Orders of the Day — Ex-Service Men (Badge).

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons on 19th March 1942.

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Photo of Mr Frederick Bellenger Mr Frederick Bellenger , Bassetlaw

I wish briefly to refer to a matter of which I have given previous notice. It concerns the issuing of some sort of badge to those men of the Fighting Services and the Merchant Navy who have been discharged because of ill-health, or perhaps wounds, and have not been able to establish their right to pensions. The House may remember that, nearly a month ago, I brought forward the case of a man who served overseas, went through Dunkirk, and was then discharged from the Service, but who was not able to establish his right to a pension owing to his disability not being due to war service or aggravated by it. This man received a present of some white feathers from some ill-natured person, and naturally, he was very much grieved by this. When one considers the circumstances in which these men live, such incidents often have—and I believe had in this case—a detrimental effect upon their health or at any rate upon their business circumstances. Another hon. Member supported the case that I made, and the Press have taken up the question generally in relation to the white feather episode. I do not want to stress that aspect of the matter too much, because, I am pleased to say, the white feather business is not overdone in this war as it was in the last war.

I bring forward the case on general grounds, because it affects a large number of men who have been discharged from the Services because they are unfit, and the Army, Navy and Air Force have no further use for their services. When war was declared, many of these men, in the heat of the moment, volunteered their services. It is possible that many of them were not fit at the time, but nevertheless, owing to the low medical standard adopted in those days, the medical officers passed these men into the Services, and therefore, it cannot be denied that the Services have had the use of these men for varying periods. In the particular case which I raised, and in many other cases, the men have gone overseas and have fought their country's battles. I do not want to make a sentimental matter of this, but I suggest to the House that some slight recognition ought to be given to these men. It is not much that I am asking. I would remind the House that if discharged ex-Service men are able first of all to pass through the fine mesh of the Ministry of Pensions' sieve and obtain a pension, they are automatically entitled to a discharged Service man's badge; but as we know, the Ministry of Pensions reject a large number of cases because, they say, the disability was not incurred or aggravated by reason of service during this war. I want to ask my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary, who is to reply, whether it is not true that the decision as to the issue of badges was arrived at, before the war, by an Honours Committee and whether that procedure of not granting these badges, or granting them in certain limited categories is being followed. I put that point because questions to the Service Departments and the Ministry of Pensions have brought me the reply that they can do nothing about the matter, and therefore, I am led to believe that it is within the province of the Prime Minister to settle the matter. I hope the Prime Minister's representative here to-day will be able to give some sort of answer which will remove this disability from this deserving body of men.

I should like to say a few words concerning whether a badge is necessary or not. The late Secretary of State for War dismissed my Question quite casually, saying that he did not think a badge was necessary, because nowadays everybody is more or less subject to some form of national service. That is not the point. This patriotic body of men, and perhaps women, would like to feel that there is some small recognition of the services they have given to the State. Is it too much to ask the Government to give them that slight recognition at a time when badges are issued to all sorts of people? I have noticed that Members of the House who serve in the Home Guards go about with little badges in their buttonholes. It may be that they have purchased these badges themselves, but I presume it is quite in order for them to wear the badges; they like to show that they are members of the Home Guard, and perhaps the badge is some sort of alibi in case somebody wants to present them with white feathers. Those people who serve on the railways are all badged as railway workers, merely because they are in reserved occupations. I do not know who pays for those badges; it may be the railway companies in their generosity, it may be at the expense of the stockholders. I believe that in the case of members of the Home Guard, they are proud to wear the badges. I do not know whether any discharge certificate is given to men who are discharged from the Services, but if so, it is obvious that they cannot carry such certificates about in their buttonholes.

I ask my right hon. Friend to give sympathetic consideration to this matter. I do not wish to develop it at any great length, as there are other hon. Members who wish to raise matters on the Motion for the Adjournment, and I will conclude by quoting from a letter which I have received from a man who was formally a regular soldier. It is true that some of the men whom I have in mind have served only for a brief period during the war. The case which I want to quote now, however, is of a man who was a regular soldier. He served for nearly 16 years in the Regular Army and on the Reserve, and he retired with an exemplary character. He writes that the Ministry said his disability was not aggravated by war services, and I presume that there the matter ends as far as his claim for a pension is concerned; but he asks that at any rate he should be granted a small reward in the form of some sort of badge which he could show proudly among his associates in various places where associates meet. He Wants to display some mark of his service before the war and during the war.

That is my case. I hope my right hon. Friend will be able to say something which, if it does not go all the way to meet the case, will partly meet it. It may seem to the House that this matter is a trivial one, but it is the small things which count in life. Somebody may say a word or do something that will create pages and pages of print in the newspapers or cause despondency and dissatisfaction. If we can do anything to remove a certain amount of discontent which is evident among these discharged soldiers, sailors, airmen and members of the Merchant Navy, I think we ought to do it. It is something that would not cost much in money. In our childhood days we learned that civility costs nothing. This would be more than civility. It would be a recognition by the State that a man has done his duty' to his country in his country's hour of need. I hope my right hon. Friend may be able to give a satisfactory answer.