Orders of the Day — British Army (Full-Dress Uniform)

– in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd March 1948.

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Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—[Mr. Snow.]

10.0 p.m.

Photo of Mr Tufton Beamish Mr Tufton Beamish , Lewes

It was in 1674 that the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers, otherwise His Majesty's Fifth Regiment of Foot, was formed. It so happens that I have the honour to hold a Regular commission in that regiment. On 21st April this year, and on 23rd April, St. George's Day, the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers are to be offered the honorary freedom of Berwick-upon-Tweed and Newcastle-upon-Tyne, respectively. On those occasions they will be carrying their colours with Saint George and the Dragon thereon, and the motto Quo fata vocant.

I shall be very brief, and I know that in what I say my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Brigadier Thorp)—who will not be able to speak in this short Debate—would like to be associated. I know that he is most disappointed at the turn that events have taken. I am raising this matter because I feel very strongly about it, and not because I have been asked to raise it. It is the unanimous wish of the regiment—everybody, from the Colonel-in-Chief to the most junior fusilier—that the wearing of full-dress uniform should be allowed on these two historic regimental occasions. The Mayor and the Council of Berwick-upon-Tweed have all expressed a strong wish that permission should be given for full-dress to be worn. I doubt whether there is one man or woman in Northumberland who would not like full-dress uniform to be worn on these occasions.

In Appendix A to Army Order 54 of 1947 are these words: Full-dress, either compulsory or voluntary, has been abolished."— although I understand that those words do not apply to the Household Troops. When the Minister replies I beg him to tell us that this order has been rescinded or at least to justify it, because so far there has been no justification for it at all. Why has full dress uniform been declared obsolete? Why has it been abolished? Why is it in abeyance for the Household Brigade only? What is meant by full-dress uniform being in abeyance? How does one wear uniform which is in abeyance?

If I had had time—I knew only today that I was fortunate enough to get this Adjournment Motion—I should have appeared here in full dress uniform of my regiment in order to enable the Minister to see what it looks like. My regiment has full-dress uniforms for the band, the colour party and the escort. They have tried those uniforms on, and had a dress rehearsal. If permisison is given for the uniform to be worn it will turn a drab and possibly a rather dingy occasion in battledress into an extremely colourful pageant. It will turn an occasion with little recruiting value into an occasion with very great recruiting value indeed. Do not the War Office want recruits? Is this a War Office decision, or is it, as I strongly suspect, a decision of the Socialist Government?

If full-dress uniform is obsolete, why has permission been given for it to be worn in the B.A.O.R. in tattoos? Why has permission also been given for it to be worn for the making of films for America for the benefit of the American cinema-going public? Are Germans considered more important than "Geordies?" Is not the real reason this "let-us-all-be-miserable-together" state of mind of this Government? Is it possible that the "brass-hats," so wrongly stated to be in the War Office, are sitting in the Socialist Cabinet? Why cannot full-dress uniform be worn at the discretion of G.O.C.s of commands? Would that not be a most sensible compromise? If I am to be told that the object of this order is to save officers expenses, I would point out that for many years past junior officers have not had to pay for full-dress uniforms and have been under no compulsion to do so, but have been able to hire uniform from the regimental tailors for a very small sum of money. There is also no charge against public funds for those in the ranks.

In 1835, His Majesty King William IV commanded that the services of the Northumberland Fusiliers—that is before they became a Royal Regiment—at Wilhemsthal in June, 1762, should be commemorated by wearing grenadier caps with the King's Cipher "W.R.IV" in the front, and the ancient badge of the regiment, that of St. George killing the dragon, in the background. These were almost the exact words of the order signed by the Adjutant-General. That distinction was conferred as a result of the refusal to allow the regiment to carry the third colours supposed to have been awarded to it as a result of the capture of the colours of the French Grenadiers at Wilhemsthal. I am sure that when that distinction was awarded, His Majesty King William IV had no idea that the day would ever dawn when the regiment, when it was receiving the honour of the Freedom of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Berwick-upon-Tweed would be refused permission to wear those same grenadier caps by a Secretary of State for War who had never seen a bullet fired in anger in his life.

Thus does tradition appear to me to be cast aside in an arbitrary and thoughtless fashion. I hope, if the Minister says nothing else, he will make abundantly clear the reasons for an order which appears to me to be footling and hidebound. I hope and believe that we shall hear that full-dress may be worn on this special historic regimental occasion, and on similar occasions for other regiments.

