HC Deb 09 May 1944 vol 399 cc1729-30W
Colonel Greenwell

asked the Secretary of State for War whether it is proposed to make any change in the minimum age at which soldiers may be sent overseas.

Sir J. Grigg

It has been the policy of the Government that men serving in the Army shall not be sent overseas before they are 19 years of age. The Government has now decided that the age limit shall be reduced to enable men to be drafted abroad at any time after attaining the age of 18 years and 6 months. This critical stage of the war demands that in the coming months we must make the fullest use of all our trained men to ensure that there is the greatest possible weight behind our blows and that the impetus of our attack is maintained. My right hon. Friend the Minister of Labour and National Service, in introducing the National Service Bill on 8th December, 1942, announced the reduction of the age for enrolment to 18 years. In the course of his speech he saidThere is an advantage in giving the longest possible period of training to the young men who are called up, and I suggest to anyone with knowledge of modern warfare that 11 or 12 months' training in this war is not too long to mature them and make them fit for the strenuous battles that have to be faced."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 8th December, 1942; col. 1445, Vol. 385.] Under the improved methods of training which have been introduced we have in the Army to-day many thousands of efficient men under 19. These comprise volunteers who have been in the Service from the age of 17 years 9 months, and Army Class from 18 years, and who are now between 18½ and 19. We cannot afford to withhold these men, eager to fight, at this stage of the war.

This decision, which makes the age limit for overseas service the same as it was during the greater part of the last war, in no way alters the policy that men will not be sent overseas unless they are fully trained for their employment. The period of training differs in various arms, and also for various trades and duties within the arms. For this reason, there are very many who, even if enlisted at 18, will not now be available for drafting overseas until they are 19 years of age or older. I may add that the adoption of the lower age limit brings the Army into line with the existing practice in the other two Services. In the Royal Navy men may serve afloat in ships based on both home and foreign stations at the age of 18, and R.A.F. personnel are also permitted to serve overseas at this age.