I beg to move, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
The British Army has travelled a long way during the last three years, and that in more senses than one. It has travelled from the Nile Valley by way of Tripoli, Tunis, Sicily, Rome and Florence to the Valley of the Po. It has travelled from Rangoon back to the hills of Assam, and forward again into the heart of Burma and to Mandalay. Above all, it has travelled from the training grounds of our own country, via the Normandy beaches, through France and Belgium into Holland and finally into Germany. But even more striking than the voyaging in space has been its spiritual voyage as an Army. At the beginning of 1942, it is true that the fear of invasion was no longer serious, but the process of retaining and re-equipping the Army for its resumption of an offensive role and a re-entry into Europe had not got very far. Indeed, recovery from the humiliations of 1940 had been gravely impeded by discouragements in Africa and defeats—some of which had all the magnitude of disasters—in Asia. On the other hand, after standing for a year alone against the Nazi storm, we had been joined in the middle and the end of 1941 respectively by the enormous potential might of Russia and the U.S.A. The Nazis had, of course, been reinforced by the Japanese but in the long run the resources of the three Allies were certain to outweigh those of the Axis even so reinforced. Russia and the U.S.A., however, were nothing like as well prepared as the axis Powers and we had to expect that there would be a period of grave peril before this potential might could actually be brought to bear. And so in fact, it was. The summer of 1942 saw Russia driven back to the Caucasus and Japan supreme between the northern shores of Australia and the newly discovered North-Eastern frontier of India.
At the beginning of 1945 we and our Allies can look back to a considerable period of practically unbroken success on land. Our own Army has perfected itself by a long process of rigorous training; it has been equipped as no British Army has ever been equipped before, it is fully conscious of and confident in its own strength, and it is assured of final victory both in the West and in the East. This remarkable transformation is due to many factors—the skill of those who planned the major strategy, the ability and, in some cases, I would say the genius, of the higher commanders who executed it, the energy and resource of those who invented and prepared at home—including the vast numbers of working men and women in the factories—but, more than any of these, the change is due to the qualities and resolution of the soldiers themselves. On the testimony of the commanders in Italy, in North-West Europe and in Burma, we have a magnificent Army, and I am sure that they would agree that this is primarily due to the inherent character of the ordinary British soldier, and to the added courage and unselfishness he acquires whenever faced by a supreme task. These qualities will help us to a full realisation of the victory which now promises, and they will also go far to preserve and strengthen the influence of this country in the days of reconstruction after the victory—days which, to begin with at any rate, will be far less plentifully endued with milk and honey than some easy optimists have supposed. But, in spite of this miraculous betterment in our fortunes I think it would be unwise to act as if all was over bar the shouting.
Sir J. GriÄ£Ä£:
That is the first sign of approval from the hon. Member. In recent months we have had more than one false dawn, and I am sufficient of a pagan not to want to provoke Nemesis. I do not propose, therefore, to beguile the House with accounts in detail of what we intend to do after the war with Germany is over. It is clear that there will be a substantial measure of release from the Forces, and it is clear that there will have to be a very complicated and difficult process of redeployment against Japan. It is clear that these two processes will have to be accompanied by a further call up from civil life, including a substantial number of those who have hitherto been in reserved occupations. And it is clear that some conflict will arise between the accommodation needs of our returning soldiers, including prisoners of war, and the inevitable and natural pressure for the release of requisitioned houses, schools and other buildings. Announcements of policy affecting these have been made from time to time, and some of them have been debated in this House. But beyond saying that, I do not think we are leaving anything to chance in these matters—and apart from what my hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary may have to say when we come to discuss the Amendment—I would prefer to postpone the actual unfolding of the tale until the date of the end of the war with Germany can be seen with some certitude. Still less would I wish to adumbrate plans and projects for the time when Japan, too, has been defeated. A great deal of study is being given to the post-war Army but obviously some of the main elements of the problem are still wrapped in impenetrable mystery. If, then, I am denied what is half of the peace-time purpose of an Estimates speech, namely, to put forward plans for the future, I am thrown back entirely on the past. But here, events have been too vast to be compressed into one short hour, and the only thing I can do, therefore, is to pick out one or two subjects for reasonably full treatment and to hope to pick up any other subjects in which hon. Members may be interested in the ensuing Debate.
There can be no doubt that the event of the year, so far as the British Army is concerned, is the re-entry into Europe from the West. Let me make it clear beyond all misunderstanding that I am dealing primarily with the British Army and that the epoch-making events in Eastern and Central Europe, or in the Central Pacific, are, therefore, excluded from my present view. Let me also say with the greatest emphasis that I do not seek to under-estimate the importance of the campaigns in Italy and in Burma. Here, too, great deeds have been done, great results have been achieved and great contributions have been made, in the last year, to the defeat of Germany in the West, and Japan in the East. In particular, it should be understood that the Burma campaign has brought about the biggest single deployment of the Japanese land forces so far. But the re-entry into North-West Europe has had, and will have, a more direct and proximate effect on the defeat of Germany and, moreover, it has not hitherto been mentioned in our annual reviews. I will, therefore, begin by giving a considerable account of the preparations for this vital campaign and of its fortunes up to date.
The preparations for the operation known as "Overlord" go back a long way. They began to gather real momentum from the time that the first arrange-meats were made for the reception and accommodation of American Forces in this country. So far as the British Forces were concerned, the preparations fell into three categories. First, there was the actual planning of the operation, secondly we had to find and train the men for it, and thirdly we had to supply them with all the equipment and material necessary to carry it out. Of the operational planning naturally I can even now say little, but success can speak for itself.
Few campaigns can ever have gone more according to plan that that of June, July and August, 1944. I remember being present, a month or six weeks before D-Day, at a conference where the land, sea and air commanders expounded their plans and gave out their provisional orders. Admiral Ramsay and Air Chief Marshal Leigh Mallory were the sea and air commanders. Anything more impressive than the story they had to tell that day it would be hard to imagine, and all of us I am sure would wish to associate ourselves with the tribute paid to these two great men by the third of the triumvirate, Field-Marshal—then General—Montgomery. I knew what to expect from Admiral Ramsay, for I had seen him in Cairo a few days before the Sicilian expedition was to sail. On that occasion he depressed me extremely by pointing out all the things that could go wrong. He did the same at this private view for "Overlord" but, in fact, on neither occasion did anything substantial go wrong and the Admiral was incomparably better than his word. Sir Trafford Leigh Mallory spoke of what he hoped the Air Forces would do in preventing reinforcement of the crucial areas, and he, too, was better than his word. And now for General Montgomery. At the end of his exposition he put on the wall a large map showing where he expected the Anglo-Canadian-American forces to be at D+90. Somewhere about D+80 I was visiting the General at his field headquarters. The work of destroying the Germans trapped in the Falaise pocket was nearly finished. The Americans were up to the Seine at Mantes. The dispositions of the Allied Forces were, in fact, almost exactly as they had appeared on the map I saw at the pre-view, but the position of the Germans was quite different. They had stood and fought on the wrong side of the Seine. A great part of them had been destroyed in consequence, and the way was open for a rapid advance beyond the Seine to the very German border. I do not think that any further compliment is necessary to those who planned this classic enterprise.
A year ago, I described to the House the main elements in our problem of making the best of our limited allotment of manpower. In particular, I explained how we bad always laboured under the difficulty of having no substantial reserves and how, in consequence, we were unable to meet the constantly changing needs of the strategic situation without having either to disband units or to convert them for new roles. The absence of reserves acquired a special importance during the last stages of the "Overlord" preparations. Normally, it is not good policy to put a formation into the field unless there is a clear prospect of being able to provide enough reinforcements to keep it up to strength for as long as the operations are likely to last. But the campaign which was to start in the summer of 1944 held the chance of complete and final victory and there was, accordingly, everything to be said for making our initial effort as great as possible. We therefore decided to throw everything we could into the battle, and we did this knowing full well that, if for any reason victory were delayed, we should either have to reduce the scale of our effort or to call for very special measures to maintain it. Thus, in the months preceding 6th June, we occupied ourselves in building up the 21st Army Group to the required shape and the maximum size. This was the final stage in the transformation of the Army from defence to attack—a task which, first and last, involved the creation or conversion of no less than 2,000 units. We had for long been engaged in the process of combing out fit men from administrative posts and reducing the number and establishment of non-operational units. This process had to be intensified. Moreover, a drastic overhaul of our commitments for home defence was undertaken, in the course of which the allotments to Anti-Aircraft Command were heavily reduced and a great number of its units either disbanded or converted to new purposes. And all had to be done in the knowledge that new forms of attack from the air were in preparation and would almost certainly be launched upon us before our invasion began.
It will be clear that the recruitment and training of reinforcements sufficient to replace the expected casualties in 21 Army Group was a constant anxiety. Even with all our combing and conversion, even with all that the Minister of Labour was able to do in the way of new intakes, despite even the fact that a number of men were transferred to the Army from the Navy and Air Force—men who had already done a good deal of their basic training and who were of very high quality—despite all this, we did not see how we could simultaneously keep the Group going as well as provide for our needs in the Mediterranean and in the Far East. Certainly there was no possibility of finding replacements enough to enable us to reduce appreciably the Army tour of overseas service which as the House knows well is so much longer than that of the other Services.
Perhaps I could digress for a moment here to say a few sentences about what has come to be known as "Python." Some newspapers and, I am afraid, some hon. Members have—no doubt unwittingly—given the impression that nothing but the obstinacy of the Secretary of State for War stands in the way of a reduction of the tour of overseas service to three years. If this were true the "Python" problem could easily be solved. But it is not in the least true. I have shown how we decided to go all out for accelerating the defeat of Germany. I have described some of the shifts and turns we have adopted to this end. Some months ago I explained in this House that to reduce the overseas tour to three years would have the cones- quence of reducing by 125,000 the number of British soldiers deployed at any one time against the enemy. Clearly then until Germany is defeated any such reduction is out of the question. When Germany has been defeated that will be quite another matter. A great many of those with the longest service will be released, but there will still be the war against Japan. And I am bound to say that I think that our re-deployment plans for this second stage of the war should be based on reducing the maximum tour of unrelieved overseas service to three years. In the meantime and until Germany is beaten, I see no hope of this, though, as I have made it clear over and over again, we shall spare no effort to make gradual reductions in the present excessive figures. But to return to my story. In the Mediterranean our Armies managed fairly well by copying the processes of combing and converting which we had been carrying out at home. In India and Burma I am afraid that for a time the British units had to be kept short of their full establishments. One factor told in our favour however. The "Overlord" casualties in the actual assault period were less than we had feared and we were able later in the year to send more replacements to the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean and so reduce the overseas tour substantially in the latter and slightly in the former.
