§ Mr. MORRELL
I desire to call attention to another matter which has lately often come before this House in questions and answers, but which has not for some years past been the subject of any Debate —I mean the very difficult subject of field punishment in the Army, in which is included the form of punishment popularly known as "crucifixion." I regret very much that two hon. and gallant Friends of mine (Commander Wedgwood and Major Hayward) are not able to be here to support me. Both have taken a great interest in the subject at different times, and it is after consultation with them that I venture to raise it to-day. I welcome very much the announcement made by the Under-Secretary for War on Tuesday that the Government are contemplating some reforms. It is quite true that, so far as I understand the answer, the reforms are not going very far. A great many people, myself included, believe that a considerable number of officers in the Army would like to see this punishment entirely abolished. They do not believe it is necessary. Some of the most distinguished officers, including brigadier-generals, do not believe that field punishment No. 1 is a necessary punishment, and would be glad to see it abolished. My object in bringing the subject before the House is, in the first place, in the hope that I shall get further details from my hon. Friend as to what is really intended, and, in the second place, to urge upon him certain points which ought to be and must be met if the very great dissatisfaction and resentment which this punishment has undoubtedly aroused is to be allayed. It is sometimes suggested—it has been suggested I think in this House— that the feeling which this subject has aroused is due to an agitation in the House, or to a Press agitation, and that it has not a solid basis. There is no sort of ground for such a suggestion. The matter came before me almost by chance through my taking up the case of Driver Graham, who was sentenced to this punishment on account of having ex- 1739 ceeded the speed limit, and since I asked a question and got a remission of that sentence I have been almost bombarded with letters on the subject. The interest which this arouses is very wide indeed. I have had letters from the front and from people in England. I have had interviews with people. I have interviewed many men who have seen this punishment actually being inflicted, and I have seen some men who have undergone it, and I can assure everyone that it is a matter, in my judgment, of very great national importance that this question should be set at rest in a satisfactory way.
Moreover, the House of Commons is the right place for ventilating this subject. The Under-Secretary, in his answer yesterday, seemed to suggest that this was a matter which did not directly concern the House of Commons. I do not know whether he really suggested that, but there was that insinuation. If he tells me he did not suggest that, I accept what he says. It certainly concerns the House of Commons. The Regulations under which this punishment is inflicted were sanctioned by the House of Commons, and it is the duty of the House of Commons to inquire how far those Regulations are now justifiable. The question has really got a new importance owing to the enormous increase in the Army. That affects it in two ways. Not only now do you have men of education and social standing serving as privates in the rank and file, and men who have seen this thing going on are able to report upon it, but also the vast increase in the size of the Army has had this result, that many men of really very slight experience, and who in some cases are not men who ought to hold high position, do now occupy responsible positions. I have a letter from an old soldier who served in the old Army originally, and since then has been transferred to the New Army, as indicative of the sort of change I mean. He says in effect that when he was in the old Army, under experienced officers, the infliction of punishment No. I was of very rare occurrence. He had known of only seven cases in his own company. When he was transferred to the New Army he found a completely different state of things, and I think he says there were no fewer than sixty cases, some of them for comparatively technical offences, in which this punishment had been inflicted. I think that is generally the experience, 1740 that there has been a very large increase, I and I think an unjustifiable increase, in ! this form of punishment. That seems to me an altogether regrettable state of things, and one that this House ought to guard against. It is very necessary that the punishment should be safeguarded, and that the offences in respect of which it may be inflicted should be clearly defined, because it is a severe and sometimes a cruel and a degrading punishment. In conversation with a general now in the War Office, he said to me, "This is a hard and degrading punishment, and it breaks the spirit of any man." Therefore it ought not to be inflicted except for the gravest offences. We ought also to know whether it can be awarded by the commanding officer or by a court-martial.