10.8 p.m.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam Lieut-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam , Newcastle upon Tyne North

I wish to support very strongly the arguments put forward by my hon. and gallant Friend the Member for Lewes (Major Beamish). Great appeals have been made to me by the Lord Mayor of Newcastle and by the City Council that the War Office should allow these uniforms to be worn. It will make the whole difference to the ceremony, which is a historic ceremony in the history of the regiment. It will cost the country nothing, and it will do a great deal for recruiting. I ask the Government to grant this request, which should be given to any regiment if it is in a position to wear full-dress uniform without cost to the public. Permission should be given to any regiment which is honoured by its native city in its own county. Far too little is made today of the local traditions of every regiment, and everything which can increase that tradition and build up confidence in the regiment is likely to be of the greatest assistance to the Government in recruiting men to the Army. We heard only yesterday how difficult it was to get recruits for the Regular Army No better way could be found for getting these recruits than by giving every assistance to a regiment to maintain its tradition and to identify itself with its native town.

10.10 p.m.

Photo of Lord John Hope Lord John Hope , Midlothian and Peeblesshire Northern

I want to put one point to the Minister. I hope that he will say exactly what he meant when, in answer to a question this afternoon, he used the word "obsolete." For what is full-dress uniform obsolete? Of course, it is obsolete for fighting. No one suggests that a unit should be asked to wear full-dress uniform for fighting, or even for training. But this unit has asked to wear full-dress uniform for an old, colourful ceremony in the presentation of the freedom of a city. The Minister cannot pretend that the word "obsolete" can be fairly used in that connection. I suggest that this is about the one occasion when full-dress in the Army is eminently suitable. Its recruiting value has already been stressed, and I do not think exaggerated. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will agree that this matter should at least be looked into again, and that he will do his best to see that we get what colour we can be given in what is a very drab world

10.12 p.m.

Photo of Mr Woodrow Wyatt Mr Woodrow Wyatt , Birmingham Aston

I do not often agree with the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish), but I think that he made a very fair and reasonable case. I cannot understand why, if these uniforms are available and in possession of officers, and will not cost anything, they cannot be worn on a ceremonial occasion. We propose to wear full-dress uniform for Royal Tournaments, and the Household Regiments are allowed to wear their full-dress uniforms. If it is a question of no extra cost being incurred, there can be no sense whatever in the order. I suggest to my hon. Friend who is to reply that there would be more support for the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes on this side of the House if there were more of my hon. Friends here tonight.

10.13 p.m.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham East

I must congratulate the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) on the speed with which he has seized his opportunity and brought this matter before the House more fully than it could be dealt with at Question time. It is by such capacity to seize opportunities that great commanders are distinguished and great military achievements are won. I agree with what has been said by the hon. Member for Aston (Mr. Wyatt) as to the force with which the hon. and gallant Member stated his case. I feel obliged, however, to take exception to his reference to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War. The implication was that my right hon. Friend is not capable of sympathising with the traditions and feelings of the men in the Forces. I am confident that everything my right hon. Friend has done in his present office shows that that implication is totally unjustified. I do not wish to pursue that point further.

The hon. and gallant Member for Lewes and the other hon. Members who have taken up this matter have, I think, brought almost every aspect of it before the House. I want, therefore, to state clearly why the present decision was arrived at. The present position is, as I mentioned earlier today, and as was remarked on by the hon. Member for Northern Midlothian and Peebles (Lord John Hope) that the full-dress to which such frequent reference has been made is obsolete. That is to say, it is not the full-dress of the modern Army, It is the full dress of the Army in the year 1918.

At that time it became obsolete with the exception of the Household Cavalry and the Brigade of Guards. They cease to wear it at the outbreak of war, and that is what is meant by saying it has fallen into abeyance. Owing to the necessities of war it passed out of use, and a decision as to ceremonial dress to be worn by them in the future has yet to be made. For the rest of the Army this full-dress, about which we have been speaking tonight, is obsolete. The intention is to put in its place a full-dress more appropriate to the present time which will be known as No. 1 dress. The House will be aware——

Photo of Mr Tufton Beamish Mr Tufton Beamish , Lewes

Surely, it is not going to be suggested that this blue serge No. 1 dress is going to take the place of the full-dress? It really cannot be true, because the No. 1 dress is a walking-out dress, and takes the place of mess kit. Everyone knows that. Anyway, it has not even appeared yet. Surely that suggestion is absurd.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham East

It is true that there are difficulties over the supply of material. In consequence, we have the position at the moment where there is not for most units full dress at all. That does not alter the fact that the dress about which we have been speaking is obsolete, and the Army Order, to which reference has been made, namely, that of May, 1947, did no more than state what had already been the position over a very long time. I cannot accept, therefore, the distinction which rather unhappily the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes tried to draw between a War Office decision and a Government decision. He must know that no such distinction can be drawn. No decision on a matter of this kind is made without the authority of His Majesty's Government.

