Air Estimates, 1940.

Part of Orders of the Day — Supply. – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th March 1940.

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Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson Lieut-Colonel Sir Arnold Wilson , Hitchin 12:00 am, 7th March 1940

Industry has an insatiable maw, which will take any number of men, but the Air Force want their share. Industry has proved its ability to look after itself in that respect. There is also the question of spare parts. It has never been more necessary than to-day to adapt the peace-time methods of industry to the needs of war. I am not entirely convinced that all possible is being done to meet spare part requirements. We bend a good many things in the process of training, and the supply of spare parts is just as important as the supply of new machines and, on the grounds of economy, perhaps even more so.

The hon. Member who has just sat down took a line for which I profess sympathy, but which I shall not follow. I do, however, wish to utter a word of caution as regards the possibility of training pilots, non-commissioned officers and men under the sunny skies of France or the Mediterranean. The place for training men is the country in which they live. The blacked-out earth, the stormy seas and cloudy heavens of Central and Northern Europe and England are not ideal, but they are by far the most practical area in which men can train. A man can learn more in three months of training in such circumstances than he can in six months under the sunny skies of France. I do not know where a man would get as much practical experience of things that might go wrong in the air, and how to meet them, as he would in a February in this country. I believe our system of training to be fully worthy of the magnificent personnel of all ranks and the eagerness which permeates them, despite the long period of relative inactivity and the incredible weather from which we have suffered. The Service would not be healthy if it were satisfied with its own achievements, but those outside the Service should not interpret self-criticism as implying the smallest lack of self-confidence.

If I may say so, as a newcomer, the morale of the Service is exceedingly high. The tradition which was forged in the white heat of the Great War has been re-annealed again and again during the past 20 years in fiery furnaces and is now being tried afresh. The product is as pure as gold and as hard as hardened steel. We need have no fears on that ground. Let no one think that the men of the Air Force claim the smallest superiority of achievement, or functioning, over the Royal Navy, the Army, the Mercantile Marine, or the fishing fleets. There is one glory of the sun and another of the moon, and the stars. To the Army belong squalor, tedium and difficulties for 24 hours of the day; to the Navy, Mercantile Marine and fishing fleets belong long hours of ceaseless vigilance, discomfort, and the terror that flieth by day—and by night. The Air Force will win battles over the land and sea, but when they have done so it is the Navy, Army and civil authorities who afterwards advance to organise peace. We are well prepared at any moment to play our part. Horace tells us that: It is decorous to die for one's country. Officers, non-commissioned officers and men are perfectly instructed and very anxious that we should take the offensive at the earliest possible moment against an enemy whom they do not underestimate but do not fear. Men are doing in their heavy machines work no less magnificent than the pilots of our tiny single-seater fighters. They ask that they may have their chance of showing that they are able to do those same things, and more, that their fathers did in those terrible years of 1914–18. To us older men they say what I can best describe in four lines which Kipling wrote long ago: One service more we dare to ask,Pray for us, comrades, prayThat when Fate lays on us her task,We may not shame the day. The tradition of the Air Force is safe in their hands, and their morale is no less strong because they hope that action will soon come.