I think it is right that I should prove the point I have made that this punishment is extremely severe, and that it is awarded in respect of comparativley minor and technical offences. I will give three instances to prove what I have to say. In the first place, I will state a case, which appeared in the papers and which I have inquired into, of a Liverpool man whose name I prefer not to give, a member of the Corn Exchange Pals Battalion in Liverpool, who died as the result of the infliction of this punishment. He was a man of the highest social standing. He was very well known in Liverpool, and was an international hockey player, amongst other things. He volunteered at the beginning of the War, although forty years of age, having a great many relations and friends in Liverpool. He was a man of the best education, and might have had a commission, but went into the ranks. His mother was expecting him home on leave in the ordinary way after two years' service abroad. She heard | that for an offence which, I believe, was merely that of having lost his helmet, he was condemned and sentenced to field punishment No. 1. As a result of that punishment, when he was on the eve of coming back, he died. That is practically made good by an interview which General Child, Director of Personal Ser- vice at the War Office, gave to a Press representative on 14th November. It was reported in the "Evening Standard" of that date. In the interview he said:The soldier concerned, together with eleven other men, was sentenced to one day's field punishment I No. 1. On the morning upon which he was sentenced I he was medically inspected by the medical officer of the battalion, who certified him as fit to undergo the 1741 punishment. The field punishment consisted of fatigue. From 1.45 to i.40 the men were employed in digging a hole for the disposal of rubbish from 4.40 until 6 they were doing nothing. They were then confined under the conditions laid down in the Bales for Field Punishment for half an hour.That is merely General Child's description of it. What really happened was that they were placed in these detention barracks in the ordinary way, crucified with their arms out, and confined to these particular posts for that purpose. It is the punishment known as "crucifixion."
§ 8.0 P.M.
§ Mr. MORRELL
At the front. I will go on with the quotation:—Here it should be noted that the maximum period allowed is two hours, Subsequently to this—I believe it was immediately afterwards—the soldier concerned whilst on the march asked leave of the provost-sergeant to fall out, as he did not feel well. The sergeant himself took the man to the medical inspection room, where he was placed on a stretcher and made as comfortable as possible. He complained of acute pains below the right lung and difficulty in breathing. He shortly afterwards collapsed and died.He goes on to describe the post-mortem examination:A post-mortem examination was held the next day at which the lieutenant-colonel, a major, two captains and an expert bacteriologist were present. They investigated every organ of the man's body, and apart room some slight trace of fatty disease of the heart here was no other evidence to the naked eye of the cause of death. In the words of the finding of the post-mortem. the only suggestion is that an acute attack of dilatation of the heart supervened.That is, that the man had an acute attack of dilatation of the heart. That really bears out what I said, that it is really there admitted that the man died as the result of the infliction of this punishment. Most fair-minded people who read that report would say that was so. I do not think anyone would deny that there have been cases, not once or twice but a good a good many cases, in which death has supervened as the result of this punishment. I am prepared to bring some more cases if necessary. That is my information upon the subject. I do not say that frequent cases have occurred in which this punishment has resulted in the death of the victim.
I will give one other instance now of the trivial things for which this punishment is inflicted. There is the case of Driver Graham, to which I have already referred. There you had a perfectly respectable man, who was a well-known member of the Society of Chauffeurs before the War. He entered the Army as a volunteer, and 1742 he was put to drive a great motor lorry at the front. In doing that he had exceeded the speed limit—driving a bit too fast. Some commanding officer said he would make an example of him, and he was sentenced to 90 days with this field punishment. Simply as the result of questions in this House and as a result of the feeling that was raised in this country that sentence was entirely remitted, very much to the credit of the War Office, I agree. I am glad it was remitted, but I say that there you have an instance of the sort of abuse which occurs, because at the present time the offences are not properly defined for which this punishment may be inflicted. This man really was guilty only of a technical offence, and yet he was sentenced to this cruel punishment of "crucifixion." Not only was the sentence remitted, but, finally, we were able to obtain for his wife all the arrears of pay which had been stopped. We thus got the whole matter put right. I do not want to weary the House, but I want to make this case perfectly clear because I do not want to refer to it again.
