Oral Answers to Questions — British Army. – in the House of Commons on 28th November 1922.

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Photo of Colonel Sir Walter De Frece Colonel Sir Walter De Frece , Ashton-under-Lyne


asked the Under-Secretary of State for War the number of men returned as missing during the War who are, rightly or wrongly, officially recorded as deserters?

The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for WAR(Lieut.-Colonel Guinness):

No men returned as "missing" during the War were returned also as "deserters"; the two categories are mutually exclusive. Naturally some deserters—how many I am not in a position to say—have not since been heard of and are missing in that sense, but I have no reason to suppose that men returned as deserters were wrongly so returned, since no man is ever presumed to be guilty of the serious crime of desertion without evidence to that effect. A court of inquiry is held, the witnesses are examined on oath, and the onus of proof rests with the military authorities.

Photo of Mr William Thorne Mr William Thorne , West Ham Plaistow

What will happen to a man assuming he has been reported missing and is found to be a deserter and is caught? What will be his doom?

Lieut.-Colonel GUINNESS:

He is brought before a court and is liable to the penalty of imprisonment.

Photo of Mr William Thorne Mr William Thorne , West Ham Plaistow

Does not the hon. and gallant Gentleman think it is time to give a free pardon to all these men?

Lieut.-Colonel GUINNESS:

I do not think it would be possible to maintain discipline in the Army if desertion was not subject to punishment.

Photo of Mr William Thorne Mr William Thorne , West Ham Plaistow

The question only relates to cases of desertion during the War.

Photo of Major Murdoch Wood Major Murdoch Wood , Aberdeenshire and Kincardineshire Central

Have any soldiers recently serving in Ireland been reported as deserters?

Lieut.-Colonel GUINNESS:

No soldier is ever presumed a deserter until his case has been examined before a court of inquiry, and I cannot believe that officers who sit on such courts would bring in such a serious charge against a soldier without proper evidence.

Lieut.-Colonel WATTS-MORGAN:

Is the hon. and gallant Gentleman aware that we have at least ten cases in South Wales where men have been described as deserters and the documents were missing from the War Office?

Lieut.-Colonel GUINNESS:

If hon. Members will give me evidence of such cases, I will promise they shall have sympathetic consideration.