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 Flight Lieut Wavell Wakefield Flight Lieut Wavell Wakefield , Swindon 12:00 am, 7th March 1940

I should like to congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Handsworth (Commander Locker-Lampson) on having given us an opportunity of discussing the health and comfort of the personnel of the Air Force. No more important subject can be discussed by this House. If the Air Force personnel are not fit and healthy it is impossible for them to be efficient. Without being properly fed and warmly clad, they cannot carry out their work with the spirit and the high morale with which they are now doing it. The effect of good food and good clothing has been shown in the Finnish war. The great spirit with which the Finnish troops have opposed the Russian onslaught, could not have been shown by troops who were not physically fit, and their spirit could not have been shown by men without good food, proper clothing, and a healthy mode of life. We have seen the wonderful results which they have achieved in defending their country against the ill-clad, and ill-fed troops opposed to them. It is not to be surprised that there is a very great difference in spirit between the two armies.

The right hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood) earlier in the Debate referred to black-out conditions. The present system of black-out is, undoubtedly, affecting the health of the air personnel. During the past winter for some 14 or 15 hours the living rooms and sleeping rooms of the Air Force have been blacked out and no fresh air whatever has been allowed to enter the huts or rooms. That is bad for the health of the personnel, and I hope the Under-Secretary will use the coming summer months to devise proper means of ventilation for the living rooms and the sleeping rooms before the long dark hours of next winter come upon us. I am sure that some of the sickness which has been prevalant throughout the country has been due in no small measure to the lack of ventilation at night.

Returning to the Service of the Royal Air Force after a considerable lapse of time, it has been intensely interesting to me to compare the conditions now with what they were a number of years ago. I have been struck by the great improvement in the quality of the food and the presentation of the food which exists now as compared with a few years ago. I should like to congratulate the Minister, his predecessors, and all those responsible for this great improvement. The lay-out of the kitchens is beyond praise, and it enables properly-cooked food to be served hot and in a proper manner. The serving of good quality food in the proper way undoubtedly contributes very greatly to the comfort, health and well-being of the personnel. The variety in the menu for the week is highly satisfactory, although, perhaps, more attention could be paid by the medical authorities to a suitably balanced diet. I do not think there could be any better propaganda than to drop some of these menus over Germany, so that the German people could see the sort of food our troops are getting. I do not know what is included in the leaflets that are dropped over Germany. I do not know why there is such secrecy in this matter. The Germans read the leaflets, if they are not shot before picking them up, and if they are allowed to read them, I do not see why we should not be allowed to know what they contain.

I should like to urge upon the Under-Secretary the need, during the coming months, for greater cultivation of the wasteland in and around aerodromes. If the variety of food, and particularly fresh vegetables, is to be continued, I think it is essential that every camp should be made as self-contained as possible in the production of fresh vegetables and food. At aerodromes and camps there is an immense amount of ground available for this purpose. I ask the Under-Secretary whether the perimeter of aerodromes is being ploughed up and potatoes and other vegetables grown there. It would be possible for this purpose to use a margin of 15 or 20 yards all round the aerodromes without interfering with the flying. There is there valuable space for growing fresh vegetables and food. Is a real effort being made by the commanding officers to get the troops to grow vegetables of all kinds outside their huts? I hope that competitions of one kind and another will be instituted in order to encourage the growing of vegetables. I hope that the gardeners who in peace time may be usefully employed in growing ornamental flowers, will have their attention turned, not to the growing of flowers, delightful though that may be, but to the growing of useful food.

In connection with the health and comfort of the troops, the activities of the Navy, Army and Air Force Institutes must of necessity loom very large. The N.A.A.F.I. have a monopoly at all camps. Married airmen, and indeed all airmen, must obtain all their supplies from this monopoly, and, therefore, it is of vital importance that the food supplied by the N.A.A.F.I. should be of good quality and the right cost. I regret to have to say that my experience over a wide area has been that the troops are not being satisfactorily catered for by the N.A.A.F.I. I have had a number of examples of high prices and unsatisfactory service. I think there is a general feeling, particularly among the executive officers of the N.A.A.F.I., that they have a monopoly, and that this causes them to adopt a sort of take-it-or-leave-it attitude. They have not a real feeling of service. Because they have a monopoly, they have a very great responsibility. I feel that there is not the right sort of drive on the part of the executive body of the N.A.A.F.I. in giving service, and I should like the Under-Secretary, together with the other Departments concerned, to have an inquiry made into the running of this body. It seems to be an independent body under nobody's rule or guidance. It has a monopoly and it is not discharging its duties in the way that it ought to do. The area supervisors and council supervisors—