I have here another letter from a member of the Cardiff Pals, another man of good standing, a member of the Welsh Regiment, who volunteered at the beginning of the War. This was written some time ago, but it is given as an instance of what happened. He says:I wonder if you could see rather a severe bit of business through for the fellows of this battalion, which is out at Salonika I can assure you that besides the few that are materially affected, you would be doing us all a good turn which shall never be forgotten. The grievance is this. Since our arrival in Greece about six or eight of our fellows have been unfortunate enough to get into scrapes of quite a minor nature, and the punishment they have received has been of the very severest, namely, that of being tied to the wheel of a limber. Now this to one who has never actually witnessed it may not sound a lot, but I can assure you to pass them and witness the look of abject misery on their faces is terrible. Of the first four eases I'll say nothing, but the last batch to be tied up were awarded this for merely the following: Every morning at 6.30 we have to t[...]rn ont on parade for a wash, which we get in a stream the other side of the hill near our camp, a thing we all relish very much, but one morning it. was pouring with rain and a few chaps stayed in their ' biovies,' thinking in all probability (I suppose) that it was just as bad to get their clothes soaked through by putting them down whilst washing as it was good to find merely their faces and hands clean. Now this sort of thing may be a breach of military rules but it does not, I am sure, warrant such severe punishment, and should such a thing leak out I am sure Lord Derby's scheme would look a sorry sight. at any rate it would not. be a great aid towards recruiting. I forgot to mention the length of time the punishment is for—one hour in the morning and one in the afternoon for twenty-one days.Whenever we raise subjects of this sort we are told the same old thing, "Discipline in the Army must be maintained; the War 1743 is a severe thing, and you must not judge punishments by civilian standards." I am not here in order to interfere with the discipline of the Army; in fact, I believe the finest thing that can be done for the discipline of the Army would be to see that the sense of injustice which this punishment has raised is done away with. We have been told on every case of this sort the same thing; the same arguments have been brought forward. It took years of agitation in this House before the brutal and degrading punishment of flogging was done away with. Fifty years ago a man in the British Army—and it constantly happens—might die under the lash. Fifty years ago it was possible to give as much as 200 lashes to the soldier. As the result of a great agitation it was reduced to fifty lashes. From 1846 to 1881, fifty lashes were permissible. Lastly, in 1881, as a result of constant efforts by Members of this House flogging was altogether abolished. Will anyone say the discipline of the Army has suffered since? Everyone knows the discipline is better now than it was then.
Therefore, I say we have a very strong case for asking that this punishment, which I believe will be generally admitted to be a degrading punishment, should be abolished. Short of that, there are, I think, at any rate three or four reforms which are required, and which I want to press upon my hon. Friend. In the first place, I would ask this: Will he see to it that there is no more of the particular form of punishment known as crucifixion? The first question I would put to him is that this particular form of punishment— the holding up of the arms when the person is tied—which is now constantly inflicted in detention camps, should be done away with, and that the pole punishment should also cease. I will not go into that, because I do not want to specify it. It is well known that there is a form of punishment known as pole punishment. The second point I would make is this: Will you see to it that in the future this is not inflicted on men in public? That at least is a reasonable request. To-day men in France are punished in public, and the little French children may go out and watch an English soldier being crucified. I say that is a thing which ought to be done away with. Thirdly—and this I have already asked—may we have a still better definition of the offence for which this very severe punishment, if it is to continue, is 1744 to be awarded, so that it may be awarded more rationally, and only by a court-martial. Lastly—this, I think, is very important—will my hon. Friend be able to tell us when he makes his reply that this will not be done merely by some instructions sent out to the commanding officers, but that there will be a definite alteration in the Regulations brought before this House and submitted to it. That is very important, because the Regulations at present are obviously insufficient. Will the hon. Gentleman see to it that these Regulations are amended; and lastly, that there shall be no more delay over this matter, which has now been for six months constantly before this House and in the Press. It is time it should be dealt with. I believe this really does constitute a serious scandal and I would ask the Government to act fearlessly and promptly, so that what is a very grave cause of resentment among a large number of men in the Army and at home may at least be removed.