I know that there exists an idea that we still have too many men behind the fighting line. The people who express this are quite often those who insist—and in my view rightly insist—on a very high standard of maintenance and welfare services for the fighting soldier. But all these services add to the length of the administrative tail. A much more important factor, however, is the wide distribution in space of our operational theatres. External lines have certain operational advantages but they also impose very heavy burdens. We have had invariably to transport our troops across the sea, to build up bases on open beaches, to repair and re-equip damaged or destroyed ports, to construct roads and bridges. Here I may say that 75 railway and 723 road bridges, apart from an unknown number of improvised bridges, had been built by 21 Army Group up to the end of last year. Above all, we have had to supply our armies along ever-lengthening lines of communication through countries devastated by war, and of which the transport systems have either never existed or been hopelessly shattered. Incidentally, for good and sufficient reasons, the Army in the field does the bulk of the supply work for the R.A.F. It carries its bombs, stores and petrol, feeds its men, constructs its airfields and accommodation and provides most of its hospitals and communications.
Before I come to the equipment side of the "Overlord" preparations, I would like to say a word about the accommodation of the U.S. troops in this country. They began to arrive in March, 1942, and before D-Day came we were housing more than a million of them. They were quartered for the most part in South-Western England and upwards of 100,000 of them were billeted on the British public. This great influx of American troops was something entirely new to our people, and it says much for the character and good sense of both our nations that the adjustments necessary on both sides were so successfully made that this particular invasion, far from impairing good relations, has led to a closer sympathy and understanding. I should especially like to thank those of our people who accepted with such public spirit displacement from their homes in order that battle training areas might be available for the U.S. Forces. Altogether we provided our American friends with hutted camps for 800,000 and hospitals containing nearly 100,000 beds. We also furnished 18,000,000 square feet of covered storage, more than one-third of it being new construction. The House will not need to be reminded that during this period of preparation we mounted and sustained offensives in North Africa and that, after the destruction of the enemy there, we invaded Sicily in July of 1943 and Italy two months later.
These operations provided many lessons for the new venture, and many new devices were specially produced for it. And, of course, a great many old devices were developed and perfected. The Ministry of Supply and the War Office worked day and night to produce not only the large quantities of equipment that were required, but also in order that this equipment should be of the very highest quality. It is quite impossible to catalogue it, but I must mention the Bailey bridge; the flail tanks; the engineer assault tanks; the flame throwing tanks, which Field- Marshal Montgomery picks out as a particular success; self-propelled anti-tank guns and the special forms of anti-tank ammunition. Of the entirely new devices, the most notable, perhaps, was the prefabricated harbour—the "Mulberry"—models and photographs of which have been on exhibition in London and are now about to be shown in the provinces. Who could have imagined that we should be able to transport to the shores of France in the space of 14 days harbours each containing 70,000 tons of steel and 250,000 tons of reinforced concrete? Although I am prepared to claim for the War Office the main responsibility for seeing this job through, it was altogether an admirable example of co-operation between the Fighting Services, civilian Government Departments, contractors and workmen. I could quote many other examples of ingenuity and foresight. For instance, a set of spare lock gates for the Caen canal were constructed and made ready to be floated over complete in case the Germans destroyed the existing gates. And again, spare parts and assemblies for the repair of vehicles damaged in the early days were packed in special cases such that the required part could be found in the dark and without delay. In addition there was always the sheer physical problem of providing the normal needs of a large force thrown suddenly across the sea on to a hostile shore.
Two million 24-hour rations, specially packed in waterproof covers, were issued in the period immediately after landing, together with 3,000,000 self-heating tins of soup and cocoa. Three and a half million cases of compo rations, 60,000,000 gallons of tinnel petrol and 16,000 tons of coal packed in 500,000 special rot-proof bags were got ready for early shipment. Twenty thousand feet of railway bridging and 25,000 tons of steel trestling were prepared to reconstruct our supply lines as we advanced. The movement of all these stores and the reception of more and more U.S. troops with their equipment and supplies naturally caused a great expansion of our Movements Organisation. Moreover, both British and American divisions returned from the Mediterranean to take their place in the Liberating Army. The strain upon the railways was immense. During 1944 they ran for us 30,000 special trains and handled more than 3,000,000 wagons. At the same time their burdens were increased by the withdrawal for the purposes of the invasion of 600,000 tons of coastal shipping whose normal freight had now to be handled by road or rail. Under this almost unendurable pressure the railways did magnificently and every member of the public who, during this period, decided that his journey was not really necessary, helped to send a soldier on one that was.
As D-Day approached the troops moved to their concentration areas. Every unit was brought up to strength in men and equipment. In the 60 days before the 6th June, 12,000 Armoured Fighting Vehicles, 60,000 lorries and 2,000,000 spare parts were issued by Ordnance Depots. In the last 14 days alone they issued 150,000 miles of telephone cable and 11,000,000 yards of minefield tracing tape. Incidentally, I may say, that a considerable part of this vital work of the Ordnance Depots was done by the A.T.S. Then began the movement to marshalling areas. The marshalling camps, which had been constructed near to all the ports of embarkation, were designed for two main purposes. First, they enabled the Movements staffs to sort out each unit into appropriate craft loads, and, second, they served as hotels where troops arriving and departing at all hours of the day and night could be fed, bathed, accommodated and supplied with all their last minute needs. It was in these camps, too, that the final stages of the waterproofing of vehicles were carried out. In all 150,000 vehicles were waterproofed, and despite the fact that many of them went ashore through five feet of water in heavy seas, less than two in every thousand were drowned off the beaches. Here also the assault troops were given their final briefing and received their first issue of French money. Some days before D-Day the camps were sealed and cut off from all the normal contacts with the world outside.
By D-8 the loading of stores into coasters had been completed and the berths were clear for the loading of the assault vessels. All during this week the road convoys moved down the last few miles from marshalling areas to ports and the craft were loaded in the order planned long beforehand to ensure that what was first needed on the other side would be first off. Thousands of the public saw this great movement to the ports and no doubt guessed its purpose. After a delay of 24 hours due to weather, the Supreme Commander, General Eisenhower, directed that the assault should begin on 6th June. The great machine was set in motion. All that careful planning could provide had now been done, and the issue lay in the skill, the strength and, above all, in the courage of the individual fighting man—more particularly of the infantryman.
The House is well aware of the course of the campaign that followed, and yet I think it would be advantageous if we reminded ourselves of its main outlines. Let me again make clear that my purpose is to show the part played by the British Army. I shall do no more, therefore, than acknowledge once for all the essential contributions of the Navy and the R.A.F. in promoting and supporting the campaign. I shall also point out once for all that, although, to start with, the British Empire and U.S. land forces involved were roughly equal, it was not very long before the latter exceeded our own forces and at the present time are probably more than twice those of the Empire operating in this theatre. General Eisenhower vested the command of all the ground forces engaged, of whatever nationality, in General Montgomery. This was to continue until the number of U.S. troops engaged warranted their separate control by a U.S. Army Group Commander. The assault began, therefore, under General Montgomery's direction in the early hours of 6th June. The landings were made between the base of the Cotentin, or Cherbourg peninsula and Caen. On the right were two divisions of the First U.S. Army and on the left three divisions of General Dempsey's Second British Army—the 3rd and 50th British and the 3rd Canadian. Still earlier that day, two U.S. Airborne divisions had landed in the Cotentin peninsula and the 6th British Airborne Division had seized the bridges over the River Orne and the high ground to the east of it. Enemy opposition was more severe in the U.S. sector but was on the whole less than expected and by 10th June—which was D + 4—the Allied Armies had won a continuous front along a narrow strip of the Normandy coast. Incidentally I may say that by this time Generals Dempsey and Montgomery had already set up their advanced headquarters ashore.
During this critical phase, when we had no ports our chief concern was to win what the Americans call the logistic battle or as they also say "to get there fustest with the mostest." The enemy's buildup was reduced because he could not make up his mind what was corning next and also because of the success of the R.A.F. policy of interdiction. Our own build-up was successful because of our months and years of careful preparation. The specially devised Build Up Control Organisation functioned admirably and there was always in reserve a great system of air supply. In the first fourteen days 390,000 men, 70,000 vehicles and 230,000 tons of stores were landed for the British and Canadian forces alone and the figures for the U.S. forces were of the same order. The gales which raged round about the 18th June delayed the build-up and damaged the two Mulberries, one of them so badly that it was abandoned; but though it delayed it never interrupted and in the end the logistic battle was won.
During the month of June the Americans overran the Cotentin Peninsula and captured Cherbourg on the 27th. Meanwhile the British and Canadians, though making some local gains, were primarily concerned with holding the hinge position North-West of Caen and containing the greater part of the enemy's available armour. To them had been assigned the unspectacular task of forming the anvil upon which the German forces were to be held and pounded. Towards the end of July the newly formed 3rd American Army broke through from St. Lo Southward and reached the neck of the Brest Peninsula. Here it divided. One corps moved West and cleared the Peninsula except for its three main ports, and the remainder of the Army moved quickly eastwards towards Le Mans and Alençon. A determined German counter-attack tried to divide the First and Third U.S. Armies. After some initial success it was held and as soon as its failure was established General Montgomery directed part of the American Third Army to turn North from Alençon towards Argentan while the First American Army, the Second British Army and the newly formed First Canadian Army—which incidentally has never so far contained less than one British Corps—moved steadily South-East. Argentan was captured on 13th August, the Canadians took Falaise on the 17th, and to all intents and purposes the German 7th Army was hopelessly trapped.
