Arrested Guardsmen, Holland

Oral Answers to Questions — British Army – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 2nd November 1954.

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Photo of Mr Cyril Osborne Mr Cyril Osborne , Louth Borough 12:00 am, 2nd November 1954

asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware that two Grenadier Guardsmen have been under open arrest for some weeks at the Hook of Holland as the result of a motor smash following the Arnhem celebrations; that no civilian charge has been preferred against them; and if he will permit one of them to return home for a few days because of urgent domestic matters, particulars of which have been sent to him.

Photo of Mr Anthony Head Mr Anthony Head , Carshalton

Following the incident, these guardsmen were placed under open arrest pending a decision whether they were to be dealt with by the civil or military authorities. It has now been agreed with the civil authorities that they will be tried by court martial. The personal problem of one of the men is being looked after.

Photo of Mr Cyril Osborne Mr Cyril Osborne , Louth Borough

I am grateful for that answer, but does my right hon. Friend not think that it is a monstrous injustice that two British soldiers should be kept under open arrest in a foreign country for weeks without a charge being preferred against them? Will he see that this does not happen again?

Photo of Mr Anthony Head Mr Anthony Head , Carshalton

No, Sir, I do not think it is a monstrous injustice. These men went there for the Arnhem celebrations. They stole a car and smashed it up, and one of them was in hospital for two weeks. They were then placed under open arrest while the Army had first to get evidence translated from the Dutch and get evidence from the other guardsman, who had come home, and while the Dutch authorities decided whether the men should be tried by court martial or in a civil court. By and large, they did no credit to their country in Holland, and I do not think any great inconvenience has been caused.

Photo of Mr Percy Holman Mr Percy Holman , Bethnal Green

Do the reasons given by the right hon. Gentleman justify a delay of six weeks in handling this matter? Is it not a fact, as stated by the mother of one of these men, that they had nothing to wear except the clothes they stood up in six weeks ago? I consider it disgusting.

Photo of Mr Anthony Head Mr Anthony Head , Carshalton

As I have said, a fortnight was spent in hospital by one of the two men. Subsequently the evidence had to be obtained and sifted and the decision of the Dutch authorities had to be awaited. These things take time.

Photo of Mr Emanuel Shinwell Mr Emanuel Shinwell , Easington

Was it altogether fair for the right hon. Gentleman to use the language he did about the conduct of these men, in view of the possibility of a court martial being held?

Photo of Mr Anthony Head Mr Anthony Head , Carshalton

I merely stated the offence with which these men were to be tried but I would agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and I should like to withdraw and to apologise for stating definitely that they had done their country no credit when there is a perfectly good chance that they may be acquitted; I went too far. I meant to say that too much sympathy was shown to these men, judging by what they were alleged to have done, but I agree with the right hon. Gentleman, and I wish to withdraw what I said.

Photo of Mr Cyril Osborne Mr Cyril Osborne , Louth Borough

Apart from the merits of the case, is it not wrong that men should be left in a foreign country, under open arrest, with no charge preferred against them, for weeks and weeks? The matter might not have come to a head if I had not accidentally run across it.

Photo of Mr Anthony Head Mr Anthony Head , Carshalton

No, Sir; my hon. Friend is quite misinformed about these men. They were not alone and uncared for in a foreign country. There is No. 41 Garrison at The Hook and these men, who were under open arrest, were based on that garrison.