§ Mr. J. MASON
I desire to take only a very few moments in order to call attention to a comparatively small matter of War Office administration which seems to me to be susceptible of improvement. It has to do with the information which is kept at the War Office of the qualifications of men who seek commissions, and, possibly, of those who are in other ranks. It is a curious thing that when a man applies for a commission he is asked a very considerable number of questions, involving particulars as to his parentage, and even asking the occupation of his father, but he is not asked what his own occupation has been. One can easily see that this form originated in time of peace, when men applied for commissions who were obviously not occupied in some other way —young men starting in life. Now, since the Army has grown, it is very largely officered by men, who, up to the time of the War, were engaged in all the various professions and occupations of the country. It seems to me a most important thing that the War Office should be informed of a man's former experience and capabilities. My attention was called to this matter by a young man who is now a captain in an Infantry regiment, and who, previous to the War, was a mining engineer of very considerable practice and knowledge. He told me himself that he had never been asked a question or asked to give any information as to his previous career, and it struck me that it was 1745 worth while calling the attention of the War Office to such a fact, because it is quite possible there may be hundreds or even thousands of men who have technical skill such as that of this mining engineer. Or there might be men—I do not know of a case—of medical training, or with some other qualification, which, at a particular moment, it might be extremely desirable to know of for the purpose of the War. It is quite evident that if the War Office was to require the services of 200 or 300 engineers, that the knowledge where these men could be found might be extremely important. Therefore, I should venture to suggest that, even if there is no record as to the previous occupation of this very large number of officers who are now in the Army, the War Office at any rate should alter the form which is now sent out to all those who apply for a commission with a view to ascertaining their qualifications. This man, and one or two others who corroborated his statement, are of course men who have been in the Army since the early days of the War, and I do not know whether there has been any alteration in recent times in the nature of the form sent out. I do not want to make this a point against the War Office. I am merely desirous of throwing out a suggestion which might lead to useful results at a later stage of the War.
§ Major C. HUNTER
In the few remarks I wish to make I desire to draw the attention of the hon. Gentleman who represents the War Office to the number of thefts that have taken place from officers and soldiers' bodies when the officers or soldiers have been killed or wounded in the field. My hon. Friend will quite understand that in making these remarks I do not in any way whatever cast blame on him or his Department. I know perfectly well everybody connected with the War Office is most anxious to sift this matter to the bottom. I know that there are generals in the field who would only be too anxious to discover these delinquents and that if they caught them red-handed they would inflict upon them the severest penalties which the military law would enable them to impose. But my object in raising this unpleasant question is rather to give it publicity, because I feel that if publicity is given to this matter it would probably reach the ears or the eye of some of those who are engaged in this nefarious practice and would cause them to desist. Unpleasant [...]t most certainly is, because it is robbing officers and men in the field, 1746 and partakes rather of those ghouls who used to frequent and consort with armies in the Middle Ages, and is in no measure connected wit[...] I those splendid fellows who are now fighting the battles of right and and justice upon the fields of Europe. Some time ago I had occasion to ask a question in the House on this subject in regard to matters brought to my own personal knowledge, and I was quite astounded at the number of letters that I received from all parts of England bearing on the subject. Many of the letters came from people in very modest circumstances, who have done everything they possibly could—in fact, they have stinted themselves to give their sons or their brothers or other relations some article of value, such as a good pair of glasses or an excellent watch, a thing yon must have in the trenches, or some other article as a token. The least that these people look forward to is that when those dear ones of theirs are killed or wounded that these articles should be returned to them to keep as a memento of the sacrifice made. But that is not to be. In nearly every case of an officer's kit being returned to this country I have no hesitation in saying that practically every article of real value has been abstracted from it. It is a very disgraceful state of affairs. Not only did I receive hundreds of letters from people all over the country, but I received letters from general officers on the subject. Naturally those letters are private and confidential, and I will only read one extract from one of the letters, which I shall be willing to show to any hon. Member who desires to see it. It is from a general officer in Gallipoli. Referring to my question, he said:I should say that in 75 per cent. of cases the bodies of dead officers were completely rifled of everything of value.He went on to say:My blood boils still when I think of my dead officers in Gallipoli, everything taken off their bodies—glasses, wrist watches, money, trinkets, etc. Their bodies were never for one moment in the hands of the Turks.Could anybody have more direct evidence that this robbery is done by our people? It is not for me, and I should be the last person in the world to attribute the blame to one particular class of men, but I will say this, that from all the evidence I have received, and I have received a great deal, it has been very clearly brought to my knowledge that all this thieving takes place between the time that the man is actually hit in the firing line until he reaches the base hospital. There are very 1747 few instances—in fact, I have not found a single one—where the kit of an officer or the kit of a man which has been sent from regimental headquarters has not arrived in this county in exactly the same state in which it left. I do not think the blame is attributable to the regimental headquarters, or to the railway people in France or the railway people in England. I do hope that when my hon. Friend gives his answer he will be able to let the House know, and the country know-—because it is a very burning question with many people—that every effort will continue to be made to trace these people, and that if they are traced we can rely upon our generals to carry out prompt punishment.