The time had now come for the U.S. troops to pass from General Montgomery's command, and he issued his last directive as Commander of all the Allied land forces on 20th August. This directive over and over again emphasised the importance of speed. The U.S. 12th Army Group was to assemble its right wing West and South-West of Paris. The Group was, moreover, so to dispose itself that it retained the ability to operate North-East towards Brussels and Aachen while a portion operated simultaneously towards the Saar. Alternatively, the whole Army Group might be required to move to the North-East on the right flank of 21 Army Group. When the remaining enemy in Normandy had been destroyed the 2nd British Army was to move with all speed to the Seine and cross it. It was then to advance to the Somme and cross it between Amiens and the sea. I expect that the House will have heard of the concluding words of the directive:—
All Scotland will be grateful if the Commander, Canadian Army, can arrange that the Highland Division should capture St. Valery. I have no doubt that the Second Canadian Division will deal very suitably with Dieppe.
Now let us see how this order was carried out. By 27th August the Falaise pocket had been completely eliminated. Meanwhile the 3rd U.S. Army had secured a bridgehead across the Seine and the British and Canadian Armies moved up to join it. Both were across the river by 30th August, by which time the resistance forces in Paris had worked to such good effect that, with the aid of the Americans and, most happily, of the Second French Armoured Division, Paris was freed. It was now our turn to move fast, and British and Canadian Forces, headed by the Guards and the 11th Armoured Divisions, advanced swiftly through the Pas de Calais and through Belgium to Brussels, Antwerp and the borders of Holland. In the South of France the American and French forces which had been withdrawn from the Italian front for this operation landed on the French Riviera on 15th August, and advancing north along the Rhône Valley, completed the disruption of the remaining enemy forces South of the Loire.
When accordingly, on 1st September, General Eisenhower resumed direct command of the entire Allied land forces in the theatre, the Germans were in full flight. The Anglo-American victory had been so complete that it was permissible to hope that the enemy could be prevented from steadying up until at least the Allies were well into the Reich. On the other hand he was hanging on to the Channel ports and our communications stretched back to Arromanches and Cherbourg so that every mile of our advance added to the already immense strain upon them. The question was in short, if somewhat colloquially, whether we could bounce the Germans out of the Siegfried line—at any rate in some of the vital sectors—without waiting to secure and build up more forward supply bases.
General Montgomery was given a certain preference in the allotment of maintenance resources and two U.S. airborne divisions were placed under his command. In the middle of September he attempted to capture the crossings of the Maas and the Rhine at Nijmegen and Arnhem respectively. Success in this enterprise would have enabled him to outflank the Siegfried line from the North and to begin to envelop the vastly important industrial area of the Ruhr. Unfortunately, however, the operation did not succeed. It failed only narrowly and after a great display of gallantry by the airborne troops, both American and British. It secured a bridgehead across the Maas which became of considerable importance later on. The really spectacular objects, however, were not achieved, and General Montgomery had to turn to building up his lines of communication in an orthodox way.
Meanwhile U.S. Forces had made progress in two important directions—south of the Ardennes towards the Saar and in the direction of Aachen they had actually breached the Siegfried line. This process of building up communications involved first of all the liberation of Le Havre, Boulogne and Calais by the Canadian Army, but much more than that, the clearance of the Scheldt estuary in order to make use of the incomparable facilities of the port of Antwerp, which had been captured undamaged as a result of the lightning move of the armour of the 2nd British Army from the Seine. The clearance of the Scheldt was a very dangerous and arduous operation and in it British and Canadian soldiers, Royal Marines, the Navy, and the Air Force worked wholeheartedly together. As a result all Holland up to the Maas was free by 7th November and on the 28th the first full convoy berthed in Antwerp.
Early in November the 3rd U.S. Army had opened an offensive South of Metz and a few days later the French Army attacked south of Belfort. A few days later again the 1st and 9th U.S. Armies attacked from Aachen towards Cologne and Bonn while the 7th U.S. Army attacked towards Strasbourg. During the next month considerable progress was made in the Southern attacks, but in the north, opposite the Ruhr, German resistance was extremely stubborn and no significant advance could be recorded.
Then, on 16th December, came von Runstedt's electrifying assault in the Ardennes, where the line was very thinly held. This must still be vividly in the recollection of all of us, and it is sufficient to say that for a few days the German armour made alarming but not vital penetrations, that until the end of the eighth day they continued to make progress, but that from then Onwards the movement was reversed, and the rebound of our American Allies was such that the Germans were not able to arrest it even on their start lines.
The House will remember that I spoke just now of our Nijmegen bridgehead over the Maas and of the American breach of the Siegfried Line towards Aachen. The whole Northern sector of our line, including the American 9th Army as well as the British, Canadian and Polish Forces, was now placed under Field Marshal Montgomery's command. The plan to be put into force involved the Canadian Army—strengthened with additional divisions until about two-thirds of it consisted of troops from the United Kingdom—clearing the country between the Maas and the Rhine Southwards while the U.S. 9th Army was to attack from the direction of Aachen, with its thrust line towards the Rhine at Dusseldorf. The date fixed for the former was 8th February and it duly went off on that date. The House might like to hear Field Marshal Montgomery's opinion of the troops of the British Empire engaged in this operation:
When the present offensive began on 8th February in the Reichswald Forest area the British armies were in a very highly efficient state. The ranks were full; equipment was at full scale; the sick rate was only 1 per 1,000 per day evacuated to hospital; the troops were in tremendous form and in great spirits. All ranks were imbued with that infectious
optimism and offensive eagerness which comes from physical well being, and from a firm belief in a just and righteous cause; the completion of the task being well in hand. It was a great inspiration to see such fine soldiers ready and anxious for battle; our nation having been at war for over five years.
I wonder how many people realise how much of the credit for this was due to the hard and unremitting work of General Paget in earlier days. I know that the Field Marshal does.
The American attack was originally designed for 10th February but owing to the blowing of the Roer dams it could not in fact start till the 23rd. In the meantime the Germans had moved many of their crack troops Northwards and General Crerar's progress through woods and floods, though steady, could not be dramatic. When the American attack went in against the lightened opposition there was very soon a spectacular transformation. Except for a bridgehead covering Wesel the West bank of the Rhine was quickly cleared from Dusseldorf Northwards. Great numbers of prisoners were taken and many Germans were killed, though no doubt considerable numbers succeeded in escaping over the river. Further South the American First Army conformed its movements to those of the 9th Army. They are now in Cologne and Bonn, while further South they captured intact the bridge over the Rhine at Remagen and have succeeded in establishing a sizeable bridgehead on the other side. The American 3rd Army also thrust rapidly Eastward towards the Rhine and Southward towards the Moselle. The position now is that the Allied Armies have closed up to the Rhine from Coblenz to North of Emmerich, that they have crossed it at one point and that the North bank of the Moselle is rapidly being cleared of the enemy. And with our forces preparing for the task of crossing the Rhine in force I leave this which is the main part of my story.
I hope hon. Members will not think I have spent too long on it, but nobody can doubt that a campaign which takes us in eight months from the wrong side of the Channel to the Rhine and beyond, which rescues practically all of France and Belgium and some of Holland is well worth re-describing, especially when one reflects on the number of Germans it has put finally out of action. I cannot say, of course, how many of the enemy have been killed or so seriously wounded that they will never fight again; certainly many hundreds of thousands. I do know, however, that the prisoners alone number more than 1,000,000, of which roughly two-thirds fell to the American Armies.
Let me, as an appendage to this story, say a little about tanks—
Sir J. GriÄ£Ä£:
Our tanks have been criticised in some quarters because they are not the biggest and heaviest on earth in every single particular. Personally, I believe it quite a wrong policy to try to recreate the mastodon, but let me go a little more into detail. First as regards guns. The Royal Tiger, alone of the enemy's tanks, mounts a gun, a "hotted-up" 88 mm. firing a 22½ 1b. shot with a muzzle velocity of 3,340 feet per second, which has a penetrative performance superior to that of our 17-pounder firing conventional shot. The standard 88 mm. gun, mounted in the ordinary Tiger, and the 75 mm. mounted in the Panther, are both, inferior weapons; but the 17-pounder, firing the latest type of ammunition, surpasses the performance of any German gun yet encountered or, so far as I know, in contemplation. Moreover, we have in action at least five tanks mounting a 17-pounder for every Royal Tiger the Germans have on the Western Front.
Sir J. GriÄ£Ä£:
Dual purpose. Then, as to armour, it is true that the frontal thickness of the Tigers, and indeed of the Panther, makes them all three formidable defensive weapons, but we are not any longer fighting a defensive war. For quite a long time now we have been on the offensive, and surely, for the offensive, speed, mobility, reliability and manoeuvrability are of much greater importance. All of these the Tigers and Panther have sacrificed, and anyhow their defensive battle is not being very successful.
Sir J. GriÄ£Ä£:
I am coming to that point. Perhaps the opinion of the soldiers, whom I am always being adjured to consult, is entitled to more weight than any arguments from me. I will therefore give the House the latest and most authoritative military opinion, namely that of Field-Marshal Montgomery himself, naturally after consultation with his subordinate commanders. He thinks that British armour has come through the campaign in Western Europe with flying colours, and has proved itself superior in battle to German armour. He holds that if Rundstedt had been equipped with British armour, when he attacked in the Ardennes on 16th December, he would have reached the Meuse in 36 hours, which would have placed the Allies in a very awkward situation. And further, that if 21 Army Group had been equipped with German armour it could not have crossed the Seine on 28th August, and reached Brussels on 3rd September and Antwerp on 4th September, thus cutting off the whole Pas de Calais area in eight days—
Sir J. GriÄ£Ä£:
—which the Field-Marshal holds to be a very remarkable achievement with far reaching results. The credit for all this he attributes to the War Office—[Laughter]—wait a minute—and concludes that the British Armies were, in June, 1944, splendidly equipped for the job that had to be done. I do not entirely agree with this last sentence. The men using the equipment had most to do with it, and the Ministry of Supply and the workmen in the factories were in it too. But, anyhow, I assure the House, and the hon. Member who kindly interjected just now, that the testimonial was entirely unsolicited. I should just like to add that our two main types, the Churchill and the Cromwell, are already grandfathers, and that we are developing even newer and better types of tank and anti-tank ammunition. These great military feats are the prelude to final victory in the European theatre, a victory which, as I said at the beginning of my speech, will be followed by a considerable redistribution of the available man-power, carrying with it the release of large numbers of serving soldiers.
