The object of giving medals, stars and ribbons is to give pride and pleasure to those who have deserved them. At the same time a distinction is something which everybody does not possess. If all have it it is of less value. There must, therefore, be heartburnings and disappointments on the border line. A medal glitters, but it also casts a shadow. The task of drawing up regulations for such awards is one which does not admit of a perfect solution. It is not possible to satisfy everybody without running the risk of satisfying nobody. All that is possible is to give the greatest satisfaction to the greatest number and to hurt the feelings of the fewest. But that is a most difficult task and it is easy to err on one side or the other. One must be careful in the first place to avoid profusion. The tendency to expand, shall I say inflate, dilute the currency through generous motives, is very strong. When the Order of the Golden Fleece was founded its first motto was "I will have no other" ("autre n' aurai"). But this proved too austere an ordinance for the Emperors, Kings and heroes concerned, and the motto was very rapidly changed to a much less self-denying and noncommittal form, "I have accepted it" ("Je l'ai empris").
The German distinctions have usually been very lavishly bestowed. When Voltaire was invited to visit the Prussian Court he stipulated that all expenses should be paid, and that the Order of Merit should be thrown in. Both were forthcoming. So there were, before 1914, as is well known, very many German medals and orders. Nevertheless, during the last war the Germans created about 80 different crosses, medals and decorations, including various kinds for the different Duchies and Principalities, and about 20 different distinctive badges of a similar character. At the start of the last war the Iron Cross was a highly prized decoration, but by 1918 it had been granted so freely that it was little valued except, I believe, by Herr Hitler, who it is alleged gave it to himself some time later. After the Armistice, the Germans, who are a most adaptive people, manufactured large numbers of Iron Crosses for sale to the French troops as souvenirs. In the present war they have already some 15 new medals and 29 new distinctive badges. They have not yet reached the stage of manufacturing them for sale to the Allies.
The French, in the last war, were wiser than the Germans, but even they were inclined to err slightly too much on the side of generosity. When, after the termination of hostilities, they instituted a war medal for the troops, they got drawn beyond the line which limited it to the armed forces. It was granted, for instance, to hospital staffs generally, and then to the police, park keepers, Customs officers and so on. The result was that, very soon after the war, it was impossible to tell whether an individual had actually fought in the real fighting zones or not. And ten years later the French found it necessary —and this also gave pleasure—under the pressure of the ex-Service men to reopen the whole question and create a distinction called the Croix du Combattant.
A similar process, though much more dignified, sedate and tardy, took place in this country after the Napoleonic wars, but it was not until 1851 that the services rendered between 1793 and 1814 by the veterans who still survived were recognised. Queen Victoria took a great interest in this, and the Duke of Richmond, who led the public agitation, was given by the grateful recipients of the long overdue awards, plate worth about 1,500 guineas. I hope that this example will encourage my hon. Friends in their zeal and activities in this matter, and that this hope may assuage any temporary dissatisfaction they may find in the announcements which I have to make.
It would have been very much easier to leave all this matter over on one side until more leisurely times have come. On the other hand, this war has now raged for 54 months. Many famous campaigns have been fought, several have been brought to a successful conclusion. Devoted, valiant service has been rendered in many parts of the world on land, on the sea, in the air. Several million soldiers, sailors and airmen have been sent abroad, where they have remained for long periods, enduring severe hardships, rendering faithful service and achieving splendid results. They greatly value the distinction which a ribbon gives them.
I know of the satisfaction which has been given to our battalions of troops which have been authorised to mount the Africa Ribbon or the 1939–43 Ribbon, and I felt myself bound to try to attempt at any rate a partial solution of the problem which I could submit to His Majesty, with whom these matters rest, subject to advice. Accordingly, the Commitee on the Grant of Honours, on which all Services are represented, was directed in March last year to frame Regulations governing the grant of the Africa Star—this was to commemorate the expulsion of the enemy from the African continent—and also the 1939–43 Star, with a different ribbon, covering service in other theatres of war, including, of course, the oceans and the air. The Africa Star has already been awarded to 1,500,000 officers and men, and the latter decoration, the 1939–43 Star, to 1,600,000 officers and men, a total of 3,100,000 of our warriors in all spheres; and with the other cases that are now under consideration I am told the two ribbons together may ultimately cover nearly 4,000,000 men.
In considering the qualifications for the grant of the 1939–43 Star the question arose of what period of service would be required. There are some forms of service which are measured by time and others by the episode itself. We have adopted both conditions. Six months is taken as the qualifying period of time, but in special operations in which individual combatants would not have the opportunity of serving six months actual presence with the Forces will be sufficient. Naturally, in drawing up a list of such episodes it was necessary to consult the Dominion and Indian Governments. The final list is now complete and will be made public immediately. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air, who will deal with any points which are raised in the Debate, will, if he thinks fit and the House desires it, be in a position to read out the list as we have so far devised it. It had been hoped that it would be published two days ago, but I am perhaps to blame for having somewhat delayed its publication. Additions can be made to this list in accordance with well-informed opinion. I am very anxious that Service opinion should fix and focus on these different points, and that we can profit by it as we get to hear of it, so that one can make submissions to the Crown in respect of these matters, for this is a Royal Prerogative.
I hope that even in its present form the list may meet some of the many questions which are asked about this episodic aspect of the qualifications for the 1939–43 Star. Among the Naval Forces who served for a long time afloat and ashore in the Mediterranean, and played a vital part in the victories there by cutting off the German reinforcements, there has been, I am told, a discernible preference shown for the Africa Star as against the 1939–43 Star, and the suggestion has been made that an officer or man whose service qualifies him for either award should be permitted to choose one or the other. I am advised that such an option would be very difficult to work. It might also seem to reflect upon the 1939–43 Star if people who, on account of local associations, chose the Africa Ribbon instead of the general service ribbon, which must be considered as the primary, the senior ribbon. I am still studying this question. The same kind of question occurs again in the case of those who served both in the First and Eighth Armies, where there is an emblem. I have not finally closed the discussion of this difficult problem. I would like to see, in all these subjects, how opinion shapes. One thing is clear, however, that no one can have both stars or both ribbons, nor can they have both the two emblems, x and 8. To this last rule there is one exception. His Majesty has approved of both the Emblems I and 8 being mounted on the ribbons of General Eisenhower and General Alexander, these being the only two officers who did, in fact, command the whole of the First and Eighth Armies.
I ought not to overlook two other forms of reward of merit which have been approved. First, there is the King's Badge, about which a discussion was promised. The issue of the King's Badge is at present restricted to those invalided from the naval, military and air forces and the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets through wounds or war disablement attributable to service since 3rd September, 1939. The question has arisen, Should it not be extended to those discharged through disability not due to service? Against this, as the House will see, it may be urged that a considerable number of those eager to join the Fighting Forces have to be rejected on medical grounds, and it would be argued that those whose disabilities escape notice until after they had been enlisted ought not to have an advantage over those who are rejected at the outset. Under National Service all men and women in this country are doing the work which renders best service to our nation.
All forms of faithful service are honourable, but we do not propose at present to extend the King's Badge beyond those whose disabilities are attributable to their service. The matter must, however, be considered in conjunction with chevrons, about which I will say a word in a minute or two. The only ex-soldiers who will not be able shortly to wear any token of their service will be those who have not qualified for either the Africa Star or the 1939–43 Star and who were discharged for non-attributable reasons with less than one year's war-time service, and these may be eligible in due course for any awards which may be granted later in respect of military service, such as a general medal. But only those I have specified, who do not qualify for either of the stars or who were discharged for non-attributable reasons and who have less than one year's service, will not have some record of their connection with our Armed Forces, be it by chevrons or some other form.
Even greater complications would arise if men and women invalided from the Civil Defence general services, including the National Fire Service, were made eligible for the badge. There is no fixed minimum medical standard for discharge, and there are those who have been discharged on account of reductions. I can, however, announce to-day that the official chevrons for war service are to be extended to certain further Civil Defence organisations, including the Rest Centre, the Emergency Food (including the Queen's Messenger Convoy Service), the Canteen, the Emergency Information and the Mortuary Services, which have been up to the present excluded. We are also on the point of expanding the chevron scheme so that some 227,000 additional members of the Women's Voluntary Services engaged in Civil Defence will also be eligible.
At this point I must explain that medals are struck at the end of wars and stars are given for particular episodes or periods during their course. I must also explain that the manufacture of medals or stars cannot possibly be undertaken during the war and therefore all that we can do is to issue ribbons.
Apart from the right to wear particular ribbons certain emblems have been approved under conditions which have been set forth in the White Paper. These emblems are a very highly-prized feature of these awards. There are the Arabic numerals 1 and 8 for service in the First and Eighth Armies, which played the main part in liberating North Africa and which are valid from the period of the Battle of El Alamein in October—.perhaps, I am not sure, from the final repulse of Rommel in the month before, I may be in error as to which. They served from that period to the complete surrender or destruction of all the German and Italian forces, upwards of 300,000 prisoners being taken, in Tunis in May. There is also the Silver Rose, which is worn as a special emlblem for the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, with the 1939–43 Ribbon. Those emblems, of which there can only be a few, can be worn on their respective ribbons. They are undoubtedly a super-distinction and are intended to be so. It will not be physically possible to add to them indefinitely, because there is no more room on the little slip of ribbon for a multiplicity of emblems without producing a confused impression.
The question of clasps, or bars as they are sometimes called—in my opinion miscalled—on medal ribbons will not come up till after the war. Then, when all the events can be seen in their true perspective and proportion, it must be carefully considered. After the last war a large number of clasps were provisionally approved, but it was found impossible to make a general issue of them on account of the great number earned by individuals and of the vast number of persons whose claims had to be examined. This would have entailed enormous staffs at a time when, among many difficulties, the need for economy was considered to be important. I do not know what will happen after this war, when, of course, we are all going to be so rich, or we hope so. The clasps can only be worn on the long ribbon—the long length of ribbon which carries a medal or a star. There is no room for them on the ordinary narrow strips of ribbon which are all we have to give at the present time. However, this whole matter will be most attentively studied, bearing in mind, of course, that a clasp for a spectacular action may connote less sacrifice and endurance and daring than long service in the submarines, or in a series of bombing sorties, or hard service in the front line, or in going to-and-fro across the oceans for months and years on end.
There is another general principle which I will venture to commend to the House. It is always easy in these matters to widen the Regulation and to admit a new class. On the other hand, it is never possible to go back and take away what has been given unless it has been given in error. There is no need for us to take any final negative decision at the present time. I thought this Debate would be one for consultation, for sensing the feelings of the country through its best exponent, the House of Commons, rather than for the arbitrary laying down of final awards. It is, however, necessary, while not taking negative decisions, to take every step with great caution and to examine carefully the consequences of other classes besides those newly benefiting.
The most difficult border line case is, of course, the anti-aircraft battery, and especially the Dover coastal batteries, which are constantly engaged with the enemy's artillery across the Straits. I have been most anxious to include these batteries in the 1939–43 ribbon. Up to the present I have found no way of doing so without opening the door, successively, first to the whole of the Ack-ack Command and, secondly, to the searchlights and predictors of all kinds, without which the guns cannot fire or cannot hit, and whose personnel were and still often are, in equal danger to that of the gunners. In the next place you would immediately come to the National Fire Service, whose casualties have been at a much heavier rate than the ack-ack batteries. And, then, what about the Police, who stood around and kept order and rendered every assistance? And what about the A.R.P. and the fireguards so often in danger and dis- charging their work with so much efficiency as we can see even from our recent minor experiences? If the National Fire Service and others like them were included, how could the whole Regular Army which stood in Great Britain be excluded, or the Dominion Forces which performed here a vital strategic role? If the Regular Army were included, why should not the Home Guards be eligible, who did their work without pay at the end of long days, who wore their uniforms and played an essential part in hurling back the danger of invasion from our shores? There remain a number of other categories such as the training and maintenance personnel of the R.A.F., the bomb disposal squads, which is, with the ack-ack batteries, one of the balancing cases. In many cases personal decorations have been won on a large scale by that heroic band of men, but, at the same time, I am admitting quite frankly the difficulties which these cases have created—the difficulty of denying and the difficulty of opening the door almost to a very vast extent.
If we were to take the whole course I have indicated and open the door to class after class, as I have shown you would be asked to do and bound to do, think, in logic, this would involve throwing the 1939–43 Star and Ribbon open to an additional 12,000,000 persons and by doing this I am sure you would take away much of the distinction now attaching to the decoration. It would become so common as to be very nearly universal. I am sure the soldier, the sailor and the airman returning from prolonged active service abroad and wearing the Africa or 1939–43 Star would feel bewildered when he saw all around him 12,000,000, mostly adult, males who had not left the island but had got the same ribbon too.
I am glad I carried the Noble Lady with me. I was about to remark that "bewildered" is, I think, an instance of under-statement.
But if these grants were made so widespread, could you stop at the Services themselves? Indeed, I think the civil population, the railwaymen, who bore with immense composure and unflinching fortitude the full fury of the blitz and went about their ordinary work with faithful diligence and punctuality under the most trying conditions and those who continued in factories at work while the danger signals were going, would certainly have a moral claim to be considered. If danger is to be made the test, if proper and correct demeanour in the face of danger, and showing indifference to personal injury or life, if that is to be made the test, millions of civilian men and women in their small homes with nothing but the Anderson or Morrison shelters to shield them—not that I deprecate those admirable institutions—who all the time preserved so fine a spirit, they would have a claim as against the men in uniform, and there are many who have so far passed the war in districts unaffected by the blitz and have not been in action—had the honour to be in action—or come under the fire of the enemy.
I can assure the House I have given a great deal of thought to these questions which I have been interested in all my life and I have assumed the duty of giving the Committee on the Grant of Honours guidance from time to time and representing the results of their labours to His Majesty in respect to the use of his Royal Prerogative. I trust the House will see how very numerous the difficulties are, yet I do not at all repent that we have embarked on this because I know the pleasure it has given the 3,000,000 men who already wear the ribbon on their breast. As at present advised, we cannot consent to widen the 1939–43 Ribbon in order to include the whole Army or all who took part in the Battle of Britain, and we could not take any step which would lead us or drag us into such a course for the reasons I have tried to explain to the House.
The question then arises whether a third and different Ribbon for another Star should not be instituted for service in this country, whether it should not be issued to the ten or 12,000,000 persons affected. This would not detract in the same way from the distinction of the 1939–43 decoration and it would certainly be well deserved in several million cases. Well, I have asked that this should be examined and pondered over and certainly, on this and other points as I have said already, we shall be influenced by the opinions expressed and the feelings manifested in this Debate and generally endeavour to sense the feelings of the House as a whole. I have not so far been able to reach any decisive conclusion myself and certainly not any negative conclusion upon the point. All the same, there are important or substantial reasons for postponing to the end of the war this award which would, of course, involve something similar for the Civil Defence in Malta, in other British countries, islands and fortresses which have been subject to attack, and there are many other complications connected with it. Therefore, I say that I remain in a state of not being at all convinced that this step would be possible or desirable.
I may say, however, that at the end of the war, when medals are struck, every one who has worn the King's uniform and served in uniformed, disciplined Services, will, I presume—I say "presume" because the matter may not rest with His Majesty's present advisers—receive a Victory Medal to commemorate this great struggle for human freedom. There will also very likely be a United Nations or Allied war medal of the widest possible application and it is upon the background of these general medals, that the Stars, the issue of which His Majesty has already approved, will shine brightly forth.
I would ask my right hon. Friend whether he would, for the convenience of the House and as a basis for the Debate, give a list of the qualifications for the 1939–43 Star which have been so far approved by the Government, instead of leaving them to be read later by the Secretary of State for Air.
When my right hon. Friend has them in his hand he will read them out to the House. I agree it will, perhaps, cut out a lot of questions. He will read them out to the House if the House will approve, and, with your permission, Mr. Speaker, extend to him the indulgence of allowing him to speak later in the Debate.
I will read this list of the special operations: France, Belgium Holland, Norway, Greece and Crete, the North-West Frontier of India, the Lofoten Islands (March to December, 1941), Lucania, Syria, Spitzbergen, Hong-Kong, Malaya, Vaagso, Burma in February, 1942, and Burma in February, 1943, General Wingate's Force, Brunewald, St. Nazaire, Hardelot, Madagascar, Spitzbergen, Boulogne, Le Touquet, the Aleutian Islands (air crew service only), Dieppe, Sark and Sicily.
As this statement which the Prime Minister has kindly allowed to be made through the Secretary of State for Air has further complicated the already complicated statement of the Prime Minister, would it not be possible to have that statement circulated to the Members during the Sitting of the House, for the convenience of the Members and the simplifying of the Debate?
I really do not think there is any complication here. The Prime Minister has laid down the principle that certain special operations of a very limited duration should enable a man to qualify for the Star and this is merely a list of these operations. If hon. Members have other operations to suggest which they think should be added to the list, the Government will be very glad to consider them.
May I ask my right hon. Friend, in order that we may be quite clear, does service in any one of these theatres mentioned entitle a soldier, sailor or airman to the award of, the 1939–43 Star, or must he have been in this theatre for a period? Is it clear that, in the case of France, for instance, the fact that service there even for one day would qualify as in Africa? That would constitute a widening of the previous arrangement.
I did not wish to trouble the House with the dates in every case. I think it will be pretty obvious. The dates in the case of Norway, for example, are 14th April, 1940, to 8th June, 1940; in the case of France, 10th May, 1940, to 19th June, 1940; and so in the case of Belgium. In the case of Holland, the dates are 12th May to 13th May, 1940.
As one of the large number of Members of this House who at the end of this war will, no doubt, be presented with the 1939–43 Star, I take great pleasure in following my right hon. Friend, with the intention of trying to be constructive, and not critical, of the Government's intention. I am quite certain that the whole of the men and women in the Forces who are entitled to these awards and decorations have received the announcement of the Government's policy with great satisfaction. While the personnel of the Forces are more concerned with questions of basic rates and allowances and things of that description, this decision is greatly interesting the Forces to-day. Questions of medals and decorations will always cause a little concern to people in the Forces. Obviously, one has to lay down a line of demarcation for the various individuals and the various episodes, but I suggest that there are many anomalies left, in spite of the list which has just been read out by my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air.
There is one particular class with which I am concerned, and I am sure my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty will bear this class in mind. In many ships of the Navy, the N.A.A.F.I. personnel have performed very valuable services, and they have been amongst those who have lost their lives in some of the large ships which have been sunk during the war. Although they are civilians on board ship, they actually take part in operation stations when manning the ship against the enemy. They tend the wounded, and run the same risks as others on the ship. They seem to have been neglected. I would like my right hon. Friend to bear them in mind, because I feel that they can be put in exactly the same category as the Merchant Navy. Every civilian serving with the Merchant Navy will be entitled to the award after six months' service, in the same way as the men of the Navy. I had a number of cases to raise with regard to the Lofoten Islands, which I had the great pleasure of seeing myself on one occasion, and with regard to other places, but the Secretary of State for Air has knocked out some of the guns which I was going to fire. But there is one point in the White Paper which is not clear to me. It relates to the men who were not evacuated from France, Belgium, and elsewhere. The men who were evacuated will receive the 1939–43 Star without having had to serve the six months' qualifying period, but there were thousands of men who were not evacuated and who are left in the hands of the enemy. [An HON. MEMBER: "They will get it."] If I am assured that they will get it, I shall be satisfied. The Africa Star can be awarded to personnel who have served only a day in operations, but the 1939–43 Star carries with it, in the main, a six months' qualification.
I am correct, because I am referring to the Navy in particular. There are various episodes which do not carry the six months' qualification, in places like Lofoten and Madagascar, because they were not six months' operations, but in the Navy a man cannot qualify unless he has served afloat for six months. A man can have served in the Navy on Russian convoys—which I think is a good example—for five months up to December, 1943, and he would not get the Star, but a soldier could have been in North Africa for a week before the end of December, 1943, and he, quite rightly, would get the Africa Star. That is where I find fault with the White Paper. This six months' qualification is wrong. If we are to have a qualification at all—and I do not think we should—it should be much less than six months.
My right hon. Friend referred to people in civilian employment. It would be generally agreed, at least by those who reside in London, that very few people have performed more valuable service to this country than the Landon firemen did during those horrible long blitzes. They are very concerned about the position. They do not want any more recognition than the wardens, or other people who served in similar categories during those very trying times, but a case could be easily made out for some special recognition for them, even if they are not awarded the 1939–43 Star. Perhaps to bring in 12,000,000 more people would take away the great value of the Star, but all those people who have taken a very active part, particularly in the air raids on the big towns of this country, are deserving of special recognition when awards are considered. My right hon. Friend mentioned the possibility of another medal being struck afterwards. In fact, the Press reported only a few days ago that there was to be a general service medal. That would get over some of the complaints which I and other Members have received, but I would ask the Government to make it quite clear that those who are entitled to participate in the awards which have been issued up to now would be included. I would refer my right hon. Friend the First Lord of the Admiralty to the case of a body of men who are performing very good work under the Admiralty. They are the Controlled Mining Service. There are two ways in which the Admiralty carry out minelaying. They use minelayers, and they also use a body of men who operate from the shore. The men in the minelayers, whose service is classed as being afloat, will receive the 1939–43 Star if they have had six months' service, but the men who are accommodated ashore, although they are carrying out the same duties day after day and running the same risks, do not qualify.
Then, there is the case of serving men who have been away for a long time. Naval personnel and troops have been stationed in Iceland for a very long time. They have not been in actual operations, but people who have been enduring the very hard weather of Iceland or of West Africa are more worthy of consideration than people who have been in this country all the time. I think the Government have tried to deal with this whole question very fairly. I welcome the assurance of the Prime Minister that they have not closed their minds to any further extension. I was pleased to hear that, because in previous Debates in this House it has seemed that the Government have decided their policy before the debate and, consequently we have always had a negative reply. If only because it shows a change of heart, that assurance is valuable. I think the Government have done a good job, and I trust that before they close the list every man who is entitled to an award will be included.
My right hon. Friend has very largely taken the wind out of my sails, so I shall be very brief. My first point is the question of the Eighth Army clasp. My right hon.
Friend has said that the question of clasps is to wait until the end of the war, but, as we have already issued the emblem of the Eighth Army and the First Army for the final victory in North Africa, I think it is right that we should consider this specific case now. At present, the qualifying dates for the emblem of the Eighth Army are 23rd October to 12th May. That is to say, from the first day of the battle of El Alamein to the final victory in North Africa. I think it is absolutely right that there should be some particular recognition paid to the Eighth Army during those dates, but I do not want to forget the men who served in the Eighth Army, and in the Western Desert Force, as it was called in the very early days, going back to 1940.
I take the hardest case of all. At present, as I see it, a man can have served the whole length of time in the Western Desert, from the beginning of the Italian war in North Africa until 22nd October, and have been wounded on the 22nd October and been evacuated. Admittedly, he gets his Africa Star, but he gets nothing else. He gets exactly the same as the soldier who has served at the Base, or at G.H.O. in Cairo, or anywhere else, for a very much shorter period. It may be said that there is no regiment that took part in the early campaign that did not also fight during the final period. That may be so, or it may not be so, but, anyhow, there are a great many hundreds of individuals who, for one reason or another, fought in the early days and, through, probably, no fault of their own, did not have an opportunity to take part in the final victory.
We have, quite rightly, heard a great deal about the Eighth Army since General Montgomery took over command. Since he took over, the Eighth Army has never looked back. All glory and honour to the Eighth Army and its great commander, but I venture to suggest, and I think the Government would probably be the first to agree, that the reason why the Eighth Army was back at El Alamein in July, 1942, when 'General 'Montgomery took over the command, was not through any fault of the men in the Army. In all those early days, when the desert battles swayed from Sollum to El Agheila and back again, there was nothing wrong with the men. It was, I venture to suggest, the lack of tools and the shortage of the right tools. The suggestion I am making is merely this. We have already got the Arabic Emblem. I suggest that, as in its early days the war was largely against the Italians, possibly a Roman VIII should be given to the men of the Eighth Army who fought for, say, a definite period of six months, were in a definite formation of the Eighth Army or the Western Desert Force, for a period of not less than six months, and fought from the beginning of the Italian war to the 22nd October. I suggest, also, that anybody qualifying for both should only be entitled to one.
The second point which I wish to raise is one about which I am not yet quite clear in my mind as to what the decision is, but it is a question concerning this six months' qualification for the 1939–43 Star. I am not quite clear what is the exact position indicated by my right hon. Friend when he read out a list of places and dates. Provided a man serves in one of those places, and between the dates which he read out, am I to understand that he does qualify for the 1939–43 Star? That is the point which I have not yet got clear. Originally, he had to aggregate, in any of the long list of places, a total period of six months. Now, as I see it, in spite of what my right hon. Friend has said to-day, a man can very well have done five months and 27 days service in France, been evacuated before the date which the Minister gave us—the 12th May—and still not qualify for the Star. I would be very grateful if my right hon. Friend can clear that point up, because I think that, if that is so, a man can have done service for five months and 27 days in France, or in France, Greece and Norway, and still not have been there between the specified dates which the Minister has given us. It still seems to me that, in that case, he is going to get nothing, unless he has been carried out on a stretcher or had already received a decoration or award. Perhaps, when the Minister replies he will clear that point up.
I think the Government must be a little overwhelmed at the moment by the steady chorus of approval, when I think they had every expectation of meeting a rather angry and violent crowd of critics demanding more. I personally wish to add my voice to the already swelling chorus of approval, and to congratulate the Prime Minister on keeping the definition of the qualification for the 1939–43 Star within reasonably narrow limits. There are a number of reasons, most of which my right hon. Friend advanced, and which it would be easy for me to recapitulate, for carrying out the distribution in this way, but there is one which I think has not occurred to a large number of hon. Members. It is that, for perfectly good reasons of their own, the Royal Air Force and the Royal Navy both adopted a very narrow qualification for the award of this medal—I think, probably rightly, and in any case, it was their business, and they did adopt this narrow qualification. It seems to me that it would be ungenerous on the part of the Army to cheapen the medal of the other two Services, and any wide extension would undoubtedly have that effect, and would nullify to a great extent the great pride which the Navy and the Royal Air Force have every right to feel.
