was not so in the last war; then it was quite different. The nation knew them; you could even see their pictures. In this war we know nothing about them except for a few and the junior and middle leaders are entirely unknown. Then again on the occasion of a great national thanksgiving service at St. Paul's there was not among the congregation one leader who had come from North Africa. It seems an extraordinary omission. It was an omission which was noted by people. This is the first time in my life that I have had to watch a war from a seat in the gallery, and I have been rather surprised and a little shocked at the lack of interest that is taken in the fighting deeds of the men of all three Services amongst the civilian population of this country. You very seldom hear any talk with a certain amount of pride in it of the deeds the men are doing overseas. I often feel that the main subject of conversation in this country is more the details of the Ministry which is so eminently presided over by Lord Woolton.
§ I very greatly regret in this respect that we have given up the old-fashioned habit of publishing dispatches. They had their value. In a dispatch you had the history of the campaign written over the signature of the Commander. He gave his difficulties and he showed how his conclusions 861 were arrived at. I admit that these dispatches probably at times were not a great literary effort, but to-day we are fortunate in having Commanders in the field who are very great writers and they might be able to enlighten us. I would like to bring to your Lordships' notice the meagreness of the details that we are given of events that happen in the field. No regiment desires publicity for publicity's sake, but there are wonderful deeds being done to-day and the people of this country are never told anything about them. May I take one example? I could give many others. Some months ago a battery of artillery was told off to co-operate with a certain infantry regiment. I am not permitted to tell the names. At the end of the battle, when morning broke, every officer and 95 per cent. of the men lay dead around their smashed guns. The Germans knew what had happened, the Army knew what had happened, but when the report came to me as Colonel of the regiment it was marked "Secret." That happened three months ago. "Secret" from whom? The Germans knew of it. It is one of those actions an account of winch ought to be read at the head of every unit in the British Army. It was a feat of arms similar to one which in a previous war won four Victoria Crosses on the spot. What happened in this case? These men have gone and they are unknown and unhonoured. I could tell you of many other cases.
§ The Deputy Prime Minister the other day told us that General Alexander's operations were a "classic example of the art of war." But we know nothing about them. We do not know what these operations were even. Surely if they were a classic example it would be advisable that they should be published for the benefit of the younger officers who would be able to read them and carry out the details of this example during the next few years of the present war, because they will not be of use to the coming generation if, as we are told, after this war there is to be no other war. Might I suggest to His Majesty's Government that early publication of General Alexander's dispatches would be of very great advantage? I mean something in addition to the Caesar-like reports he has already submitted to His Majesty's Government.
§ There is another point which I think is worth considering. The non-publication 862 of dispatches tends to make the public think that there is something to conceal. Of course there have been mistakes. There have been mistakes in the council chamber and mistakes in the field, but no one has ever won a war who has not made mistakes. After a certain time there can be no harm in publishing even the mistakes we have made. It is now nearly two years since the operations in Norway, in Greece, in Libya and in Crete. Regarding none of these have any dispatches been published. There cannot be any real reason for keeping these things secret. There has been a great campaign in Abyssinia, a most successful campaign. Surely there can lie no reason for not publishing the details of that campaign. It is not very fair to the troops who took part in it or to the young and gallant Commander who brought it to a successful conclusion. I know that stories have been published in books, and some of them are very good, but they are not the same thing. They do not convey the same impression to readers as dispatches written by Commanders on the spot. One of the best of them, Combined Operations, should have been published over the signature of the distinguished officer who deals with these operations. The account would have carried much greater conviction over his signature and if written in the words which I am certain he would have used. As a Press notice said, why should not these Commando stories have been published two or three months earlier when they would have carried much greater effect?
§ Reverting to my remarks about North Africa, I would call attention to the fact that the only information we have had about North Africa, the only detailed information, is an account which appeared in The Times. That account showed us the difficulties and it showed us the reason of the delays. It excused many of the things that happened which most of us, looking at it from the outside, thought were unnecessary delays or probably mistakes on the field of battle. These are the things that the country desires to have cleared up, and I think when they are cleared up it will be found that the work done by the First Army under General Anderson was probably as great as that of the victorious Eighth Army. But we do not know. We are not told and it is not good for the nation that it should not be roused to enthusiasm by 863 the deeds of their menfolk who are going to help the war to a glorious end.