§ Mr. BILLING
I had intended to limit my remarks to the question of the Air Report which was put upon the Table of the House yesterday, but the hon. Member who raised this question of No. I Field Punishment reminds me very forcibly of the feeling that does prevail in the country, and among the troops, with reference to this punishment. I raised the question two months ago. I brought one ease to the knowledge of the late Under-Secretary of State for War, and within a month I received dozens of letters on the subject. Several people came to see me, and informed me that this punishment was not limited to the Army in the field. Some gentlemen from the East Coast came to see me, and said they had personally witnessed the crucifixion of men at camps on the East Coast, for everybody to see. I am satisfied that it is possible to maintain discipline in the British Army without acts of brutality such as that. I can speak with a certain amount of experience, because I have been both a trooper and an officer, for several years in both cases. I know what the feeling in the ranks is with regard to any form of punishment of that description, and I also know the feeling of a number of officers. What does it amount to in this War whether you are an officer or whether you are a private? What it largely amounts to is, which door you have knocked at when you go to the War Office or the Admiralty. I could give dozens of instances of capable men, experienced men, who have knocked at the door of the War Office and at the door of the Admiralty and said, "Please can I have a commission"? But they did not happen to knock loud enough, and perhaps there was 1748 nobody knocking with them, with the result that they went in by another door and they became privates. More power to them. However, the point is that this form of No. 1 Field Punishment was introduced in the days of what we may call a professional Army, when what some of our writers have referred to as the fellows who did not make good anywhere—and they were a pretty tough crowd—joined up in the Service, and they had to be dealt with, more or less effectively, with great severity. It was largely a professional Army in South Africa, and I was there for close on two years, and I never saw a case of crucifixion in the whole of that war. I do remember having brought to my attention in 1897, I think it was, a practice which the Dutch had introduced of crucifying nigger on wheels for offences that happened right away from civilisation where no gaols were available, and I remember that in one or two cases where the Dutchmen were brought to book for this they were very seriously dealt with.
I am almost sure that the Under-Secretary for War is of the same opinion as we are in this matter. I do not think he approves of this kind of punishment. If it were limited to very serious cases there might be something in it, but it is not. It has been most grossly abused. It must be remembered that we are not dealing now with "toughs," but we are dealing with some of the best, if not all the best, certainly the majority of the best men in this country—men who have had high professional positions, and men of refinement and taste. If this form of punishment is not a great mental degradation, and if it is not a great mental suffering, it certainly is not a great physical suffering. It must be a great mental suffering to a man of taste to be tied with his back to a wheel, with his hands behind the head and above the head. If it is not mental suffering, it is not physical suffering. If it is mental suffering, then the man must have a lot of pride and a lot of self-respect; otherwise he would not suffer. Surely, in these enlightened and alleged Christian times, when you have these men of self-respect and pride, there ought to be some other way of punishment than by tying a man to a cartwheel. In the South African War in many cases we drafted fellows into labour gangs for extra fatigues, and that for most small offences was quite sufficient. If the punishment is for any larger 1749 offence I do not think that type of punishment is sufficient. The Under-Secretary says No. 1 Field Punishment is not given for trivial offences.