Each Service must have some form of qualification and there is a great deal of difference in, say, the personal contribution of a pilot in the air and a gunner who fires a gun. I do not think we can argue a precise parallel between the three Services, because their tasks in this war are so widely different.
There is just one small point which was taken up by the hon. Member for York (Mr. Wood) on the question of the soldier whose overseas service does not occur within the dates mentioned by the Secretary of State for Air. He quoted the case of a soldier serving five months and 27 days in France before the 10th of May, who was then recalled to Great Britain, not evacuated, and therefore does not qualify for the medal. I do not think that there is any real reason why he should. He is in a very different position from soldiers serving in England, because no war had been started in France before the 10th of May, and the Government's present plan does seem to me to cover—
I do not want to go into a deep discussion. Of course, the 51st Division qualified for this decoration, in any case, and so also did the troops who took part in actions on the Maginot Line—nearly all of them, though there may be odd ones here and there. But I cannot relate the issue of the Star to cover individual cases. I was very pleased when my hon. and gallant Friend opposite said a word or two for the Iceland force. Whether or not it is possible to include them in this distribution I do not know, but it is nice to think that, on the whole, they were not forgotten. I am not trying to gain the Star for myself, because, as recently indicated by the Secretary of State for Air, I get it anyhow. I am putting forward an altruistic case for a force in whicn I had the great honour to serve for two full years. This force, I think, deserves consideration, if not for the 1939–43 Star, at least for special consideration after the war. As my hon. and gallant Friend said, they endured the fairly severe climatic conditions of Iceland. The ordinary strength of wind in the winter runs from about 90 miles an hour, sometimes rising to 126. Life on the edge of the Arctic Circle in a Nissen hut can be quite uncomfortable, and this force did, I think, deserve well of the country. They earned the respect and affection of a population not at all willing to see them when they first got there, though it is worth recalling the tribute paid by one of their leading politicians to our Forces there—that it was practically a unique example in history of an occupying army which was better liked on the day of its departure than on the day of its arrival.
I feel that there is a case for some consideration for this force, which I think played a very important strategic part in the war. Had we not occupied Iceland, we might have lost the Battle of the Atlantic. If we had lost the Battle of the Atlantic, no heroism on the part of Britons would have been of any value whatever. If we are to have a distribution of these medals by merit, or on the importance of the part played in the war, I consider that this force should have greater recognition. I am not at all sure that the importance of the task carried out in the war or the danger incurred by any particular body of troops is a good criterion for the issue of a medal. A campaign medal or star is a definite commemoration of the fact, not that you were in danger or that you were heroic, but that you were in a particular operation at a particular time. Once the operation is fixed which shall receive that decoration, it is no reflection on any soldier if he has not a medal for that particular operation, for it is not his fault if he was not there. But it is a pleasing memento for the soldier who is lucky enough to be ordered to that theatre of war.
I now come to the effort to extend the distribution too widely, and I will try to anticipate some of the arguments which may be used later on. I noticed that when the Prime Minister was pointing out the enormous distribution which would be necessary if any qualification were adopted to cover some of the soldiers who fought their battles at home, a large portion of the House seemed not only to agree that this vast expansion would be necessary, but that it would also be desirable, and with that I cannot find myself in agreement. It is true, to take one example, that the Anti-Aircraft Command played a vital part in the destruction of the German attack upon this country and that without their services we would probably not be here to-day. It is true, also, that they suffered casualties in so doing and that they manned their guns and their searchlights under arduous and difficult conditions and played their full part in the Battle of Britain. But so, as the Prime Minister pointed out, did the whole the National Fire Service, the Civil Defence, including those in areas where no aeroplane of the Luftwaffe ever flew, who were playing their part there not because of their desire, but because that is where they were told to play it. Once we began all that sort of thing there was no reason, as the Prime Minister said, why everybody in this country should not receive the same medal, but that is not the point in the distribution of medals. If it is merely an ideal that all should share alike, let us scrap the idea of medals and say that the production of a national registration identity card should be counted as the same thing.
I would like to reinforce once again my plea to the Government to remember that they have gone far enough in extending the scope of this decoration. An impres- sive list of actions was read out by the Secretary of State for Air, and some of them, particularly those which took place in the far North, were singularly free from any serious battle. I hope that the scope of this decoration will not be further extended, and that my hon. Friends who want an extension will be content to await the general war medal, which will, obviously, have to be issued at some time to all who fought—either at the end of the war or just after it, but issued with, I trust, rather more celerity than the Peninsula Medal to which the Prime Minister referred.
Although I listened with very great care to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, there are several points which I do not altogether understand, and I sincerely hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air, when he comes to reply, will be able to give an answer to the minor points which I hope to raise. The first point is one mentioned by an hon. and gallant Member opposite with regard to the service which was necessary to qualify men for the 1939–43 Star who are in the Navy. He seemed to infer, whether rightly or wrongly I cannot tell, that six months' service was necessary to qualify anyone in the Navy for that particular Star. Surely a man in the Navy who took part in any of these operations which my right hon. Friend enumerated, such as St. Nazaire or Dieppe —a sailor who might actually have been serving in one of the landing craft—would come in on the same basis as any of the other men who served in the expedition, and the fact that he was there on that day at that time would be necessary to qualify him for the award of the 1939–43 Star. There is another point which I did not quite understand, and that is the comparative virtue or merit of the 1939–43 Star and the Africa Star.
It might assist hon. Members who wish to take part in the Debate if I try to clear up that point now, as more than one hon. Member has referred to it. The participation in these episodes will qualify sailors who took part only in the same way as men with the similar qualification in the Mediterranean. That is to say, those who served on shore and those who fought in the air in the Fleet Air Arm will be qualified if they took part, even for one day only, in one of these episodes, but not those who, in the ordinary course of their seagoing duties, played some part in support of operations on shore. The same distinction is drawn, my hon. and gallant Friend will find, in the conditions qualifying sailors for the Africa Star.
I am very much obliged to my right hon. Friend for elucidating that point, but there will be a great deal of difficulty and heartburning in deciding whether a sailor actually took part in the expedition itself or whether he was merely assisting in the normal course of his duties.
The other point I wish to raise is with regard to the comparative merit of the 1939–43 Star and the Africa Star. I think I rightly understood my right hon. Friend to say that the 1939–43 Star was the senior of the two, and therefore would take precedence. That may be so, but the fact remains that, in the minds of many people, the Africa Star is looked upon as the more preferable of the two. It is the one which they would rather receive. I have been told so on a good many occasions, and it certainly seems to me, that men qualified for both—the men in the Eighth Army or the First Army and also in one of the expeditions which have been enumerated—ought to have the opportunity of opting which decoration they will receive. I agree, in spite of what has already been said, that it is well that no man should be entitled to receive both, but it would only be fair that, when a man is qualified for both he should be entitled to say which he would rather receive, for, as I have already said, despite the fact that the 1939–43 Star is looked upon as the senior decoration, in the minds of many people the Africa Star is preferable.
I really understood that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said that the 1939–43 Star was the senior decoration and should be awarded in cases where a man was qualified for both. Personally, as I have said, I think that a man ought to be entitled to opt for whichever decoration he prefers to receive.
There is absolutely no definite reason that can be given, but, at the same time, I think that it is desirable that one decoration only should be given and that a man should have the right of choosing which one. With regard to what has been said as to the institution of a third decoration, I think that it is desirable that these two Stars should be restricted to men who have actually served abroad, except in the case of men in the Air Force who served during the Battle of Britain. It would be very difficult to say definitely that any of them had not lett the frontiers of this country, and during many battles they were engaged up to five miles in the air. Other than that, it is desirable that no one should receive these Stars who has not actually fought outside this country. One of the principal reasons is, that any alteration or relaxation of that rule could only result in widening the decorations to such an extent that it would mean that they would inevitably lose the virtue and merit they possess.
At the same time, it is rather difficult to understand why the A.R.P. services, the National Fire Service, the Home Guard and other Services which fought in the blitz in cities like London, Liverpool and Hull should not be qualified to receive these distinctions, when one thinks of the fact that many people, at Cairo for example, are to receive the most coveted decoration of all, the Africa Star, when, in many cases, they have not experienced a single shell, shot or bomb. It is not too much to say that the greatest danger that they have been called upon to face is the danger of an ill-prepared dinner at Shepheards Hotel. When one thinks of the casualties incurred by men in the A.R.P. services in Hull and in the East End of London, it seems unfair that they should not be entitled to receive what people who have passed the whole of the war in Cairo, where they have boasted in letters of the good time they are having, are entitled to receive.
I admit at once that it opens the door very wide indeed when you come to deal with these Services which have done such good work in this country. I have not at my finger tips the casualties which have been incurred by the National Fire Service or Civil Defence generally, but I do know they are very largely in excess of the casualties which have been incurred by the A.A. Batteries. Yet I know that a great many people are hoping that the A.A. Batteries will receive one or other of these decorations. Surely what applies to them applies equally to men in the Home Guard in London, Liverpool, Hull or Coventry, because the services which they have rendered there are totally different from the services rendered by the A.R.P. services or the Home Guard, in places like Penrith or Ilfracombe. Casualties in London and Hull have been very high indeed and those men, as things stand at present, are not to receive any recognition of their services, and the due decoration, if and when it is issued, will be so widely distributed that it will have very little value.
I would like to say a few words especially with regard to the Home Guard, because that is a service with which I was associated for two and a half years. It was only quite late in his speech that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister even mentioned the Home Guard. He treated the police in the same way. In my opinion, the Metropolitan Police and the police in the cities to which I have referred, in the early days of the blitz at any rate, were the backbone of Civil Defence. The A.R.P. Services looked to them for guidance, for leadership and instruction, and that guidance and that leadership were never lacking. The same applies, to some extent, to the Home Guard. In the East End of London, where I was serving all through the blitz, it was one of my duties to provide 50 men at our sub-divisional police station in that particular zone. That meant that 200 men were on duty every night through the blitz. From what I am told by the police, and from what I myself saw, they rendered the most admirable service, assisting and rescuing people from burning and broken-down buildings, keeping back the crowds, keeping order amongst the people, who, in certain cases, were showing signs of panic, and doing their duty in every possible manner. Those men certainly deserve something more than the general service decoration which is to be distributed amongst the Home Guard all over the country, and I sincerely hope that something can be done in that direction. All the same I think, and I believe the opinion of people in the country generally is with me, that these two decorations—the 1939–43 Star and the Africa Star—should be restricted to people who have given service outside the country, and who have definitely fought in the areas which are covered by those decorations.
I feel sure that every Member of the House who listened to the Prime Minister's speech will regard it as mild-mannered and very considerate. It seemed to me that what the right hon. Gentleman had to tell us has taken the sting out of this Debate to-day. In my view he went a long way to meeting the many criticisms one has heard in the past in regard to these awards. May I ask the Government if they will consider very carefully the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Whitechapel and St. George's (Mr. W. J. Edwards) who put very plainly the many reasons why those who have been left out of consideration in the Prime Minister's speech shall be brought into the review for consideration in the near future?
May I say a word or two about the very gallant service rendered by the Civil Defence personnel of this country during the blitz? I suggest very seriously that they are deserving of consideration by the Government. When one comes to realise what we went through for over 75 nights consecutively in London and in the many provincial towns, and the service that was rendered by the National Fire Service, the A.R.P. service, the wardens' service, and by the many women's voluntary services too, recognition should certainly be given to these very gallant people. One must bear in mind, too, the very gallant part played by our men in the factories. Take the East End of London. Night after night we spent 15 and 16 hours in the trenches and in the shelters, wherever we were able to get, and then were at work in the morning before the siren had sounded the all-clear. Is there any one who ventures to say that the men and women who provided the munitions and the wherewithal for the Services to carry on are not deserving of recognition? I venture to say nobody will. It has been said by many hon. Members that various classes of service have been left out. One of the chief grounds of complaint seems to be the six months' qualification. That is a very hard fact to consider. If we are going to look at it from that angle I venture to say that it wants reconsideration. In the last war many gallant actions were fought in the first four or five months, and many actions have been fought in the first four or five months of this war. To make that stipulation of six months' service before any one can receive an award is not playing the game with those who were discharged and had to leave the Services within six months. I ask the Government, in conclusion, to give very careful consideration to the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Whitechapel, and I feel sure that all of us will be satisfied if the Prime Minister will reconsider the whole situation.
Notoriously in all Service matters there is nothing more difficult than that of the award of decorations. As many will remember, André Maurois in the last war described how shells and decorations descended alike upon the just and upon the unjust. But there is one thing we must always remember that, as was said in a famous British comic opera:
When everybody's somebody
Then no one's anybody.
If you disperse the decoration too widely, it ceases to have any great value. In the course of the discussion, to which I have listened with very great interest, there have been various suggestions, but I would only make one comment upon them. Having had some association with the Anti-Aircraft Defence of Great Britain at one time, I think that the allocation of a similar award for the anti-aircraft personnel and for the civil personnel would not be at all satisfactory and there would be very grave difficulties in carrying it out without producing ill-feeling and a sense of hardship amongst various people.
We have acknowledged that those who won the great victory of North Africa shall have upon the ribbon of their African medal a particular distinction. Now that battle was undoubtedly one of the turning points of the war but, on the other hand, there was another battle which was an even more significant turning point in the war, and the men who were the spearhead which won that battle have never received the slightest recognition in the shape of an award as a separate body. I refer to the fighter pilots of the Battle of Britain. They have had from the Prime Minister the most unexampled tribute that any body of fighting men have ever had, but has that been translated into something which shall be visible to those who meet them in the street? No. In my submission, they should be entitled to wear some emblem upon their 1939–43 Star which would make it plain that they were the fighter pilots of the Battle of Britain. We know what we owe to them. It is fitting that I, a member of another Service, should make this suggestion, which I think will have the support of nearly everybody in this House. We are, and I think few of us are exceptions to the rule, somewhat affected by the numbers of people involved, perhaps the numbers of our constituents, perhaps the number of people in the country at large. We have had many suggestions in the course of this Debate which would involve the issue of medals to tens of thousands and, perhaps unwittingly, we have rather multiplied the claim by the number who claim it. Well, the people I am putting forward are unaffected by that. There are very few survivors left of that gallant band.
I do not suppose there are 100. None of them has approached me and I do not suppose that any one of them has approached any other Member of this House, because that is not the sort of men they are. If we take two standards as regards the award of a star, which is a peculiar decoration, and if we measure up the special claims of the fighter pilots, I think they have an unexampled priority. Let us first of all think what value their services were to the country. We have the tribute of the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister to that, a tribute which has never been questioned by anyone—that never was so much owed by so many to so few. Then let us consider the second standard by which the award of a decoration may be measured, the per- sonal risk, the added peculiar danger. We think of these young men going up, their squadrons scrambling into the air to meet a number of hostile aircraft that would sometimes be described simply as 200 plus, and think of 12 or nine or even six machines unhesitatingly attacking formations, however large and formidable. I think that anyone who has been privileged to see the combat film of the early war in the air will never forget it. The gallantry was there, the service was there, and I would urge as strongly as possible that these survivors of the gallant band, which saved the country and won the first signal victory over Germany, should be entitled to one little piece of metal to wear upon the ribbon which would show that there was a man who was a fighter pilot in the Battle of Britain.
I am grateful for having been able to catch your eye, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, on this occasion because it is rare indeed that I emerge, like a deep-sea fish, from the murky depths of the indistinguished back benchers to break surface in a Debate in this House Our nervous systems are, of course, adjusted to great pressure from above, and when we do rise to the surface, as I do now, we are apt to burst—probably with pride or owing to the reduction of pressure. I hasten to assure the House that this phenomenon will not be long delayed and that when it has occurred I shall sink back again to the murky depths, leaving, I have no doubt, the surface as untroubled as before. I have recently been in contact with troops in my own constituency and I hope that you, Mr. Deputy-Speaker, will not feel that I am touching an exposed nerve when I say that I realise that they are more interested in pay and allowances than decorations, although it would be quite out of place to elaborate that now. With regard to stars and medals I would like to say that if this Debate—which is a reconsideration of the whole matter—is to produce any result, it must be a reconsideration on a purely common-sense scale, because common sense demands that action, involving the risk of death against the enemy, should be recognised by some kind of decoration. I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has clearly indicated to us that he has not closed his mind in any way either to the distribution of the Stars, or even on the question of some special kind of decoration which may be in the form of a star or medal. That, no doubt, will be adjusted and will cover the 12,000,000 people whom my right hon. Friend mentioned and who are strongly eligible for some kind of recognition of their amazing gallantry.
I was delighted that one of the points I wished to bring forward was removed from me by the Secretary of State for Air, when he said that the Norway campaign was to be recognised. It was not a great campaign in the history of our race, but that cannot be put down to the courage of those who fought it. However, the less said about that the better. I think we must make a distinction between collective and individual decoration. It is clear that the individual must be treated with the utmost possible parsimony but a collective decoration could, I think, be approached on a very generous scale. I do not want to see after the war several hundreds of thousands, perhaps even 1,000,000, rather disgruntled ex-soldiers going around our little clubs and pubs with a grievance. I was particularly interested in what my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North-West Hull (Sir. L. Ward) said on the subject of those Who had had the very good fortune to have an easy time in Cairo. I hope my right hon. Friend has also noted that point, because these people have had little more to bear than those who served in Cairo in peace-time. Let us, therefore, avoid forming, through our awards, 1,000,000 grievances. That is more important than depreciating the currency; grievances will last far longer than depreciation. If you are going to err then err on the generous side.
I want to mention a point which has not yet been raised. We have had much about the Home Guard and I am absolutely in agreement with the Prime Minister when he said how much they deserved recognition. But there is one section which does outstandingly deserve special recognition—and I emphasise the word "special." They are the bomb disposal units of the Home Guard. I ask the House to realise the kind of steel-hard, cold, logical, courage that is required to dig into the depths where an unexploded bomb lies, to listen to its ticking and then apply the tools of one's trade in sitting astride it, emasculating it and rendering it harm- less. These civilians in uniform—I am sure they will forgive me if I call them that—do most important war work as well as their Home Guard duty. I have a bomb disposal unit in my own constituency which I have very much in mind to-day. They have suffered fatal casualties and wounds. Everyone of them has had the loathsome and nerve-racking task of rendering unexploded bombs harmless, and they are immensely proud of the skill which they have shown. I, too, am immensely proud of them for their courage. I want to, put in a plea that they should have some outstanding recognition and should be allowed, at least, to participate in the 1939–43 medal award. I do not believe that that would be depreciating the currency. I do not believe that if these people were allowed this distinction it would necessarily mean that everybody in the country should have a decoration too. It does not follow as a logical sequence.
I would have like to have put in a plea for those who fought the Battle of Britain along the East and. South-East coasts. They were almost a training corps. I was there and in my command I had not a soldier, except a few "old sweats"—if the House will forgive the expression—who had had as much as three months' service. They dug and manned their positions by day and night. We were bombed, shelled and machine gunned, and if that part of Britain was not an operational theatre, I do not know what an operational theatre is. I realise that in saying so I go contrary to my right hon. Friend's attitude that it would be depreciating the currency. Therefore, I do not press that claim, particularly as I myself took part in it. Nevertheless, I would be glad to see it pressed by someone else. I would like to conclude by emphasising the fact that collective decorations are very different from individual decorations, and I very much hope that the House and the Prime Minister will take the view that there is less danger in being generous than there is in "depreciating the currency."
The fact that the Prime Minister has accorded this Debate to-day is evidence of the very generous spirit in which-he has met the House and the country in throwing open to review the conditions of the award of these Stars.
I think it is evidence also that the Prime Minister, as head of the Committee on the Grant of Honours and Decorations—[An HON. MEMBER: "No."]—At any rate, my right hon. Friend is closely associated with that Committee which, I think, is not altogether satisfied that the original conditions of award were the right conditions. Indeed, in previous wars, and certainly in the last war, the grant of the Star—in the case of the Army it was the 1914 Star and in the case of the Navy it was the 1914–15 Star—was not accompanied, so far as I recollect, by any particular heart-burnings or differences of opinion at a later date as to whether the award ought to have been wider than, in fact, it was. I think the reason for that was that the period for the award of these two Stars was a very short one. They were, in fact, awarded to cover the services of those in the Navy and Army—the Royal Air Force did not then exist—who, at the beginning of hostilities and during the two early years of that war, bore the brunt of the fray and did most of the fighting while great new Armies and an expanding Navy were being trained.
In this war, however, the Stars have been awarded, so far, on an entirely different basis. I do not know whether it is too optimistic to suggest that the Star that covers a period of service from the beginning of the war up to the end of 1943 is, in fact, covering a very great part of the length of the war itself. I may be too optimistic, but I do not think I am. In the case of the Africa Star that was awarded in the same way as, I think, Stars such as the old Khedival Star was awarded in Egypt when a particular campaign, victorious in its conclusion, was thus commemorated. It was certainly appropriate that the utter rout, defeat and ejection of the Italian and German Armies from North Africa should have been marked by a grant of a decoration of that kind. Having decided on that, the Government found themselves in something of a difficulty because they realised that the other two Services, the Navy and the Air Force, would go altogether unrewarded. They dealt with the Mediterranean theatre first and said that any naval or Air Force personnel who were closely identified with the North African campaign ashore should have the Africa Star itself. With regard to the Navy and the Air Force they then introduced a new Star which was not purely to commemorate a particular campaign but was altogether out of its class. It was really a general service award, covering a long period of time. It is true that in order to meet in advance any possible disappointment that the other two Services might have, that they would have no particular rosette or clasp to pin on to their ribbons during war-time, that the award of a rosette was provided for that portion of the Navy only which was working in the Mediterranean within the limited dates prescribed for the award of the Africa Star.
I think the limit of these dates in the case of the Navy does mean a rather artificial restriction. There have been campaigns and battles and naval service all over the world, quite unrelated to the last victorious phase of the military African campaign, which have been just as important to the Navy and to the people of our country as that period under review. I do not want to run the risk of making any suggestions which would convert the distinction on a uniform into part of the uniform itself, which would have a wholly futile result. I would instance the first battle of Narvik fought under the leadership of the late Captain Warburton Lee, V.C., where almost the whole flotilla was finally sunk but paved the way to the much easier task of the second battle of Narvik, where I happened to be present and realised what jolly good work had been done before to make our task an easy one. Such contests as that should be reviewed once again, to see whether a rosette could not be more widely awarded.
The suggestion has been made that fighter pilots should have a special rosette to be added to their 1939–43 Ribbons. Surely a way ought to be found, after the Prime Minister has put all our thoughts into words in his classic phrase about the work they did, to record that visibly on their ribbons so that that small band of individuals, as they now are, can be distinguished in that way. Then, too, I want to join with those who have put in a word for the bomb disposal squads. That is work of the most cold-blooded heroism. I should imagine that you have to write yourself off before you do it. You must not think of yourself from beginning to end of it. I hope something will be done for them. There is the practical difficulty that the time for the 1939–43 Star ended in 1943. On the other hand, bomb disposal is, at any rate for some time to come, a continuing necessity at intervals. It may be that these gallant people, not very large in number, would not fall to be dealt with in that way but that is for the Government to decide.
It was a wise suggestion by the Prime Minister that there should not be a wholesale widening of the 1939–43 Star. Once you do that you will take away all the value of it, if you give it literally to everyone. It might be better to give a special new award to those enormous numbers of people in the various forms of national service who up to now have no visible ribbon to sew on their tunics or coats. I should deprecate, in any award that is made, anything in the nature of a Battle of Britain Star being awarded to any effectives of the Armed Farces because, if it is given to them, they will think it is some lesser form of Star that ranks very much lower in prestige than the 1939–43 Star. Therefore, any award that you give to members of the Armed Forces must, to my mind, be in the form of extensions of the 1939–43 Star. To some extent the pitch is queered. If we were considering the matter from the beginning, before anything had been awarded at all, we might possibly come to other conclusions. The 1939–43 Star is a visible recognition of those who have taken part in fighting in the period concerned and, if we are to give an award, as I think we ought to do, to very numerous other classes of people, such as Civil Defence workers, it ought to be a different award altogether and confined to them. When I have in mind such an award, I want to put it on record that those of us who have been in air raids, both under conditions of serving in the Armed Forces and also in our ordinary capacity as citizens of this city, getting a gun and shooting back with it is a far more pleasant occupation than sitting in a shelter at your A.R.P. station in some building ashore. It is a far more pleasant proposition to bring down fighting aircraft. Therefore, any award to civil workers should be one which we, as fighting men, would envy them for having and would prize very highly and, if it is once given to them, it will not be an award of less prestige.
Possibly the people I have seen there were only properly preserving themselves so that, after the bombs had fallen, they could go out into the scene of carnage, as it sometimes is, and do their stuff with great gallantry. I am sure my hon. and gallant Friend will not misunderstand me. I am not making any derogatory allusions. The Prime Minister has been generous, but the present conditions of awards are not entirely satisfactory. There are a few loopholes to be filled up and I feel sure that the Government will review these matters so that the way the awards are granted will be truly representative of the British way and purpose in seeing that gallantry, loyalty and good service are justly rewarded by the Sovereign on the recommendation of Parliament.
Before I come to my main theme I should like to address a question to my right hon. Friend on a small point. Under the announcement made this morning, the 1939–43 Star is to be widened in scope and will include a certain number of people who have already been awarded the Africa Star. What, then, is the answer to the question of the people who have previously obtained the Africa Star who now qualify for the 1939–43 Star but who cannot have both?