THE EARL OF CORK AND ORRERY
My Lords, I am very glad as an elderly naval officer to speak in support of my noble and gallant friend because in the Navy—and I believe in the Air Force too—we think that the Army has had a very raw deal. They are always Cinderellas in peace-time, when they are not given enough money, and then the old Regular Army has to die while we are forming new Armies to go and win the victories which always come later when British soldiers get a fair chance. Nothing, I think, is more important than that when we enter into what may be a very long period of great military operations the nation should know what our soldiers are doing. After all, we have a great number of men under arms and nearly every family has among its relations soldiers, many of them serving with units directly identified with counties, cities and towns. Both the Navy and the Air Force get a certain amount of publicity—sometimes, I think, a little too much, as for instance when you hear of some German craft and a British motor boat meeting in the Channel or of one aeroplane being shot down off the coast.
These little instances are mentioned, but similar incidents on shore are never mentioned. We hear of patrol activity. I take it that when two armies are in contact to-day patrol activities probably involve many men in many units, so many that in the days of the South African war a clash between them would have been described as a battle. But we never know the identity of these gallant parties of men except when we read the citation when an officer gets some honour. Then we hear that an officer and three men performed some act of gallantry but, although the name of the officer is given, we do not know the names of the privates. What a good thing it would be if, in the town from which these men came, their names were known even if they got no decorations. Tradition is everything in the Fighting Services. What an effect it would have on young soldiers to read that another battalion of their regiment had carried out some great decd. Yesterday I asked a Devonshire man whether he ever heard anything of what the Devon regiment was doing. He replied, "I never hear anything of it, though I have two sons in it."
864 I would like to make a suggestion that, perhaps on a regional basis, special reporters should be sent abroad to report on the work of actual units connected with the regions they represent. This should not be difficult. Their reports would, possibly, have to be on a somewhat lower scale than those published in the great national newspapers. But they would be very welcome to the people living in our provincial centres. They would be read throughout villages and towns and hamlets all over the country, and if, in the course of those reports, names were mentioned, the interest which they excited would be intensified. If incidents were not reported until, say, two months after they had happened, there could be no question, surely, of violating necessary secrecy. If this suggestion of mine were carried out it would, I submit, do a great deal to keep up the spirits of the nation. And I venture to think that they want keeping up.
We are getting into a way of thinking that the war is over, whereas it has not really begun. We are now just about to land the first soldier in an invasion on the Continent of Europe. Yesterday we were told about the wonderful successes which have been achieved against the U-boats, and everybody was glad to hear of those successes. But it does not seem to have struck anybody that the Germans may have reserved a large number of U-boats for anti-invasion operations. Submarines played a great part in preventing German troops and supplies from getting to North Africa, and the Germans may very well think that if they reserve a considerable number of theirs they will play a great part in breaking up our invasion or in helping to break it up.
I was going to allude at some length to a subject which the Field-Marshal mentioned—that of Generals. By chance we have had two successful Generals in London at the same time, and the public has not been allowed to know of their presence. I happen to know one of them was here because I was told so by a man I met in the street—a man whom I did not know but who happened to know me by sight. He said to me: "I think you would probably like to know that General So-and-So is here. If you go up the street you will be likely to see him." Now intimations of that kind were being passed from passer-by to passer-by. People were telling each other that here 865 was a chance of seeing a successful General. Now why should the arrival of that General, or any other successful General, not have been the occasion of some ceremony? Why should there not have been a reception at the station followed by a drive through cheering crowds? And I am not speaking only of Generals. I venture to think that Admirals or Air-Marshals who have won victories for us should have some public tribute paid to them when suitable occasions arise. The people should be given a chance to express their gratitude to such men for the victories they have won for us.
If there is thought to be anything in my suggestion of having special correspondents to send home news about units which may be read in the localities with which they are connected, I would like further to ask that die large number of Irishmen serving in the Forces should not be overlooked. I am not going -to offend against the rules of your Lordships' House by discussing the politics of a self-governing Dominion I am referring to the 200,000 odd Irishmen and Irishwomen who, of their own free will, are serving either in our Services, or in our munitions factories, or in other war works in this country. In The Times on the 29th of last month there appeared a letter which quoted the answer, given to a question asked in the Dail, which stated that British money and postal orders to the amount of £4,236,000 had been cashed in Southern Ireland during the year 1942. Now, four and a quarter millions is a very great sum, and of course it does not represent all the money being paid to Irish men and Irish women serving here, for they have to keep themselves in this country.