Photo of Lord John Hope Lord John Hope , Midlothian and Peeblesshire Northern

This new substitute dress, by the hon. Gentleman's own admission, has not yet come into force. If that is so could not the Government meet our case and save their own face by using the word "obsolescent" until the new one is ready, and then it will be obsolete and need not be worn.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham East

It is a little difficult to make something which was obsolete in 1918 obsolescent 30 years later, nor do I accept the situation that there is any need for the Government to save their face in this matter.

Photo of Sir Toby Low Sir Toby Low , Blackpool North

The hon. Gentleman says this became obsolete in 1918. Does he mean in my hon. and gallant Friend's regiment no one wore full-dress since 1918, because that must be wrong?

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham East

There have been certain special occasions—[Interruption.]—I am well aware of what is in the minds of hon. Members opposite. I want now to take the question of why the decision was made and that brings us to the main issue, because the question of expense is completely irrelevant. No question of expense, it has been conceded on both sides of the House, arises from this matter. The decision has been taken because this is not the full-dress of the Army either of the present or of the future. What is it that leads such a decision to be taken? What is it, in fact, which makes a certain type of full-dress obsolete and makes it desirable from time to time to make changes? The hon. and gallant Gentleman began his speech with the words "In 1674." It will be recognised that between 1674 and the present time many changes have occurred, and the general policy which has been pursued has been influenced partly by change in the civilian dress over a period of time and partly by changes in military needs.

There are one or two examples of that. The introduction some considerable time ago of the collar and tie as part of the Service dress was made at the time because it was felt that it was in line with the changes in civilian dress. When the comparatively modern battledress was designed it was felt that there was some connection between that and the skiing suit such as is worn by civilians. The Service dress jacket was designed partly with a shooting jacket in mind. Then with regard to military needs, the regular practice of carrying a field dressing made an obvious change in Army dress. The fact that nowadays more maps are carried than previously has also affected the design of dress. I bring out these points because they show that these two things—changes in civilian dress and changes in the technique of war—make changes in Army dress both necessary and desirable from time to time.

Photo of Sir Toby Low Sir Toby Low , Blackpool North

Are we going to have the "new look?"

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham East

That question was addressed to, and answered by, the Secretary of State for War when the relevant Bill was before this House. The hon. Member may wish to refresh his memory by consulting the report of that Debate. The answer, I may say, was in the negative. None the less, all that means is that, from time to time, we reach a period when we have to say that a certain dress which has been appropriate will not be used in future.

Now it is inevitable that when a decision of that kind is taken, it causes regret in many quarters. The Army necessarily and rightly sets great store by tradition, and its great problem is, how to keep itself sufficiently in touch with the needs of modern life without making an excessive and unnecessary sacrifice of tradition. We have held very strongly, however, particularly where the question of recruiting arises, that an Army must be thought of as a living organisation, and not as a period piece. That is all the more necessary at a time when the number of citizens who will serve in the Army is being so greatly increased. Therefore, we regard this full dress uniform, which is now obsolete, as appropriate only to be worn when scenes from past history are being enacted at a tattoo or similar display.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham East

I think I have the hon. and gallant Member's point in mind. The permission given in Germany has been for occasions of that kind, when an historical scene is being enacted in a display. It is quite appropriate to use the dress of a past period to enact a scene of a past period, but it is not appropriate to use it for what is supposed to be a modern ceremony and, it is hoped, will attract men to join the Army, not in 1918 or 1674 but the Army of the present and future.

Photo of Mr Tufton Beamish Mr Tufton Beamish , Lewes

What more appropriate theme from past history could one possibly have than the granting of the freedom of Newcastle-on-Tyne and Berwick-on-Tweed to a regiment after 274 years' existence?