Then the case I have mentioned will arise in the two last mentioned Services. Perhaps the right hon. Baronet will consider whether that is a question that deserves an answer when he winds up the Debate. The matter that I wish to address myself to is the question of Ack-Ack Command. I think it will be in accordance with the custom of the House if I declare my own personal interest in the matter because, if we are successful in persuading the Government to do what I hope, I suppose I should myself by a recipient of the Star. I was encouraged by the note of sympathy which I think I detected in the Prime Minister's reference to Ack-Ack Command. He said he hoped to find a way of including them, but went on to point out the difficulty this would involve in including a great many other people as well. I hope, however, that his mind is not altogether closed on the subject.
I had the honour to serve in light Ack-Ack during the period of the blitz as a gunner on gun sites and later as an officer. I cannot claim that I took part in very many or very violent actions, but our feeling at the time was that we were fulfilling a definite operational role. There was no question in our minds at all. And we were part of the Army. There was no question about that either. If both those contentions are right, I think there really is a case for including Ack-Ack Command in some way in this award. We regarded hostile aircraft not simply as hostile aircraft but as targets. That was the word we used to describe them. We welcomed the target when it came. I think that showed a definite military attitude towards the affair. I do not want in any way to depreciate the magnificent work that has been done by the National Fire Service and other froms of Civil Defence, but I must enter a strong protest against any suggestion that a military formation of any kind can, from the point of view of making a military award, be classed with any form of Civil Defence service. I am sure the adoption of such a principle would be a most disastrous innovation. It would be wrong in itself, it would be quite contrary to tradition, and it would be exceedingly bad for morale.
That might be so. I hope my hon. and gallant Friend will have a chance of making his suggestions later on, and that they will accord with mine. It really has been quite difficult, as those of us who have been in Ack-Ack know, to maintain morale month after month, and year after year, on the gun sites, and any suggestion that the men of Ack-Ack Command are, somehow, different from the men serving in other capacities in the Army is only one added difficulty in the maintenance of morale. If anything were laid down in relation to these Stars which would give any sort of official stamp to such an idea, I have no doubt it would be making a disastrous mistake. As regards feeling on this matter, I have had several
letters, two of which I should like to bring to the attention of the House. One is from an officer under whom I had the honour to serve. Writing last September, after the awards came out, he said:
There is a general feeling in the Regiment that the 1939–43 Star should be awarded to those personnel who were serving in A.A. Command during the dates in question. They were certainly on active service when the majority in the Army was marking time. If you take our old Battery as an example, you will remember that nearly all the Battery joined up before the war, and it was only through force of circumstances that they were not posted abroad, and you know as well as I do that everybody was as keen as mustard to go with any expeditionary force.
Another letter was from a senior officer who, writing in August, 1943, said:
I have been running several and varied training courses here, and the men attending them show a cross-section of opinion of about 30,000 men, and I am in close personal touch with a good many of them. You would be surprised at the intense bitterness I have found in many cases at the exclusion of A.A. troops from the award of the 1939–43 star.
I have no doubt that hon. Members have had many such letters. I had another one written anonymously by a gunner who served in Manchester, Coventry and many other places which had been blitzed. He expressed the same view, but he would not sign his name because he was serving. I have no doubt that throughout Ack-Ack Command there is a feeling that an injustice has unwittingly been done. There is no question of any deliberate malice or anything of that sort. Everybody realises that this is a difficult question, but I have no doubt that we could and should draw a line between military and non-military formations. We know that every kind of gallantry has been shown on the civil side, but must not muddle up military formations with Civil Defence formations, because to do so would be to create injustice. This difficulty can really be overcome if we accept the principle that Ack-Ack Command was during the period, say, from August, 1940, to June, 1941, an operational command, and if we also accept the principle that service in that command, whether it was active and dangerous, or safe, or even short service, should count exactly as it does in the case of the Africa Star. It is no fault of a man if he was kept at Cairo, for he might have been anxious and willing to be in the front line of the battle. It was the fortune of war that he was where he was.
We are discussing the 1939–43 Star and last night, I understand, was 1944. I do not want to score cheaply off my hon. Friend, but he rather gave me the opportunity. I see his point, but the real point, however, is that Ack-Ack Command was specially operational during the time when this country was under severe threat of invasion, and I make my claim because of the particular conditions at the time. I admit that there should be some distinguishing mark in relation to the Star which showed that it related only to members of the Ack-Ack Command, but I cannot agree that these men who gave service during that time should either be classed with Civil Defence services or even be given a special Star of their own. They were part of the Army and took part in what is an operational Command in a vital battle of the war. The service they gave should be recognised.
I am quite disinterested in joining in this Debate, though I have been attached to the Army for four years. I wish to put in a plea to the Prime Minister not to be afraid of numbers. If men and women have earned the thanks and gratitude of the country, ways and means should be found to acknowledge their services. This can be done, without cheapening the decoration or making it inappropriate, by granting a proper recognition to the Civil Defence forces so as to differentiate it from the Ack-Ack division. The Secretary of State for Air has created a good precedent by laying down that those in the Air Force who work on balloon sites are on operations. In 1939 my job was to visit gun and searchlight sites. Our American friends called it a "phoney" period, but the soldiers who were on the sites were serving, even if they were only standing by. They were waiting, and those who wait sometimes serve as well. To say that the men and women in these batteries have not made a great contribution, simply because they have not been abroad, is a misuse of words. If there was anything that kept up the morale of the people of the East Riding during those critical days, it was hearing what they called a joyful noise from the Ack-Ack people on the Humber Estuary. The hon. and gallant Member for Penrith and Cockermouth (Lieut.-Colonel Dower) can speak from inside knowledge because he had the honour to command for a time on the Humber Estuary. He can speak of the good work that was done and say how many kills there were. He can also speak of the hours that were put in, not merely during air raids, but when the enemy were dropping mines in the Humber Estuary. While the good barge "Clem" and another barge were picking up mines, there is no doubt that the men serving in the Ack-Ack were able to save ships and lives.
I want to put in a plea also for members of the Home Guard who are serving on Ack-Ack sites. We do not hear or see much of these men, and I hope that when the real review of this question takes place they, and the women too, will be recognised. I came home yesterday with a man in the Merchant Navy. He had been in the Mediterranean and was glad to have the Africa Star. I am switching from the Ack-Ack to the Merchant Navy because I have a certain direct interest in it as I have the honour of representing the third port. This man was proud of his ribbon because he had been away for three years and had done a bit of fighting although he was in the Merchant Navy. I want to emphasise that the men of the Merchant Navy are the fetch and carry men who do not spend six months at a time in the Mediterranean, but go backwards and forwards to keep our Army and Navy supplied. I ask that these men, too, should be considered for the country's recognition for the way they have acquitted themselves in difficult circumstances and done their duty to their country.
The first observation I would like to make is that inequality is an inevitable accompaniment of life. Some men are rewarded beyond their deserts and some are punished more severely than they appear to merit. The fact that such anomalies exist is no excuse for deliberately adding to them. It is the function of good legislation and administration to remove them and, if not to remove them, at any rate to diminish them. That, I take it, is the purpose of this Debate. Therefore, I hope that the decisions were not taken by the Government before listening to the arguments. Some very powerful arguments have been advanced to-day by hon.
Members who have had first-hand experience of the subject upon which they spoke. I trust, therefore, that what they have said will be given some weight and that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air, who is always so courteous—I will not say malleable—will feel himself authorised, if not to make concessions on the lines suggested, at any rate to promise examination of what has been said, examination to be followed by some subsequent statement, even if it cannot be made to-day.
What is the object with which these medals and stars have been given? It is to celebrate action aginst the enemy in particular operations. The test is not danger. If danger were the test, not only would all the classes mentioned by the Prime Minister have to be included, but so would scientists in laboratories who experiment with bacteria. The test is, does a man belong to an operational command, and has he participated in a campaign? That is all that has to be decided. Does my right hon. Friend agree in those circumstances that all who have participated in any of the scheduled campaigns shall be treated upon the same footing? That is the first question to decide. I have no doubt what the answer of the House and the country would be to that question.
At first, there was a marked discrimination between two classes of man. One day in Africa sufficed to entitle a man to a medal, but 6 months were required in any other theatre of campaign. That anomaly has been removed to-day, as I understand the position. If so, I think the Government have been wise to respond to the suggestions that have been made to them under that heading, but I hope that the concession is omnibus and that the same qualifications now give entitlement, whatever the theatre of war may be, and that there is no doubt whatever on that point. One day in Africa is sufficient; can we now be assured that in any of the other theatres of campaign concerned—in France, Burma, Malaya and in all the places mentioned by my right hon. Friend —one day is sufficient and that if there should be other places which have been overlooked there they will be re-examined in that light?
That is a great advance, if we are agreed that the same conditions apply in every campaign. That covers the ribbons.
We then come to the question of the clasps. The Prime Minister said that clasps were a matter which could be decided after the war. Unfortunately, it is a matter which is being decided now. The word "clasps" was not used in the House of Commons or on behalf of the Serviceman. It. was used in the White Paper, where we have the heading, "Clasps to the Africa Star." The question I want to put to the Secretary of State for Air is this: Is it intended to continue a discrimination, in the case of the clasps? We have removed the discrimination in the case of the Star. A man is entitled to a clasp if he participated in the African campaign between 23rd October, 1942, and May, 1943—very right and proper. One can imagine the pride with which men of the Eighth or the First Armies will have added this emblem to their ribbons; but there were giants before Agamemnon.
My hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Wood) has fought in this theatre of war, and his observations should be noted. General Wavell also conducted quite a successful offensive, in days when our resources were not as great as they have subsequently become. He instituted what were, at the time, for us a new form of tactics. He out-manoeuvred and outflanked the enemy in the most surprising circumstances and led his victorious troops to El Agheila. There are many who think that, had he not been called upon divert his resources to Greece and Abyssinia, he could have antedated the Italian defeat by two years. The enemy were completely demoralised as a result of this operation, and would have collapsed at the sound of a rattle. Unfortunately, General Wavell's forces were restricted numerically and his equipment was of limited proportions, and had to be divided.
Why have these men and those who fought subsequently under other generals not been enabled to put up an "8"? Why cannot those men have an emblem also? They were the first—I would say "pioneers" if that were not a technical term describing a particular corps. They were the first to raise our spirits by carrying British arms to triumph. Why should there be this discrimination? Nobody wishes to take anything away that has been granted or to diminish the value of the currency—to use a phrase that has been employed—but there are other people who are entitled to draw on the account, who have credit and who should be allowed to draw on our consideration. There was the Tobruk defence. There was the Sidi Rezegh battle. General Auchinleck's men had a great victory, thereby reaching El Agheila and when they had to retreat they had some extremely arduous fighting at Knightsbridge and elsewhere. There were other battles. Is there any reason why we should perpetuate discrimination?
Everyone agrees that Malta has been an essential element in our strategy, and that it has been necessary for us to retain Malta, both from the point of view of communications and of morale. Malta was one of the most heroic defences of the war. It is, in fact, to be celebrated by the grant to the Royal Air Force of a rosette on their ribbon; but is it realised that no man in the Navy or the land forces who contributed to that defence is to receive any special recognition under the heading of a clasp? Is it realised that those men withstood a formidable siege of long duration and on half rations? Why should they not be entitled to put an "M" on their ribbon, just as much as the Eighth Army men are entitled to put an "8"? If we are to recognise campaigns we must admit that all those campaigns have contributed, whether men fought in the jungles of Burma, in the cold of Norway, in the island conditions of Malta or in the deserts of Africa, to what will ultimately be our victory. The participants should be entitled to regard their service in a similar way, mutatis mutandis.
Why was it that a distinction was originally made between the men who fought in Africa and the men who fought in France or any other theatre? Why was a six months' qualification introduced for the Army? The reason was that it was instituted as a naval qualification, and was applied by analogy wrongly to the Army. The hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. W. Edwards), who spoke earlier, pointed out the injustice to the Navy caused by the six months period. A man who had five months' service at the end of December, 1943, although he might have spent all his sea service in convoys, is excluded. Why was this period of six months taken when in the Air Force two months were taken to qualify for a ribbon? In the Air Force a man must have been two months in an operational command but in the Navy he must have been six months. I ask whether that position can be looked at again and whether men who have done convoy work at sea cannot have their position reconsidered? I ask my right hon. Friend why the period should be two months in the Royal Air Force and six months in the Royal Navy? There may be some reason which is not apparent to those who are serving members of this House.
May I interrupt my right hon. Friend, for the guidance of hon. Members who may wish to take part in the Debate afterwards, to explain that the two months applies only to air crews, ground staffs?
But the men who are doing service afloat in operational conditions must do six months, while in the Air Force, for air crews, it is two months in an operational command.
Certainly. There may be some mitigating circumstances at sea, and it may not be easy to be so certain as it is in regard to land service. At any rate, I think the position requires explanation.
I think I am right. The qualification was the same in theatres other than Africa. For the Navy it is six months' service afloat. That is the same as the qualification was in the Army, but now we have abandoned it for the Army, and made it one day, while it remains in the Navy six months in an area of active operations.
Only in a special operation? So far as I understand it, it is not in an operational theatre. It is one day during the period of the battle in France. Otherwise, it is six months and it still remains six months.
I assume that if naval men have been in an operation with the Army they will get their award on the same conditions as the Army. That has yet to be explained by my right hon. Friend. That I think is the case, that generally speaking the qualification for the Army is one day on the establishment of a unit in one of those operational theatres which my right hon. Friend described.
I am sorry to interrupt my right hon. Friend, and I thank him for his courtesy in giving way. I did explain this while he was outside the House, that for the Navy, if a man is serving in a ship which is supporting an operation like that of the Lofoten Islands and is merely carrying out its ordinary routine sea role, that does not give a man a special one day qualification; but if a man takes such a definite part in the operation that he lands on shore—[Interruption]—he has a great many duties to perform on shore, or if he fights in the air in the Fleet Air Arm, then he is qualified.
Does my right hon. Friend really mean by that that if a destroyer is working in-shore on a shore operation, in a case in which the soldier qualifies in one day the crew of that destroyer do not qualify unless they land?
My hon. and gallant Friend must not draw me on so far that I am answering on points of detail which are more appropriate for the First Lord of the Admiralty than for me. I can only tell my hon. and gallant Friend the principles upon which the Government have decided, with the agreement of the Admiralty. Of course, the particular application to a particular ship and its particular duty at the time of the operation will be a matter for their Lordships of the Admiralty to decide for which it would be very improper for me to venture a reply.
It is now clear beyond dispute that I stated the position correctly. I have been sustained by my right hon. Friend and it is plain that there is here an anomaly as between the various Services, that the qualification for service at sea is harder for the sailor than it is on land for the soldier. The sailor must be six months in an operational area, the member of an air crew must be two months with an operational unit. Under the terms of that qualification I take it that even Lord Dowding would not qualify for the medal. It really seems strange if the man who directed the operations in the defence of Britain should not be included.
Not, so far as I can gather, in the circumstances to which I have referred. It says that for the Air Force the 1939–43 Star will be awarded to air crews who have taken part in operations against the enemy for a two months operational period. In what Command can personnel serving in other than an operational Command qualify? I do not imagine that Lord Dowding comes in under that. Although it was at first disputed by my right hon. Friend now he appears to agree that it may be so.
My right hon. Friend will perhaps tell us definitely when he comes to reply whether he does or not. There are these anomalies which I would like to see rectified. He has put the Stars for the Army on a basis of equality for everybody whatever the theatre. We have to put the clasps on a similar basis.
I now come to the question of what is an operational theatre. My right hon. Friend has read out a list of operational theatres. It is astonishing that the word "Britain" does not appear. We were told that the Battle of Britain was our finest hour, and either there was a Battle of Britain or there was not. If there was a Battle of Britain presumably somebody took part in it. Who took part in it under the terms of this White Paper? I have read out what the Air Force qualification is. That is quite clear. What is the role of the anti-aircraft units, both guns and searchlights, and we must add the balloons. What is the role of the Anti-aircraft Command, whether air Command or ground Command? I have already said that we are not dealing here with any question of danger. Danger has never been made a test, or a man in Cairo would not get preference over a man in Dover. It is not a question of danger at all. All kinds of people would be brought in, including Members who have been on fire guard in this House, if it were a question of danger. It is a question of whether one belongs to an operational Command and has taken part in a campaign. That is what has to be satisfied.
What is the role of the Anti-aircraft Command? Is it operational or is it not? That question must be answered. The official description of the Anti-aircraft Command has hitherto been that it provides the essential defence of the mainspring of our war effort, of our factories, installations, ports, centres of production and cities. Is that the role? If so it is a military role, and it is an operational role, and if there was a Battle of Britain surely people who have fulfilled that role would qualify? It safeguards the bases that our striking forces guard, it is indivisible from the R.A.F., in which the fighters at night could not discharge their duty without the searchlights. It is an essential part of the same operation. The guns have not only brought down 1,000 enemy aeroplanes since the war began, but they have kept more away and they have scattered them. So they are operational, and the distinction between the Anti-aircraft Command and the other soldiers in the country is this: on the alert the other soldiers continue their routine duties, but the Anti-aircraft Command go to action stations and there proceed to engage the enemy as artillery, just as in any other division of war, as a supporting arm.
My right hon. Friend to-day said that the guns of Dover had been in action. If so the gunners ought to be treated as people who have been in action. It is not a question of numbers but of fact, of military action. It would be easy to proclaim Dover an operational area for certain purposes if it is desired, if the guns have been in action and we wish to acknowledge that. That is a question of fact and should be dealt with on that basis. But the principle for which I contend is that the Anti-aircraft Command is an operational Command, that it was raised on that basis, that men gave up their occupations before the war on that basis to provide a defence for Britain when there were no other soldiers called up at all. They gave up their occupations and were mobilised to defend, as they were told, the citadel of the Empire. It is rather derogatory to them to be told now that if they are to be recognised as an operational Command it will follow that civilian defenders, the Civil Defence, must by analogy be given the same Award, and that even the railway porters must be given the same Award. Historically there has always been a distinction between the military and civil branches. There is no proposal here to deprive the civil defenders and those who work in arduous conditions of their credit. By all means give them a decoration if that is desired, give them recognition. They certainly deserve it. They have suffered heavy casualties, saved life, fought fires, but they have not been in action against the enemy in the military sense. Theirs is action consequent on a battle and is in an entirely different category. I believe that this discrimination should not be exercised against the anti-aircraft defence of Great Britain, and that the work done by these men in fighting, actually fighting the enemy with their various weapons should be recognised.
That is the case I present to my right hon. Friend. I am glad he has removed the distinction that previously operated between the various campaigns in the granting of stars. I ask him to remove the distinctions in regard to the clasps, to regard other campaigns besides the Eighth and First Army campaigns, and to include the air defence of Great Britain, whether by air or on the ground, in the list of active operations.
It is obvious that the Prime Minister has given very great thought to this subject, but although anomalies are inevitable, particularly in modern warfare where you cannot always have clearly defined campaigns on foreign soil, I think his remarks to-day will be very disappointing to very many. I think it is unfortunate that there is complete non-recognition for service on the home front, particularly during the period which has been called "our finest hour" except of course to those members of the R.A.F. to whom service in the air over this country is rightly an unassailable qualification. I particularly want to stress the case of anti-aircraft. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devon-port (Mr. Hore-Belisha) and the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Palmer) have said almost everything there is to say on this subject, but perhaps there is something left. The fact remains, it seems to me, that if you recognise, as the 1939 Star does, that there was war in the air above this country, you cannot, in fairness, ignore that branch of the Royal Artillery which has perhaps the most complicated guns of all, and which was called into being simply and solely to combat that form of warfare.
The Battle of Britain was the first phase of an invasion which was the logical conclusion of the fall of France. It failed, thanks to the R.A.F., but anti-aircraft was the chief partner and assistant of the R.A.F. in that battle. Later, when the Germans began the aerial bombardment of this country by night, in an attempt to destroy our war potential and civilian morale, anti-aircraft bore, until the full development of the night fighter, the whole brunt of fighting back. It is not merely a question of numbers as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport rightly said, when he quoted a figure of 1,000 planes shot down. The almost equally important role of anti-aircraft batteries is to keep the planes high, to scatter the formations and so to help the fighters; and, perhaps most important of all, to prevent them carrying out accurate low-level bombing. Therefore, what you have to say is "How would we have fared if there had been no anti-aircraft defence in this country during these years?" Certainly anti-aircraft command is an operational command. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport made his arguments, but there is still another way of looking at it. Do we say that A.A. Command would only become an operational command at the moment the Germans landed in this country. I can hardly believe that that is an argument which would appeal on the other side, to the German and Italian anti-aircraft gunners before and during our invasion of Sicily, or to the gunners in Germany today under the stress of the immense softening-up process which is taking place by day and by night before invasion.
The task of the anti-aircraft gunner is exactly the same, whether he fights here or abroad. There is a great deal of talk of being mobile abroad. It is true you may move from place to place rather more quickly, but you do not fire the gun while it is moving along except in certain cases. In 1940–41, I suppose, the anti-aircraft gunner in this country fought the hardest battle he has ever fought; in addition, he was greatly handicapped by shortage of equipment. I know myself of one gun position in this country where seven men were killed and 31 were wounded but the guns continued to fire until the end of the engagement, under the command of a sergeant.
That is one side of the picture. On the other side of the picture an anti-aircraft officer writing to me from Sicily of the invasion in which he took part, said:
…not that anti-aircraft had much action compared with the winter of 1940–41 in England.
I quite agree with the argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport that it is not necessarily a question of danger. I do not think the argument ought to be used that any men on service in this country should be ruled out from this award because they were not in greater danger than civilians. That is not necessarily true. But, after all, the plight of civilians in modern warfare is never a very good one, and, if invasion had come, the plight of civilians and soldiers might have been equally bad; but I do not think that would have been used as an argument against military awards after the invasion had been repelled.
If you were to extend the 1939 Star to all anti-aircraft personel, including searchlights who after all are gunners, and the predictor numbers, who are an integral and essential part of anti-aircraft personnel—I do not know why the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister singled these out as something less important—who served in 1940–41 say from June to June, a period which includes the Battle of Britain and the severe blitzes, I understand that would only add another 60,000 to the issue of the 1939 Star, which is a small figure compared with the 12,000,000 figure which the Prime Minister mentioned and which, in any case, includes both men of the Services and civilians. We are after all discussing a Service medal to-day. I wonder whether the right hon. Gentleman who replies will be able to say if in fact that is the figure which would be the increase of issue for the 1939 Star, if anti-aircraft personnel were included for the year of June, 194o to June, 1941.
I am assured that is the figure, owing to the fact that a large number of regiments which took part in that year have, to a great extent, gone abroad and are qualified for the medal elsewhere. I think that ought to be looked into most carefully. If the 1939 Star was extended in this way to Anti-Aircraft Command, there would be many thousands of anti-aircraft gunners in this country who would not qualify. They would not cavil at that. Incidentally, the lot of the anti-aircraft gunner in most cases in this country since 1941 has not been an enviable one. Manning a gun at a high state of readiness for 16 hours of daylight in the summer, continually on your toes waiting for an enemy who 99 times out of a no never comes, is a trying role, and I expect that practically all these men feel that fighting would not be the worst part of military service. But a large number of them would not qualify for the award. As I say, they would not mind because they would at least realise that their branch of the Service had been recognised, and that it would be a little more comprehensible to them why, in Battle of Britain parades, for instance, they march, by common consent, behind the R.A.F. only and in front of the Navy and all other of the Services. I hope that this claim will be considered most carefully, but, of course, without prejudice to others who feel they have a case for inclusion.
I would like to make it very clear that I support what my hon. friend the Member for Winchester said with regard to a Battle of Britain decoration at which the Prime Minister hinted. If that means that no member of the Services in this country will participate in the 1939 Star, it must, with all respect, be regarded by them as second best. If it is to be, however, I want to say with all the emphasis at my command that there should be a Service and a civil branch of this decoration with different ribbons. Otherwise this decoration would take on too much the aspect of a sort of consolation for "the rest." In any case it would not be fair on anyone. A soldier wants only a military medal for military service: and it would also, I think, be very unfair on civilian services whose contribution in many cases has been as heroic as any con- tribution in the war anywhere. They, too, will want their own distinguishing mark.
I hope in any case that this whole matter will not 'be allowed to rest just where it is. In the last resort, the privilege of serving the country has been and always will be its own reward: but if awards are to be given, they must be as equitable as possible. If the matter is left just as it is, I think that will admit too many acute anomalies and disappointments.
I would like to follow my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for East Toxteth (Major Buchan-Hepburn) in the point they made about Britain being considered an operational theatre; but, first, I would like to take up another point made by my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. C. Wood) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport, on the feeling that has been expressed by a number of men in the Army over the discrimination shown in the award of the Africa Star. As my right hon. Friend pointed out so clearly, the operations that took place prior to October, 1942, led, in a great way, to the possibility of the subsequent operations, and the men who fought in them surely fought under conditions far more unfavourable than those of what is known as the Eighth Army of the final advance, with far less equipment. There were battles fought by well-known regiments, which were annihilated. It is true that anyone who survived those campaigns may wear the ribbon of the Africa Star, but their friends who succeeded them, and who are able to put up on their ribbon an "8," have an advantage which I do not think ought ever to have been allowed.
Now I would like to come to this question of Britain as an operational theatre. I think that all the Members who have spoken have been inclined to think of this question of medals and decorations from the point of view of the past, when we sent armies overseas to fight in various campaigns. This war, surely, is entirely different. If, between the fall of France in June, 1940, and June, 1941, Britain was not an operational theatre, I wonder what an operational theatre is. It was an operational theatre suffering far greater risks and perils than anything that has been suffered in the Middle East. All those members of the Services who had to be stationed in this country during that period are just as worthy of the 1939–43 Star as those who were abroad. I would mention one small example concerning the Africa Star, which was brought to my notice the other day by a rather cynical friend of mine in the Army. A number of officers had to come home the other day for certain duties. They came from the Mediterranean. Some were wearing the Africa Star ribbon. While they were here an incident, as I think it is called, took place, a bomb landing in a certain area where military men are inclined to foregather. Next day a number of the men turned up, bandaged, as casualties. My cynical friend, as he took his seat, said that they had had to come to London to earn their Africa Star. That feeling is very rife in the Services, in this country. On the other hand, I deprecate what some Members have said about the staff officers who were sitting in Cairo. Perhaps I feel it rather personally, because I was one of those staff officers. I assure hon. Members that those officers also have to get about and to go up to the front, running many of the same dangers as the troops. At any rate, they did so when the fighting was in the Western Desert; I am not going to talk about what they do now.