§ Mr. BILLING
If it is given for trivial offences, I hope that he will take this opportunity of showing that it shall not be done again Here is a letter sent to me three days ago:Dear Sir,—A son of mine who enlisted at fifteen years and ten months was gassed and shell-shocked. On return to duty, not feeling over well, a few weeks after, at the end of a long march he got up on the back of an ambulance for a lift. An officer who came up told him to get down and took his name and number A few days after he was given ten days No. 1 field punishment, one hour in the morning and one in the evening. French women and children stood around and said, This is the English. We will remember. Do use your influence against this most barbarous punishmentI do use any influence I have to call the attention of the Under-Secretary to that. We have heard a great deal in this House in most eloquent speeches this afternoon of what these men who are up to their shoulders in half-frozen, half-liquid mud go through, these men who are hazarding their life and making great sacrifices. Yet there is a bit of a boy, who is sixteen years of age, who went out and made a great sacrifice, who has been fighting since the first three months of the War, who has been gassed and shell-shocked, and because his constitution is probably injured and he has not strength within a few weeks of that to finish a march, and because he clambers up behind an ambulance wagon so as not to get left behind, he is subjected to ten days, No. 1 field punishment.
I would like the Under-Secretary in reply to say what is the most junior rank of officer permitted to administer field punishment? I believe that a captain can do it. If that is not the case, I will bring to his notice half a dozen cases in which captains have done it, and I will ask him to deal with them. I believe also that it is the case that every officer who witnesses the offence is entitled to administer punishment. If that is so, it is most cruelly unjust, because my experience, which runs over seventeen or eighteen years, is that an officer who puts the man under arrest, or actually witnesess the crime or act of negligence, shall not be permitted to try or to condemn that man. It stands to reason that these men must be prejudiced, and I think that if we could have some form, quite a small form, of inquiry into this question, it will be 1750 found that where there is most crucifixion of the men there is least experience among the officers. It is simply because I have had this case brought to me, not by one but by several senior officers, that a fellow has not the experience, the tact, the ability, the common moral courage to run his men, and the result is he tries to intimidate them by some form of punishment of this description. There is no man more anxious than I to see discipline pervading our ranks. In the years when I was serving I was a very strict disciplinarian and punished men many times, but I never have been the cause of subjecting them to this indignity. I trust that the Home Secretary will put his heart as well as his head in the way in which he will handle his reply, and the influence which he brings to bear on the War Office.
There was a speech made by the hon. Member below me (Mr. Lees Smith) on the question of peace. I think that it is one of the finest speeches that I have ever listened to in this House. It was made by a man who of his own free will became an ordinary soldier, and he came back from France with the opinions and experience that an ordinary soldier gains, and I differ with the opinion which he ex-I pressed. Yet it is an opinion of which the Government have got to take considerable notice. It has been suggested by the hon. Member that a league of nations is possible. Personally I do not think that a league of nations would be possible after the War. I am not trying to moralise on the ethics of war and peace, but the only peace which is possible in this world, so long as it is inhabited by people such as we—and we are no better, I do not know if we are any worse than the generations before us: we are probably not worse than those who will follow us, and most probably very little better—but peace will be absolutely impossible unless there is force behind. One would have thought after all these years that we could have done away with the police in the streets, and after this War some nations must police the world just as the streets are policed to-day. I am absolutely confident that even if this War goes on for another ten years it is not the end of war. It is the end of this type of war. The Chancellor of the Exchequer admitted in his reply that we were not prepared that we trusted to a wonderful form of Liberalism which was described by one or two Members in this House, so that I thought it was 1751 a new word for Christianity, and not a political term at all, which meant all things for all men. I am afraid that even Liberalism will not stop the world going to war in the future. It may make it unprepared again, but what I do feel is this, that we have not yet begun to learn the lesson that this War ought to have taught us in the first six months.