My hon. and learned Friend, in replying to the Amendment, will deal with the processes of release and the intentions of the Government towards those men fortunate enough to be in the releasable groups. I want to say a little—a very little—about the role of those who are to be retained. I have heard it said that we, in the United Kingdom, will be entitled to sit back, after finishing with Germany, and take a less active part in the war against Japan. The argument is that we have been in this affair longer than anybody else, for five and a half years continuously, and that for a part of that time we were without any kind of external support whatever. A moment's reflection, however, will persuade the most doubtful that there are the most compelling reasons of honour and interest why we should continue our efforts. Indeed, it is of the whole essence of our war objects that we should. Loyalty to our American Allies and to our kith and kin in the great Dominions, of itself, requires us to go on to the end. The recovery of our possessions and material interests in the Far East is also a factor which no sensible man can disregard; but when all that has been said, we are fighting this war for the establishment and maintenance of a principle. The elimination of the greater plague-spot in Europe cannot assure even the establishment of that principle, let alone its maintenance for all time. So long as there remains a semi-barbarous nation imbued with the desire of world domination by force, a nation blinded to the higher developments of human society by adherence to an outdated feudal system; so long, in short, as the present Japan exists, we have no hope of securing the main object for which our fellow countrymen have fallen on the field of battle. Is it not patent, therefore, that the decision of His Majesty's Government to pledge themselves and their resources to the Far Eastern campaign, when Germany is finished, is not only right but inescapable?
It is perhaps appropriate that in a speech which is so largely an account of operations in North-West Europe I should tell the House something of the military part in feeding the civil population in the liberated countries. This is a subject about which the House has shown very great anxiety, and indeed arrangements have been made to debate it shortly. I do not want to anticipate this Debate, but I should like to make clear to the House, as a preliminary to it, exactly what are the military responsibilities in this matter. The military authorities come into this business for two reasons. First, because the Commander-in-Chief must assure himself that his operations will not be hampered by disease and unrest among the civil population caused by lack of food and medical supplies. Secondly, because, if the imports necessary to prevent disease and unrest are to come into the country in the early phases of operations, they must come as part of the military flow of supplies or they will not get in at all. Shipping and port clearance must obviously in these early phases be entirely under military control. It is easy to see, therefore, why it was decided to allot to the military the responsibility in the earlier stages for importing foodstuffs for the civil population.
Certain consequences flow from that decision. In the first place, it cannot be a question of what we should like to give our Allies but of the utmost that can be procured and shipped in competition with military requirements not only in the theatre but all over the world, and let us remember that procurement has to be started months before the supplies can get to the people concerned, on estimates which must be highly speculative. Next, the indigenous government must co-operate from the start by arranging for detailed distribution, by preventing profiteering and black markets, and by fostering local production in order that the imports may go as far as possible. Of course, in the forward zones the military authorities must do more in the way of helping the local authorities than they do in the rear zones, such as the zone of the interior in France, or the areas in Italy already handed back to the Italian Government. Thirdly, the military do not and cannot undertake a long-term policy. To set the wheels of industry going, to import machinery and raw materials to restart the national economy—these are matters for the liberated government, with, of course, consultation and help from the various Allied or inter-Allied authorities concerned.
Needless to say, even within the limits of undoubted military responsibility, planning and action are not solely British. Our troops in North-West Europe are serving under an American Supreme Commander, and the plans to supply his needs in this respect have been worked out on a joint basis between Washington and London. Canada, too, has been closely associated in the actual provision of the supplies. Under the combined plans, over 300,000 tons of food for the relief of France, Bel- gium and Holland have been provided since the beginning of operations in Western Europe, and deliveries are now averaging, at various ports in France and Belgium, some 7,000 tons a day. Nor is this the whole story. In Greece, up to the middle of February, the military authorities had provided between 150,000 and 200,000 tons of food, and in Italy, up to the 3rst December, about 1,000,000 tons. These supplies, as I have stated above, have been a joint United States, United Kingdom and Canadian responsibility. So far as the United Kingdom is concerned, substantial contributions have been made from the stocks of the Ministry of Food.
The provision of supplies is not in itself enough to enable the people to be fed. Other factors may prevent full use being made of what is available both from local sources and from military imports. In France, for example, the shortage and dislocation of internal transport have prevented uniform distribution. That shortage is, I hope, being overcome. In Belgium it was bound to take time for the Government to get going the administrative machinery of distribution and control. The new Government is tackling this problem with great vigour. In Holland, I am afraid that when the parts now occupied by the Germans are freed, there will be grave problems, not only of internal communications, flooding and mines, but also of shortage of local products to help out the imported supplies. Of the early difficulties in Greece and those in Italy I need not remind the House. Aid to the civil population went forward while the troops were engaged in actual fighting and wheat ships had to compete with munition ships for space in ports and at the quays. But despite all the difficulties, the Armies have delivered in France, in Belgium, in Holland, Greece and Italy supplies on a not unworthy scale, and have helped the Governments to tide over the period till they are able to take over the responsibility for their own supplies.
But though we have got so far without disaster, I do not conceal from the House my fear that in the coming months the demands for foodstuffs for the liberated countries may become almost overpowering. The news from Holland still in the German hands, shows that the population are in desperate straits, and as I have just said, when liberation comes, there is likely to be little help from local resources. Then, when we get into Germany, there will be displaced persons, not by their thousands by their millions, who will look to the Armies for food. The combined resources of the Allies may be strained to the utmost to prevent hunger and indeed starvation, especially if our victory comes before the new harvest is gathered. So far as the Armies are concerned, they will do their best, but I should fail in my duty if I did not stress the magnitude of the task which we have undertaken.
Of course it is only right that we—the military—should shed our responsibilities in this matter as soon as the military situation permits, and we are anxious to see the Governments concerned not only take over the obligation for the procurement of the basic supplies, which we are now providing, but also push on with their civil import programmes, which will enable them to re-start their industries and to re-establish their economic life. Those are matters which fall outside my province. But they are matters which I know are being pressed forward to the limits of the practicable.
The House may perhaps wonder why I have not so far mentioned U.N.R.R.A. That is not due to any lack of appreciation of an organisation which, I hope, will bring to post-war Europe material and moral help and support. It is because, broadly speaking, U.N.R.R.A.'s help—the help of an independent international body—comes after the main military work is done, and then only at the invitation of the indigenous Governments. That statement, however, requires some qualification. During the military period U.N.R.R.A. may act—by mutual agreement—under the direction of the military authorities to carry out tasks which would, otherwise, fall on the military. Thus in Greece U.N.R.R.A. teams assisted in the distribution of the food which the military brought in, and arrangements are being made gradually to hand over to U.N.R.R.A. not only the responsibility for distribution, but that for the whole relief scheme in Greece. In one other most important sphere we are arranging with U.N.R.R.A. to work under the military authorities with a view to their taking over full responsibility in due course. In the plans for dealing with displaced persons in Ger- many the military authorities have invited and are receiving U.N.R.R.A.'s co-operation. It is hoped that U.N.R.R.A. teams—recruited from representatives of various United Nations—will go in under the military authorities to organise the reception, care and eventual repatriation of these displaced persons, and ultimately to take over from the military authorities the entire responsibility in this connection.
Now I have come to the end of the time which, in these days, it is reasonable for a Minister to occupy. I am very conscious of what I have left unsaid. Far too little has been said of the work of our American and Russian Allies in theatres where the British Army is unrepresented. Far too little has been said of troops from other parts of the Empire. I have also said too little of the work of the other Services. I explained, however, at the beginning, that my purpose was to speak of the British Army, particularly since it has displaced the Navy as the Silent Service. But even within the British Army I have passed over, perhaps too perfunctorily, the deeds of our men in the Mediterranean and in Burma. Last year our troops in Burma were a little disposed to think that they were as far away from us in thought as they were in space. It was never true, and even if it had been, their brilliant victories of the past year would have brought them forcibly back to our minds and hearts. The crushing defeat of the last all-out assault on India, the rapid subsequent reconquest of large parts of Burma and the Arakan, and above all the ascendancy which has been established over the biggest Japanese Army which has so far been in action, these are stirring and glorious achievements worthy to rank with any in our history. General Giffard can, indeed, be proud of the Army—Indian, British and African—which he handed over to General Leese. And General Leese is making noble use of it.
Then the Army in Italy. There has been a certain disappointment on their part that they have not been allowed to finish off more completely the liberation of Italy. It is an undeniable fact that shortly after the conquest of Sicily, almost before the campaign of Italy had got under way, a number of divisions, both British and American, were withdrawn in order to strengthen the forces for "Overlord." Despite this, the Allied Army of Italy under Field-Marshal Alexander was able to liberate Rome and Tuscany after one of the most brilliant campaigns of all time. But almost immediately more divisions, this time American and French, were taken away to carry out the assault on the Southern coast of France. Small wonder then that the final conquest of Italy has been delayed. The wonder is that so much has been done. I cannot, to-day, set out in length what this in fact is, but I should like to tell the House one thing—that our forces in Italy are even now containing enemy formations whose strength numerically we reckon to be upwards of one-third of the German forces in Europe other than those engaged against the Russians. Even in their less spectacular period, therefore, they have been making no mean contribution to the common cause.
I cannot close without calling attention to the loss which the British Army and the Allies have suffered in the last year by the death of Field-Marshal Sir John Dill. I am afraid that he concealed for a very long time the gravity of his illness in order not to interrupt his work in Washington. I am sure that the House would like me to express our sympathy with those he has left behind. And I think it would be fitting that we should do the like to the relatives of all those who have been killed in battle. The achievements of the Army have been very great. They have not been attained without heavy cost, and it is right that we should remember this, and remember those who have borne so large a part of the cost.
Let me quote from a prayer we said in Westminster Abbey in memory of Field-Marshal Dill:
O Thou, Who art heroic love, keep alive in our hearts that adventurous spirit which makes men scorn the way of safety so that Thy will may be done. For only so shall we be worthy of those courageous souls who, in every age, have ventured all in obedience to Thy call, and for whom the trumpets have sounded on the other side.