I feel that we are inclined to run away from the importance of the services rendered in this country, and the hardships and the dangers which were suffered. I was very glad to hear what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister said about considering some measure of recognition for civilians. If anybody deserves recognition in this country, it is the civilians, and the civilians of London particularly. I refer not only to the National Fire Service and the A.R.P. services, but to such people as the bus drivers, the taxi drivers, and, still more, the train crews. I remember one night in December, 1940, when there was pandemonium at Euston, during one of the heaviest raids we had. A train was drawn out of Euston at not more than two miles an hour, and we got to Watford without one jerk or jolt, although there were bombs falling around all the time, and incendiaries were falling on the permanent way. That, surely, required great courage and coolness on the part of the driver. Why should not all those transport workers and other civilians have some form of recognition? I do not think it is possible for them to share, nor do I think that the thousands of citizens of London, Coventry, Bristol, Liverpool, or the Clyde, would want to share, in the military decorations, but I hope that, when the end of the war comes, the Committee which is being set up will be able to think of some form of recognition for the wonderful service rendered by the civilian population. Perhaps it is fitting that a plea of that sort should come from a Service man, one from the far North, where we have not had the dangers and tribulations to undergo which London and the other cities in the South and East of England suffered.
There is a danger of our forgetting that this city, this country, was, and is, the centre, from the Allied side, of this great war. Moscow, Washington, and all the other places are very important, but this city is the centre of it. It staggered me the other day when a great friend of mine, a most gallant and very senior officer, who served in the Mediterranean, rather commiserated with me when I met him here at home, because here was I sitting in this honourable House, having given up my military appointment in the Middle East. He thought I had lost a lot of interest. I said that I had been very thrilled to have been a Member of this House, and to have lived in London during those hours so ably described by the Prime Minister as the time when this country was the front line. [An HON. MEMBER: "It was the only line in the world."] When I said that I felt proud of being in the centre of things, he had rather a shock.
That anyone should have thought that this was the centre, and the Middle East was not the centre, seemed to him a strange idea. I feel that that sentiment has rather permeated through certain branches of the Services abroad; I would say, in conclusion, that the greatest consideration should be given to the Forces that have been in this country, particularly those who were here in that very important year, 1940–1941, and that, in due course, the wonderful deeds of endurance, and the behaviour of the whole of the civilian population, should not be forgotten.
I do not desire to take part in the Debate for long; but I have one particular point which I want to put to the House, and which I think will be a conclusive precedent for the demand that the 1939–43 Star should be extended to operational units which have fought in this country. Before I come to that, however, I would like to say that I do not think that the House should leave this matter entirely with the Prime Minister and that very exclusive circle which considers honours and awards. We know so very little about them. They sit behind closed doors. The Prime Minister, presumably, advises the King, but in a matter which affects a large number of military Members, the House is surely entitled to say to the Prime Minister, "This House is the vehicle for honours, and you must pay attention to it."
Everybody knows of the rather precipitate action of the Prime Minister in authorising a medal to be struck for what was a very wonderful victory, but I do not think the Prime Minister considered all the implications of this matter when he gave the order, quite airily, that this particular medal was to be struck for that particular campaign. [An HON. MEMBER: "The Prime Minister cannot authorise the issue of medals."] Literally speaking, that is correct, but everybody knows the way the Prime Minister works, and everybody knows that when he suggests something in those exclusive circles to which I refer—I am not suggesting in the House—his suggestion is almost a word of command, and there is considerable evidence to show that it was the Prime Minister's own initiative in this matter that caused two medals to come into existence.
In the last war there were three medals for overseas service—the 1914–15 Star, the General Service Medal and the Victory Medal. Let us exclude the Victory Medal, which was given for victory at the end of that war. The other two were only given to those who had served overseas, and I have been quite surprised at the number of letters that have come to me, by virtue of the activities I undertake in a certain journalistic enterprise, on the question of medals of this war and the last. I think there is a reason. Everybody knows that men and women are really proud of having these medals and passing them on as legacies to their relatives. They are proud to receive these little mementoes, and they are, after all, only little mementoes of the fact that men and women have served their country in action against the enemy. A large number of serving men, who wear a piece of ribbon on their uniforms, are proud of it. They do not want a whole array of ironmongery on their uniforms, as we see with certain other uniforms, but what they do want is that, if the King is to issue a medal for an operation or a series of operations, like Africa and Dunkirk—which, after all, was a defeat, a retreat, and I do not think we usually issue medals for retreats—
Yes, I know, Mons was a retreat, but, generally speaking, medals are issued for victories. But, if we are going to do that, these men feel that there should be no invidious distinctions, and everybody admits that there is an invidious distinction, as the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) has shown quite satisfactorily, between those who happened to have their guns placed on a certain spot in France and those who had them placed on a certain spot in this country. As to the precedent of the last war, these medals were issued only to those who served overseas, with one exception. The General Service Medal was issued to certain coastal batteries which had been in action against the enemy in this country. That is a precedent that we can very well follow with the issue of the 1939–43 Star for those who engaged in the fighting of battles in this country, in the air against the enemy.
That would have been considered overseas service for those troops. I did not know that point, and I am obliged to the hon. and gallant Member for reminding me of it. I think it reinforces the argument I am putting before the House. Having made the point about that precedent, I need not say any more on that, because I think all hon. Members are quite clear on it and therefore I suggest to the Secretary of State for Air and the Secretary of State for War that they must exercise some influence on the Prime Minister to get him to pay a little attention to the wishes of the House. Finally, I would ask that, when we do make up our minds, or when the Prime Minister makes up his mind, on who are to be eligible for these Stars, the Service Departments should issue instructions stating in clear and precise language who are eligible for these medals. I say to the Secretary of State for War that the Army Council Instructions so far issued, to explain who are eligible under the White Paper for the Africa Star, have not been all that could be desired.
They have not been clear, although the White Paper, in my opinion, was quite clear—that those engaged in the retreat from Dunkirk and similar operations were entitled to the 1939–43 Star. The Army Council Instructions, except, possibly, after pressure on the War Office—because I imagine they were inundated with letters—did not make clear in the first place that the Dunkirk retreat, and other retreats like it, were operations which made those who took part in them eligible for this Star. I ask the Service Departments to settle this matter once and for all, and to issue clear and precise instructions, through the usual channels, showing who are to be eligible.
The right right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) in the course of his speech, made one point on which I think the whole of this Debate revolves—namely, what constitutes an operational area? The hon. and gallant Member for Argyll (Major McCallum) and other hon. Members seem to have proved, to the satisfaction of the House, that this country, in 1940, constituted an operational area. I suggest that, had any of us been able to cross the Channel and to see the invasion barges massing, or to travel on the French roads and see tanks and troops moving up to their allotted positions, or to visit the German Air Force headquarters and see our vital targets being marked on operational maps, we should have had no doubt in our minds that this country was, indeed, an operational area in 1940. If that is the case, who should qualify for that special medal? The Prime Minister seemed disinclined today to extend the 1939–43 Star. There is thus only one alternative, namely, to create a special medal for the period of the Battle of Britain. I agree with other hon. Members that this medal should be divided into two groups: the first, a civilian medal to cover such categories as the N.F.S., who fought the fires so gallantly; and the second, a purely military medal given to men in operational commands.
What are these operational commands? Firstly, there can be no doubt about Fighter Command. Secondly, there can be no doubt either, in my mind, about Anti-Aircraft Command. Had you been able to ask the pilots of Junkers or Heinkels who attacked this country in 1940 and saw the black bursts of shrapnel bursting round them, they would certainly agree that Anti-Aircraft was operational. Then comes the question of Balloon Command. Perhaps some hon. Members may have seen that book "Blossom, the Barrage Balloon." I would like to try to persuade the House that "Blossom" deserves a medal with the other two operational commands. What is the function of the Balloon Barrage? It is threefold—first, to defend vulnerable points; secondly, by limiting the cubic area of sky to be defended by fighters, materially to help Fighter Command, and, lastly, to force enemy aeroplanes up to a height where the anti-aircraft gunners can deal most effectively with them. Many of my hon. Friends know better than I do, that the target which anti-aircraft guns find the most difficult is the hedge hopper. Let us look at the Balloon Barrage through the eyes of the enemy. It is the afternoon of 7th September, 1940. We are approaching London in a Heinkel and seeing the docks and other targets taking shape below us, we are flying at a great altitude, something like 20,000 feet, mainly in order to get above the anti-aircraft barrage, but also because it is not possible to fly at a lower altitude on account of the deadly balloon cables. What would have been the state of the East End of London on the afternoon of 7th September, 1940, had German aircraft been able to come in at rooftop level and cause the destruction of Rotterdam or Belgrade?
I hope likewise that the House will not forget these men in Balloon Command, who, day after day and night after night, have been in channel convoys under fire of the long-range guns of the enemy on the French coast and even subject to repeated attacks by dive bombers. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air will accept the fact that Balloon Command was just as much operational as Fighter and Anti-Aircraft Commands, and that these men of the three operational commands deserve a medal for the services they rendered to this country in 1940.
I intervene in this Debate with some embarrassment and reluctance, for the reasons expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Mr. Palmer). I intervene on behalf of a very small body of men—the minesweeping and patrol services, and especially the minesweepers, who serve in the River Thames, the Port of London, from Southend to Teddington—to put it bluntly, the minesweepers which, among others, not forgetting the gallant staff of the Port of London Authority, kept open the Port of London in 1940–41. When I read the White Paper it seemed to me that the people there were well covered by the words
six months' service afloat in areas of active operations.
I am sorry to say that the Admiralty seem to have whittled down the White Paper. At any rate, these men, who have served three years, or indeed in some cases nearly four years, are not to receive this decoration. I think that I understand why that is. It is because there is great ignorance about the River Thames. Many people believe that it is bounded on the west by Maidenhead and on the east by Blackfriars Bridge, and I do not know many Admirals who have been past Black-friars Bridge yet. The Admiralty describe this mighty river, the river Thames, sixty miles of which come under the Flag Officer in Charge, London, five miles wide at the other end, as "sheltered waters."
I had rather an unseemly but delightful argument with an Admiral outside just now. I asked the Admiral from what were those vessels "sheltered"? They are not sheltered against bombs above, or against mines below, and during the material times, these vessels were patrolling at night ready to repel invasion by land, by air, and indeed, by water. So that what they were sheltered against we do not know. I have been specially desired by the officers and men of these forces to inform their Lordships, and to inform all sea-going Admirals and civil servants at the Admiralty, that the explosion of a bomb or mine off Gravesend is likely to cause as much discomfort as the explosion of a bomb or mine off Dover. Furthermore, that death by drowning off Southend is as disagreeable to the individual and disquieting to his relatives as death by drowning at Scapa Flow, and even if in that case death is caused by suicide from boredom or through falling off a battleship revolving gracefully round a buoy. Though these men are in "sheltered waters," all time served in the river counts as sea time for promotion; and yet, for this decoration, it is not sea time, but "sheltered water" or "harbour" service. I am proud indeed to wear the King's uniform, and that is enough for me; but I must say I was a little surprised to be told, after serving five winters on these waters, night and day, that all that time I have never been technically "afloat." I suggest that we have been, as the Civil Service might say, substantially afloat. That is the first point.
The second point I have to establish is that this service has been of an "operational" character, and I do not think that that is very difficult. The operation in which these services took part was not the Battle of Britain, which lasted for two months, but the Battle of the Thames, which lasted for 12 months. I remember that four days before the war an eminent statesman, who has risen to a position of even greater eminence since then, said to me in the precincts of this House, "Of course we shall have to abandon the Thames." And that was the view held on many occasions by many stout-hearted men at later periods. Well, we did not abandon the Thames. Why? Because the Navy, led by the gallant Admiral Boyle, and later Admiral Dunbar-Nasmith and all his officers and men, kept the port open. That was the operation which, I think, entitled these men to the decoration.
The enemy started dropping mines into the river and lower reaches, three months before they ever attacked London, and they continued for many months afterwards. What happened? The port would be closed. The ships tied up, and the tugs and civilian craft—yes, in these "sheltered waters"—because it was too dangerous to move. Out came the minesweepers, and by one means or another destroyed the mines, and so the traffic of the river continued. That, I suggest, is an operation. To show how anomalous is the situation, I could take hon. Members of this House in To minutes to a minesweeper which, in the early days, was operating in the lower reaches and blew up, or destroyed, three mines. The commander, a petty officer, was given a distinguished service medal, and therefore automatically receives the 1939–43 Star. But members of his crew, who were with him all the time, are now told that they are not operational but only doing "harbour service" in "sheltered waters." It is ridiculous. I hate to say these things, as I have never raised a public word against the Admiralty since I have been serving. I put this in through Service channels and had a word with an Admiral, without any success, this morning, and I am therefore reduced to this unwelcome method of approach.
May I further add that these vessels have been provided by the Admiralty with lethal weapons. I do not know why, because, whenever they are used, there is violent protest from the naval authorities. Only a few days ago I was ticked off for ordering my gunner to fire at some flares; and I might entertain the House by an account of what I call the Battle of Lambeth Bridge, where a certain vessel on 10th September, 1940, thought fit to fire some hundreds of rounds at enemy planes which were flying rather low. That caused the most violent protest too. However unprovoked and untimely that assault upon the enemy may have been, I must say that the gunners did think at the time that their behaviour was of a vaguely operational nature, however unwelcome it was to the naval authorities.
That is all I have to say. These men have seen their Headquarter ship sunk by bombs, they have seen some of their companions killed and wounded, they have used their weapons against the enemy, they have steamed thousands of miles through dangerous waters, they have destroyed enemy mines and, in short, they did keep the Port of London open when even that great man, to whom I have referred, did not expect it to be done. They do not ask for much, these men. They are not receiving civilian pay, they do not get time and a half on Saturdays, or double time on Sundays. All they now ask is that they should be able to show something to their women-folk, and their children, to suggest that their service in the great war was not without merit, and not without recognition from their country.
I think it is a fact that medals are, to a great extent, unimportant until there comes a feeling amongst those who do not receive them that there is injustice. The only reason why this Debate is being held is that throughout the Services there has been a great deal of mystification as to why one man gets a medal and the other does not. The first point I want to stress is that mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), that the basis for medals should be equality in distribution. Now what have we got here? The Prime Minister, in the very witty speech he gave us on the history of medals, did not tell us that in the intervening months since the Orders have been issued, the White Paper has been changed. As the result of a declaration by the Secretary of State for Air we now know that for the Africa Star the qualifying period will still be one day in Africa; for the Army, in certain campaigns, it will be one day in that campaign; for the rest of the Army, it will be six months; for the Navy it will be six months' service; for the Air Force it will be two months' service, if they were an air crew, six months for a non-air crew. I suggest to the House and to the country that that is not equality in distribution. It is quite wrong that some men should have to serve merely one day to get this medal and other men should have to serve six months. I hope that the Government, the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Air will think again on this matter and devise a system that will provide equality in distribution.
The point I should like to make is that the mistake we have made has been over this Africa Star. I say this, although it affects me more than anybody because that is the only campaign medal I have. The Africa Star has been the cause of all the trouble. Why only one day in Africa to qualify for the Africa Star? The troops who get it are not pleased that some men, after service of one day, find themselves with a medal and others who served in a campaign or in Africa for two or three years have got the same medal. May I tell the House that there was a certain Division which fought throughout the campaign in Africa, and when they had finished just before Tunis, they were sent back to the base into the Canal area for certain future operations. When they got back to the base, and were re-equipping for those future operations, this Division, which had suffered casualties in the previous couple of years, were given a Brigade fresh from home to make them complete, and for two days that Division had this extra Brigade fresh from home and re-equipped. After that they were no longer in the Middle East Force. When these medals came out, the difference between them was ignored and the same Africa Star was given to the Brigade which had only been two days in the Canal area in a very quiet spot, I suppose more than 1,000 miles from any fighting.
Now is it right that you should have a system whereby the same medal is given to the men who fought through the glorious campaigns of Lord Wavell, General Alexander and General Montgomery as to those who have been just a couple of days in the base? I ask the Government to make the qualification for any of these campaign medals continuous service throughout the campaign. What we are really trying to acknowledge is the fact that a man has taken continuous part during a certain well-known campaign. For that purpose, no doubt, you could split up the service. First of all, the time when Lord Wavell stopped the Italians from breaking through to Sidi Barrani, then the time he swept forward to Benghazi, then to the defenders of Tobruk and the campaign at Gazala, and, finally, General Alexander's victory at El Alamein and what followed. But let us try to see that the medal denotes that a man has taken part in a certain operation.
For that reason I must say that, although I actually served at Cairo myself for four months, and the Prime Minister has been to Cairo more than once, I cannot understand why he has selected Cairo and the Canal Zane, the Delta of Egypt, as an operational command from the period of June, 1940, to May 12th, 1943. Actually I was there for the latter part of it and I never saw any operations of this nature in Cairo, and I hope it will be reconsidered. I notice that when the War Office laid their White Paper and when the Secretary of State for War brought out his Army instruction on medals, he said he was giving them but that he could take them away afterwards. I hope he, too, will reconsider whether, in his view, the Army in the Canal Zone and in Cairo should be regarded as armies in operational command qualifying for the Africa Star. There is a perfectly clear line, as anybody knows who has been to Egypt and has taken part in the fighting, which should determine that. That is the road from Cairo to Alexandria. One side is yellow and the other side in green. The yellow side is where the fighting took place, and the side where it is green is where we had the flesh pots of Egypt. I am sure all those who have taken part in the Middle Eastern campaign would be satisfied if we had a new boundary line to the Africa Star.
There is one other difficulty. If we had the 1939–1943 Star for certain campaigns and the Africa Star for the campaigns in Africa, why is there no form of distinction for those who have taken part in both? You see a man wearing the Africa Star and you may think that he was one day with General Montgomery. But in fact he may have fought right through France, might have been to Norway and have gone out to Africa and have served three years in the campaign there. Is it not just that such a man should be distinguished so that you could tell that he had had the good fortune to take part in so many campaigns? This affects some three divisions in the British Army who had that experience and I think it is wrong that they, and other men outside that formation who fought at Dunkirk, El Alamein and Mareth; should not be given the two medals. The Prime Minister said, with a wave of his arm, that we could not have two medals or emblems. I would like to know why? After all, medals are to advertise the fact that a man has been in a campaign and they are an incentive to the morale of the men who will take part in future campaigns. Too many have talked in the House to-day as if medals were to be regarded as prizes at school prize-givings. The only reason why I attach any importance to medals is because they are an incentive to those who will take part in future fighting and who will know that there will be a system of award and acknowledgment for what they do.
Presumably, the men who have fought in Sicily and Italy will get a Star. I hope that the Secretary of State for Air will deal with this point. Are the men who have fought in France or in Africa, or in Sicily or Italy, to be debarred from that further Star? It is no secret, even to the Germans, that we contemplate operations in France at a reasonably early date. Presumably, when those operations are concluded, there will be a Star for those who have taken part in what some people, quite wrongly, call the second front. Are those who fought in France, Africa and Italy to be debarred from receiving that Star when it is awarded. I suggest that these are serious questions to which it is time the Government paid due attention. When the Prime Minister said that we could not have two medals does he intend to carry out that rule right to the end of the war? If so, it will cause a great deal of heartburning among the Forces.
I would like to turn to the question of the emblems—which the White Paper calls "clasps." I am in some difficulty as I understood that it was the accepted principle of the Prime Minister and the Government that you should have a Star to denote a campaign and an emblem to denote participation in a specially meritorious action in that campaign. That is the reason why those who took part in the fighting with the Eighth Army should have the figure "8" as an emblem to show that they took part in that fighting. To-day, the Prime Minister said suggestions had been made to him that there should be a system of clasps but he said that you do not give clasps until the end of the war. If that is so, then somebody had better rewrite the White Paper. The White Paper said that there shall be clasps to the Africa Star. The symbol "Eighth Army," I should have thought, would denote that you had fought under the command of the Eighth Army. If I remember aright, the date when the Eighth Army was formed, and from which it fought continuously, was September, 1941. For some peculiar reason the Prime Minister has, selected 23rd October, 1942, as the date. What is to happen to the men who fought and were wounded when fighting in the desert with the Eighth Army? It is a remarkable thing that a man like General Gott, who founded the Eighth Army, should not be entitled, if he had lived, to a medal to commemorate the great doings of the Eighth Army. With all due deference to the Prime Minister, I would ask that in this matter he should clearly think again. The desert Forces which were under Lord Wavell should be distinguished, just as any other meritorious action should be distinguished, by a symbol—whether it is by a Roman or Arabic figure I do not mind. Why not have a "W" for Wavell as the symbol? When you get the Eighth Army, a picked body of men, who regard themselves with pride and distinction, do not separate them from those who were fighting with General Ritchie on one day and then with General Montgomery or somebody else on the next. We are not giving our emblems to show our appreciation of distinguished generals. I fear that that is one of the dangers we are likely to fall for unless we provide this plan.
I think the system of emblems is a very good one. I cannot see why, if you give a clasp to the Eighth Army, you should not give a clasp to the man who torpedoes a German battleship, to a man who fought in some of the grimmest campaigns in the Eritrean fighting. If we could have a clasp for those people the value of these clasps would be realised. But as they are to-day they are very ill-advised. I gathered that the few fighter pilots who have survived the Battle of Britain will not have any clasp to show that they have taken part in a meritorious action. All I can say to the Secretary of State for Air about that is that I am very much surprised.
Now we come to the question of those who fought in the operations in Britain. I gather that the Prime Minister has excluded Britain from an operational command. Well, if the 1939–43 Star is to mean what its name implies I should have thought that those who took part in resisting the German invasion here, whether they were doing it on A.A. gun sites, in searchlight units, balloon units, bomb disposal units or manning the beaches, during which they were frequently blown up by mines, were in an operational command. If the Prime Minister finds that that will be making the 1939–43 Star too common, there seems to me to be room for a new medal.
Here I part company with my hon. Friends who have spoken. I should not have thought that a special Battle of Britain medal was needed. I should have thought we had room for a new medal for continuous service, and that men in all the Services who have borne the burden and heat of the war for four years should get it. I should call that the 1939–43 Star and I should give this other medal some other name, showing certain selected campaigns which the Secretary of State for Air read out. I think that is the right thing. Look at the men who spent many years in India, taking a very active part in the war and suffering the privation of separation from this country and undergoing hardships and dangers. I think they should receive the medal equally. And what about the men in Palestine? Those who were engaged in the Canal area are being rewarded by the Africa Star, but the men who were in Cyprus and Palestine firing anti-aircraft guns are having no medal at all. Therefore I think there is room to-day for a four years' service medal for these men who have taken an active part in the offensive and defensive campaign of Britain, and I hope the right hon. Baronet will reconsider these matters. The White Paper deals with mention in despatches. In the old days to my knowledge the oak leaf was always placed on the medal ribbon. For some reason the Prime Minister and the Committee of Honours have suggested that it should be put off the ribbon and on to the tunic. I would ask him to consider how very untidy it looks. I hope we shall get back to what it should be and that, when an officer or other rank has a ribbon and is mentioned in despatches, the oak leaf will be placed on the ribbon. However, that is a very minor point.
What I should like to stress is that from all over the world I, and I think others, have had Service men and women writing to us asking why some of them are treated unequally compared with the rest. I have had letters from Malta, from East and West Africa and from the Middle East and there is wide resentment at the inequalities in the White Paper. I hope the Government will repair this error. I would ask the Secretary of State to report what we have said to the Prime Minister. I ask that these matters should be re-considered at a very early date because what we are trying to do is to encourage the men who are going to take part in the hazards of the next few weeks and months, and delays in making changes in the White Paper will damage the morale of the Services.
I am glad to have an opportunity of following my hon. Friend, because I agree with a great deal of what he has said and I think he could have carried his argument a little further. I should like the Secretary of State for Air to clear up one small point which has caused a great deal of heartburn. It is whether or not there will be included in those who qualify for the 1939–43 Star those members of the Pioneer Battalion serving in France in the early days of the war. Certainly a great many of them have been under the impression that they do not qualify for the Star and do not receive any recognition whatever for their services. But they certainly served in an operational theatre—France—for some time and when the débâcle came, whether or not they were classified as being in an operational unit, their actions were most definitely operational and were very valuable indeed in resisting the enemy's advance. They fought well, they fought like tigers and there can be no conceivable reason in justice why they should not receive the same campaign award as members of the Regular Army in that area.
I should like to suggest that we are regarding the basic question in this Debate from rather too close an angle. We are rather looking at it from the point of view of the immediate present effect of these awards. It is not an immediate matter at all. The people who are really going to appreciate these awards will not appreciate them so much during the war as after the war. It is not a question that matters now, when everyone is fully cognisant of what is being done in the war. The time when the awards are really valued and looked up to and when they are pointed out as a record of achievement fulfilled and duty done is after the war. The important point to remember in that connection is that it is the old soldier and his wife and family who, when the war is over, regard with honour not the ribbon but the Star itself and its clasps. Traditionally the clasp runs through the whole history of the question of medals. That is after the war, it is not the ribbon that is worn whenever decorations are worn in peacetime, it is the medal with ribbons and clasps. So long as the war lasts it is the ribbon only that is worn but in the long years after the war it is the Star and the clasps that matter. I therefore venture to think that we are taking somewhat too short sighted a view of the matter.