We have not begun in this country even now to realise what war is. I think that the finest thing that could have happened in this country would have been for 50,000 Germans to land in Essex during the first six months of the War. It would have wakened us up to what war is. Even now, after twenty-nine months of war, we find ourselves without imagination and without foresight in its administration. Of course, I am particularly specialising in two things in which I have taken an interest. One is aviation and the other is what are colloquially known as tanks. How long are we going to squirt men like spray against the rocks of the German in entrenchment in the West? How different it would have been if we had taken the question of the Air Service seriously. The matter was brought particularly to my attention today, when I have the first opportunity of bringing up the final report of the Committee on the administration and command of the Royal Flying Corps. I came to this House for one reason which was prominent in my mind—to get an inquiry in the administration and command of our Air Service in this country, because quite apart from the great part that it could play in this War and quite apart from being the deciding factor in this War, as it is going to be, the only hope of the suggestion of universal peace which is made by the hon. Member below me, the only way you will stop war, is to render it so terrible that no one would dare to enter into it, and not to apply that wonderful science of Liberalism which wants to give you everything and take nothing. There will be ambitious nations, if not this one other ones, to-morrow.
It is the case, I think, that if this country does not grasp this question of the Air Service now, when surely there is an immediate return for any outlay of men or money spent? on it, and when the whole world-conflict ought cenrtainly to justify expenditure of imagination and invention, even to taking gambling chances, I am perfectly confident that we shall never do 1752 it when peace has eventually broken through the war cloud. It is for that more than any other reason that I beg of this Government, of which we all have such hopes, not to tinker with the Air Service now. Last night it was even suggested that this question of a Minister for the Air Service should be for the duration of the War; but it is not for the duration of the War that this great air problem has to be dealt with, it is for the duration of the world. It is a new weapon this Air Service, of immense and far-reaching possibilities, and even now, though it has been tinkered, it has proved a considerable success, and a great adjunct to the Navy and our military forces. Reading through the Report of the Air Committee, who inquired into the Air Service, I find it difficult to draw the line between the Naval Air Service and the Royal Flying Corps. The Committee of Inquiry was set up some- where in April and here we are in December; the Committee has accomplished something certainly, but all the good arising from that Committee was finished and done with the moment Mr. Tennant got up from that bench and granted the appointment of the Committee. The moment the higher command heard that there was going to be an inquiry, the work was done; and they knew perfectly well that there would have to be drastic I changes.
I dealt with the first Report in this House at considerable length, because it was a Report on a particular subject which brought that Committee into being. ! The present Report is made more on the technical side, that of construction, than on the side of general administration of the service. In the previous Report they dealt with the particular case of the accident at Montrose, and the Committee said that the facts as stated by myself were wrong; in fact, that it was a gross misstatement upon which my charge was based. Between the time of that Report and the present, there were published documents which I needed to substantiate my statement. When they came to my hands, I rose from my seat in this House, and I read the statement they contained, that the accident in question was due to the gross negligence of the authorities, a statement which is in absolute contradistinction to the findings of the Air Committee. Five or six months afterwards they bring out the present Report in which there is no reference whatsoever to the discovery of these documents, which so 1753 completely changed the whole character of their findings. At the end of the Report there is a memorandum which I would like specially to mention: It is signed by two gentlemen, one Mr. J. H. Butcher, a Member of this House, and Mr. Charles Bright. These two gentlemen express their dissent "from that part of the final Report which states," etc., etc., "dealing with the case of Montrose." The rest of the Report deals with the questions raised by myself and others, and I really think I am justified in occupying the time of the House in holding the brief for the critics, who have been so very shabbily treated. Those critics came forward with the very best intentions, and with the interests of their country at heart, above all things, and how were they treated? They were treated—as many Members of this House may have witnessed if they crossed the passage to the Committee Room—as men on their defence against some charge rather than as English gentlemen who had come forward to try and get made efficient what was a very inefficient force at that time.