The right hon. Gentleman had a great story to tell, and it is only the simple truth to say that he has done justice to the story. The strength of his speech lay in the fact that he let the facts speak for themselves, and as he told those facts, I confess that I felt most strangely moved. As I have heard the Estimates speeches made by the Secretary of State for Air, by the First Lord of the Admiralty, and to-day by the right hon. Gentleman, and as I have seen the house so deeply impressed by simple statements of facts, I have asked myself: Is it not possible as this House has been impressed and moved by those statements, to present the same facts to the nation by wireless, so that the nation will be moved, even as we have been?
The right hon. Gentleman paid a just tribute to the Army. It is probable that many of those men in Holland and Germany at the present time have had an experience, which has scarcely any parallel among soldiers in the whole range of military history. It was my lot to see some of those soldiers on the sands of Africa. Since that they have had to face the mountains of Italy, and now they have had to face what is perhaps the worst fighting terrain in the world, that of Holland. I remember many years ago reading Alva's "Campaigns in Holland," and I thought that that kind of thing could hardly be repeated. But I gather that Holland has improved very little from the fighting man's point of view in the last three hundred years, and I think that if I read that same hook now, I would have a better understanding of the mind of the Spanish soldier in the sixteenth century, since hearing the illuminating remarks of some of the men who have come back on leave from Holland.
If we cannot tell this story to the coon-try by wireless—and I wish we could and get the same punch into it that we do—at any rate we ought to do justice to those of our men who are fighting on the Continent. The right hon. Gentleman said at Question time that statements had been made in the last few days mentioning some of the units that were taking part in the fighting. He has stated to-day, in rather humorous vein, that the Army is rivalling the Navy—
—as the Silent Service. This kind of thing can go too far. It is strange that the news had to come from Canada, of all places in the world, that the greater part of the forces of the 1st Canadian Aimy were British troops. We have had this repeated. I am making no new criticism, and it is time that this game was ended. Let us tell the right hon. Gentleman that there is no reason behind it. Every commonsense person, as well as every soldier, knows that at certain stages there is need, for security reasons, for secrecy, but that is not the reason why the world is not getting to know the facts about the operations of the British Army on this battlefield, as it was in the case of Africa. And Africa was such a secret thing that one Secretary of State staggered the world when he announced that actually 70 per cent. of the men killed came from these islands. Secrecy had then got to such a stage that the world was telling us that Britain would fight to the last American, or the last Australian. Now we have the same kind of thing again. The enemy knows at an early stage what units are opposite him, just as well as we know what units are opposite us. It is true that changes may take place, and at certain stages there is need for secrecy, but this silence about the units and the numbers of British troops that are fighting on this battlefield is becoming almost criminal. There was an article in the "Daily Herald" this week which surprised me. The writer referred to the various units that were part of the Canadian First Army, and said that always allowing for security, the fact remained that the statement which was made about the units that were fighting was long overdue. That was from a man in touch with the units.
In Italy my hon. Friends and I had some experience of this matter. What knowledge have our people of the units of the British Army in Italy? There is no need for secrecy: the enemy knows the units so well that on one or two occasions he has sought out the weak places, because he knew what units were opposite him, just as we know what units are opposite us. If something is not done about this question the right hon. Gentleman is due to be the centre of a first-class row in this House. There are plenty of publicity agents out there, but they are limited in their objectives. They do publicity very often in the wrong places. The people in this country are proud of the units that come from their localities. They like to hear those units mentioned, and the men in them like to have them mentioned, too. I do not know whether it is the right hon. Gentleman, the War Office, the Army Command, or somebody else who is responsible for this sort of thing, but something drastic must be done to prevent a repetition.
As the House knows, some of my hon. Friends and I had the opportunity of seeing the troops in Italy a short time ago. Perhaps the House will forgive me for referring to the tragedy that marred our journey, when four of ourparty, two Members of this House and two others, with the pilot and the observer of the plane, lost their lives. When we parted from them that morning we did not dream that we should never see them again. We had been a good company. Members, drivers and batmen, with our very wise and efficient guide, Brigadier Partridge, had pulled together, and when one considers the great distances we travelled, over difficult country, the absence of strain was very striking. Two Members of this House lost their lives. They contributed in no small measure to the good fellowship and work of that party, and I need scarcely say that we felt deeply the loss of the good men in that plane, and that we sympathise, as I am sure the whole House does, with their families. It was a fine day when we turned round and landed in Bari, and we little thought that such tragedy was coming on the party.
Our troops in Italy, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, are not in the headlines. They are in remote areas hundreds of miles away, in the mountains or down in the marshy lands of the Adriatic coast. I think it is a wonderful fact that their morale is so high although their part in the general strategy does not appear on the surface. When one considers the extreme isolation of these men and the conditions in which they operate, particularly in the winter, I must repeat that the morale of those men is surprisingly high. We had plenty of opportunity to test it, because, while it was necessary that we should be guided over mountain passes, once we got to the front we were our own masters and went where we liked and did as we liked. We covered most of the fronts of the Fifth and Eighth Armies, and, as far as we could see, the relations between our men and the American troops were very good indeed. We received legitimate complaints of course, and we have put those complaints to the right hon. Gentleman. But practically all those complaints arose from the extreme isolation of their position and the fact that the man had been so long away from home. This is the sixth year of the war. We are within sight, as, I gather, the right hon. Gentleman thinks, of the end of the European war, but both the fighting men and some who will be recruited have to visualise perhaps another year or two of war, so it is necessary for us to take note of the psychology and the position of men such as those in Italy.
People in this country know that we live in peace because of such men. They do not know the heart-hunger of these men for children whom they have not seen for three or four years. War is bad enough anyway, but the hunger of men for their families, from whom they have been separated, is a terrible thing. So far as possible, it is the duty of those in authority to break down this sense of isolation from home and family. We have told the right hon. Gentleman that these men need more news. They need bigger newspapers, more broadcasts, and more facilities for hearing them. I do not know what the right hon. Gentleman has done about many of these points that we have raised, but there is, for instance, the simple matter of the need of men for photographs of their children, their wives, and their parents. Every soldier knows the value that is placed upon a photograph by men who are on the battlefield. That is something that cannot be explained to those who have not experienced it. There is difficulty in getting photographic material; there is difficulty in getting cameras. In Italy American soldiers are going about with cameras, and they take photographs themselves. They do not seem to have any difficulty in getting materials. I think it is very little to ask that proper arrangements should be made by the right hon. Gentleman with the Board of Trade for plenty of materials to be available, so that these men may get the photographs which they would prize so much.
Would my hon. Friend not agree that the Regulations preventing photographs being sent in an air mail letter card are very hard on the troops? It seems a very little thing to ask that it may be possible for men fighting overseas to receive photographs from their relatives in that way.
I am very glad that my hon. and gallant Friend has drawn attention to that matter, which gives point to what I am saying; but this question of photographs is only a pointer. The men are isolated. They are ignorant of home facts. They get a certain amount of A.B.C.A., and they know a certain amount about post-war plans, but, nevertheless, their isolation from the world outside is almost incredible. Some of my hon. Friends will probably go more into detail on these matters, but this question will recur; as a matter of fact, it is arising now, I daresay, in Burma. It will get worse when the European war finishes, and we have to face the Japanese in Asia. I was very much struck—and here I underline what the right hon. Gentleman said—with the way the Army gets supplies over great distances, over roads that in many cases are incredibly bad, over great passes and over mountains. I never quite understood it. I stand in awe of these men who drive the lorries over those passes. It is quite true, as the right hon. Gentleman said, that, if it had not been for the Bailey bridge, driving the Germans out of Italy would have been quite impossible. I gathered that, in many areas, the password in the unit is often: "Have you seen our Bailey bridge?" They seem as proud of them as if they were a mascot of the troops.
It may be that before the next Estimates the war will be confined to the Japanese, and Burma will become a very important fighting area; it is at the present moment, but it will then become even more important. Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that he can get his supplies through all the time? Is he getting the proper food, the right kind, through to these men in Burma? Since I have head the Munster Report I have wondered what things were like on the Burma fighting front. What arrangements are being made for rest camps? There are a good many questions to be seriously considered in that part of the world, and probably we have, even yet, some lessons to learn.
I was not here when the Debate took place on the posting of the A.T.S. overseas and I wish the Financial Secretary could tell us something about that position. He may not be able to tell us how many have gone overseas, but could he say whether they are going over in large numbers? My right hon. Friend the Member for East Edinburgh (Mr. Pethick-Lawrence) put several suggestions to the Minister. Can my right hon. Friend tell us how far these suggestions are receiving attention? One of the things which I should like to have said if I had been here at the time was that a good many of these young women are members of families, and for quite a long time and for a good part of their service have been getting compassionate consideration. They have spent their time between the Forces and the home, and they have been very necessary to the home at certain periods. In many cases I do not really know how the home does without them, even for a short period. Is that kind of case receiving full and sympathetic consideration? I shall be very pleased if satisfaction can be given on that point.
There is another point. After the right hon. Gentleman made his statement, I went home and said to a certain member of my family, who happens to be serving: "The Secretary of State says that he has asked for volunteers and that you are not volunteering." The member of my family said: "No; we were asked to volunteer, but we did not." I said: "But you volunteered three years ago." She said: "Yes, it is quite true; we volunteered to go out as a team, and we will go out as a team to-morrow." There is a kind of esprit-de-corps in certain units of the A.T.S. They have worked together in teams and in groups, and they have got used to acting together. I ask if it is not possible to maintain that fine spirit and pride in their unit by, as far as possible, sending these units, and particularly batteries, overseas in teams, if they are willing to volunteer to go out in that form. I think that, generally speaking, the House and the country wants parents to feel that their daughters are receiving the fullest consideration in this matter, and the house must be kept fully informed about this in the future, so that it and the country can feel that everything possible is being done for the young women who are going out to new scenes and are being submitted to new tests unknown in our national history.