On the question of clasps, the Prime Minister indicated that the matter was still open and that it would receive consideration, but I do not think we could have gained any very happy prospect or any optimistic idea as to the result which that consideration would achieve, particularly having regard to its history after the last war, to which the Prime Minister referred. If that matter can be considered with a greater degree of sympathy it will solve the whole problem. There is no reason that I can see why there should be difficulty in awarding clasps. The Secretary of State for Air has to-day given us a list of the special campaign areas which will entitle members of the Services to the Star. That list will equally entitle them to a clasp for the areas concerned. If we had the principle admitted that it is the clasp which is the valuable, honourable and memorable part of the medal, as is the traditional custom of the Services—and there has been a clasp issued to only 11 people—we need not worry about the scope of the actual Star itself. We are all anxious not to dilute or render cheap any award which may be given, but I venture to think that when for these two awards the recipients will approximate 4,000,000, we need not be unduly anxious about extending the number by a few hundred thousands. Let us remember that if we extend the number of Star recipients we are not extending the number of recipients of the clasp, which is infinitely more valuable. If we adopt that line I suggest that all difficulties will be solved.
I whole-heartedly concur in the suggestion that there should be some special recognition for those men who fought as fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain. There is no reason why the 1939–43 Star, if it is made available to the operational area of the United Kingdom, should not be given to these men. Their special recognition would be a clasp, and I would give them a gold clasp to commemorate their special achievement. It has been mentioned to-day that clasps might become too numerous, but I suggest that there is a way out of that difficulty. Clasps could be amalgamated, for instance, for the North African campaign. If we want to award a clasp for the three different campaigns in North Africa, plus Crete, plus Greece, we could award a comprehensive bronze clasp and overcome the difficulty in that way. There is no limit to the alternatives if this old and traditional system is adopted. I hope that even at this late stage the Secretary of State will indicate that his particular line will be put before the Committee again for consideration in a favourable manner.
I want to raise the subject of the King's Badge for members of the Home Guard, the National Fire Service, the Civil Defence Services and the A.R.P. Services generally. If a Home Guardsman in a "Z" battery or bomb disposal squad is severely wounded and invalided out on pension, he gets no badge at all. The ordinary soldier doing exactly the same job gets the King's Badge. A fireman injured on service by enemy action and invalided out gets nothing, but the soldier does. I can see no conceivable reason why this distinction should be made. If a man is wounded there seems to be a strong case for his receiving the badge. The Merchant Navy and the fishing fleet have already been accepted for the King's Badge, and it is very strange that this distinction should be made. The hon. Lady the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Home Security said on 10th February in this House that it was difficult to differentiate between men who were discharged for severe injuries and men who were discharged for redundancy. That strikes me as being wrong, because it is already done in the Army, and the Civil Defence Services are not asking for any other treatment. On behalf of the Civil Defence and Fire Services and the Home Guard I appeal to the Government to have the question of the King's Badge put right. It concerns a very small number. It is said that they could not be picked out without great difficulty. If, however, men can be picked out for chevrons for war wounds, men who have pensions for wounds can also be picked out.
I do not claim the 1939–43 Star for the Civil Defence Services. They should have a special Civil Defence medal quite distinct from a military medal. They are proud of being in Civil Defence. They feel they are doing a job under fire without being able to hit back. They look upon the fact that they are not armed as a point of honour and more to their credit. An hon. an gallant Member who spoke said that the A.R.P. services sat in their shelters. I would like to repudiate that. In the big raids of 1940–41, when raids went on for 12 hours at a time, these men were fighting fires, rescue squads were getting people out of ruins, and the ambulance units were on duty next to the target, while the troops were ordered to their shelters. On behalf of the people in the A.R.P. Services I should like to say that the statement that they were in shelters during raids is entirely wrong. We are glad to hear the Prime Minister say that the question is not closed. I hope that the Secretary of State for Air will make a note of what apparently has the approval of the House, namely, that the Civil Defence Services should receive recognition for the work they have all tried to do.
I am glad that this Debate has shown the deep feeling which obviously exists over the question. My experience is that representations have been made from a number of quarters about the confusion and inequality arising out of these awards. Therefore, I am glad to note that the Prime Minister told us that the matter was not finally settled. I do not think that the Government keep enough in touch with public opinion on matters of this sort. Back benchers and people outside seem to have a much better idea of how the popular mind is working than do the more exalted people who sit on the Front Bench. I am afraid that the Government do not appreciate the effect on morale of some of the things that they do. By way of illustration, and I will come to the 1939–43 Star question in a few moments, I would like to deal with what I regard as the unimaginative and grudging treatment accorded to the Army in relation to ordinary decorations. I regard it as an illustration of what one may continue to expect from the Committee responsible for these matters, unless very radical changes occur. I am going to give the House some figures which, so far as I know, have not been published before, although anyone can discover them by the process of counting up or arithmetic. I wonder whether the House realises that, after 4½ years of war and with millions of officers and men serving in the Army, there have been awarded 1,000 Distinguished Service Orders, 3,300 Military Crosses, fewer than 1,000 Distinguished Conduct Medals and about 8,000 Military Medals to other ranks. I suggest that those figures are remarkably small, considering the variety, number and importance of the engagements in which the Army has been concerned all over the world. There have also been in that time 25,000 Mentions in Despatches.
With that background, is one to be encouraged to believe that what I want to advocate is likely to be carried out, that is, a far more generous and imaginative approach altogether, to the question of decorations? It may interest the House to know that the basis of allocation for the Armies in the field is some form of rationing. Under this system, and I will give the House figures—there is no reason why the House should not have them—every six months, one man out of 250 in an operational command can be awarded a medal. It does not matter how brave men have been or how many of them have been fighting very hard; that is the ration that is to be awarded to the men in that command. In the same period, one man may receive a mention in dispatches out of every 100. I regard that as being an entirely wrong method of awarding decorations.
What happens is this: A battalion commander—I have seen it in this war and I saw it in the last war—whose troops have been in action, sends in the names of various people who are deserving of recognition and medals. That list goes to brigade, where, naturally, other battalions have all sent their lists. The names are then sent forward through usual channels to divisional or corps commanders. On their way they are all subjected to very considerable pruning. They are pruned by people who have no real knowledge of what went on, who were not present when the battle was being fought, who are simply taking the citations which accompany particular lists and cutting out the names of people who do not look as though they have done as much as other people. The names have to be restricted within certain numerical limits. I suggest that that is a wrong way of dealing with these matters.
It was certainly followed in France when I was there in 1940. Names were cut out because there was a ration and there is still a ration, and it cannot be exceeded. I do not know how the adjustments are made, but they have to be made haphazard as the list goes up the scale.
I will certainly come to that in a moment. If a battalion commander or brigade commander decided that a man ought to have a decoration, it ought not to lie with the corps commander or the Army commander to say that he should not have it. If there seemed to be an abuse of this power of recommendation, if some officers seemed to take the view that all their geese were swans, they might be invited to change their opinions on invitation from their superiors. I cannot believe that it is right that people who have not taken part in an action should be allowed to remove the names of people who have been recommended by presumably responsible officers. I come to another point. No provision is made by which an officer or man killed in action and who fought very gallantly, and, who, if he had lived, would have received a decoration, can get one. The Victoria Cross—yes. Of course, the number of Victoria Crosses in this war, in all the Services, is rather less than 100.
May I ask my hon. and gallant Friend one question? In the last war there were rationed decorations, and there were immediate awards, and they were quite distinct. I am merely asking him for information. Do I understand that that system is now changed?
Immediate awards are made to-day. I ought to have pointed that out, but immediate awards count against the ration in the field. They come off the final ration in the six months. That is a bad system. I ask the House to reflect on this matter. The Secretary of State ought to think about it. I believe that it is not right to continue it.
How does this system come about? It has presumably evolved or been adapted by the Committee whose title appears at the head of the White Paper, and which rejoices in the name, "The Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations and Medals in time of War." In the earlier stages of the Debate I corrected an hon. Member who suggested that the Prime Minister presided over that Committee. It is a mysterious Committee, as the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger) said, and there is not much known about it. Perhaps I may enlighten the House with such information as I have been able to get about it. I wonder whether it will surprise the House as much as it surprised me to learn that the individual who presides over this extremely distinguished Committee is the head of the Civil Service. Why he should be selected to deal with the grant of medals in time of war, I do not know. Honours and decorations possibly, but why medals? I should have thought it was a task to be entrusted to some very distinguished ex-Service officer with a great deal of knowledge of these matters. It must not be thought that I am attacking that most distinguished civil servant in his personal capacity in any way. All I am saying is that I do not think he is the best person to preside over such a Committee. Perhaps the House will be interested to know, too, that the Committee consists of quite a large number of extremely distinguished people. They are selected because they are distinguished, and being so distinguished, they are naturally extremely busy. The Committee meets on very rare occasions and it does its business by sending out minutes indicating that if dissent is not expressed by a given date a particular proposal will be adopted. I do not regard that as a very desirable method and I think it is time that an end was put to it. That is information which I have no reason to doubt.
With that background, we can consider the White Paper. It is not very surprising to find some confusion, which I regret to say seems to be increasing, as the Government change their mind on this or that fresh point which may have been brought to their notice. For example, it is extraordinarily difficult to understand why the Army should decide that the Africa Star is more important than the 1939–43 Star, although how there can be precedence in matters of this sort when one can only be granted one of the two decorations it is difficult to see, while the Navy and the Air Force have decided exactly the contrary. That seems to be a most appalling confusion. There has been, I must point out to the House, really serious delay in carrying out the intentions of this Committee. If we are to believe the Prime Minister to-day they began their deliberations in March, 1943, they reported in August, 1943, and yet I do not think I am disclosing anything secret when I tell the House that it was not until well on in February of this year that people in the Army were getting their 1939–43 Ribbons at all.
In the White Paper there is reference to wound stripes and chevrons. I must say that I am one of the people who are optimistic enough to believe that the war in Europe will end this year, and I am wondering whether the wound stripes and chevrons will arrive in time for any one in uniform to wear them, or whether they will have to hang them up as trophies on their mantelpieces when they get home after the war. Can it take such a long time to produce a number of small red chevrons and some pieces of gold as wound stripes? In the last war I believe the 1914 Star, the Mons Star, was being worn in 1915, and the 1915 Star was being worn, I believe, in 1916. Chevrons and wound stripes were being worn from 1916 onwards. Yet we have had four and a half years of war and chevrons and wound stripes have not yet been seen except in the most limited and minute quantities.
May I draw my hon. and gallant Friend's attention to the fact that in the last two or three days I have had numbers of complaints from officers because they have had to put on the chevrons? They certainly have arrived.
It just shows how people differ. In reply to the point about people who complain about these matters, I had a complaint from a man who was entitled to wear the 1939–43 Star. About three or four weeks ago I met him and rallied him on the fact that he was wearing it. He did not have to, but he was doing so. The point I want to make is that I wish that the Government would realise that there is a tremendous lot of psychology in this matter. A great number of people after four years of war feel that they would like some outward indication that they have been serving their country for quite a long time. It improves the morale of the man who is wearing the ribbon, it makes him probably a better soldier. It encourages people who have not got ribbons to look up to the man who is Wearing them. I cannot explain why that should be, but it is, indeed, a fact.
What is to be done about the anti-aircraft people? I think that the case made by the right hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) was as strong as it possibly could be. It really is impossible to see why the anti-aircraft gunners should not have the 1939–43 Star. Suppose by some frightful mischance a number of goats got in among the sheep. Would it really be so very dreadful if some undeserving people got some of these decorations at the same time as the deserving people got them? I am not very impressed at the argument about people sitting in Cairo. I have heard it over and over again. While we are on the subject of Clasps and so on, perhaps the Prime Minister would like to devise a "Shepheards' Crook" for the people who were in Cairo. If there are to be a few undeserving persons who get a medal, as long as those who deserve it get it in large numbers there will not be any jealousy among those who have already got it. They will not begrudge it to others whose case has been made out.
That applies very much to the Civil Defence personnel. As the Prime Minister invited the House to say what they thought about it I will say what I think. It may be that they should receive quite a different medal from the 1939–43 Star, but they should certainly have a medal, and they should have it before the end of the war. They should have it while they are performing their duties, and not receive it as something to show their grandchildren long after they have retired to the shelter of their armchairs and after the war is over. There should be an appropriate civilian medal given to all the people who took part in the passive de- fence of this country—the anti-aircraft, bomb disposal, and coastal artillery personnel.
I am speaking about the civilians. I am differentiating between the military and the man, however gallant he may be, who has not got a weapon with which to deal with the enemy, and who rather prides himself on being defenceless and having to do his work without having anything with which to hit back at the enemy. In order to distinguish between the military and the civilian side the civilian organisations which have been taking part in resisting the enemy at home should be given a medal that they can wear now. I do not know whether there are 12,000,000 of them, but if so, and if they have deserved it, they should have it.
Men and women in the Services, in the anti-aircraft defence, coastal artillery, and bomb disposal forces should have the 1939–43 Star. If it is thought that those who hold that Star will be jealous that the others should have it because Great Britain has not been an operational command, speaking for myself I do not think there is any prospect of anything of the sort. I know that I shall not begrudge anybody who has served in this country's anti-aircraft defence having the 1939–43 Star. That ought to resolve the problem which the Prime Minister propounded about the difficulty of giving it to the anti-aircraft troops and having to go on down the slippery slope until everybody was wearing the Ribbon. After all, it is said that this country contains an immortal generation. Let the Government realise that a little generosity to the immortal generation now will be much more appreciated than waiting until the war is over, and especially just at this moment. It seems to me that this is a psychological moment, coming as it does before very serious events take place elsewhere. It is important that there should be some understanding of the psychology of the matter and realisation that it raises very important questions of morale.
I can assure hon. Members who wish to speak that I will not take many minutes, for the very simple reason that I regard this as the show particularly of the Members who have seen active service. Indeed, for that reason I asked my hon. Friend the Member for Whitechapel (Mr. W. Edwards) to speak after the Prime Minister. I think that the House must have been gratified by the general temper of the Prime Minister's statement in so far as he asked the advice of the House upon the question of the Star and the Clasps. He has had plenty of advice upon that question. It seems to me, from the analysis we have had to-day, there is very real need for fresh consideration. It is possible for a man to have fought with two or three divisions in North Africa and to have won the V.C., and yet to miss the clasp, because he did not take part in later actions—I know an actual case of that happening.
On the question of the various arms of the Services, both on the active and on the civil defence sides, receiving either military or civil medals and the general service medal after the war, that matter needs more than casual consideration. The House has been reminded, very forcibly, that this country has been the scene of active operations. Not merely was it a theatre of active operations for the Home Guard, the anti-aircraft gunners and the Civil Defence personnel, but it was a theatre of very active operations for the great mass of the workers, particularly during the year of the Battle of Britain. Men and women in the factories, workshops, and mines of this country worked themselves to exhaustion for 12 hours a day. Whatever one thinks about working merely for wages, there is no doubt that in that year, at any rate, the great mass of the workers gave themselves body and soul for this country. If there is one thing that has emerged from this Debate it is that the House of Commons has realised that, almost for the first time in its history—for long centuries at any rate—this country has seen active service. I think that the country will be very much surprised on realising that, because we have got so used to it that we think the world has been always like this. I would not like to see the anti-aircraft batteries, with all the splendid service they have rendered, put into the same class as the men who fought the Battle of Britain in the air or the men who kept the seas, but I think they deserve consideration for a military award. When I hear them at work these nights, I am very glad that I am not an anti-aircraft gunner.
On the Civil Defence side, there is need for consideration, too. Whatever class you take, you will find people included who are not entitled to the medal—you cannot avoid that, but the Prime Minister has given his word that after the war there shall be a general service award. I wish it could be done now. Do not let us fool ourselves about this matter. People who have rendered service like a ribbon to wear in their coats. Let us provide a medal after the war, and a ribbon now, for people who have served in this country, always remembering that the civil and military sides should be kept separate.
If this Debate has demonstrated one thing more clearly than any other, it is that it is quite impossible to please everybody over the qualifications for the award of the 1939–43 Star. The arguments for and against awarding it for services when Britain was a besieged island, under constant enemy attack, are, as my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer would say, fairly evenly and nicely balanced. I think there are three possible courses. The first is that we should exclude all home front claims, as is proposed, being content, possibly, at a later time, to recognise these by the award of a general service medal. That course has the disadvantage, as has been pointed out by speaker after speaker to-day, that home front personnel, who lived dangerously and served faithfully in the defence of Britain in 1940 and 1941, will be left out in the cold. That is a pity, because they are men and women who have deserved well of their country. Secondly, there is the possibility of extending the award to selected home front personnel. It would be a difficult course administratively, and, I think, anomalous in practice. All sorts of people would have to be considered: the infantry who stood to on the coast, bomb-disposal companies, fire-fighting personnel in the Navy and in the Army in heavily-blitzed ports, the ground staffs at operational aerodromes, and so on. If you are going to adopt this course—which I do not believe to be practicable—you will have to set a disproportionately large number of people, for an unwarrantably long time, examining individual claims, checking records of ser- vice, and inquiring into the location of units during the operative time.
The third course is one which has been advocated by more than one Member to-day, that is, to recognise the Home Command during the Battle of Britain period as an operational command for the purposes of this award, so that service in home stations and in the home commands during the period which was mentioned, 1st August, 1940, to 1st June, 1941, should qualify for the award of the 1939–43 Star. I think there are four factors which this House would do well to bear in mind in considering this matter. The first is that the qualifications for the award should be easily understood. The second is that claims should be capable of being upheld without the necessity of employing a large staff of invigilators. The third is that the award should leave as few people as possible nursing a sense of grievance. Lastly, because the majority of the recipients will be in uniform for the remainder of the war, the tendency should be to overdo rather than to underdo the distribution.
Judged by these standards, I am bound to say that the third alternative, the proposal to regard home commands as operational commands during the Battle of Britain period, seems to me to go furthest to meet these four factors. Although I have no very strong feelings about this matter, I would be inclined myself to recommend it for this reason. I do not think it would do any harm to extend the award to the greater number of people who would be brought into its scope, and it would do a surprising amount to make a lot of people proud and happy. It is astonishing how much a little thing—and I agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Nottingham East (Lieut.-Colonel Gluckstein), who made this point—how much a little thing like a medal ribbon does to stimulate morale. The greater the number of our men who are wearing them when they go over the other side, the better for their self-respect and the greater the respect in which they will be held by others whom they will meet. But, if it is decided to adopt this course, then I think we should certainly advocate the institution of a system of clasps, and the holding of clasps should be denoted by the right to wear the single rose emblem on the ribbon, so that a necessary distinction should be made to recognise those who have served in operations overseas.
I want to support what my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) said about the double award. There are, as he has pointed out, a great number of individuals and some formations, such as that fine north country division, the 50th, and elements of the Highland 51st, who, but for the terms of Army Council Instruction 32 of 1944, would be entitled to wear both the Africa Star and the 1939–43 Star, and I think that, because a man has earned the right to wear two medals, to prevent him from doing so is to impose bad luck which we ought to do everything possible to avoid. If it is said that it might operate to the disadvantage of certain naval and Air Force personnel who may have performed equally meritorious service in theatres of war away from the Mediterraneann zone, then I would say "Let them, if necessary, wear two rose emblems." But, however that may be, I have a feeling that objections of this kind ought not to be allowed to stand in the way of the simple and straightforward principle that a man who has qualified to wear two medals should be allowed to wear them both.
I want to support what was said by the right hon. Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) about the clasps or emblem on the Africa Star. I confess to a feeling of misgiving at the wisdom of limiting the award of the Eighth Army emblem to what is, in effect the period of General Montgomery's command, brilliantly successful though that has been. Under the command of Field Marshal Wavell, and in the days of Generals Auchinleck, Cunningham and Ritchie, the Eighth Army performed prodigies of valour with far fewer resources in men and materials. Why should the earlier campaigns of the Eighth Army be overlooked? A great many hon. Members will remember hearing an address given upstairs to the British Parliamentary Association just before Christmas by Brigadier Hargest, that fine New Zealand soldier, just after his escape from captivity; they will remember the praise he gave to General Auchinleck's command, and his description of General Auchinleck, one of the finest soldiers under whom he had ever had the privilege of serving, fighting his battles, as General Wavell had fought his, "with insufficient troops, with inadequate weapons, without air cover, and with every disadvantage that could face a British general." These men, who fought against great odds, with the dice loaded against them, were men of the Eighth Army, and this House would do them less than justice if it were not to advocate a course which would recognise them as such.
To round the thing off properly do let us suggest the award of an emblem for that daring and brilliant campaign in which General Sir Alan Cunningham's tiny force, operating in a country which favoured the defence, won what is called in a fine book published to-day by the Ministry of Information about the Eighth Army, the first really irrevocable victory of the war by routing an Army of 300,000 and clearing the Italians out of East Africa. If the proposals which I have named, modest, easily understandable and easy to implement as they are, were carried into effect they would do much to overcome the feeling, which does exist, that our own men are apt to be outdone in these matters by their comrades of the Allied Forces.
I am sure the Prime Minister was right when he said that, in order not to cheapen it, the 1939–43 Star should not be distributed too widely. In resisting unreasonable demands from my constituents, I have found it useful to be able to say that, although I was in France three times during the war, I never qualified for the medal. As I never was under fire, I certainly did not earn it. The Prime Minister mentioned the glut of medals in Germany in the last war. I remember being there five years after the end of the war and buying two pairs of braces, one made of the surplus stock of Iron Cross ribbon and the other of Black Eagle ribbon. Although distribution of the Star ought not to be too wide, equally it ought not to be too narrow. There was once a frontier campaign in India which came to an end almost before it began, but not before large bodies of troops had been moved into the area. The Government of India, always famous for its parsimony, drew a line across the map and said that anybody who did not go north of this line should not get the medal. There were only two men wounded in the campaign, neither of whom crossed the line, and they did not get the medal.
I think that in this Debate a strong case has been made out for the Ack-Ack to get the 1939–43 Star. The R.A.F. fighter crews are getting it, and well indeed have they earned it. I support the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) that there should be a special emblem on the 1939–43 ribbon for the fighter crews who fought in the Battle of Britain. The definition of the Battle of Britain should, however, perhaps be rather more narrow than some hon. Members have suggested. The commander-in-chief in that battle, Lord Dowding, defined the period of the Battle of Britain as from 10th July to 31st October, 1940. There is a good precedent for the suggestion of my hon. Friend in the fact that the Air Force who fought with either the First or the Eighth Army wear a "1" or an "8" on their Africa Star ribbon.
The fighter aircraft and the guns in this country engage the same planes in the same battles. As the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) pointed out, something like 1,000 planes have been shot down by the Ack-ack batteries, and in addition they have certainly diverted thousands more from their targets and caused them to drop their bombs more or less harmlessly. According to the official record of the Ack-ack achievements, three times more than 50 enemy planes were shot down in a single week. In 1940 the Ack-ack batteries shot down 444½ enemy planes, the half being a division of honours when a plane was winged by the guns and brought down by a fighter. In March and April, 1941, one plane was brought down by the guns for every two brought down by the Air Force, that is to say, every third enemy plane was brought down by Ack-ack. These services have been recognised by the award to Ack-ack officers of the Military Cross, the citation being "for gallant and distinguished service in action."
In these circumstances it is inappropriate to ask the Ack-ack to be content to share a special medal with the Civil Defence Services, even though there should be a military division of it, admirable though the work of those Services was. The Ack-ack are part of the Army, and part of the operational defence, and should receive the ordinary operational medal. There is a special reason, which I hoped would appeal to the Government,
why the Ack-ack should get the 1939–43 Star. Considerable numbers of women will then receive it, and, except for a few women in the auxiliary services in North Africa or Italy they will be the only women to receive it. In a number of Ack-ack batteries which are called mixed half the crews are women, and I will read two or three sentences from the Official Report of the Defence of Great Britain called "Roof over Britain." The officer commanding the first mixed battery to bring down a German plane said:
As an old soldier, if I were offered the choice of commanding a mixed battery or a male battery, I say without hesitation I would take the mixed battery, The girls cannot be beaten in action, and in my opinion they are definitely better than the men on the instruments they are manning. Beyond a little natural excitement they are quite as steady if not steadier than the men.
It would be a graceful and well-earned tribute to the women if the Ack-ack force in this country were given the 1939–43 Star.
I shall only detain the House for two or three minutes, and the House will be delighted to know that I have torn up three of my four cards of notes, as there are many other Members who wish to speak. I suggest to my right hon. Friend that he should study with the greatest care the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devon-port (Mr. Hore-Belisha), who, I think, was speaking for all parts of this House and for the vast majority of the people in this country. I would like to say a few words about a branch of the Service with which I have had a little connection. It would be a shame if the men who mounted the guns and the searchlights during the blitzes in the Battle of Britain, and who were, night after night, at 30 seconds' readiness, were not regarded as part of the operational command of this country. It is incredible that Cairo should be regarded as an operational command, and that Britain at the time of the blitz should not be so regarded. I can see no sense in it, and we expect sense from the Government Front Bench. That is why they are there.
As the right hon. Gentleman said, clearly these difficulties are large, but it is for the Government to overcome them. I do not believe for a moment that they are insurmountable. It is true, as the Prime Minister said, that we must not make the 1939–43 Star cheap. I would be the first person to support that point of view, but I do not believe that the 1939–43 Star would be made cheap by awarding it to not many more than 60,000 men who manned the aircraft defences of this country in 1940–41? If it is necessary to bring in other equally deserving bodies of soldiers in this country, let them be awarded another medal for their services other than the 1939–43 Star. It would be an appalling disgrace—I put it as high as that—if men like those my hon. Friend, and the hon. Member for Kingston-upon-Hull, East (Mr. Muff)—and Hull was blitzed extremely badly—have mentioned, who have manned these guns and fought night after night should have absolutely nothing to show for it. It is not fair. The Prime Minister stated that this Debate was to show two things. One was the feeling in the country and the other was the personal opinion of the Members of this House. I would suggest to him, if he reads this Debate, and it is his duty to read this Debate carefully, that he will find many suggestions put forward, and I sincerely hope he will adopt them.
