HC Deb 21 September 1948 vol 456 cc47-50W
104. Mr. Emrys Hughes

asked the Secretary of State for War what inquiry he has made into the deaths of two Army cadets due to heat stroke while on route march; whether he has examined the evidence given at the inquest at Aldershot on 4th August and the jury's verdict; and what steps he is taking to prevent the recurrence of such incidents.

Mr. Shinwell

Full inquiries have been made and I have seen a report of the inquest and the jury's verdict. I will circulate a full statement in the OFFICIAL REPORT regarding these deaths and the somewhat similar case which occurred at Ripon about the same time.

Following is the statement:

Following upon a physical training exercise held on 26th July, 1948, two officer cadets of the Mons Officer Cadet School died in hospital of heatstroke. The exercise in which these two officer cadets took part was the fourth of a graduated series of physical endurance exercises which formed a normal part of a physical training syllabus designed, among other things, to make the cadets physically tough.

Exercises of this type (though more severe) were introduced in 1942. They were made somewhat less exacting in 1944 and again in 1946, the latter change being the result of a fatality somewhat similar to this one. No other fatality has been reported during the last six years.

The exercises have been carried out in the past in all sorts of weather. The heat on this occasion, though exceptional, should not, taken by itself, have justified any major modification. Certain factors, however, combined to make the other conditions unusual. A strenuous morning's work, which took longer than was expected, was followed by a late lunch. The exercise was delayed and one instructor only—instead of two—could be made available.

The exercise started shortly after three o'clock. The instructor, a sergeant, led the troop. After six miles they became somewhat strung out and the instructor, hearing that one officer cadet had collapsed, called a halt; but being informed that assistance had been summoned from Barracks, he continued the exercise. An ambulance was summoned by telephone, but by an unfortunate chance was deflected to deal with another accident, and by the time it picked up the officer cadet some 35 or 40 minutes had elapsed. In the meantime a second officer cadet had collapsed. Cadets who were with him summoned help, and he was also collected by ambulance. Both cadets died the following morning, the cause of death being heart failure due to heatstroke.

A full inquiry was held and, having examined it, I am satisfied that no officer or man can be charged with culpable negligence. It has been my object, however, to see that the instructing staffs at these schools should be specially picked and should realise that they have a special and important relationship to the young men in their care. I came to the conclusion that certain officers who were directly responsible for the exercise showed lack of judgment in allowing the exercise to proceed in the afternoon of such a hot day, after a strenuous morning and a rushed mid-day meal, and without the proper complement of instructors. I have accordingly ordered that they shall be replaced in their appointments.

The exercise in which the third officer cadet was taking part was one of the standard physical efficiency tests which are carried out once a year by all officers and men of service units who are under 35 years of age and physically fit. This cadet had been passed medically fit for all duties on 19th June.

The 28th July, 1948, was an unusually hot day and in view of the heat the Officer Commanding the Officer Cadet Squadron to which he belonged ordered that the Officer-in-Charge of the test was to take it easy and not to force the pace at all or allow the men to try to complete the course ahead of time. Also because of the heat the cadets were allowed to carry or wear steel helmets as they wished. The cadets had had an easy morning, chiefly lectures, and were not at all rushed.

The party undergoing the test consisted of about 40 cadets under an officer, assisted by a Physical Training Instructor and one sapper who was under training to become an instructor. The party marched for the first five or six miles; after this the Officer-in-Charge thought that a number of cadets would not finish the course in the time allotted, and allowed them to fall out and follow independently, or to make their own way back to camp. Two cadets were sent back to the camp by car and on arrival there, an ambulance was sent to collect those who had fallen out.

Meanwhile, after about eight miles, this officer cadet, who was among those who were straggling behind, became very distressed and collapsed. He was left under the charge of the Instructor, who took him by ambulance to the Camp Reception Station, where he arrived 45 minutes later. The Medical Officer-in-Charge decided that the only course was to get him to York Military Hospital as quickly as possible. Emergency treatment was begun at once and was continued by the Medical Officer in the ambulance all the way to York where he arrived at 6 o'clock, some two hours after he had collapsed. He died of heatstroke shortly after midnight. No one was to blame for the tragic death of this officer cadet.