The correspondent sought to show how dependent Ireland was upon this country. I read it the other way. I suggest that it shows what a volume of help is given to is by individuals from across the Irish Sea. If these men and women were withdrawn from this country they could not possibly be replaced. To grudge, in any way, the pay they receive, or the food they consume, as another correspondent did, seems to me singularly ungracious. The labourer is still worthy of his hire. In asking that accounts of the deeds of the Territorial troops and others should, as far as possible, be made public in this 866 country, I ask also that Irish units and Irish soldiers generally should not be overlooked. In conclusion, I suggest that everything should be done to mention by name those men who distinguish themselves, never mind whether they are awarded decorations or not. Let the record of their deeds go out to all our towns and villages so that they can be the basis of discussion. Let us raise the morale of the country by giving greater publicity to the deeds of the Army.
§ LORD HUTCHISON OF MONTROSE
My Lords, I am delighted that my old friend the Field-Marshal has put down this Motion. When Lord Croft recently read out a short list of units engaged in recent operations in an endeavour to do a kindness to Lord Mottistone, who asked that it should be done, I got in touch with him and told him what the effect was going to be. What I said has more than come true. I have had a great number of letters, and no doubt the Field-Marshal has also, containing complaints because other units than those, the names of which were read out by Lord Croft, had not been mentioned. The public did not recognize the limitation of the question that was put to Lord Croft at that time, but, nevertheless, the damage was done, and I cannot but feel that the decision to publish the names of certain units was taken without proper consideration. If careful thought had been given to the matter at the time I doubt whether such publication would have been made. I hope that what has happened will be a lesson for the future.
I am in complete agreement with my old colleague the Field-Marshal, and also with my noble friend the Earl of Cork, in what they have said. We have had far too little publicity concerning the wonderful deeds of our Armies. In particular, there has been far too little concerning the great achievements of our people in North Africa and, indeed, in regard to what our forces did, ill-equipped as they were, in facing the many disasters which we have met. I think that it would be a great help to this nation in the war if a more active, vigorous and picturesque form of propaganda were put out dealing with our various military units, in the different spheres where they are operating. I do not for one moment say that the same does not apply also to the work of our Navy and our Air Force, but I am particularly concerned to-day to deal with 867 propaganda relating to the Army. Millions of men serving in the Army all over the world read, often many months after publication, periodicals that are sent out to them from this country. Men and women all over the country in towns and villages take the greatest interest in reading of the doings of our men in the field, and especially in reading of the exploits of units—regiments, platoons and individuals. When they read of the doings of our splendid Generals, and subordinate leaders and their men in the field it tends to create an atmosphere which makes them feel that they, too, have got to do their bit in helping along the work of the war. There is a coalfield where we have had a great deal of trouble over the production of coal, and there to hear of the doings of the 55th Division, for instance, would stimulate the men and make them undertake greater efforts to do their bit towards winning the war.
I hope that the War Office will pay attention to what the noble and gallant Lord has said with regard to the publication of dispatches. It is simply unbelievable that dispatches dealing with incidents three years old have not yet been published—incidents which took place in Malaya and Burma long ago, and of which the enemy well know every detail. Why these dispatches cannot be published now puzzles all thinking people. I venture to say that a revival of the old habit of publishing dispatches within a reasonable period after their receipt by His Majesty's Government would be a very great incentive to our people, and would stimulate the interest which they take in the war. We are meeting with greater success at present, but that is not to say that we are anywhere near the end of the war, and it is the final, collective and vital effort of the nation which will be of the greatest value when the end comes. I hope that the lesson of the misfortunes of publishing the names of a few units only will be taken to heart by the War Office, and that they will try to do something to put matters right. I know that there is strong feeling about this. I have had letters from various units, and they cannot understand why they have been omitted from the list when they have been fighting as long as, and sometimes very much longer than, the units whose names have already been given to the public.
§ LORD NATHAN
My Lords, the noble Lord who has just spoken expressed surprise that the dispatches have not been published which relate to the incidents which took place in Malaya and as to the campaign in Burma. That, however, is relatively modern history. No dispatch has yet reached the British public with regard to what took place in Norway. That campaign is long since over; it is part of history, and, since things move so rapidly, it is almost part of ancient history; but no communication has been made by the Commander of those Forces, whether military or naval, which has reached the ears of the British public. It was partly as a result of discussion in your Lordships' House, which I remember with gratification that I initiated myself, that ultimately the dispatches of Lord Gort were published. There was a persistent resistance on the part of the War Office, which would have continued had not it been for the equally persistent demands of those speaking in your Lordships' House.