I have listened to most of the speeches, and I think there is only one way in which we can avoid causing a very great deal of dissatisfaction; that is by the simple method of giving a medal to everyone. Unfortunately, such a course would cause extraordinarily little satisfaction and in view of the decisions recorded in the White Paper, it would in fact be impracticable. We have therefore to proceed on that basis laid down in the White Paper, with which I, personally, am in general agreement, though I can see the need for extension on a limited scale in various directions.
I think we have got to recognise that campaign medals must be awarded as a memento to the person who has taken part in a particular campaign, irrespective of his personal danger. In my view they are not awarded as an incentive, because they are usually awarded after the event, and I do not think it is much use tying a carrot on to the donkey's tail, but they are a valuable recognition to the wearer and a memento of something that has happened. Their value to him depends very largely upon their rarity, and I think it is essential that we should keep that point continually before us and not allow too great an expansion of each medal. Personally, I would prefer to see the issue of a large number of campaign medals to comparatively small and selected numbers of people. In that case I believe they would cause greater satisfaction to their wearers. If you issue them on a wider scale a medal becomes like a button and the man who is not wearing it is improperly dressed.
I am not attracted by the idea of clasps, except in the case of a long and continuous campaign which can be divided up into phases, as in the case of Africa, and I think there you should give distinctive clasps for each phase of that campaign, not only the Eighth Army operations after El Alamein and the fighting in Tunisia but also for General Wavell's advance and for the fighting in Abyssinia. In this war, unlike the last war, we have taken part in many operations against the enemy such as commando raids which cannot be classified into a single campaign, and the 1939–43 Star is designed to recognise all those different operations by one award. It certainly is not a precedent, but it is unusual to give medals for evacuations, that is for unsuccessful operations; but if one is doing that I think it is essential that you should give that medal to those who made the evacuation possible, that is the rearguard who were left behind and who were probably taken prisoner. That is certainly not recorded in the White Paper, although the award to people who were evacuated is recorded. I think, therefore, that extension must be made in that direction.
Now I come to the far mare disputed point of this country. Obviously Great Britain in this war has been a theatre of operations. It is difficult to decide between the relative value of the services of a man who has served in Italy or in Sicily or in Norway as compared with the man who has served here, and without in any way detracting from the value of the service of Anti-Aircraft Command I think that those who served abroad in operations against the enemy need to be recognised in a different fashion. If that is the view of the House, then I think any suggestion of extending the 1939–43 Star to cover people who served in this country must be wiped out. The clear answer, to my mind, is the award of a separate and distinct medal for the campaign which took place in this country.
The question then arises, To whom should that new campaign medal for service in Great Britain be awarded? Obviously, Anti-Aircraft Command must come in, but it cannot be given to them alone. At the time of the Battle of Britain the greater part of our Army was here, and a very large number of them were actually shooting at German aeroplanes. You cannot give a medal to the person who was shooting with one kind of gun and deny it to the man who was shooting with another kind of gun. I suggest in all seriousness that a separate medal should be given for home service to all those who served at home and who have not qualified for any of the overseas campaign medals. On that scale it would not include too many people. I think also there must be a medal granted for Civil Defence. We have the precedent of the Merchant Service and there should be a separate medal for Civil Defence, with the possible inclusion of the Home Guard, a point, however, which requires further consideration.
Several hon. Members have mentioned bomb disposal units, and I feel they need special recognition. I would suggest that they are recognised in this way. I do not think it is sufficient to include them in an extension of the 1939–43 Star. Many such units, of course, served abroad and I think I am right in saying that bomb disposal is performed by other units than bomb disposal units. However, I think the bomb disposal unit should be entitled to wear the appropriate campaign medal according to whether they have served in Great Britain or in a foreign theatre of operations, and, in addition should receive a separate decoration denoting that they have served in a bomb disposal unit. That would be in addition to any gallantry decorations which they individually might have earned. I do not pretend that this outline would avoid anomalies but it would I think reduce the anomalies to a considerable extent and I feel that it would preserve to some extent the value of these medals to those who receive them.
Before the few remarks I propose making in this Debate, which will be on a very narrow issue, I would like to record my disagreement with two views expressed, one by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) and one by an hon. and gallant Gentleman on the other side. The first statement was that the medal ribbons should not be given until the end of the war, that soldiers did not want, in his opinion, to wear their medals particularly now. I think that is totally wrong, particularly as we know that some of our Allies are somewhat lavish in their issue of medals, and it has been a very sore point with a number of our soldiers who have seen far more fighting than some of our Allies and have still nothing whatsoever to show for it. The second point was that danger should not be regarded as a factor in awarding a decoration or medal or star to those engaged in the defence of this country. But the point seems to me to be this, that danger means the starting of fire, the starting of bombing, and immediately that takes place the civilian population who are not actively engaged in the defence of Britain are sent to their shelters—to their Morrisons or Andersons or Tubes—and during the same period the A.A., the A.R.P., and the Home Guard come into active work. The bus men, of course, have always to be on the job, and so have the railwaymen. All these, therefore, come under a period of extreme danger, and I think that should be regarded as one of the factors which should guide the Government in allotting the 1939–43 Star.
That, however, is not really the point of my few remarks. It may appear to the House—and I do not want to apologise if it does so appear—and to those who have endured the miracle or tragedy of Dunkirk, to those who have fought their way through blinding snowstorms and sandstorms, and to those who have stumbled through the swamps of the jungle, all the time putting up an epic fight against overwhelming odds—it may appear presumptuous that I should raise my voice for one great citizen force that has only been casually mentioned both by the Prime Minister and by one other hon. Member to-day. I would not presume to do so, nor would the Home Guard wish me to do so, if this Star were to be limited to those people I have just described, that is the fighting men.
But it is not so limited. It is to be granted to those who have served in certain operational areas, arbitrarily selected, I suppose, by the Service Departments or the Government. So we find these anachronisms whereby a clerk who has constantly wielded his pen in a cushy seat in Cairo during the years of our greatness and, similarly, a clerk who has safely manipulated the stores at some base depot, or an administrative staff officer who has never seen a shot fired in anger, and is never likely to see one, will gain this Star for gallantry and endurance. It is because of that lack of restraint in awarding the Star that the Home Guard feel compelled not to stake their own claim but to state their claim. We merely ask, as has been asked by several Members to-day who have brought adequate proof of the argument, that Great Britain be declared one of the privileged operational areas or commands from May, 1940, to May, 1941, when Britain, undoubtedly, was the chief target of the enemy.
Our reasons are that the heavy bomber is now generally recognised as the modern type of heavy artillery. Britain, and more especially, certain specific parts of Britain, were subjected daily and nightly to air attacks during 1940 and 1941. During that time, after a day's exhausting work on war production, men rallied nightly to the defence of the country. They reported night after night in their hundreds and thousands without having had time to wash or eat so that they might not be found wanting when the urgent demands of the night came. They played their part, as many will acknowledge, in fire fighting, rescue work, and in practically every form of Civil Defence while bombs, masonry and wreckage were falling all around. Many hon. Members will, I know, bear me out in that in regard to the London area and some of our large cities. There is one more point I would like to make: We have read of many decorations being awarded for saving life under fire in the field. I could quote many cases of life-saving by Home Guards while bombs were raining down. I know of many units in London who have had fatal casualties while doing rescue work during actual raids and have secured several decorations for that work. That very factor establishes their right to some form of star or medal in regard to the operational performances which they have been through.
In conclusion, I would like to assure the House that I myself know that millions of pounds' worth of property have been salvaged and countless lives have been saved by these Home Guards, who have been working hard at their jobs during the day. I feel sure that I have established a right to ask that the Prime Minister should not close that open ear of his to this little song I have sung to-day and that he will regard the Home Guard, as he himself implied, as part of the operational forces of this country. If it should not be found possible to award this coveted 1939–43 Star there might be a Battle of Britain Star for all those great forces which played their part in the defence of the country or the 1939–43 Star might be divided into two—one for the Services and one for the civilians, with a slightly different ribbon. I do ask the Secretary of State for Air to bear my remarks in mind, and to think of the 1,500,000 to 1,750,000 Home Guards who have willingly given all their time, energy and courage, such as it is, to the defence of our country.
When the Prime Minister mentioned, some months ago, his intention to lead this Debate I asked him whether he would examine the claims of mothers, who have been bereaved by the loss of their sons or widows who have lost their husbands, to be entitled to wear a ribbon. The Prime Minister said he would examine the claim of bereaved parents. If the Secretary of State for Air cannot consider this claim himself would he refer it to the Prime Minister, because I believe it is important? Many mothers wrote to me some months ago stating that whereas in the last war mothers who lost sons under 26 years of age were certain of a pension, amounting to 5s. a week, mothers do not now get any pension unless they are in pecuniary need. Further, they do not have any claim to wear a ribbon for whatever their sons may have done, except in the way of gallantry. One mother pointed out that she had nothing at all except a piece of paper saying that later, if she was in pecuniary need, she could possibly claim a pension from the Ministry of Pensions. If we cannot give these mothers a particular award or ribbon could not we create another ribbon, something similar to the ones to which their sons would have been entitled? Many women members of the British Legion proudly walk in processions wearing their sons' and husbands' medals, although I am not sure whether they are entitled to do that. Some of them did serve in the war, but in the main the women members of the British Legion wear the medals belonging to their next of kin.
While we are dealing with this question I should like this cleared up once and for all. What is the actual title of the next of kin to wear the awards of the sons whom they have lost in this war, and in the last, if you care to take that into account? A woman wrote to me from Lancashire that she would like to feel that pride, of which the Prime Minister spoke to-day, and wear the ribbon belonging to her son, and she would like to feel that she had a legal title to do so. I believe that would bring great comfort to the mothers of the country who have been bereft. I would ask the Prime Minister to take all these factors into account, not merely on sentimental grounds but because of the pride that mothers feel in the part that they have played in the war. That is one new angle which I introduce most deliberately, believing that it is very necessary that consideration should be given to the claim that I am advancing.
In considering the open door, or the open ear, which the Prime Minister promised I should like to suggest that it is going to be very difficult to sort out whether there shall be an award for those who served during the Battle of Britain or only for those engaged on operational duties, and it is going to be very difficult to sort out what is an operational duty, having in mind that many of the Home Guard in some parts of the country did not do very much service. During the Battle of Britain some of my neighbours, and folks whom I have known for the last 15 years, worked heroically, and I feel that many of them who never wore a uniform or any kind of label to indicate what their job was have a genuine claim to any award that we may be considering. There are train drivers, for example, who brought us through that difficult period, many of whom sailed on time into stations which had been bombed. London could not have carried on had it not been for the bus and taxi drivers. There are charwomen who, after a night of bombingt turned up on time next morning at Government and City offices. During all this period these wonderfully brave people undoubtedly kept London going.
I believe the Prime Minister and the Committee who are advising him have a most difficult task in sorting out who should receive this medal, whatever title you may give it, Battle of Britain or otherwise, Someone mentioned the fighter pilots in the Battle of Britain and suggested that they should have a gold clasp to the medal and I suggest that it should be set with diamonds. I should not like to leave out the crews whom I saw at some aerodromes, who kept the machines in trim. They no sooner alighted than ten men gathered round them and worked for hours on end and saw to it that the plane was in the air again in the shortest possible time. All these are operational duties, and we must examine each claim separately and, if we have to make a general award, a Londoner's ribbon, or a London and provincial ribbon, let us make it but let us give satisfaction as far as we can.
I said London and provincial. Plymouth is as much part of the provinces as Doncaster. We did not have many bombs in Doncaster but they certainly had a lot in Plymouth. I include Plymouth with the greatest possible joy. [Interruption.] I mentioned London because London has been mentioned so often. I feel that we must take into account all these folks who kept our lines of communication going, and kept this Britain of ours going, during those glorious days, and I believe they will have the greatest possible pleasure in wearing whatever decorations the Prime Minister and his Committee determine, and I state their claim, believing that they have a just title.
Like many others, I have been in a state of perplexity with regard to these proposals on a number of points and my perplexity has not been cleared up by the explanations that have been offered. At this stage of the Debate, however, I only want to ask the Minister two questions. Why is it to be laid down that a man may qualify for two ribbons and yet only receive one? Why may a man qualify for the 1939–43 Star and also for the Africa Star and only receive one? I have never heard any real answer to that question. It is entirely without precedent that in the award of decorations one should preclude the other. A veteran of the Boer War has reminded me that there were then two medals awarded, the Queen's medal and the King's medal, and if a soldier was fortunate enough to earn the Queen's medal as well as the King's he was entitled to it. It is quite outside precedent and, as far as I can see, there is no principle for the proposition that one award should preclude another. I would ask the Minister to tell us what really is the answer.
I should also like to ask if it is still the position that a wound, or the fact of being mentioned in despatches, entitles a man to the 1939–43 Ribbon whereas otherwise he would not have it. I understand that the six months' rule has largely gone but, as I read the White Paper, it is still possible for something like the six months' principle to apply, in which case a man may be serving for five months and receive no medal at all while another man who has served for a short space of time, if he has a wound and gets sent back, can receive the medal. That kind of procedure gives rise to a profound sense of injustice and grievance. There are plenty of men who are slightly wounded and do not even report it, or a man may be seriously ill but sticks it out and gradually get better. Plenty of men may display great gallantry without its being observed, and do not even obtain a mention. To lay down that those who have a mention or a wound should be entitled to a medal while their brother-in-arms, who have been enduring the same burdens and risks for a long time, shall not receive the medal is again a piece of injustice and I should like to know if that is still the position and, if so, why? Nearly every speaker I have heard has expressed the need of being generous in giving these awards. If you are going to give, give with a free hand.
Following the example of other hon. Members, I must declare my interest in this Debate. If I am able, as I hope, to convince my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air of the good claim which Balloon Command of the Auxiliary Air Force have for recognition for the 1939–43 Star, I shall be entitled to receive it. In mentioning the Auxiliary Air Force I should like to take this oppor-
tunity of saying how proud that Service is to have among its honorary Commodores the Secretary of State for Air and the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is not only an hon. Commodore in name, but, whenever he makes his tours abroad, he always wears the uniform of that Service. Balloon Command was formed as a separate command of the Royal Air Force in 1938, and it recruited to its ranks men who were unfit or too old for more active service, men who gave up their evenings and week-ends to training and who gave up their summer holidays with their families to spend time in camp, and men who, when hostilities broke out, gave up their jabs and their one-man businesses. There is ample evidence of the valuable work carried out by Balloon Command in the air defence of Great Britain. If further proof were needed, I would refer the House to a reply which my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air gave me on 13th October last, when he said:
I certainly agree with my hon. and gallant Friend that Balloon Command has fully justified its existence.—[OFFICIAL. REPORT, 13th October, 1943; col. 862, Vol. 392.]
Balloon Command personnel are certainly in the front line fighting against the attacks of the Luftwaffe. Apart from the capital, Balloon Command squadrons have been in action at many of our ports, such as Portsmouth, Dover, Southampton and Hull, and as the hon. Member for East Hull (Mr. Muff) said, they have well served them. Many of the personnel in that Command have lost their lives in action, and many have been granted awards for bravery in action against the enemy.
Considerable discussion has centred round the question whether Balloon Command is an operational command or not, because the question whether any command is operational appears to decide the eligibility for the award of the 1939–43 Star. On 13th October last, I asked my right hon. Friend if Balloon Command is now regarded as an operational command, to which I received from him the categorical answer, "Yes, Sir." In my view and the view of many hon. and gallant Members, that is a right and proper decision when we remember that all the balloon sites are by operational necessity placed in the very centre of the target areas. The value of these balloon sites is shown not only by the number of aircraft that have been brought down by the balloon cables, but by the number of aircraft that have been kept away from vital targets. Generally the invidious treatment which, in the terms of the White Paper and which, I regret, has not been modified very much by the Prime Minister's statement to-day, has been meted out to these two commands is due to the fact that they are not classed as operational commands because Great Britain is not classed as a theatre of operations. If Great Britain was not a theatre of operations in 1940, when hundreds of thousands of soldiers and airmen were fighting to defend its shores, I find it difficult to understand what the meaning of theatre of operations is. The Battle of Britain was the first successful battle of the war, and the winning of it by Fighter, Ack-ack and Balloon Commands saved these islands from invasion.
Here I would emphasise that these three commands are operationally linked. together, and to exclude one of them seems an extraordinary attitude to be taken up. To indicate how fantastically anomalous the present position is, I would like to quote the case of an officer in a Balloon Command who served in London and afterwards at Southampton and Portsmouth throughout the blitzes, and was wounded in Southampton. He was then drafted to Cairo, where he lived in comparative comfort for a very short time. That luxurious sojourn in Cairo entitles him to wear the Africa Star, whereas three years' service in this country does not entitle him to anything. He comes back to England where his colleagues, who have been bombed and shelled during the intervening period, have nothing to show for it.
I need not go into that now. I merely quote a particular case. To treat these men as though they had no more to do with the Battle of Britain than the troops in training camps in remote parts of the country is a travesty of justice and an insult to their gallantry. Unless the decision is altered these thousands of men in Ack-Ack and Balloon Commands, who have served for four or five years, will remain without honour in their own country. It is not the soldiers and airmen themselves who are asking for this recognition. Their reward is the service they gave.
The British people are conscious of the great service these men have done and of the debt we all owe to them. They like to think that these men are not neglected. As evidence of the feeling which has been aroused, I should like, as I close, to read a letter which has been published in one of the great national newspapers. The letter was signed by the Lord Mayors of Birmingham, Cardiff, Kingston-upon-Hull, Liverpool, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Plymouth and Portsmouth. If the Secretary of State for Air will give me his attention for a moment I would like to commend these words to him. The letter says:
May we, as Lord Mayors of Britain's cities which have been persistently and savagely attacked by the Luftwaffe, urge in your columns a reconsideration of the conditions governing the awards of the 1939–43 Star? The omission of-the A.A. gunners and balloon operators from the list of our fighting men who are eligible for the award has been made, apparently, on the ground that Great Britain is not a theatre of operations. We civilians who, by day and night have been defended by these gallant men when the enemy's malice sought, and failed, to break our souls and destroy our cities, find such a theory inadmissible. We were proud to feel, as we were frequently told, that we were in the front line in the battle for the freedom of the world. We know the courage and devotion of the men who fought around us and among us in close collaboration with the R.A.F. The balloon crews and gunners endured all the hardship, discomforts and dangers of war in defence of our homes. To accord them an honour so manifestly deserved seems to us to be no more than a just recognition of their courage, steadfastness and endurance in the face of the enemy.
Finally, the people of this country have not been backward in realising the debt which the nation owes to these gallant men, and in pressing for some recognition for them. I am sure that the Secretary of State for Air, also, will not be backward.
I came here with the intention of pressing for the inclusion of Britain as an operational area under the provisions of the White Paper. I have listened to most of the arguments and I see the difficulties. Therefore, as so many objections have been raised to the inclusion of Britain as an operational area for the 1939–43 award, I would support the alternative proposal of a newt ribbon for all the troops who were serving in Britain during the period of the Battle of Britain.
There were in Britain at that time a great number of troops, many of whom were in action at some time or other against the enemy. Claims have already been put forward in support of antiaircraft gunners. I strongly support those claims. I support also the claims of the bomb disposal squads. Nobody has yet put forward the claims of the infantry soldier and field gunners who manned the beaches during the invasion scare. At that time there were not sufficient antiaircraft guns to go round the coastal areas and there were no balloons because there were not sufficient balloons either. When the German Air Force came over and attacked the South and South-East coast towns, the troops made full use of their rifles and any weapons they could find to shoot at them. I certainly feel that the Home Guard, who also stood to for long hours during that period, should be entitled to receive the award of the Battle of Britain Star. There is another point which I do not think any hon. Member has dealt with in the Debate. It was mentioned by the Prime Minister during his opening speech. That is the question of the King's Badge. I urge the Government to reconsider this question. In July, 1943, a number of hon. Members and I put a Motion on the Order Paper, which eventually received the support of nearly 200 Members. The Motion was to urge that the King's Badge should be given to all men honourably discharged from the Forces. At the present time, if a man is ill or wounded or receives some disability attributable to his military service, and is discharged from the Army, he is awarded a pension and he also gets this little silver badge to wear in his buttonhole, to show that he is an ex-Service man, that he was not a conscientious objector, and has not been a shirker.
I would suggest that there is little difference between the man who is discharged because he is ill from some disability attributable to his service and another man who, through force of circumstances, becomes ill and whose illness is not attributable directly to service. Both men have given honourable service to the Armed Forces, and I submit that both should receive this little silver badge. One of the reasons put forward by the Prime Minister for not acceding to our request in this matter was that some men might have been enlisted in the Army suffering from some complaint which had not been spotted by the Army doctor during his medical examination and after a few weeks the complaint might come to light. Therefore, that man should not be entitled to the King's Badge. If that is the objection to giving the King's Badge to these men., let the Government make a definite period, say of six months or three months, or a year if you like. After a year's service in the Forces, say, if a man is invalided out or is honourably discharged without any dishonour, or court martial, he should be entitled to receive the badge.
Mr. J. J. Davidson (Glasgow, Maryhill):
Why impose such a time limit? Surely the hon. and gallant Member is aware that men can join up, and during one week's service can go through a period of intense fighting such as merits a reward.
I entirely agree with the hon. Member. I was only trying to suggest some means of meeting the objection put forward by the Prime Minister that a man might be accepted in the Service with a disability, and might be discharged on the following day. Should he be entitled to receive the King's Badge? I say that he should be. It was not his fault that he was discharged and he can certainly claim to be an ex-Service man. He is, therefore, entitled to say that he was in the Service and was discharged through no fault of his own.
I understand from my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stockport (Wing-Commander Hulbert) that there is a tradition in the House that if one has an interest to declare one should declare it. But if I have any interest to declare I will not declare it. I think the Prime Minister said words to the effect that he would pay attention to the Debate which was to take place in the House of Commons to-day, and if in any way I say the same thing or repeat what some other hon. Members have said, I will, I think, do it a little more briefly than a great number of them have done. The first thing I would like to mention is the question of the Africa Star, the Bar or whatever you care to call it—sinister, I think the people who were there before Alamein would call it. The Arabic 8 written on the Star is, apparently, given only to those who have been there since the Battle of El Alamein. That is to say it only goes to those who have been there and in Italy since Alamein. We know we never got better tanks and guns than the Germans had before El Alamein. We got up to their level but never beyond. The Bar goes to those who came after Alamein and not to those who were there before Alamein when the going was even harder than it was later.
If those people who have served in the desert and Egypt since the Battle of Alamein get this Arabic "8" on their chest, which certainly they are entitled to, the soldiers who were there before Alamein should, in my humble submission, get "8" squared on the ribbon they have to wear. If you are to give the "8" on this ribbon to those who were there after Alamein, what about all those who were left wounded and prisoners in enemy hands before Alamein? The Eighth Army of the days when they had nothing to attack with do not get the "8" on their Ribbon, though I think they are entitled to it as much as those who have been there since Alamein. The fault was most certainly never that of the troops. It was only a question of material and armour. If you were to say that victory, from Alamein on, was due to the generals, let us take whichever general you care to choose and give him another badge on his cap. By all means do that. No one would question it. But do not deprive the troops, the fighting soldiers and junior officers, of that to which they are, in my opinion, justly entitled.
I do not think it has been suggested in this Debate to-day—and I have sat through it more or less—that the Africa Star should be given, for example, to some Greeks who fought extremely well in the Western Desert throughout that campaign. I think it would be a great courtesy on our part and no more than what is due. I would also mention that I was once in Tobruk with the Polish Carpathian Brigade, which consisted of two battalions of Polish troops and one battalion of Czechs. They were in the salient, the most dangerous place. There were no finer troops in the desert than the Polish Carpathian Brigade. I wonder if we could not give the Africa Star to the Greeks who have been in the desert and to these Polish troops and to the Free French whom we came through at Mekili when we were retreating from Benghazi? Then they went to the left of the line at Bir-Hakim. They were called then the Free French. I suggest we might give this Africa Star to the Greeks, the Poles, the Czechs and the Free French who came to fight with us in Egypt or Libya irrespective of any political views they held. Some had walked hundreds of miles in order to rejoin their Army groups.
We have had a lot of discussion about anti-aircraft batteries, and so on. I was not hi England at the time, and I am not qualified to judge the merits of this question. But I think that, in the case of a soldier who has not served abroad, while it would be a good thing to let him have a ribbon, it would not be right to give him the same ribbon as a soldier who has been in battle abroad. I think that the anti-aircraft gunner was often a great deal better off than the civilian population of London, or the people in the constituency which I have the honour to represent. He has his dug-out, and he is reasonably well looked after. If he is wounded, he is taken off to hospital. That is a very different thing from what happens to a man who is wounded in a foreign campaign. If he is attacking, he is picked up by his own troops; but if he is retreating, he is in the bag. If a man is wounded at home, he can be visited, and kissed by his wife; but, believe me, that really does not often happen in the desert. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) referred to the fact that one day in Africa was enough to qualify for the Africa Star. There were inquiries as to why one day in Africa should be enough to qualify. I would like to assure the right hon. Member—although he probably knows—that, in my opinion, one day in Africa is more than enough. There were some questions as to why service in Palestine should not qualify. The answer is that there are many more flies in Egypt than there are in Palestine.
The fact is that our, troops are improperly paid and they do not get enough medals. I do not think it would harm our relations with our Allies, if our troops had one-third, one-half, or three-quarters of the pay and medals which the troops of some of our Allies get. After all, we did weigh-in at the beginning of the war, and I do not think there would be any repercussions abroad if we gave up to half of the medals that some of our Allies give their troops. I mean no disrespect to any of our Allies, but I do not think that they would object if we had a few medals as well. The Prime Minister mentioned that if he, or his Government, were in office after the war, there would probably be a General Service Medal at the end of hostilities. It is a very nice thing for one's family to have flowers sent to them after one is dead—perhaps they are glad to get rid of one—but it is also a nice thing, as the Americans say, to have a bouquet sent to one when one is still alive. Therefore, I would suggest that the General Service Medal should be given out to the British troops now, or after six months' or a year's service, and a different ribbon for any campaign for which you think they ought to have one. In spite of any apparent frivolity, I hope I have made a few reasonable observations. Even if that is not so may I say that perhaps the easiest way would be to give a medal to everyone just because they are still alive?
