HC Deb 17 January 1968 vol 756 cc605-9W
Mr. Michael Heseltine

asked the Secretary of State for Defence whether he has now completed his investigation into the deaths of two officer cadets from Mons on an exercise on Dartmoor; and if he will now make a statement on the precautions he will take to ensure that such an incident does not occur for a third time.

Mr. Boyden:

I have now made full enquiries into the deaths of Officer Cadets Kalani and Ugba who died during the night of 1st/2nd November, 1967, while taking part in a patrolling and map-reading exercise on Dartmoor.

2. The exercise takes place after officer cadets have had six weeks' training at Mons Officer Cadet School. During this initial period of instruction cadets' training is devoted very largely to building up their military skills and physical fitness. The physical training syllabus has, in fact, been recently revised to give cadets an even better balanced and more methodical physical preparation than hitherto and the intake, of which Officer Cadets Kalani and Ugba were members, was the first to receive the new training.

3. On the exercise cadets are divided into 3 or 4 men patrols, which are equipped with wireless sets, maps, compasses, binoculars, Verey pistols, torches and field dressings. Each patrol is given a different route. The distance to be covered is about 20 miles and the normal time taken is between 9 and 10 hours. The exercise has been held repeatedly over the last six years in all weather conditions and without serious injury or incident. During this period 2,171 cadets have taken part in it, of whom 646 were from overseas.

4. Officer Cadets Kalani and Ugba were both in good health before the exercise. Officer Cadet Ugba came from Nigeria. He was aged 28, was a sergeant with 10 years' service and had served in the Congo. Officer Cadet Kalani came from Kenya. He was aged 22 and had had seven months' previous training at the Kenya Military Training College. During this period he completed an Outward Bound Course, which included expeditions to the snowline of Mount Kilimanjaro.

5. The weather conditions were satisfactory at the start of the exercise, although there was a slight drizzle. During the day, however, it became colder and more windy, and the rain heavier.

6. During the exercise Officer Cadets Kalani and Ugba, who were members of different patrols, slowly became more tired and weak, until despite being assisted by other members of their patrols, they could not continue. Their patrols summoned help, but rescue operations, which were begun immediately, were hampered by darkness and the difficult terrain. Officer Cadets Kalani and Ugba were taken to Okehampton Hospital with all the speed the rescue parties could achieve, but both were found to be dead on arrival. The cause of death in both cases was cold and exhaustion.

7. My inquiries have shown that there were a number of factors which contributed to the deaths of the two cadets. First, the exposure from which they suffered was caused by being wet in chilling conditions for too long. The combat dress, which all cadets were wearing and which has been in general use in the Army since 1960, is intended to be only showerproof. It did not, of itself, provide sufficient protection against the heavy rain and cold wind on Dartmoor on 1st November, 1967. So far no country in the western world has succeeded in producing a combat suit which is waterproof and yet which allows the soldier to work freely without perspiring to such an extent that he is liable to become a casualty through exhaustion.

8. For protection against rain the current garment is the poncho or the groundsheet, and each cadet carried a groundsheet cape on this exercise.

9. An improved range of combat clothing is being developed with better water repellent characteristics. It will not, however, be completely waterproof for the reasons I have already given. In the meantime I have given instructions that commanders at all levels should be aware of the part which clothing plays in the onset of exhaustion and exposure and should seek medical advice, if necessary, for any particular exercise.

10. Second, the symptoms of exposure in Officer Cadets Kalani and Ugba were not recognised in time because cadets had been given no instruction in this subject at that stage in their course. The British Mountaineering Council's pamphlet on exposure was issued throughout the Army during the Summer of 1967 but most unfortunately the copies which were sent to Mons Officer Cadet School were not received. Copies have, of course, been obtained since the exercise. Instructions have now been given that all officer cadets are to receive train ing in the recognition and treatment of exposure before they undertake an exercise on Dartmoor, in addition to their normal first-aid training which they carry out now under normal regulations. An up-to-date and comprehensive military training pamphlet on exposure is now being prepared by the Army authorities.

11. Finally, there were lapses, small in themselves, in map-reading and the use of wireless which affected the course of events. Although I am satisfied that the general standard of training in military skills at Mons was at this stage of the course adequate for the cadets to undertake such an exercise, I have nevertheless given instructions that the training syllabi leading up to the exercise and the equipment provided for it are to be re-examined and revised where necessary.

12. I have considered whether this exercise should no longer take place in its present form. It does, however, form an essential part of the officer cadet's training. During the past years some cadets have been posted direct to battalions on active service in Borneo or carrying out internal security duties in Cyprus or Aden. Training in the Army should not involve unnecessary hazard but it must, of course, be tough and realistic and be carried out under conditions as near to operations as possible. For this reason, I have decided that the exercise should continue.

13. As a result of my inquiries, I am satisfied that, although the deaths of two cadets have pointed to the need for some improvement in the pattern of training at Mons Officer Cadet School, the instruction given to the intake of which Officer Cadets Kalani and Ugba were members, was as good as it could be at the stage of training which they had reached and within the limits of the knowledge and experience then available at the school. Equally, I am satisfied that the overall conduct of the exercise itself was satisfactory. As regards efforts to rescue the cadets, the measures taken by the officer directing the exercise and his staff, once the seriousness of the cadets' situation had been conveyed to them, were fully adequate, and indeed praiseworthy.

14. A number of factors combined to cause the deaths of Officer Cadets Kalani and Ugba. I have considered most carefully whether any individuals should bear personal responsibility for any of these factors. I have concluded that there is no evidence to show that any individuals were culpably negligent. But there is no doubt that: there are important lessons to be drawn from this tragic accident. I believe that the changes which will now be made following my inquiries will greatly reduce the chances of a similar accident occurring again.