So I finish, as I began, with the statement that we have to-day heard a great story. A great demand has been made on the young manhood of this nation, and grimmer demands are still to be made. Their fighting qualities, their courage, patience and endurance, have been sustained at a very high standard. The right hon. Gentleman has paid an eloquent tribute to them to-day, and I hope that, in the days to come, this nation will ex- press its pride by making a nation worthy of the young men who have helped to sustain us through these years.
I will try to be exceedingly brief. The hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. Lawson) has spoken with so much appreciation in regard to our journeyings to Italy, and has said all that needed to be said on that topic, so I will deal very briefly with three specific points. In the Debate in the week before last on the Crimean Agreement, I was very sorry that so much interest was taken in Poland that nobody referred to the strategic commitments which were undertaken on behalf of this country at that Conference. We are very much in the dark as to what is going to be the future of the Army after the war with Germany is over. I hope to keep in Order, but I very much hope that the Secretary of State is paying very close attention to the preparations for demobilisation and release of those sections of the Army that can most be spared. Anxiety is mounting after all these years of war, and I am a little apprehensive about what commitments the Prime Minister may have made on behalf of this country concerning the war with Japan. After all, we have been in this war longer than America, and we are so much more fully mobilized. Anxiety is mounting. Old people who have been taking the strain for so long are very nearly reaching the breaking point.
I had a very sympathetic reply last week from the Secretary of State to a Question in which I asked about the machinery for release on compassionate grounds. I know from long experience that the Minister is, in fact, extremely sympathetic to the legitimate needs of the Services, but, in the immediate post-European war period, I am sure that that machinery is going to be very much overworked. It does not work too well now, and it is clogged, as the Minister said. It does need an overhaul and the proper preparation to take the very great strain that is coming on. This cannot be sustained at the present pitch indefinitely. Not only is there a very serious shortage of goods, and not only are repairs in all branches of life difficult, but replacement is now very often quite impossible. I do not think the world in general realises the extent to which Britain is being squeezed to maintain the war at the present pitch. I very much hope that the Army is not to be called upon to play more than its fair share, in proportion to the Americans.
We, in this House, have extraordinarily little opportunity of knowing what is the relative burden imposed upon ourselves and the Americans, or to what extent they are mobilised, in man-power and resources, compared to ourselves. I see that in the United States there is an organisation called the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, which has published figures recently which are certainly far franker than anything I have seen in this country. I tried last week to get some indication from the Minister of Labour, and it seemed to me to be a most legitimate and proper question to ask, for, otherwise, how are we to judge? I got a reply which was both impertinent and arrogant. I asked the Minister to what extent British man-power had been mobilized and used as compared with the U.S.A. I consider it a very reasonable question to ask, but the answer was that the Minister saw no advantage in endeavouring to compare the war effort of the different Allied nations. I think that was a most improper and unsatisfactory answer, and I think we ought to have some kind of protection from the Chair against Ministers making that kind of reply.
No, but the right hon. Gentleman can defend himself by some other course. I want to come now to a point about the release of unemployed and surplus officers. It is a fact that there are a very large number of officers unemployed and unlikely to be employed. I have been given a figure of 1,154 officers in the Royal Armoured Corps at present surplus. There are a great many other officers unemployed. Have we not reached a stage when at least officers who rejoined at the outbreak of war or officers who are in "C" category, and are now unemployed, cannot be released to go back to their own farms and businesses? It seems to me to be wasteful to hold them up now.
The third point to which I want to refer is the question of the removal of obstructions on property and of some of the restrictions on property. I recently put a Question to the Minister on this point. As I understand the present system, cash payments are being offered to members of the public to make up for things like antitank blocks on their property. I have received the complete papers of one case as far as it has gone. While the cash compensation offered sounds fairly adequate the fact is that, if cash compensation is paid, the work really cannot be undertaken; the contractors cannot do it. Surely it is up to the War Department to remove the concrete, the poles and so on that they have put upon people's property. No individual who has had these things put on his ground should be obliged to accept cash compensation with the possibility of not being able to get them removed for, perhaps, years. In my locality I have seen searchlight posts given up, the hutments taken away and a lot of concrete and wire and rubbish left lying about. The farmers have not the labour to do the clearing and surely the War Department could employ some low category men or, better still German prisoners to do the job.
The same applies to the land. A lot of land is no longer in use for training purposes and yet people are not allowed upon it. Only a few days ago I was shown an area of by no means agriculturally useless land reserved for training. No one is allowed to make use of it at all and I am assured that there has been no training there for a year and a half. There may be good reasons for keeping it, but I would press the Secretary of State for War to review the release of land and to de-requisitioned houses also, in many cases. The housing shortage could, to some extent, be alleviated if buildings could be given up and I am sure that some could be given up at this stage. We know that the Secretary of State for War's natural and proper pre-occupation is the direct conduct of the war but I urge him to pay close attention to this problem of unwinding the machine, easing the strain on our people and realising, as I know he does, the frightful and accumulative burden of hardship that the length of this war has imposed upon the people.
I join with the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Wellingborough (Wing-Commander James) in congratulating the Secretary of State for War upon a very fine and moving review of the military events of last year. At the same time I agree with the hon. Member for Chester-le-Street (Mr. J. J. Lawson) that the War Officer generally has not been very good with its publicity. Judged by American standards, it has been very backwards in many respects, but at least we must admit that War Office publicity has been splendid when the British have been retreating. We can say, without any fear of contradiction, that the story of Dunkirk, or Alamein, or Tobruk or Arnhem has gone round the world. But when it comes to British advances and successes there seems to be a weakening of that dash and determination in getting the story over. It has been apparently a common practice for the War Office or the British Press to use the headlines "British Retreat" but "Allies Advance". The Americans do things in precisely the opposite way. It is always the "Americans Advance" but the "Allies Retreat"—a subtle point, but one that sways thousands of people in their opinions. I suggest that the War Office has something to learn from the Americans in relation to headlines which have been appearing in the Press. It makes one wonder what a great story the War Office might have made if we had lost the war and the British Army had gone down in a blaze of glory! But as we are going to win the war the reverse may happen, and the probability is that the British Army will be questioned throughout the world as it was during the last war. I suggest that the War Office should copy the American information services and bang the biggest drum when our troops are advancing.
May I give a concrete illustration? We have heard during the last two days of the magnificent exploits of an American officer who was first to cross the Rhine. I think that every British newspaper has had his photograph. Here was brilliant propaganda that has gone all over the world. But when we compare this with D-day and remember that it was a British officer and a British unit who first made the landing there and were the first to enter the shores of France there one is struck by the complete silence of individual mention, the silence of the morgue over the gallantry of some British units. The Americans have got over to the world the great story of the crossing of the Rhine by a small batch of Americans by, it must be admitted, a great stroke of military luck. We should have the same genius for story telling in describing the advances of the British troops.
Let me refer to another point which is not quite of such general interest but is, nevertheless, very important. I refer to the question of civil affairs. The Secretary of State for War in his review passed very swiftly from the military activities to U.N.R.R.A. activities and did not mention that in between those two there might come a period of civil affairs control in enemy countries. I have been one of those associated, on and off, with our civil affairs administration for some years. It is a remarkable tribute to the War Office that it first began planning for the occupaton of Germany within a very few weeks after Dunkirk. It was a heroic, optimistic and well-justified decision. The first class for the training of officers in civil affairs was set up in the early part of 1941. It is not beyond the recollection of the Financial Secretary to the War Office that he himself was at one of those courses and perhaps he will pay tribute to the curriculum that was given to the officers who were selected for this course. A large number of officers were subsequently trained, but early in 1943 there came a change. It was not just a question of training but a question of pooling. The officers when trained were no longer sent back to their units, but held in pools, and since 1943 thousands of officers have from time to time been held in pools, eating their heads off and doing very little work.
At the moment we have some thousands of civil affairs officers, and of these, as far as I can judge, not more than 50 per cent. are doing a really good day's work. All the rest are held in pools or waiting around for a job. It may be that we have rather too many civil affairs officers. It has already been said, I do not know with what accuracy, that when the occupation of Germany comes along the British share of it will be rather a small portion. If that small portion is only the North-West corner, then we may have far too many civil affairs officers unless we have officers in almost every large village throughout the whole of that part of Germany. In addition to the fact that there may be too many, a proportion of whom are doing no real work at present in the various pools, there is also the fact that much of this civil affairs work duplicates other work done by other sections of the Army. There is the legal function in civil affairs, which, I am confident, can be carried out by the Judge-Advocate General's Department. There is the public safey section, which could be carried out quite well by the Corps of Military Police, with the addition of trained officers.
There is a very good case for urging the War Office to save 700 officers who at the moment are doing practically nothing and get them back into jobs they can do and want to do, or, as a previous speaker suggested, give them their honourable discharge after five years of service. The one thing that the country ought not to tolerate is to have these pools of officers where they engage in about two hours' German study in the morning and an hour or so of functional study in the afternoon. It has become something in the nature of a scandal that this should have gone on for so long and I hope that the War Office will turn its earnest attention to this matter.
The whole of this civil affairs organisation has been very much weakened by the introduction, at a rather high level, of officers into the organisation who have had little or no civil affairs experience. The situation, as I understand it, was that when the Home Guard was stood down in this country there became redundant a number of sub-area and district staffs. The heads of those staffs were full colonels or brigadiers and something had to be done for them, and in many cases the expedient was for them to be transferred to the civil affairs administration. They were not trained in civil affairs but were put in charge of men with specialist training over many months or years. This has done a great deal of harm to the administration. I suggest, therefore, that those officers who are not competent in their jobs should be weeded out not only in order to give younger men a chance of a job, but to make a more efficient civil affairs administration of Germany or Austria when the time comes.
There is also in the civil affairs administration as a whole a most noticeable lack of co-ordination. May I tell the House a short story of what happened during the past few weeks? Only a few weeks ago someone, I do not know who, decided that a bunch of officers from the 21st Army Group should be sent over to London for a final brushing up in German, and a score of officers came over. They were highly delighted with the prospect not only of getting back for a spell, but of getting their teeth into German at one of the best language institutes in the world. They had attended that course for four days when they were whisked back to Belgium. Before coming over they were sitting around in the pool. Since they have gone back they have continued to sit around in the pool. This sort of thing does not reflect credit on the higher organisation. It discourages officers and requires detailed investigation by the Army authorities.