I intervene only for a very short period, and not as humorously as my hon. Friend who has just spoken, to reinforce the case made on behalf of the anti-aircraft gunners. I have had the honour of serving on the headquarters staff of the Commander-in-Chief, and I should like to say at once that, if an award such as I am advocating is given, I shall not be one of those to qualify for it. It seems to me there is no possible doubt that the gunners of Anti-aircraft Command will be recognised, in some way, sooner or later, but I am quite sure that I speak for the vast majority when I say that they would resent it very much if the recognition ultimately given to them was shared with civilians. I may be wrong, but I think I detected that possibility in the Prime Minister's speech today. There is not a man in Anti-aircraft Command who does not pay tribute and homage to the work of the fire service, but he does want a soldier's medal or no medal at all. Service abroad is always reckoned, and, in my opinion, rightly, more highly than service at home, but it should be remembered that you cannot defend Great Britain from air attack unless you happen to be in Great Britain, and it is not the fault of the gunners of Anti- aircraft Command that their military service is rendered in their own country.
I urge only that those who served in Anti-aircraft Command during the period of the Battle of Britain should qualify for this 1939–43 award. It seems to me that the test, surely, is whether the Command was in operational fights with the enemy. I must emphasise, that you cannot come down to cases of individual men in making these awards. You have to take the formations as a whole, or not at all. Was Anti-aircraft Command, in fact, in operational contact with the enemy? Did it, in fact, fight a battle? It will surprise some hon. Members and, I hope, impress all, to know that the gunners of Antiaircraft Command during the period usually known as the Battle of Britain shot down approximately the same number of aircraft as the number with which the Royal Air Force started. Nor was that their only contribution. They broke up formations of the enemy, and I am sure that, when we take into account the present desperate attempts of the Germans to break up the formations of Fortresses and Liberators over Germany, it will be accepted that this is no small contribution. Perhaps I might quote the words of a fighter pilot friend of mine, to whom I put this point. He immediately said: "You break them up, and we will knock them down." To give the award to the men of Anti-aircraft Command who qualify for the Battle of Britain period would involve, I am assured, substantially less than 100,000 men. I do not think that even the Secretary of State for War, if he were here, could suggest that that was inflation.
There is one criticism I would like to make. No medal or ribbon should purport to be that which it is not. No man wants to pose as having done something which in fact he has not done. I suggest that there must be a single clasp on the ribbon and the letters "A.A." Assessment of the value of the ribbon will rest, as it should rest, with the observer. If he rates the work of the anti-aircraft guns as low in his estimation, then the ribbon will correspond to that, and if he rates it high, he will adjust the ribbon accordingly. He will not be able to say: "Here is a man who stayed on the ground pretending that he was one of the immortal few who flew." That is as it should be.
While listening to my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister I was gratified to see that, despite the enormous task which he has on his shoulders, he was able to devote some time personally to this important question of decorations. I was also pleased to see that he did not put forward the White Paper as final and that he will rely a great deal on the suggestions made by right hon. and hon. Members during this Debate for final decisions. As we have in this House so many distinguished and gallant Members who have served in so many parts of the world in this war, it was only natural that this Debate should follow lines on which valuable contributions would be made. We heard a very brilliant speech by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), and we would have expected such a speech from him, as he served with distinction as the first Secretary of State for War during the present war. We can add very little to the way in which he so plainly gave guidance to the Committee referred to by the hon. Member for Bassetlaw (Mr. Bellenger), which decides upon the type of award and upon the basis upon which these awards are made.
I have the honour to represent a constituency which is very closely connected with the Services, it is only natural therefore that I should receive a great number of representations from my constituents on the subject of naval and military decorations. Several topics have been mentioned by hon. Members and as I do not want to detain the House long, I want to touch only upon two subjects which have not yet been referred to by hon. Members. One is the question of time and delay, and the other the wearing of ribbons after the war. Much of the criticism I have heard of the White Paper is due to the fact that such a long delay has taken place before the award of these medals. The war has gone on for a longer period than the whole of the last war. If we had had a medal struck for the period 1939–42, the subject of directing two medals to the same man would not have arisen, because the first medal would have already been granted to the man who had served during that period. Five years is a considerable period and longer than that of the whole previous war. There has not been any regard paid to time, and I would like the right hon. Gentleman who is to reply to the Debate, to give direction to the Medal Awards Committee to be much quicker with the award of distinctions generally.
I feel that for those whom the Americans refer to as the "desk dragoons" to take six months to allot a decoration to a man is very unfortunate. Since the soldier is prepared to risk his life at a minute's notice it seems to me that only a reasonable length of time should elapse between the deed of gallantry and the award of the decoration. We have a glaring example in the case of General Auchinleck, who received a decoration some six months after his brilliant advance and at that same moment he was being relieved of his command because things were not going quite so well, and the two events were coupled together. In the case of airmen we see them given a distinction for an important operational flight over Germany, which is only awarded some six months later. In the meantime they have either been wounded, discharged or become prisoners of war or even lost their lives. Distinctions should be granted promptly.
This brings me to the second point I wanted to raise, which is the after-war period. I heard the hon. and gallant Member for Chichester (Lieut.-Commander Joynson-Hicks) say that it did not matter how much delay occurred in allocating these medals. I do not agree with him at all on that point.
I have to thank my hon. and gallant Friend. I thought he said that soldiers and sailors and airmen after the war prize these medals very much indeed and more than during operations. No doubt they prize them very much, but they want to wear them. I want to come to the comparison made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister. He spoke of France. In France it is customary after a war to wear small thin ribbons in the buttonhole when one becomes a civilian, but in this country it is not customary to do so, although in the case of the King's Badge something similar occurs. So, if a soldier is not granted a medal when still in uniform, or towards the end of the war, he has not really the chance of putting up his ribbon unless he becomes a doorman at a cinema, a commissionaire or a policeman. If, as the Prime Minister said, the Victory Medal is only to be allocated after the war and this new award made at a much later date, then I would like my right hon. Friend to consider whether, when these men have returned from fighting, it can be considered correct for them to wear a thin ribbon in the buttonhole of the civil suit. Of course there is nothing against these ribbons being so worn. Anyone can wear them to-day, but one rarely sees a man doing so. We have in this House the hon. Member for Belfast University (Professor Savory), who was awarded the Legion of Honour, and he wears the thin ribbon in his buttonhole. Of course I am not making any criticism of his action. I merely say that it is not universal in this country. I would like to see it so. I have only noticed one other Englishman in this country so wear his ribbons, but before the war I have many times witnessed Englishmen put up their ribbons while they were in France or travelling in Europe. Yet, while re-crossing the Channel, they are seen cutting the ribbons from their coats so that at Tilbury these decorations are not visible any more. In view of the great number of medals to be granted, and the fact that we hope the war may be over in the near future, I submit that some opportunity may be given to these men to continue to wear just a thin ribbon in the buttonhole of their civilian suit. In order to make a practice like that customary, those of importance should do it, and then the rank and file will follow the example.
In conclusion I want to ask three definite questions of my right hon. Friend. Are Press correspondents or B.B.C. correspondents who have been with the Eighth Army for more than six months, who have been given a special uniform and, in certain cases, weapons to defend themselves in an advance, entitled to receive the Africa Star? My second question is, if a man has not qualified long enough by staying six months in the seat of operations but is wounded and discharged, or severely wounded, would not that entitle him to have the medal? My last question is if my right hon. Friend has ever considered a medal which was very much prized in France in the last war. Since the Prime Minister made comparisons between the giving of decorations in France and this country, I would explain that this medal was one to which great value was attached over there. It was called "La Medaille des Evades." It was given to soldiers who had been taken prisoner and had succeeded in escaping from enemy territory at great risk to themselves and had rejoined the Fighting Forces. One of these was the gallant New Zealand General Horgest, to whom my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Stockport (Wing-Commander Hulbert) referred a few minutes ago. I would be obliged to my right hon. Friend if he could give me a reply to those questions when summing up this interesting Debate.
When my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister opened this Debate he made it quite clear that he would welcome suggestions from hon. Members before finally deciding upon his recommendation to His Majesty as to the making of these awards. When he comes to consider the suggestions which have been made I feel that he will come to the conclusion that certain points have attracted general agreement in the House, the first of which seems to be this: That this country must, in all reason, be regarded as an operational command, particularly during the year that followed August, 1940. That being agreed, it follows that some recognition must be given to those men and women of the Services who took part in the operations of that command. There are then two alternatives open—either the 1939–43 Star shall go to them, or there shall be a new award. For myself, I think it would be proper to extend the 1939–43 Star to cover these men and women. I would like to mention, in particular, some of those who would gain recognition if that were done.
First, from the Army point of view, there would be the A.A. Command. So much has already been said to justify recognition for the personnel of this Command that I feel it unnecessary to add anything more; their case is so strong as to require no further advocacy. There is one other section of the Army which has not been specifically mentioned—the Home Defence battalions. There is one such unit well known to me, whose personnel come from my constituency, and which was formed as a Home Defence battalion towards the end of 1939. It was composed, in the main, of last war soldiers who were at once posted to the defence of vulnerable points and who were continually in action up to the middle of 1941. On one night alone that unit sustained casualties to the extent of 41 killed and 19 wounded. They, I suggest, certainly merit recognition. So far as the Royal Air Force is concerned, clearly, the gallant few surviving fighter pilots of the Battle of Britain must be eligible. Again, their case has been put much more eloquently than I could ever hope to put it.
Further, I have already suggested to my right hon. Friend who answered a Question and wrote to me personally about it, that the personnel of Air Force headquarter stations, who are not I think technically defined as belonging to an operational unit but who, nevertheless, make frequent flights over enemy territory for reconnaissance purposes or otherwise, should also be entitled. That is the first point on which I suggest my right hon. Friend will find almost unanimous agreement.
The second point I desire to make and which I also suggest has been agreed to by hon. Members, is in regard to clasps to the Africa Star for the Middle East. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) can speak with much more personal experience than I have, although I wear this Star. However, I know enough about it—though I was but a staff officer—to say that there was immense determination and valour shown long before the advance from El Alamein. Again I refer to one regiment—not unconnected with Chester—which arrived in Egypt in the middle of 1940 and served under Lord Wavell in the swaying battles of the Western Desert. It is no exaggeration to say that these men were expected to stop tanks with rifles, and even with stones. They ultimately divided: part fought through Greece and Crete, and part through the campaign in Eritrea and both returned to the Western Desert, most of them being killed or taken prisoner in the disaster of Tobruk. I feel convinced that their determination paved the way for the later victories, which are to be rewarded with a clasp. They should, in my view, have a clasp for the great work that they did.
It has been advocated in all parts of the House, and indeed it was indicated by my right hon. Friend, that there should be at some time a General Service Medal for all men and women who have served in the war. I am inclined to agree that perhaps the time has arrived for issuing that recognition. After all, four and a half years of war have gone by. Why wait until the end for the issue of this award? My great hope is that a scheme may be formulated which will be acceptable to all serving men and women who, if I may so put it, have gone forward together with my right hon. Friend and have never faltered and never failed.
The Prime Minister undertook that he would keep an open mind and would be prepared to consider any suggestions made in this Debate in the light of what he described as advice given by informed opinion. The suggestion was made that the 1939–43 Star should be distributed on rather generous lines and that it should be differentiated by clasps. As has been pointed out, it cannot be said to be impossible to issue clasps in war-time, because that principle has already been conceded in the White Paper. It has also been pointed out that, while everyone recognises the great and gallant achievements of the First and Eighth Armies in their victorious campaign, it is very important that we should not forget the equally gallant efforts of those who, at an earlier stage in the war, and with lesser resources and supplies, carried out very brilliant operations. I hope that, as a result of this Debate, my right hon. Friend will consider the desirability of extending a special recognition by means of a clasp to those early pioneers in Africa who, in East Africa, Abyssinia and Eritrea, won one of the most brilliant strategical and tactical victories that have ever been won. If I specially draw attention to that, I am sure I shall not be accused of in any way under-estimating the great achievements of the First and Eighth Armies and the great campaigns that brought the war in North Africa to a conclusion. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Portsmouth (Sir W. James), who originally proposed to the Government that the distribution of the Star should be upon a generous scale and that clasps should be issued in order that soldiers, sailors or airmen who had taken part in special campaigns or actions could obtain a recognition to mark their participation, based himself on historical precedent in the case of the Navy. I hope that, in spite of the purely practical difficulty to which the Prime Minister referred to-day, of differentiating the services that had been rendered on a small ribbon, it will not be regarded as ruling out the possibility of giving widespread recognition to those serving men who have gone wherever they have been told to go or have stayed at home and have thereby done what they were told to do, and at the same time giving special recognition for special campaigns, battles and particular exploits.
What is the basis upon which these Stars are being issued? There are a number of different criteria that might be taken. It might be the criterion of danger, or that of hardship, or that of tedium, or that of distance from home. I am afraid that in the White Paper the old idea that no Englishman ever went to war unless he went overseas has had a good deal of influence. I hope that the Prime Minister will not fall into what I think is a logical error. In my battalion, for the first nine months of the war, we had an adjutant who was a fighter pilot at the end of the last war. He was then based on Hornchurch, and it was his responsibility to try and defend London against aerial attack. In those days night fighting was much more dangerous than it has been in this war from a technical point of view. There were not the technical aids that there have been since, and at the time when he went up from Hornchurch he did take his life in his hands. When he went to war for a second time, in this war, he had no medal to mark that he had been a night fighter pilot in the last war. I hope that an injustice of that kind will not be repeated in this war.
The criterion in the White Paper is logical; it is not that of danger, tedium or distance from home. It is that of combat and serving in an operational command. I admit my personal interest in this matter. I want to summarise the arguments that have been put forward on behalf of Anti-aircraft Command. The number of aircraft that have so far been admitted as shot down by Anti-aircraft Command is 806. It is difficult to dispute that a Command which has shot down 806 aircraft is an operational command. In the second place, decorations have been issued to officers and men of that Command for gallantry in the face of the enemy. I have had a letter from a major, who tells me that he recommended one of his captains who was stationed in the Isle of Dogs, and, as a result of the recommendation, the captain was awarded the Military Cross—not the George Cross or the George Medal, but the Military Cross, which is only awarded for gallantry in action. In the third place, Anti-Aircraft Command, in the early days of the war, was not only regarded as operational but as quite definitely in the front line.
I remember raising with my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha), when he was Secretary of State for War, a question whether it was desirable to have in our searchlight battery as ordinary searchlighters certain tradesmen who were urgently required for other purposes. We had a lance corporal who, in peace time, was an inspector of camel lorries which were in short supply, and I put it to my right hon. Friend whether we ought to retain such a man as an ordinary lance corporal in charge of a searchlight site. His reply was that, although he might be withdrawn from the Forces at that time, the danger of aerial attack upon this country was so great that tradesmen were asked not to withdraw from Anti-Aircraft Command. Even the Government can hardly have their cake and eat it. We cannot be of such importance in 1939 and be told in 1943 that this is not an operational command.
May I give some logical examples? It was in June, 1941, that we were required to co-operate in the Field Force in certain large scale manoeuvres in East Anglia. All through the day we were required to take part in these manoeuvres with the Field Forces, and half an hour before sunset we were required to put up a notice outside our camp to say that we had ceased to play. We were somewhat mocked and derided by the Field Force on the ground that we were only willing to do our manoeuvres by day. The answer was that from half an hour before sunset until half an hour after sunrise we were required to be available to man our searchlight equipment, and it was for that reason we were required to be operational during the hours of darkness, and therefore were not able to continue to train with the Field Force who at that time had not the same operational function that we had. It is a little hard to be told in 1943 that we do not belong to an operational command.
I want to put the point, not on the purely logical ground which has been chosen by the Government in issuing their White Paper, but that of broad equity. A very large proportion of Anti-Aircraft Command consisted of Territorials, men who in peace time continued in their ordinary peace time avocations and gave up two or three nights a week, and frequently their week-ends, in order to train for war. There was the case of the battery in Buxton in my constituency. They had been an infantry unit in the Sherwood Foresters, and never concealed their unwillingness to be converted from their infantry role to that of searchlights. But under the regime of my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) when it was considered that there was the imminent danger of aerial attack upon this country, a number of infantry units were converted against their will into either anti-aircraft gunners or search-lighters. When told that it was their duty to do so they complied and applied themselves to the best of their ability in order to ensure the safety of their country.
There was, again, the case of units specially raised, especially in the months after Munich, and with one of them, 424, I served. It was specially raised in Ealing in order to provide the defence which at that time was considered to be required. It is a little hard, and I think very unfair, that a differentiation should be made between those Territorial units who were compulsorily transferred or specially raised to ensure the safety of this country against aerial attack and those who were allowed to continue in their infantry role. I hope, therefore, that the Prime Minister will consider this matter on grounds of broad equity and will see that all these different units have served in whatever role was deemed by higher authority to be most necessary, and that the Award which is being made to those who were fortunate enough to be sent overseas will also be given to those who have served at home.
It has been calculated that if the 1939–43 Star was issued to those personnel who were serving in Anti-Aircraft Command during the period of the Battle of Britain it would only result in an extra 60,000 of the 1939–43 Stars being issued. The vast majority of the units which served in this country at that time have subsequently gone overseas, but there are still a number of units which are retained for the defence of this country. I have made inquiries, and the calculation has been made, and it is estimated that probably not more than 60,000, certainly not more than 75,000, extra Stars would be issued. When WE compare that with the 1,500,000 which have already been issued, it can hardly be said that to add 60,000 to 1,500,000 would have any great effect in cheapening or depreciating the currency. Either there was or there was not a Battle of Britain. If there was a Battle of Britain, those who participated in it are entitled to some recognition.
I am not speaking only for Anti-Aircraft Command. I feel also that the ground crews who serviced the aircraft which fought in that campaign should obtain some recognition. I should like to say how strongly I support the suggestion that there should 'be a special emblem marking those who were the fighter pilots in that battle. Where I think my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister has gone astray is in not realising that among serving men there is no jealousy of those who have earned and obtained some special additional distinction. What does cause bitterness, and even resentment, in a man is the feeling that, without any grounds for it, he himself has been excluded from something to which he really is entitled. I hope that the Prime Minister will consider issuing the 1939–43 Star on more generous lines, while, at the same time, adopting the device of a clasp in order to give special recognition to those whom we who stayed at home would gladly see far more honoured than we are. We would gladly see special recognition for those who fought in Africa and those who fought in the skies, but we ask that no exclusion, no differentiation, shall be made against us.
If the Prime Minister is not prepared to extend the 1939–43 Star, we shall, no doubt, take with what philosophy we can 'the issue of some medal to mark the battle in which we, in our humble and humdrum way, played the part which was assigned to us; but I must say, quite definitely, that a passage in the Prime Minister's speech which caused very great disappointment was that in which he slid over from the military personnel to the civil personnel, apparently without realising the great historical distinction which must be drawn between the two. We fully recognise that no one in this country, and not even those in Africa, has shown greater heroism than was shown by the A.R.P. and other Civil Defence personnel. They are perfectly entitled to any decoration or award of their own. But anything which is going to classify Anti-Aircraft Command not with the other soldiers with whom they enlisted and with whom they have served, but in a different category, would have a most harmful and deleterious effect on all of them.
With great diffidence, I intervene in this extremely interesting Debate. I have been through the raids by the enemy upon Birmingham and Coventry, and I listened with the greatest interest to the speech of my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha). He put the whole case for these people who in this country, in anti-aircraft organisations, were at the time defending the interests of their country with the same energy, the same enthusiasm, and the same loyalty to high purpose as was shown by those who were fighting in the front line in the various theatres of war.
I think the Prime Minister, in his speech to-day, has not given sufficient consideration to those who were engaged in the anti-aircraft organisation during the Battle of Britain. I endorse the view expressed by the right hon. Member for Devonport when he said that the Battle of Britain should not be excluded from the category given by the Secretary of State for Air when he stood before the House and gave us a list of the various theatres with which the award of this distinction was immediately concerned. During that terrible time—I was through it all—I saw my own works in Birmingham devastated and I saw my Coventry works devastated; I saw the Mayor of Coventry going out to help in every sort of capacity during that terrible time, when one of the most lovely, if one of the smallest, cathedrals of this country was destroyed. I saw the Mayor giving help in rescue parties and rendering help in every direction. Surely, in arranging for distinctions for those who took on this grim and dangerous task, we ought not to forget those who undertook the burden of the defence of this country in those days. I think our anti-aircraft organisation in those bad times earned a place peculiarly its own in the military history of this country, in defending our common interests and our common purpose. I say that the Secretary of State for Air must not exclude from the category of eligibility for the award those people who stuck to their task in the terrible days of 1940–41.
I came to this House on the morning after our Chamber was smashed into smithereens. I saw splendid policemen—two had been killed that night—and I saw all those engaged in defence, our A.R.P. men, and all those who were trying to look after people who were stricken down. Are these people to be deprived of some decoration or other when it comes to appreciating the services given during that time? Think of our conditions in Birmingham. We had swoop after swoop over our great city and some of our works were destroyed. Cathedrals and churches were smashed, and people driven to extremities. Surely those who stood by our antiaircraft stations in those days are, as the right hon. Member for Devonport said, entitled to consideration for the services they rendered. It is difficult, I know, to have a widespread award of distinctions for services rendered in the difficult and grim times through which we have passed, but surely the men who stayed behind the barrage, the men on the anti-aircraft guns, the men who manned the balloons, and the men who manned the guns, often without sufficient ammunition to carry on throughout the night—surely these men deserve some recognition.
This House has always been just and generous in consideration for the whole of the population engaged in their various responsibilities. I endorse everything which has been said by the hon. Member for The High Peak Division (Mr. Molson) about the work done during the Battle of Britain by everybody. Of course, we all agree with what the Prime Minister said in recognition of the high standard of morale of the community, and you cannot give awards to everybody, but these people like the anti-aircraft defences, who stayed at their stations during air attacks, cannot be excluded from the recognition they deserve. I submit that, after all the speeches we have had to-day, and particularly that of the hon. and gallant Member for Chester (Major Nield), all sections of the community have played their part, and the award of distinctions or of merit is something which ought to receive the generous and kindly consideration of His Majesty's Administration. Many of them, I am grieved to say, were sacrificed and gave their lives. Those who survive at least should claim the right to be recognised by any award or distinction which the processes of this terrible war bring about.
No speech in this House—and I have been here for 24 years—has made a greater impression upon the House, in pleading for the recognition of merit and personal self-sacrifice, than the speech made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport. It was a first-class exposition of the responsibility which rests upon the House of Commons to do justice to every section of the community who have played their part in the process of this great war for the security and liberty of our people. The right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for Air, in replying to the long Debate, cannot examine any suggestion or proposal made to him which could have made a greater impression upon him than that of giving recognition to these small isolated groups of defenders who stayed at their post through all the difficulties during that terrible period of 1940–41. Think of the nurses and matrons engaged in hospitals; think of the Sacrifices made by all our workers. I remember that in the midst of these raids, when we had no defence at all in the Midlands, these people did magnificent work, and they deserve the full and generous consideration of His Majesty's Government in giving them something which they can hand down to those whom they love, so that they may be able to say, "My father or grandfather played his part in the greatest effort that has ever been made for the achievement and stability of human liberty for the future."
I am particularly gratified by the speech made by the right hon. Gentleman, an old friend of mine in this House for many years, and the plea that he made. I was also greatly impressed by the appeal made by the hon. Member for The High Peak Division and by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chester, and I ask the Secretary of State, in replying to this Debate, to say that His Majesty's Government appreciate not merely the services of sections who have played their part, but those of the little groups of people who, in the organisation of the defence of the country in the most difficult time through which we have passed, played their part, and even made the supreme sacrifice, in defence of the liberties of the land in which we live. I know that the Secretary of State has a deep appreciation of the services rendered, and the way to appreciate the services rendered is to award merit where merit is due.
If it is considered desirable to commemorate the fateful years 1939 to 1943—and I certainly think it is so desirable—surely all those who played their part in those fateful years deserve to receive the reward which their work should bring them. Judging from my post-bag, there is, undoubtedly, widespread and deep-rooted resentment among the officers and men of the Services and their relatives at the injustices and anomalies which the present Regulations have produced. There is heartburning and disappointment, which should never have arisen, and which it should be the duty of the Government to allay as soon as possible. In my opinion there is only one way in which the present difficulties can be removed, and that is by giving the 1939–43 Star to all those who served with the Colours for 28 days or more during the years 1939–43, service in the Home Guard being included as service with the Colours.
At the same time an inter-Services committee should be set up which would review the war and consider which actions by sea, land or air should be commemorated by the issue of a special clasp or bar. What is much more important is that that committee should get its decisions out as soon as possible, because what men and women want to do is to wear their ribbons and distinctions now while they are in uniform when they can do it, and not to have to wait until they get back into civilian clothes when opportunities for wearing them are few and far between.
Finally I would say that the same Star with a different ribbon should be awarded to all those who, during the same period, served in the Civil Defence services of this country. I have had a letter from a distinguished military officer in which he says this:
After all, if England was not an operational area during the blitz, then what on earth is the Battle of Britain? Many did much to
help the few to win that battle. Casualties were higher than in most of the other operational areas, and if it had not been for R.A.F. ground-crews, A.A. gunners, the troops holding the coast, bomb disposal squads, etc., the result might have been very different. Surely those who served in England during the period deserve a medal just as much as the forces in France during the so-called "phoney" period, A.T.S. in Cairo, the garrison in Gibraltar, and back area troops in Africa, many of whom have never heard a shot fired?