It was a good and sound tradition that Generals in the field, having control of His Majesty's Armies, should make a report, and that that report should be published to the people, so that they might know what had been happening to the Armies which they had founded, and to their brothers, their sons and their kinsmen, and how the responsibilities which had been entrusted to the Commander had been exercised. During this war, with the sole exception of Lord Gort's dispatches, there has been no report made to the public at all of an official nature. The public have had to rely upon curt communiqués designed to give as little and not as much information as possible, to give only as much as the decencies of the situation required.
Other information, however, has come to the British public. It has come to them from the books which have been published in large numbers by a variety of authors, many of whom were in every sense participants in the events which they describe except that of being members of the actual Fighting Forces—from qualified and authorized correspondents, for instance. A book has been published, for example, with regard to General Wavell's campaign. Nothing has been issued to the British public over the signature or under the authority of Field-Marshal Sir Archibald 869 Wavell, but a book—and more than one, no doubt—has been written. One which I have particularly in mind is called Mediterranean Year, by Alan Moorhead. It gives a most remarkable description of the campaign, with details unobtainable elsewhere, sc far as I am aware. Similarly, there has been no publication of any dispatch by General Auchinleck relating to the campaign which ended at El Alamein, but a book by the same author, Alan Moorhead—a very remarkable book—called A Year Of Battle, has been published, which gives a vivid description, and an inspiring description, such as the British public would wish to have of the Forces which they have sent overseas to fight in this war. There are, of course, other books which have been written, some perhaps more and some less authoritative, but there has been none issued with the imprimatur a the Commanderin-Chief or of the War Office, apart from Lord Gort's dispatches.
Why should that be? It cannot be for reasons of military secrecy, because so much has teen disclosed already in the reports made, not by authorized spokesmen of the Government, but by the authors of these various books, and by commentators who have broadcast. It cannot be due to reasons of military secrecy. I speak subject to correction, and with deference to those with greater knowledge and experience than myself, but I would suggest—and indeed I have never heard it suggested otherwise—that the only reason for secrecy, apart from secrecy regarding actual movements currently taking place, is to ensure that the enemy shall not know our order of battle. There can be no question, however, of the enemy deriving information about the order of battle when the information relates to campaigns long since past.
Why should this secrecy prevail with regard to the Army, moreover, when it certainly does not prevail with regard to the Navy, so far as past events are concerned? I was reading yesterday evening an admirable document, produced by the Ministry of Information for the Admiralty, under the title East of Malta, West of Suez. It gave a clear, vivid, exciting and most interesting and instructive description of what had taken place during the first two years or mare of the war in the Mediterranean theatre, mentioning the names of the ships 870 engaged, both the great ships of war and even the small gunboats, the actual exploits in which they were engaged, with the names of the places, and maps showing where they were engaged at particular moments, and in most cases the names of the officers who commanded them. Why should not the same thing be done with regard to the Army?
I agree very much, and most respectfully, with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Milne, who speaks with so long and so wide an experience of war and of Armies, that tradition is the fulcrum of the whole business. Unless the soldier at the war is encouraged to take a pride in his own regiment, and his family, relations, friends and neighbours at home are encouraged to pursue an interest in the regiment which hails from the neighbourhood, you lose much which was of value in creating and maintaining a strong active fighting force firmly welded together. Every regiment has its own traditions. In the Royal Regiment they do not speak of the noble and gallant Field-Marshal as a Field-Marshal or as Colonel of the Royal Artillery: they speak and think of him as the Master Gunner, and that is the tradition of the regiment and it means a great deal to all those who belong to the regiment. I remember reading in the reports of the Syrian campaign how a certain battalion, with its ammunition exhausted, defended a locality to the last man. It was said that it was a battalion of a famous regiment; nothing more was said. It was, in fact, a battalion of the Territorial Army, a battalion of a regiment I know well. What a magnificent thing it would be, how encouraging, if those drawn from the Territorial Army had been told that this regiment, which had done a magnificent piece of work, was a regiment which so many of them knew well, and in which so many of them had friends. The whole value was thrown almost recklessly away.