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham East

Surely, the point is that they are not granting the freedom in the past? This ceremony is not a stage representation of something that occurred in the past; it is an event in the present history of the regiment, something that is happening in the 20th century, and it is meant to have recruiting value for men who will join that regiment in this year and in subsequent years. It should be noted that some of the criticisms made of recruiting drives in the past 12 months have been on this very point, that there has been a tendency to display too much that belonged to the past and too little which had relevance to the present and future.

Photo of Lieut-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam Lieut-Colonel Sir Cuthbert Headlam , Newcastle upon Tyne North

This is not a recruiting ceremony at all; this is an honour being conferred on a regiment which has been associated with the county for a great number of years. That is why the regiment is so insistent upon this particular point. The result, no doubt, will be that, if it is a successful ceremony, it will attract people to the Army.

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham East

The point has been made repeatedly by some hon. and gallant Gentlemen opposite that the decision in this case will detract from the recruiting value of the ceremony, and it was for that reason, and that reason only, that I was raising the point of recruiting. [HON. MEMBERS: "No."] The point was made by hon. Members at Question time, and in this Debate that our decision would detract from the recruiting value of the ceremony. I say that is not so, and past experience and some of the criticisms of recruiting drives in the past show that full dress has had more relevance to the past and too little to the present and future.

I believe that for the regiment to appear in a dress which is in effect 30 years old would be as inappropriate as for some Members of this House on some great occasion to consider it proper to turn up in dress which hon. Members would have worn in the last century, or the 18th century. That is the real parallel. This is a present and living ceremony. It may be that there are among hon. Members and among the people of Newcastle, Berwick-upon-Tweed and Northumbria those who feel the regret which the hon. and gallant Member for Lewes (Major Beamish) so eloquently voiced in the House tonight. We can sympathise with that feeling, but I sincerely believe it is misconceived, and that they have not given sufficient weight to the importance of realising that this-ceremony is an honour being conferred on these regiments today, that it should not be treated too much as an historical pageant, that it would not be wise since undoubtedly whether by intention or as an inevitable result the ceremony is connected with recruiting to use in that ceremony a form of dress which would not be in fact worn by men who decided to enter the regiment today.

Photo of Mr Woodrow Wyatt Mr Woodrow Wyatt , Birmingham Aston

Does my hon. Friend' think that they would be deluded into-thinking that they would wear that uniform?

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham East

I am not suggesting that they would be so deluded, but it would be inappropriate if the ceremony is regarded, as I am told it is, as having a recruiting value, to have uniform which is obsolescent, and I do not believe that if we turn our eyes to the present and future of this regiment that there is any reason to suggest that it would be less a matter for congratulation and honour among the members of the regiment that their distinguished past has been. The hon. and gallant Member for Lewes quoted the motto of the regiment Quo fata vocant. I suggest that he should consider that motto—"Where destiny leads us." Destiny surely leads us forward to the future of this regiment, to something which will add to its past glories. There is no reason why the carrying out of this ceremony in dress appropriate to the present and future should be any derogation to the past traditions of the regiment.

10.28 p.m.

Photo of Colonel Sir Ralph Clarke Colonel Sir Ralph Clarke , East Grinstead

Why if this full-dress uniform became obsolete in 1918 was that order not implemented until 1948? In those intervening years I have on a number of occasions worn full-dress uniform—on occasions connected with this House—and so have other hon. Members. Why has it suddenly been decided to implement that order for everyone when for the last 30 years full-dress uniform has been worn on great occasions?

Photo of Mr Michael Maitland Stewart Mr Michael Maitland Stewart , Fulham East

There is no doubt that it became obsolete in 1918, apart from exceptions which I have mentioned. Since now we have our minds on plans for the future and the future full-dress, it was considered appropriate to remind all those concerned of the situation and that was the purpose of the order.

10.29 p.m.

Photo of Flight Lieut Wavell Wakefield Flight Lieut Wavell Wakefield , St Marylebone

Is it not a fact that the present position is quite different from that of the last 200 years? Uniform only became obsolete then when new uniform was available for wearing which is not now available. Therefore, why cannot this be allowed to be worn until such new uniform is ready? The Minister's whole case is based on a false assumption.

Photo of Sir Toby Low Sir Toby Low , Blackpool North

Surely everyone in Northumbria wants this full-dress to be worn. Why should Whitehall dictate to the people of Northumbria what should be worn on an occasion which is peculiarly a local matter?

The Question having been proposed at Ten o'Clock and the Debate having continued for half an hour, Mr. SPEAKER adjourned the House without Question Put, pursuant to the Standing Order.

Adjourned at Half-past Ten o'Clock.