That officer speaks for a large number of officers and men in the Army. May I quote to the House two anomalies? I know of three brothers. The eldest of them went to an 0.C.T.U. at Cambridge at the very beginning of the war. He got a commission in the Royal Engineers, he volunteered for service in the Bomb Disposal Squad and has been there ever since the beginning of the war. His second brother also got a commission, went out to Africa, and is now entitled to wear the Africa Star. The younger brother left Dartmouth and went to the Fleet and now is entitled to wear the 1939–43 Star. What justice is there for the eldest brother, who has had a much more difficult time, who has had a job which would try the stoutest-hearted person and has kept at that job for all the period of the war, and yet is not entitled to wear any ribbon on his tunic to show what he has done?
If the House would allow me to mention a personal reminiscence; it so happened that in the course of fulfilling an engagement for the Ministry of Information I went to a certain town, and that night there was a fairly big air raid. A few weeks later I met an officer in the W.A.A.F. and I found that she had been stationed in the town at the time I was there. She told me that her duty was to go round the balloon barrage sites. She bicycled through the air raid to visit these various sites. One she visited had had a direct hit. The conditions must have been pretty grim. The first thing she did was to stumble over the severed head of a W.A.A.F. when she went into the shelter. She then went to a nearby shelter where all the A.T.S. and the soldiers had been killed by blast. Can anybody say that they, and she, were not in an operational area? It is sheer injustice to suggest that those people who endured that should not wear a ribbon, whereas people in the A.T.S. and other services in Cairo are entitled to wear a ribbon.
There is one point which I do not think has been mentioned at all, and I think I have heard all the speeches in the Debate to-day, except two. That is the question of those officers and men engaged in training. What justification is there for denying a ribbon to officers sand men who, through no fault of their own, have had to be retained in this country training the officers and men who have gone overseas and won the brilliant victories which our Army has won? I had a letter the other day which said:
Please forgive the writers for remaining anonymous, but we are afraid of repercussions should our identity be made known. We wish to thank you for your observations on the 1939–43 Star, and to endorse your remarks as the most sensible and simple solution of the difficulties. We are four sergeant-instructors with an average service of eight, years. At the beginning of the war we were taken from our battalions and sent to train recruits. We claim that the men who succeeded in North Africa, Sicily and Italy were trained by men like us, and because of our successful training we have been kept in England the whole time. It is not our choice. We must do as we are ordered and yet we feel we are doing a good job of work, and for this we get no reward. Most of us manned the beaches night after night for several months and for that alone we feel as entitled to the award as the A.A. gunners, many of whom never fired a round.
Then the writers add something which the Government should especially note:
Here in this town we meet thousands of American soldiers, all bemedalled, while we, after eight years' service, exhibit a clean breast. You can imagine how we feel.
What are bur Dominions doing in this matter? I do not think anybody in the House has touched on that point to-day. I understand that the Canadians have a service medal which is issued to everyone in their Services. Those who go overseas have a little maple leaf on the ribbon. I understand that South Africa has something very similar. What of the Americans? They have three campaign medals —one for service in Alaska, Asia and the Pacific, another for service in the Americas outside the territorial limits of the United States, and the third for service in Iceland, Great Britain and the Middle East. The medal to each of these ribbons is worn after 30 days' service in the appropriate area and the question of what bar shall or shall not be awarded is now being considered. Surely, if the men of the forces of our American Ally receive a medal by reason of their ser-
vice in this country the men and women of this country who held on with courage and undismayed tenacity so that time might be given to our Allies to arm and organise are at least entitled to some medal which would commemorate that most momentous fact?
I think the regulations, so far as the Africa Star is concerned, are reasonable, but there is a feeling in the Navy—which it would be idle to deny—that whereas a special distinction is made for the Army who fought in North Africa the Navy, who contributed, at any rate to some extent, to the victories of the Armies there, are not entitled, except for inshore squadrons, to any rose upon their 1939–43 Star to show that they had anything to do with the special victories which were won. One day's service in North Africa would qualify anybody for the Africa Star, yet Sir Andrew Cunningham wears nothing upon his 1939–43 Star to show that he was the organiser, to a large extent, of our victories in North Africa. These anomalies should be swept away.
It has been suggested to-day that a special extra medal should be struck for those who are not qualified under the existing regulations for the 1939–43 Star. I do not agree with that point of view. The whole of the people of this country were brothers-in-arms in those fateful years, and it would be a mistake to differentiate between one class of serving men in one Service and another class in another Service. All who stood to and saved civilisation during those years gave the same service to civilisation. If it is desired to differentiate between a man serving overseas or afloat and one serving here then by all means let the former have a rosette on his 1939–43 Star. But in justice and in equity there is an overwhelming case that this ribbon should be worn by every man and woman who was in the service of the Crown with the Colours during the fateful years when the British people saved Christian civilisation for the rest of the world.
Although one day's service will entitle anyone who has been to North Africa to wear the Africa Star, officers and men who serve in minesweepers round the coast are not now entitled to the 1939–43 Star at all. The anomalies continue to grow and there is only one way to resolve them, the simple way of opening this Award to everyone with the Colours. If it is argued that there will be an enormous number, I say Why not? We are told that modern total war means a nation in arms. We are commemorating a period in time. It is the years from 1939 to 1943 that we are commemorating. We are not commemorating one special action. That is done by putting a bar or rosette on the ribbon. We want to show to posterity that those who manned the ship of State from 1939 to 1943, whether they be 11,000,000, 20,000,000 or 40,000,000, all share the distinction of wearing the same ribbon which is the mark of those who saved their country and the world.
I hope the Prime Minister will not close his mind entirely to the consideration of granting the 1939–43 Star to all in the Forces. The proposals as put forward at present have excited enough heart-burning and jealousy. The Navy want to know why, if the-First and Eighth Armies have a special mark to show that they fought in two special campaigns, those who were at the sinking of the "Graf Spee" and the "Bismarck," and the magnificent men in the submarine service, where the losses have been utterly unprecedented, even in the annals of the Navy, have no distinguishing mark to show that they have performed such signal service. Others have mentioned that there is no distinctive mark for Lord Wavell's campaign and the first victory that we won in the war, a victory of the most far-reaching character, the fruits of which were afterwards thrown away. If any army deserves a special mark of distinction it is Lord Wavell's Army. But I rather deprecate, in the middle of the war, separating one Army from another. It would have been far better to have the Africa Star ribbon and have a bronze, silver or gold rose on it for special campaigns, but to put on First, Eighth and all the rest is bound to provoke jealousy unless you go the whole way and give that special distinction to the Eighth Army, not from El Alamein but from the beginning. Someone has said that it is practically a special Eighth Army distinction for the period during which General Montgomery commanded it. But the Eighth Army existed before General Montgomery took it over, and it had already performed signal service.
I ask the right hon. Baronet to represent to the Prime Minister that there should be reconsideration of the decision not to mark with special distinction Lord Wavell's campaign. When the war is over we shall have the General Service Medal and the Allied Victory Medal. How soon we shall get them no man can say. People want to wear their ribbons on their coats now, and if we are going to commemorate this period—and we have a right to do it—the ribbon should be given in the most widespread way possible. It is not the wearing of the ribbon that marks the special exploits of the individual. Those are marked by the award of decorations and I agree that there should be the greatest possible parsimony in awarding decorations. No one wants to see decorations like the D.S.O. and the V.C. made common. I heard it said that in the last war the D.S.O. got very common in some places, but that is by the way. This 1939–43 Star is not a personal decoration. It is the mark that the person wearing it served with the rest of the team during the time when, for the fourth time in our history, we saved the world. It is therefore a great mistake not to award it so that the rest of the world may know that, even if it is given to 20,000,000, 30,000,000 or 40,000,000 British people, they all rowed the boat together.
I apprehend that by this time, Mr. Speaker, you must be having your own views on where medals for endurance should be placed. I will, therefore, be brief. Everything that was to be said about this matter had been said after the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha) had spoken, but I want to reinforce one of the points to which he referred and to make another. There is a distinguished battalion of the Royal Sussex Regiment which has been overseas for six years. It has served in India, Palestine and the Sudan, and has fought through the first and second Libyan campaigns. It is, perhaps, a bitter commentary on the Africa Star that one of the men who served through all that period said to me, "What they have given me is the same as they have given to several thousand girls in Cairo." That is a fair commentary on the way that these decisions have operated. I hope the Government will realise the effect this is having on some of the soldiers in the Army. There has been put forward a case for a medal for the Home Guard, with which I entirely agree. If, however, it is found that it cannot be given entirely to the Home Guard, I hope that, because we are safer now than we were two or three years ago, we will not forget those men who manned the South Coast night after night during the peak hours of our danger. Those of us who can remember old gentlemen tottering out with sticks and standing guard on the South Downs night after night, cannot help feeling that they should be given some kind of recognition.
I think that an observation of the Prime Minister's illustrated that the Government have taken an entirely wrong view of this matter. He said that he did not want these medals and ribbons to be debased, and he illustrated that by a reference to the Iron Crosses of Germany in the last war. That is a complete confusion between medals for gallantry and medals for campaigns. The issue with which we are concerned is a campaign medal, and surely it should be our pride to show that more and more people have taken part in the campaign. It is not here a question of debasing the value of a gallantry medal. I hope that the Government will reconsider this matter and recognise that they are not concerned with picking up particular cases of bravery, but of recognising that everybody in the Services have given something to this country at a time when they were called upon to do so, that they did so willingly, and that the Government are prepared to mark their appreciation of that fact.
I am sure that everyone who has listened to the Debate must feel that it has been an interesting and useful one, and one which will be most helpful to the Government in their consideration of the difficult issues which have been raised. We have had a large number of short, terse speeches. I can assure hon. Members who have taken part that the Government will take full account of all that they have said. In replying, I shall close no doors and I shall reject no suggestions that have been made. I have no decisions to announce. I can only repeat what the Prime Minister has said in opening this Debate, that full consideration will be given to the contributions made by hon. Members. Very diverse views have been expressed, but I think it is common ground that the object of distributing medals is to do honour and to give pleasure to men and women who have served faithfully in victorious campaigns far from home, or who have fought bravely in the battles of France or Britain, in the Battle of the Atlantic or in the great series of air battles over France and Western Germany. Draw the lines of qualification too narrowly, and we do manifest injustice; draw them too widely and the value of the medals is debased.
There are two fields into which I would not stray. First, there are the untrod fields which stretch out beyond the present horizons of our vision, to which some reference was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), who suggested the possibility of stars for the operations still continuing in Italy. That is a subject for future consideration. Other fields into which I shall not venture now are the narrow ones of departmental responsibility. The hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. W. J. Edwards), in the interesting speech in which he opened the Debate after the Prime Minister had spoken, and the hon. and gallant Member for Oxford University (Petty Officer Herbert) both raised the question of the definition of service afloat. That is a matter which is entirely for their Lordships of the Admiralty. The hon. Member for Whitechapel, though, went on to ask whether N.A.A.F.I. civilians employed on board ship would be able to qualify for the 1939–43 Star. The answer is "Certainly." If they are properly enrolled, they will be able to qualify. He asked whether civilians who were captured in action would be able to qualify for the Star. Certainly, periods of captivity count for the Star, provided that the captive is free from blame.
Certainly, periods of captivity, provided the capture is free from blame, count towards qualifying for awards. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North Nottingham (Lieut.-Colonel Gluckstein) made some rather trenchant criticisms of the Committee on the Grant of Honours, Decorations, Medals and Awards in Time of War. This is a good Committee. It is, at any rate, a representative Committee. All Departments concerned in the grant of honours, decorations and awards are represented on it. The three Service Departments are all represented on it. The chairman is a public servant of great eminence in whom we all have confidence. As head of the Treasury he works closely with the Prime Minister as First Lord of the Treasury. I must tell the House that the Service Departments have great confidence in this Committee which, in my judgment, has done its work well.
Yes, Sir, Home Security is. May I come to the main topics which have been raised. In the course of the discussion many categories of men and women have been mentioned who either in a Service or civilian capacity have rendered yeoman service to the country, and whose service we should all like to recognise. In particular several categories of Service men have been mentioned whom it has been very painful to exclude from qualification for these Awards. The hon. and gallant Members for King's Norton (Major Peto), Camborne (Commander Agnew) and Bewdley (Major Conant), and I think some other Members mentioned in particular, the bomb disposal squads, and certainly everything they have said will be taken carefully into account. Any decision we come to must, however, be consistent with the main principle of these awards, which is that they are given in respect of operations conducted against the enemy. On the basis of that principle we shall consider this and other claims which have been put forward.
Perhaps the claim which has been most generally supported in the House to-day is the claim on behalf of the anti-aircraft gunners. It was put forward in the first place by the hon. Member for Winchester (Mr. Palmer) who has himself served first of all in the ranks and subsequently as an officer in Anti-Aircraft Command and by other Members, notably by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport (Mr. Hore-Belisha). We all in every part of the House recognise the great services which the anti-aircraft gunners did render first of all in the height of the Battle of Britain, have rendered ever since, and still are rendering night by night in the defence of our towns and cities. Therefore I am not surprised, as I think my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester said he was, that the exclusion of the Anti-Aircraft Command from qualification for this honour has caused a certain amount of bitterness. I am afraid such bitterness is inevitable on the part of people who find themselves just on the wrong side of the line like this which has been drawn. [An HON. MEMBER: "Alter the line."] Wherever you draw it there will still be people on the wrong side of it who have immense claims. The only way to get rid of it is to give the award generally, as some hon. Members have advocated, I think. In that case you would so lower the value of the medal in the eyes of the men who have received it, and who would come back and find 16,000,000 or more—16,000,000 is the lowest figure—with the medal which they had earned—
The point made by all of us who were speaking on behalf of Anti-Aircraft Command was that their claim was as good as other claims which have already been granted, and was in itself differentiated by the nature of the operations which they cover from other claims; and that that made it possible to draw the line without causing bitterness.
I think there is a strong case, which my hon. Friend has made, and to which I propose to address myself. It is true that the hon. Member has made a case, but it is equally true that, wherever you draw a line, many people, all of whom have a real case—and very strong cases have been made for category after category of Service people and civilians—must be disappointed, because they are left outside the line.
Does my right hon. Friend consider that the line is drawn in the right place when a fighter pilot, chasing a bomber and not getting it down, gets the ribbon, while the anti-aircraft gunner on the ground who gets the bomber down does not get the ribbon?
I have already said that I am coming to the merits of the case. I have been dealing merely with the objec- tion which some Members felt to my statement—which I am afraid is irrefutably true—that, wherever you draw the line, those on the wrong side of it will feel some bitterness. The anti-aircraft gunners were fulfilling an operational role. I ventured to interrupt one hon. Member, to ask whom he included in the figure, which he gave, of 60,000 in Anti-Aircraft Command, and he said, frankly, that it included everybody: the men who fired the guns, the men or women who worked the predictors, the men who carried the ammunition and the men who brought the ammunition to the site. Unless he included everybody it would create great bitterness. That is what makes the figures very considerable. If you include all those who are concerned in serving and supplying the guns in Anti-Aircraft Command, I think it will be very difficult to exclude those who, night after night, were rendering in the blitzes courageous service, as my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North-West Hull (Sir A. Lambert Ward) and the hon. Member for South Poplar (Mr. Guy) reminded us, in the Fire Service and in similar services, and who in the Fire Service actually suffered casualties greater than were suffered in Anti-Aircraft Command.
Certainly, if it should be decided ultimately to include the Anti-Aircraft Command, I must of course ask the House to support me in insisting that the anti-aircraft gunners of the Royal Air Force should also be included, and, if you include the anti-aircraft gunners you must also include the men who were servicing the aircraft on the airfields, and you would therefore come to include, I am afraid, the whole of the ground staff and the gunners of the Royal Air Force. Then, of course, as my hon. Friends the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hamilton Kerr) and the hon. and gallant Member for Stockport (Wing-Commander Hulbert) pointed out, it would be impossible to exclude by the same token the Balloon Command, which has rendered yeoman service and is a Command of very substantial size. Therefore, I am inclined to think that those hon. Members, and there were many, though not, on the whole, I think, a majority, who were pressing the claims of Anti-Aircraft Command, when we have given this matter the further consideration which is obviously required, may well be pointing the path of wisdom with their suggestion that there should be a separate medal. I think the feeling of the majority of the House was that there should be 'two special medals, one for the Services and one for civilians who have rendered great service in the defence of our country from over here. The matter was very strongly urged by the hon. and gallant Members for Nottingham (Lieut.-Colonel Gluckstein) and East Toxteth (Major Buchan-Hepburn), the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. J. J. Lawson) and the hon. and gallant Member for Smethwick (Lieut.-Colonel Wise).
Does the Minister realise that hon. Members only urge that course as a second best? I cannot speak for all hon. Members, but I think it is the general feeling that what Anti-Aircraft Command would like, and what they deserve, is the 1939–43 Star, and the suggestion of a special issue, partly Service and partly civilian, is not regarded as anything but the second best.
Of course, one has to be careful in this, but I know that that is the view which my hon. Friend expressed earlier in the Debate, but I am not at all sure that it was the view of the majority, and that it will be the view of the majority when they have had the opportunity of further considering this Debate and of considering what I said just now, and with which I think everybody agrees—that if you give it to the Anti-aircraft Command, you have got to bring in an enormous number of other people.
May I put one point of explanation and ask one question? I make no complaint that the Minister did not hear my speech, because he has been here for most of the Debate. The figure of 60,000 which has been given as the number of extra Stars that would be required, is based on a calculation of those personnel of Anti-Aircraft Command who were in Britain during the period of the Battle of Britain and have subsequently gone abroad and thereby qualified. That is how the figure of 60,000 is arrived at.
On the first point, there is no question that the figure of 60,000 is far below the figure of Anti-Aircraft Command. I have not done the calculation which my hon. Friend has mentioned to the House, and I do not pretend to have worked it out, and I do not deny, if you take the gunners only and make all the subtractions my hon. Friend made in respect of people who earn the Star anyway by going abroad, it might come out at 60,000. If you take in all that I said you ought to take in, and the hon. and gallant Member for East Toxteth agreed you ought to take in, all the ancillary forces which work with the gunners in Anti-Aircraft Command, then his figure is far below any possible computation of the numbers involved. On the question whether it is an operational command, obviously, from the standpoint of plain English it is an operational command, but from the practical point of view that is not the only consideration to be taken into account in this discussion. It has, in fact, shot down a lot of German aircraft, but very large numbers of other people claim to have had a share in the same achievements, and to have a comparable claim on operational grounds, and an even greater claim on grounds of danger as shown by the casualties which they have in fact suffered.
There was a further important point that was made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Devonport, my hon. Friend the Member for York (Mr. Wood), and my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield (Mr. Bull), and by other speakers, and that was, that there was no clasp for the Eighth Army in respect of the operations in which it was engaged before the battle of El Alamein. The House was very receptive to these arguments, because it recognises the great services which the Eighth Army rendered during those hard and difficult years before the battle of El Alamein and the famous victories which it won and, let me add, the reverses which it so doggedly endured. The right hon. Gentleman suggested, as an explanation of some of those reverses, the fact that General Wavell was, as he said, called upon to divert some troops to Greece, but he is aware that Lord Wavell has on more than one occasion publicly stated that he himself was strongly in favour of that strategic move.
My hon. Friend must allow me to make my own speech. There is, therefore, no discrimination against these men. They get the Star for this hard fighting. They get the Africa Star for this hard fighting and for the historic services which they rendered, and well do they deserve it. My right hon. Friend suggested that there was a difference between qualifications for the Africa Star and those other campaigns, of which I read out a list to the House at the beginning of the Debate. The qualifications for the Africa Star for all in Africa, and for all completed campaigns including the Africa campaign, is now one day's service. Anyone who has served with the Eighth Army and has taken part in the African campaign is entitled to the Africa Star.
Then in October, 1942, an extraordinary series of military events began to unfold. The three Services, welded into one great instrument of war, fought the Battle of El Alamein, won a historic victory, and began a march which led them 1,500 miles across the barren desert of North Africa and ended in Tunis and Bizerta with the co-operation of the First Army, enabling them to capture 300,000 prisoners and a huge booty in tanks and guns and aircraft. That is the peculiar achievement which we have signalised by the institution of the clasp.
It has been said that those who are qualified for both Stars should be entitled to receive both; that if they are entitled to the 1939–43 Star and they have an African qualification too, they should receive both. That was urged by my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) and by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Hampstead (Flight Lieutenant Challen). That certainly will also receive consideration, but, against it, we must consider whether it would be fair to men who have undertaken hard, dangerous, and valiant service in one theatre. I can think in my own Service, for example, of units whose duties are certainly extremely important, carried out with immense devotion, calling for great skill and high training, which do not entail the same endurance or the same risk as flying night after night into Germany, across all those tremendous defences of the German night fighters and flak, and bombing German cities. I think, therefore, that it would be unfair to suggest that those whose duties happen to have taken them to a particular theatre where they can qualify for a second Star should receive it, while those who have been doing this most arduous and dangerous work, calling for the highest qualities of courage and endurance should only, at the same time, be receiving one. I cannot help thinking, from what "I know of his opinions, that the First Lord of the Admiralty would probably share this view.
This question, too, must affect the attitude of the Government towards the problem of clasps as well, and I am inclined to think that all these claims—and many have been put forward for the award of clasps—will have to be considered in the light of all the relevant considerations after the war. We shall then be able to see what great actions fought by Bomber Command—the Battle of the Ruhr, the Battle of Hamburg, the Battle of Berlin, the great actions of Coastal Command, the naval actions mentioned by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Camborne (Commander Agnew), the Battles of Narvik and the Battle of the Plate—how it will be possible to signalise these battles, or some of them, by the award of clasps. But I think it would be a dangerous thing to rush into making those decisions now. We should wait until we can see the course of the war in perspective.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton and other Members raised the question of the period of qualification. They said that the period of qualification for the Navy was six months and the period in the Royal Air Force was two months. Of course, the qualifying period for the Fleet Air Arm is the same as in the Air Force. This period of two months reflects the intensity of air fighting, in which tours of duty are measured in hours. My hon. Friend the Member for Londonderry (Sir R. Ross) and my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Cam-borne raised the question of a clasp for the Battle of Britain, and in that regard I would only say, again, that that is a claim which will have to be considered when we come to consider all the claims for clasps.
Hon. Members, with great sincerity and eloquence, have paid tribute to-day to the fighter pilots who took part in the Battle of Britain—and the Prime Minister and others have done so on other occasions. Everyone realises how much we owe to them, but do not let us underestimate the services of the splendid Coastal Command crews, who fly for 23 or 24 hours at a stretch in the Battle of the Atlantic, saving us from the equally desperate threat of the submarine, or the magnificent bombers crews who go out night after night. All these claims must be considered. But I must not confine myself to the Air Force, although I think I mentioned the Battle of Narvik and the Battle of the Plate. We must also take these equally into account.
The Battle of the Plate and the battle of Narvik, and a great many other grand actions by sea and air are over, too. As I have said, all these will have to be taken into account with the actions that are not yet over, and the full significance of which, at the present stage of the war, it is difficult to evaluate. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Bewdley also spoke on the same subject and mentioned the qualification of prisoners, a point I think I answered in replying to the hon. Member for White-chapel. The period of their captivity counts towards their qualifying period. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for North-West Hull asked what was the period of qualification for soldiers in the Merchant Navy. As I think most hon. Members know, it is six months' service at sea provided that at least one voyage is through a specified area of operations. My hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Chatham (Captain Plugge) asked if men wounded before they have qualified by reason of length of service in an operational theatre would receive the Star. If they are evacuated from that theatre of operations they thereby qualify for the Star. He also asked whether war correspondents could qualify. The answer to that is that the qualification for recognised war correspondents is the same as the qualification for the soldier.
The hon. Member for Doncaster (Mr. E. Walkden) asked about next-of-kin and whether they would be entitled to receive the ribbons and stars. The answer is that the ribbons and the stars will not be issued now to next-of-kin of deceased recipients, but the star with the ribbon will be issued after the war. We are now considering whether some official notification shall be sent, in a form which would be a nice memento for the next-of-kin, meanwhile informing them of the award in a form which would be suitable for preservation, but first of all we must get our entitlement rules finally settled. As regards wearing medals and ribbons the next-of-kin may properly wear, on Armistice Day or the Sunday selected for Armistice celebrations, the medals which have been granted to their deceased relatives in the Services. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Kingston-upon-Hull and others asked whether it could not be arranged that those who were qualified both for the 1939–43 Star and the Africa Star could have the option as to which they would select. That would be quite contrary to the principle on which awards are made. It is not for the individual to judge what service of his deserves an award. It is for the authorities to make their decision and, indeed, if individual were asked to express a choice they might change their minds, and that would complicate what I am assured would be an extremely difficult administrative thing to do, to find out from all the individuals concerned which of these stars they would wish to have, and therefore we think there would be great difficulty in giving that option.
I dealt with that point before the hon. Member came into the House. There is a very strong reason why not if the hon. Member to-morrow reads what I have said. I think the Debate has shown four things. There is, first of all, general agreement in regard to the broad lines on which the Government are proceeding. Then there is a wish for careful consideration of the award of clasps. There is also a wish to meet all just claims, including training, but I am sure the majority of Members in every part of The House are at the same time alive to the risk of debasing values.
There is, finally, a hope that in some way it may be found possible to give recognition, in the first place to the Services, and in the second place to the civilians who played their part so valiantly in the Battle of Britain in 1940 and 1941. We have been exhorted to do justice to all who so stoutly defended our lives and liberties in that battle, and that was obviously supported by the House. We must not debase the currency of the Star but the Government share the generous sentiments of the House, and will be greatly helped by this discussion in completing the complicated task to which the Prime Minister so boldly set his hand a year ago.
For that again I can only promise consideration. At the moment our feeling is, as the Prime Minister said, that it is right to confine the award of the King's Badge to those who leave the Service on account of wounds or illness attributable to their service. Anything that my hon. and gallant Friend and others have said on this point will be carefully considered.