We have heard something of what particular units have done—the Hampshires and the Royal West Kent in North Africa. We have heard about these isolated examples. It is not that other feats, equally outstanding, have not been performed, but that we have not been told of them, or that no names have been identified with them. I am sure that that is a profound mistake in psychology, in 871 the understanding of the public mind, because, let it be noted, while the people of this country are filled with the determination that this war shall be brought to its only possible end, yet it is a determination which throughout has been unmarked by passion, and it is difficult to create that passion, which is the sustaining factor in determination in times of war, if those who are fighting and their friends and relations are kept in ignorance of what has been done by those dear to them at the actual scat of battle. When my noble friend Lord Croft—I am sure with the best intentions in the world and every desire to be helpful—gave a list of those engaged in North Africa, it was insufficient in the sense that it was partial, and I agree with what the noble Field-Marshal has said, that it was a thousand pities that the Cavalry Regiments, to which so much has been due in North Africa in particular, were made anonymous by being referred to as the Royal Armoured Corps. The more individual units can be named, the more the exploits of individual units can be brought home to the people authoritatively, the greater will be the understanding by the people of the Army, and the greater their pride in the achievements of the Army. Let us not forget that it is an Army which is not only at the wars, it is an Army which is one day coming home from the wars, and it is vital, if we are to pass safely and quietly through the difficult periods to come, that the people who are to receive the returning soldiers should feel, from what they have been told and what they know, that the returning soldiers have deserved well of their country, as indeed they have if only the world were allowed to know it.
§ LORD TEMPLEMORE
My Lords, my noble friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for War is unfortunately away ill and I have been asked to reply. Although I might feel embarrassed in doing so, it is really a great pleasure to me to reply to my noble and gallant friend Lord Milne, because the noble and gallant Field-Marshal and I are old friends; in fact, we were old colleagues in a way, about fifteen years ago, when he occupied a very high position in the War Office and I a very humble one. I listened with great interest to the noble Lord, Lord Milne, and I sympathize fully with his 872 wish, which I am sure is shared by all of us, that the country should hear as much as possible about the individual units which built up the forces responsible for the victorious campaign in North Africa. We have heard how the battles went from communiqués issued in North Africa and from statements made here by members of the Government, but the noble Lord feels—and I know that his views are shared by many other people—that more should be done to do honour to particular units and especially to those who have taken part in the recent victories, in order to give pleasure and satisfaction to those units and to stimulate our pride in the Army.
Before I refer more fully to this I should say something about another related question to which the noble Lord referred. the publication of dispatches. This has been most carefully considered by His Majesty's Government on several previous occasions. Dispatches are not written with a view to publication and as the noble Lord will appreciate would lose much of their value if they were. They are written in order to give His Majesty's Government the fullest possible narrative of events and the lessons derived from them are applied to future operations. They thus contain information which might well be of use to the enemy in making his preparations to meet our further assaults. I hope the noble Lord will agree with me that there is great force in this argument.
But these considerations apply only to the dispatches themselves. It does not mean that a comprehensive account of a campaign cannot be published. The public is anxious to have such an account to supplement the official communiqués and the day-to-day reports of the newspaper correspondents working with the Armies in the field. This need has hitherto been met by the publication by the Stationery Office of the Army at War series of books, which must by now be very familiar to your Lordships. They are not a substitute for dispatches. They do not contain the views of the Higher Command on the equipment of the Forces and on the operations in which they were engaged but they give an accurate and comprehensive account of what happened. Such books have so far been issued on the Battle of Flanders, the Defence of Calais, the Highland Division, the Northern Garrisons, the Campaign in Greece 873 and Crete, the Abyssinian Campaign, the air defence of this country and finally the campaigns in Egypt and Libya. Some of the books are illustrated. A further such book is now in preparation on the Eighth Army. I understand that it will make a point of dealing with the exploits of particular units, in so far as security permits, and of tracing their movements across the vast battlefield and through the changing fortunes of the campaign.
This brings me to the question of publishing the names of units engaged in campaigns and at the moment this means in the campaign in North Africa. We have always sympathized with the desire, at the earliest moment consistent with security, to make known the names of corps and regiments which take part in various campaigns, more especially when a campaign culminates in a glorious victory such as we have just celebrated. It was for this reason hat my noble friend the Under-Secretary, when asked in the debate on May 18, mentioned certain regiments which, on security grounds, could then be mentioned. I know that the list was not complete, and that to mention any names has one disadvantage because failure to mention other regiments not yet released causes not unnatural annoyance among those interested. I am afraid that that happened on this occasion. But I should like to correct my noble and gallant friend. He said that the Under-Secretary did not mention the Royal Corps of Signals. In fact there was a letter in The Times two days afterwards on that subject. My noble friend did, in his speech, mention the Royal Corps of Signals, very rightly. My noble friend by way of warning, your Lordships will remember, stated that it would not be right to mention particular regiments without recalling that other regiments and the great Corps, without which an Army cannot go into battle, also took a prominent part in all those operations. Many names of regiments had, of course, previously been released and had appeared in the Press, and accounts of the successes in action of all regiments so released have been published.