I would be wrong if I allowed these few remarks of mine to cause hon. Members to think that I have nothing but criticism to offer the civil affairs administration. They have done a very great job in Italy and North Africa. They are doing a good job in Germany and Holland and I am convinced that with attention to such details as I have mentioned they will do a job which will make the occupation of Germany and Austria a model for all nations.
I must join in the tributes which have been expressed already to the Secretary of State for his remarkable and very comprehensive review of the military situation over a long period of time, and I do so with all the more understanding than I had until recently when I paid a visit to 21st Army Group. I was very interested to hear, in the course of the Secretary of State's remarks, the communication which he read out to us addressed by Field Marshal Montgomery to the troops in the early days of February, because I was myself with 21st Army Group at that time, and I actually had the privilege of seeing—although, of course, what was happening was not explained to me in detail—the preparations going on. I was even able to guess that something was in the wind—one cannot see divisional transport crowding the roads in many directions, so that journeys supposed to take two hours took four and a half, without knowing that certain military operations were in immediate prospect.
The chief reason of my rising to-day is to pay my tribute to the magnificent spirit and high morale of the whole of 21st Army Group. I have never been more inspired in my life than I was with my all too short contact with that great collection of armies. I may perhaps instance one example of Elizabethan courtesy which came under my immediate notice when I happened to be in a large German village surrounded by a wall—I suppose it was surrounded by a wall but I did not explore it very much because the whole place round about was mined. I went, however, with two officers—the A.D.M.S. of the division and a junior medical officer—to explore round about a house in the immediate precincts of the regimental aid post of the unit which had been conducting a pretty gallant action only the day before. As we went round this house, the A.D.M.S. turned to the junior medical officer and asked, "Has this place been tested for mines?" and the junior officer replied, "I do not know, sir; let me go first." I thought that was rather a good example of Elizabethan courtesy. The A.D.M.S., however, would not allow him to go first; he grunted and went on himself. That was the kind of spirit I found everywhere, the spirit of adventure, the spirit of high courage, and everyone knows what I mean who has had any experience of service, the experience of that vivid appreciation of the fact of existence that comes at its highest to men when they are joined with others on the field of action.
I also want to pay tribute to the medical services, the inspection of which was the particular object of my visit. I hoped to find these in good shape. I knew a great deal about the medical services in the last war. I knew a great deal also of the medical services in this war, because not only did I visit the Armies in France in 1940 before the historic trek to Dunkirk—and I saw the organisation then established—but I also served afterwards for a time in Eastern Command in this country as Administrative Medical Officer, and I saw the set-up of the medical services here. Indeed, Eastern Command, as those connected with the Services know, was concerned very largely in making some of the arrangements which eventuated in the present set-up of the Army Medical Ser- vice. So I had some background for my observations when I went to 21st Army Group in February. I want to pay my tribute to the tremendous progress that has been made in the medical service. The astonishing smallness of casualties, which anyone who has looked at the figures knows; the astonishingly high rate of recovery—by which men not only survive but actually recover to pre-wounding condition—of men in the Services is a tribute to the efficiency of that service. It is not only that operations take place very shortly after men have been wounded—as soon after men have been wounded as is, in fact, possible from the point of view of operative technique—but that the whole method of co-operation of the medical service with the other Services and of the other Services with the medical service is so much closer and more intimate, so much more on a footing of complete equality, that it has in fact completely changed the medical service and the picture of the health conditions and the vitality and vigour of the Army.
The work that is being put in by the hygiene services to give, not only to men doing commando work, but to the ordinary infantry soldier—and all the infinite gradations of the special arms which men use—and to the ordinary soldier of every kind a knowledge of how to keep himself completely fit, has made an astonishing change in the situation as regards the health and fitness of the Armies. In the last war, as those who served know very well, the louse and scabies were an everyday affair; in this war I found it almost impossible to believe when I was with 21st Army Group, but it was the fact, that the louse and scabies are practically unknown. Men get the opportunity of bathing, even under front line conditions. They have changes of clothing even under front line conditions, and although the conditions are very adverse indeed, that terrible malady of trench-foot, which was the bane of operations in Belgium and in the Low Countries during the last war, for practical purposes simply does not occur in the British Armies. It does not occur, not because of some intervention of Providence, but because of the extremely good organisation of the combatant Forces, and this largely depends on the combatant Forces applying medical knowledge, and on the medical services too.
In fact, I found when I came back and had to consider all the notes I had taken of the front line conditions, of field ambulances, of casualty clearing stations, of hospitals very near the front, of the work of advanced surgical teams, that I had a story out of which I could make a large volume, and the space at my disposal in the journal for which I was writing did not by any means run to a full volume. It is at any rate a story which is perhaps worth expanding—not at this moment but on some future occasion. However, I would like to give one or two instances. I came across an advanced surgical centre where operations were being performed, with skilled surgeons, with all the apparatus of a modern operating theatre, with the help of nursing surgical sisters, within half a mile of the fighting line. I admit it had not been intended originally that that should take place, but the enemy had, unfortunately, advanced somewhat and the operations continued and then the enemy were pushed back.
I am sorry my hon. Friend the Member for Ipswich (Mr. Stokes) is not here because I would like him to hear this story about tanks. It has nothing to do with the medical services at all. It occurred in the little German town called Waldefucht, which is not very far from Roesmond. The unit I was visiting had been engaged in clearing a loop of the River Maas. Two Tiger tanks about 50 yards away from the regimental aid post I was visiting had been knocked out by the efforts of one officer and one sergeant of the King's Own Scottish Borderers who had operated one six-pounder gun at twenty yards' range. I am sure my hon. Friend would be interested to hear that. It was a pretty good feat, and it just shows that the Tiger tank is not so invulnerable as some people have imagined.
I hope he will, but I am afraid I cannot guarantee that. I rose particularly for the purpose of paying this tribute, and of saying how much one feels that for the men who are fighting overthere—young men for the most part, very gallant men all of them—there is very little we can do for them that we ought not to do. It is very difficult for us to think of anything quite good enough for the work they are doing. I was glad to have the honour of setting my foot alongside of their's on the German ground which they had conquered, and they are going on in this tremendous, sweeping battle into Germany. In that time there will be many wounded, there will be many killed, and there will be in this country many sorrowing hearts. I feel that if we in this House do our duty by those men who return and the dependants left behind by those who do not, we shall set out to do, not the least possible, but the most that this country can do, we should try in every way to set them up again in civil life when they come back, and to make smooth the way of their dependants and their families so as in some small measure to recompense them for the loss of those men whom they will have lost as individuals, whom we shall have lost as a nation but who, in their sacrifice, are making the world safe for the generations to come.
It is difficult to follow any technical expert who has been speaking on his own subject. The hon. Member for North Islington (Dr. Guest), however, was, in fact, only strengthening the opinions hitherto advanced, that the services of our Army in the field are in this war incomparably better than they have been even in past wars, and that is a thing of considerable merit. We have at long last provided what is undoubtedly the best Army in the world. Man for man, I do not think any of our Allies would query that fact; certainly division for division not one of our Allies can beat that. That Army has been built up with great toil and labour. Listening to the Secretary of State to-day expounding his magnificent story, nobody could refrain from feeling that the pity was that it took us nearly five years to build up that Army, and that we had to start from so little in the building. The full tribute, of course, must be given to those great soldiers, those heroic souls, who, through the years of the depression, when the War Office—a much insulted body on many occasions—was scrounging around for halfpennies, and wondering whether a cavalry regiment could afford half its complement of horses or a couple of armoured cars and had to make its decision before the Estimates. The result is that certainly no Army in our history has been better commanded than the Armies we have lately put into the field. It is an old theory of ours—I never knew whether it was wholly sound historically, but there is some evidence for it—that great soldiers never arise in really good Armies. If we look at our own great soldiers, they were thrown up from Armies which had practically reached the nadir of neglect. Napoleon arose to command a rabble which he turned into the great fighting instrument which it became. However, I do not want to press that too far, because it controverts the main theme of my speech, which is that I hope we shall maintain the efficiency in training and the number of our Armies when the war is over. One might be tempted to believe that we should abandon all training in the hope of getting good generals. This vast Army—because it is a vast Army, although not in comparison with those of some of our friends—has been raised, trained and equipped, as I have said, from scratch.
Perhaps the House will forgive me if I go a little further into the future than anybody has hitherto gone, and consider what is to happen to this magnificent fighting force when this war is over. I do not want to be accused of being a warmonger, as I do not believe that, following this war, there will be any danger of another major war for a very long period, but people said that during the last war, when a patent safety formula was invented. It was the ten-year formula: "No major war for 10 years." It was laid down in 1919, which meant that the danger of war was postponed until 1929. Then, of course, the inevitable tendency of Governments arose and they thought they would take a chance and extend it by another five years, to 1934. Then they thought they would "chance their arm" on another period, and that took them into 1939, before which, of course, there had been a little rearmament. That is a very dangerous formula, and whether there is a danger of war or not, it is the duty of a Government to see that the nation is prepared to defend itself, and that the equipment and training of its soldiers are adequate to meet any emergency.
I want to base my observations to-day on the assumption that after this war conscription will continue. I do not think any of us know whether it will or not, because I do not think there has been any long-term Government pronouncement yet. I only hope that before very long—I do not expect my right hon. Friend to commit the Government of which he is a Member at the moment, but I believe he will rub it into them again—a pronouncement will be made on the matter. I also hope that in order to avoid the issue of conscription ever becoming a party issue, that pronouncement will be made before this Coalition Government breaks up. It is an essential political dictum which should be laid down by all parties in common. After that, when we return to party Government then, with luck, all parties would be committed—and not only one party or small congeries of parties—to the maintenance of an adequate Army. It was in 1937, only two years before this war started, that a report appeared in the "Sunday Times," which I read again to-day, stating that the Association of University Conservative Associations had had a debate on whether conscription was desirable or not. The proposal, it stated, was opposed with great vigour by the present Secretary of State for the Dominions, and was defeated by 20 votes to r. That was one party in the State denying the necessity for conscription. The paper went on to comment that this would be very useful in putting an end to efforts to make party capital out of the possible introduction of conscription—
The present Secretary of State for the Dominions; I am not quite sure what office he held then. Or is it the Secretary of State for the Colonies—I forget? [HON. MEMBERS: "The Secretary of State for the Colonies."] I beg the House's pardon; I mean the Secretary of State for the Colonies. That comment in that newspaper indicated that the other great party in the State was also against conscription, that nobody was ready to take the final step necessary to ensure the adequate defence of this country even two years before the war was due to break out. If we are to fulfil any of our immediate post-war commit- ments conscription is, of course, necessary. We cannot possibly maintain our various garrisons abroad, a large Army of Occupation in Germany, and the necessa,ry drafts to re-inforce those various comitments, on a voluntary system alone. We could not do it before the war, and we certainly shall not be able to do it after the war.
