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 Mr George Garro-Jones Mr George Garro-Jones , Aberdeen North 12:00 am, 7th March 1940

This Amendment, as you have pointed out, Sir, is circumscribed in its scope, but it is important, and we on this side would not like to allow it to pass without expressing our agreement with the sentiments expressed in it. I could have wished that it had not been used quite so much as a peg on which to hang congratulations to the Government. I have been reminded by the course which the Debate has taken of the story of the reasons why the Puritans did net approve of bear-baiting; it was not on account of the pain it gave to the bear, but on account of the pleasure it gave to the spectators. I am led to wonder whether the Amendment has been moved in order to contribute to the comfort of the troops or to the comfort of the Government. We must be frank about it. We know that this Amendment falls into the class which the Government Whips on ballot days are wont to hand out to their supporters. It expresses gratification and says to the Government, "Here is something you are doing well; keep it up."

Although we are able to identify ourselves with the wording of the Amendment, I know of no other sphere of Air Ministry administration—and I say this with responsibility and great regret—about which we could identify ourselves with a similar compliment. I have no doubt that the Under-Secretary has first upon his notes, "Welcome the Amend- ment." I venture to say that no switching Amendment which has ever been moved in the House has been more heartily welcomed than this diversion of the Debate from the vast and important problems with which it began. I do not intend to detain the House for more than a few moments, on account of the unanimity of opinion on the proposition which is before us. That does not, of course, mean that we think that all is well with the health and comfort of the Royal Air Force personnel. The remarks made by the hon. Member for Swindon (Mr. Wakefield), which, as you pointed out, Sir, began to depart from the Rules of Order, were as important as any that were made. I will not go into the matter in detail, but there is a vast amount of discontent in the Services in regard to the operation of the Army, Navy, and Air Force Institutes. The prices are high, the courtesy which the troops receive is in many cases conspicuous by its absence, and that spirit of service which ought to animate this organisation is definitely lacking. It is not said that there is any large profit made by this concern, but it is possible for vested interests to arise without their being distributed in the form of dividends. There are such things as salaries. I really think it is the duty of the Under-Secretary, on behalf of this large force for whose welfare he is responsible, to go very closely into the complaints which have been made by the hon. Member for Swindon and which are shared by all who are in close contact with the troops.

I want to make two suggestions as a contribution to the health and welfare of the Services. First, a word about the sick treatment of that large class of serving officers and men who are not ill enough to be sent to hospitals, but, nevertheless, are unable to go on duty. I happened to be travelling North to my constituency with a serving officer home from the Front, and he gave me a long and interesting description of the efforts which have been made by the unit of which he is the battalion commander to provide for the health of those large numbers under his command who suffer from such things as colds and influenza. This may appear a comparatively unimportant aspect of the health of the troops, but the amount of days lost and of insipient ill-health and disablement which in the aggregate are caused by these two diseases would surprise most hon. Members who have not studied the statistics.

These diseases would become all the more important if we were unfortunately devastated with an epidemic of the magnitude of the influenza epidemic that swept the country at the termination of the last war. In the prevention of this disease—I speak with deference as a layman—the all-important factor is early isolation of the infected person. Frequently a man with a cold or influenza is hardly able to report sick and he remains in his billet, or camp, or even in his tent, where 20 or 30 other men are sleeping, and within a week or two an epidemic ravages the whole unit. I suggest, not an extension of the medical services, but the organisation, on the initiative of unit commanders, of sick bays without any special medical treatment in order to provide for the isolation and comfort of persons suffering from these respiratory diseases in their minor form. The same remark would apply to certain skin affections and infections from which troops on active service are particularly inclined to suffer.

The next question upon which I wish to touch is one that affects the Royal Air Force and has to do with the relations between the instructors and the pupils. An enormous number of young officers, cadets and non-commissioned officers all over the country are receiving flying training. A considerable volume of complaint is arising, about the treatment which some of these trainees receive at the hands of their instructors. I do not wish to magnify it or to say that the instructors treat them with undue severity, but I know the kind of spirit which is arising, because I have a vivid recollection of the same sort of experience, and no doubt the Under-Secretary has too. It is perhaps long enough ago now for the House not to think it too personal a subject. I well remember when I came home from flying in France as an observer in order to be trained as a pilot with many others, that we experienced the most intense resentment against the kind of treatment we received from instructors who had never been over to France at all. In the end this feeling can be detrimental to the efficiency of the instruction. The instructors had the utmost contempt for us because we lacked as much dexterity at that stage as they possessed in controlling the machine, and we developed the greatest contempt for them on account of the fact that they had never been at the Front, and they called us "Huns." This complaint exists throughout the Air Force to-day, and I will read something in substantiation of what I am saying and in support of my suggestion that the Under-Secretary should look into the matter. This passage comes from a well-known organ of the aircraft industry which circulates and is widely read among officers and men in the Air Force: Strange little tales come now and again out of the flying schools of those who are made to feel that they are accepted on sufferance, not as comrades preparing to give their best in a common cause, but as unworthy members of a Service which they had thought only to use for their own base ends and the obtaining of free week-end flying.….The Service is in some snobbish danger of making the volunteers being less than welcome. I think that is a little exaggeration. I would not put it as high as that; but there is a tendency to segregate pupils from instructors, to give instructors better mess facilities, even in some cases better food, and a great many of those pupil-pilots are beginning to feel the same dissatisfaction as we used to feel in the old days. I hope that the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Under-Secretary will think the matter of sufficient importance to look into it, in the interests of efficiency in flying training, because there must be more sympathy between the instructor and the pupil, a greater spirit of comradeship between them. The martinet system will not teach a man how to fly. It is a time of great strain for the pupil, the nervous tension is acute particularly when a man first takes a solo flight, and instructors should be informed that what is expected of them is patience and sympathy and a spirit of comradeship with their pupils. Finally, I would say that we on this side concur strongly with the wording of this Amendment, and we also congratulate the Government on escaping with a discussion on this subject rather than one on production or some other vital matters which interest the whole House.