The noble and gallant Field-Marshal and your Lordships will be anxious to know whether we cannot go further than this and publish the full list, thus openly giving all regiments their due. I am sure my noble and gallant friend will agree that the Commander-in-Chief in the theatre of 874 war must have the final say in this because, after all, he is responsible for the security of these troops in any operation which is pending. On the other hand, I need hardly emphasize that a Commander is more than anxious to ensure that the achievements of the units in his Forces are fully appreciated by the rest of the Army and by the nation at large. I have to say here that we have been advised by the military authorities in North Africa that the publication of the full list of the units would, in their opinion, be useful to the enemy.
Very often the units which have advanced furthest and with the greatest success are just those which have lost no prisoners to the enemy and have therefore not been identified. In view of future operations, therefore, it may well be inadvisable to inform the enemy that a unit was in action, of the presence of which unit he was unaware. But full publicity will be given whenever the Commander-in-Chief releases the names of such units, particularly when they are associated with individual distinguished actions. We are most anxious, as far as the needs of security permit, that everyone should know what units took part in the recent great victory, both First Army and Eighth Army, and I can assure your Lordships that they will be released immediately those on the spot, who are best able to judge, feel it can be done with safety.
I should like here to refer to a remark made by my noble and gallant friend Admiral of the Fleet Lord Cork, with regard to ignoring Irishmen serving in the Forces. I can assure my noble friend that there is no intention whatever to belittle in any way the great services which Irishmen, both from the North and from Eire, are giving to the nation in the present war. My noble and gallant friend rather took exception to a letter in The Times which he said grudged Irishmen the money which they received for services over here. It is not my province to defend The Times newspaper or those who write to it, but I do not think that letter was written for that reason. It was written for another reason into which it would not be proper for me to enter here.
I have answered my noble friend to the best of my ability, and if he is not entirely satisfied, I hope at all events he is not too dissatisfied with what I have said. I am sure of one thing that, as an old 875 Commander-in-Chief in the field, he will acknowledge that denial of information to the enemy, and the safety of the troops, must be the first consideration of the Commander-in-Chief, the War Office, and the Government. I am very glad that we have had this debate, and I should like to express the thanks of His Majesty's Government to the noble and gallant Field-Marshal for initiating it. We have too few military debates in this House and, if the noble and gallant Field-Marshal will allow me to say so, we do not hear him nearly as much as we should like.
We say about ourselves that we are not a military nation, but all the same, when we have been at it for a year or so, we do not make very bad soldiers. The country is deeply stirred with accounts of any gallant deeds done by the county regiments and corps like the Royal Artillery, the Royal Engineers, and so forth. I can assure my noble and gallant friend, as far as I am personally concerned, I once had the honour to serve in one of the units which has covered itself with glory in North Africa, and I should be only too pleased if the names of that unit and of any others were released as soon as possible. In conclusion, I can only express my personal hope, which I am sure is the hope of His Majesty's Government and of us all, that at an early date it will be possible to publish not only the names of regiments but the numbers of the battalions and also, I hope, the numbers of batteries of artillery as well as the field companies of Royal Engineers which have taken part in the recent operations and which have, in so many cases, performed deeds which will bear comparison with any of the gallant deeds of the past.
§ LORD MILNE
My Lords, I should like to say how grateful I am to my noble friend for his very full and courteous answer. He asked if I was satisfied or dissatisfied. I am not entirely satisfied, but I am quite willing to accept the statement that it should be left to the Commander-in-Chief in the field to decide what units should be mentioned. The noble Lord referred to certain books which he said had been published by the Stationery Office. I have never heard of them. When I say I have never heard of them, you can imagine 876 how many copies of them have gone round the country. My noble and gallant friend beside me has never heard of them either. That does not suggest that these publications can be very well known in the country districts or even that they occupy a very conspicuous place in the booksellers' windows. Might I also point out that in the list of names he gave of these books there was no mention of Norway? The Norwegian campaign took place over three years ago. Norway does not seem yet to have been mentioned, though a history of the Norwegian campaign has been published by the Norwegian Government. In these circumstances, with your Lordships' permission, I withdraw my Motion.
§ Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.