I hope that the occupation of Germany will be so prolonged that it will remove the issue of conscription or not almost to the next generation. But even that must be to a certain extent foreseen, and agreement reached between the parties that the maintenance of this system of defence is essential, even though the question may not arise in its full urgency for a very long time. The nature of this post-war Army will, I think, need an enormous; re-adjustment in our past thinking on the subject of armaments. If we have a conscript Army, that will provide for the defence of this Realm of Britain and any possible commitments we may be forced to undertake as a result of our membership of a world security organisation. That, I say, can be done by a conscript Army, but to imagine that our overseas garrisons can be maintained by a conscript Army is to imagine something which, in military parlance, "is not on." The length of service is far too short for us to imagine that we can send drafts of conscripts to India, or to some of our African possessions, or to the Far East, and bring them back in time for the completion of their military service. In other words, parallel with our conscript Army there will have to be a long-service Army.
I am being forced to the conclusion that we must have a really long-service Army. Our old pre-war enlistment of seven years with the Colours, and five with the Reserve, is not long enough, and does not provide a sufficient career to attract men into the Army. It is beyond reason to imagine that a young man of really good qualities and reasonably high intelligence, at the age of 19, should be prepared to put himself out of the industrial running until he is 26, to serve his country overseas, while his brother in a factory is becoming a skilled worker in that time, and that he will come back to work at a lower rate than is being obtained by his brother, or by his friend, who has remained at home.
The only way to offset that is to make the Army a whole-time career. If our main defence is a conscript Army, there is no reason why a garrison Army for our overseas possessions should not be run on a 21 years' service basis, with an adequate pension at the end of that time, or, even better, the guarantee of employment out of the resources of the country. For a long time before this war I considered this problem, and once wrote a memorandum on it, with a view to making enlistment for the then professional Army more attractive. In the course of my researches I discovered that, even then, there were 1,250,000 jobs which were either directly in the gift of the Government or could be influenced by the Government. When I say "influenced by the Government" I mean jobs with the Automobile Association, for instance, and with various benevolent and other societies. If the Government were to make full use of the jobs at their disposal they could ensure that any soldier of long service, with a good character, was fully employed. Not only that, there is no reason why a soldier with 21 years' service should not be able to count that towards a full-time pension in the job to which he goes after his military service. Instead of having a break between military and civil careers, both would be a part of one career.
On those terms I believe that a very adequate long-service Army could be raised. It would not need to be as large as the pre-war regular Army. It would, however, have to find the necessary cadres for the training of a conscript Army, which brings me to the point of where this long-service Army and conscript Army are to get their officers. This was a growing problem before the war. The career offered to young men by the Armed Forces was not sufficiently attractive then to provide nearly enough entrants to the ranks of the officers. Since that time a great deal has been done, and the pay of Army officers to-day does not compare at all unfavourably with what they could possibly earn in civil life. If that were maintained, I think there would be a steady flow of men prepared to make the Army their whole life. But we could not officer the whole of the conscript Army from those regular officers, otherwise we would be carrying an overloaded officer corps. At the least, subalterns of the conscript Army will have to be found out of the ranks of that conscript Army, out of the young men who come into it, and regular officers will not be able to provide more than the personnel from Company Commanders upwards.
That brings me to the point of how to find the junior officer. If he is going to come from the young men who are to be called up annually, it is obvious that he cannot waste the first six months of his military service in learning to be a tolerably competent corporal in order to be made an officer afterwards. Service in the ranks as a necessary preliminary to holding a commission has to go. Ours, in fact, is the only Army in the world which has it. In no other Army is it necessary to serve in the ranks before one can get a commission. I think the practical solution is quite simple. We have the Junior Training Corps and I can see no reason whatever why boys should not be drafted straight from the Junior Training Corps.
Is the hon. Member aware that in ordinary elementary schools, with a great number of pupils and classes of 60 or 70, it is impossible to have a training corps of that kind?
I have tried to get down to words of one syllable. I will again. The J.T.C. will, after the war, presumably be on a voluntary basis. I would rather see it compulsory but I do not think that is possible. It is open to any boy of the requisite age, whether he is at school or not, to join the Junior Training Corps and to study the art of becoming a soldier. When he reaches the end of his period it will be easy to find out, by examination and trial, whether or not he is fit to go to the officer producing unit now known as the 0.C.T.U. He can be sent there and in six months, if his work has been sufficiently competent, he can be trusted to command a platoon in our post-war Army, because he will have the supervision of experienced professional officers and, of course, a cadre of experienced professional N.C.Os. and, like nearly all young officers, he will learn his job as he goes along. After that, how does he get promotion? Unless he cares to go to the Regular Army, he gets promotion in the same way as he would have before the war in the Special Reserve. If he does various periods of annual training attached to Regular units, and otherwise conducts himself properly, he will get promoted as Special Reserve officers did before the war. That is the only way in which I think it is possible that promotion shall take place. Presumably the Territorial Army will continue, and that opens up another possibility of promotion. If he gets a commission in the Territorial Army he will be able to get promoted as a Territorial officer was before the war.
I am afraid this is a speech, for me, of inordinate length, but the subject is one on which I feel deeply and, if I am boring others, I am interesting myself frightfully. We come now to one very minor point in the post-war Army, that is, where this conscript army is going to be trained. This island has many military merits, but it is not overwhelmingly equipped with training grounds in peace conditions. In war-time we have Defence Regulation 52A and we can say, "Here we are, remove your flocks and your herds, your men servants and your maid servants, and get out and let us train." But in peacetime I have an idea that sooner or later our long-suffering public may revolt against this. We have to find training grounds somewhere. Again, this is considering a very distant problem, because I sincerely hope that for at least 25 years we will be training in Germany, where there is plenty of room. There will be a wholly adequate manoeuvring area and something like Defence Regulation 52A will be perfectly enforceable. But ultimately we have to face the problem of where we are going to train them when the Armies of Occupation are finally withdrawn from Germany, and that is a problem to which I can produce no immediate solution. We have time to think it out, and I think that mental process should begin fairly soon.
I have only one point left. There is one special branch of the Armed Forces which, I very much fear, may be relegated to comparitive unimportance once the war is over. That is the Directorate of Military Intelligence. In 1885 General Wolseley, who then came to the War Office, decided that a Department of Military Intelligence was necessary, and he formed it. He put in charge of it an officer of the rank of major-general, and not only that, he selected an officer whom he described himself as not one of the cleverest but the cleverest officer in the Army. In other words, he understood the value of the Department that he was setting up. I should like the House to forget the idea of false beards and false noses, because that has very little to do with military intelligence. The Department of Military Intelligence provides the material for training armies. It provides the information an which all military exercises are, or should be, reasonably based.
Before the war the Department of Military Intelligence had ceased to exist. It existed only as part of the Department of Military Operations, and there was only one director for the two services. The British Army then trained only for civil war. Every year one British general went out with a British force and conducted a campaign against another British general with another British force. In those circumstances the idea of considering the possibility of what the army of some other nation would do never really arose at all. It is possible to study the methods of warfare of another nation, and indeed to conduct military exercises against the forces of that nation, without conveying the impression that we are immediately preparing to go to war with her. Indeed, in many ways it is a great compliment to the armed forces of any other nation to base our military exercises with them as a potential opponent, because it works out that in our opinion they have the best army in the world and we wish to learn from them.
The Department of Military Intelligence, if it is maintained after this war, will have to have some much more vigorous encouragement. I know the difficulties of preserving intelligence staff officers on a peace establishment. A third grade staff officer will actually have nothing whatever to do in peace-time until the annual training starts, and it is, of course, a problem how to employ him in the meantime. One thing that we had before the war was a very serious shortage of military attaches abroad. There was, for instance, only one for the whole of Scandinavia and the Baltic States. The result was that our knowledge of what turned out after all to be a very vital area in the war was by no means as perfect as it ought to have been had the various Legations been properly staffed.
I suggest that there is a possible employment for junior intelligence staff officers as military or extra-military attaches overseas. There is nothing clandestine about their methods. They are there to learn how other countries train their soldiers and, if necessary, pass the information on so that our methods of training may be improved to run parallel with those of other countries. If that is done, I believe we shall vastly advance the training of our Forces. We have made in this war the most astonishing difference in the realism and effectiveness of our military exercises, and, in face of the almost pathetic waste of time in peace, our military exercises to-day are a real test of commanders and staffs. If we only maintain them we shall be doing well by our armed Forces.
We have all deeply enjoyed my right hon. Friend's exposition of the magnificent story of the Army's exploits. I will pay him one tribute—he does not get many in this House—that, whatever irritation he may arouse sometimes among his questioners, among those soldiers who have anything to do with the War Office there is a firm conviction that he is on the Army's side. That cannot be said of large numbers of Secretaries of State I have known in the past. That is as fine a tribute as any soldier could pay to the right hon. Gentleman. It is a really meant one, and I hope that he will long hold this partisanship for the Army in the ranks of the Cabinet. That Army, as the Secretary of State said, has performed probably the most astonishing military exploits in history in France, Africa, Sicily, Italy, and many other places. Sooner or later this House will have to make up its mind whether it will permanently maintain these Armed Forces, to continue the training and to let the traditions go on, or to go back to our pre-war defences which, as far as I can make out, might really be summed up in the words, "Boy Scouts and bluff."