The Committee admit that what the witnesses said had a very great deal of truth in it, and the figures which are given as to the number of aeroplanes we had at the outbreak of the War show what wo were able to do at that period, and for that condition of things they blame the administration, but say "it would Be unfair to hold the heads of the Royal Flying Corps responsible." I beg to differ from the Committee. If I were in command of the Royal Flying Corps, and I wanted something which I thought necessary in the interests of the country, I should say "I have been chosen for this command, and I am the best judge of what is wanted, and either I have it or I do not." The result of the inquiry has been a finding of unreadiness against the Royal Flying Corps, and the Committee themselves say that the officers in supreme command were, in their way, responsible; but they go on to say that all the witnesses agreed that a great improvement in efficiency had taken place, and attributed it to them. I am sure that the members of the Air Service are all aware of the very considerable improvement that has taken place and which began when the Committee of Inquiry was grantee?. I do not want to dwell at any length on this Report. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear!"] I quite understand the hon. Member, but he must remem- 1754 ber that to a certain extent this is a very serious thing for me. I brought very grave charges in this House and outside against the administration and the command of the Royal Flying Corps, and this is the answer; this is rea[...]y the finding of the Court. It is very difficult for hon. Members to find time to read it, and so I think that is all the more reason why I, with my inside knowledge, should point out certain parts of this Report to them. One of the most grave charges was the stopping of the building of high-power engines. The Report says, first of all, that General Henderson admitted that he had stopped them; that he had stopped private firms building, and also stopped the engines being built in the factories. In one paragraph they say he was right in doing that; in another paragraph they suggest that he was well advised in stopping the Royal Factory aircraft engines and that he was perfectly right. Anyone who has had experience of the particular engine referred to, which has caused so much loss of life, will understand that he was quite right in stopping the building of it.
Without going any further into this Report, I would say, after having read it through very carefully, that it is a very neat packet of political whitewash. They find the senior commands guilty practically of every charge that was charged. They find them guilty, after thirteen months of war, of having no Flying School for training pilots in this country. They say it is very regrettable, that it ought to have been done, but that no blame can be attached to anybody for not doing it. The way in which everybody is forgiven for unforgivable sins in the conduct of this War almost makes one think that we condone inefficiency. Here, again, they have eventually recommended that pilots should be trained in France, and that is after thirty months of war. When I came back from France, in December, 1914, I put out a plan for the training of pilots in France. From December, 1914, by recommendations, day after day and week after week, and by constant agitation—if you like— in this House, I have endeavoured to persuade the authorities to start a school in France. There was no excuse for them not doing that and thus training the pilots in suitable atmospheric conditions. This was urged away back in December, 1914, and yet, two years after, in December, 1916, it is decided that something has got to be done. I consider that when a man 1755 knows that this sort of thing is going on he is doing a public service by bringing it forward. It is quite useless and fatuous to suggest that because a man does this sort of thing he is not performing the best service to his country. I do not wish any word I am saying to be construed in any way as in the nature of an attack on the present Government. I want, if I can, to give them my whole-hearted support; I want nothing of them, so I can speak quite frankly. But I do ask them not to continue with tinkering and muddling schemes for aircraft. Perhaps Members may not believe it. and may think I am stretching a point, when I say that if we are going on for another twelve months, this War will be decided one way or the other in the air. I cannot understand why hon. Members lack the imagination to see, when we have a stalemate on land, and the position on the sea is such as it is, that the only element left to fight in is the air. If one-half or one-quarter of the money that has been spent on other forms of warfare, and if one-quarter of the energy that has been expended, had been devoted to aviation, the War would have presented a very different aspect to-day. We tinkered with tanks for two years, and when we had got sixty of them we were so proud of the result that we sent them over to France and disclosed this new method of warfare to the enemy. We ought never to have gone to France until we had 600, and the result is that the Germans have got to windward with us on the tanks.
I repeat to the House: I have said it until I am sick, and I am sure the House must be sick, also, that if we do not take this air problem seriously, and if we continue to tinker with it, then it will not only be what is going to happen in this War, but what will happen in the future. I am perfectly certain it will be harder to get half a crown off the Front Bench for an aeroplane six months after the War is over than to get a million pounds to-day, because at present popular opinion is behind them. It will not be so then, and if by then we have not a great Air Service, created during the stress of this War, we shall never create it in the days of peace. And if we have not a great Air Service in the days to come, our Navy will be worse than useless. I suggest to the House that within two years of the termination of this War, whatever enemy cares to expend one-twentieth part of what the German Navy cost the German people in submarines, our 1756 boasted isolation will be absoluely gone. We have controlled the surface of the sea, but we shall control it no longer. After this War the submarine, which is so great in defence and so difficult to check, will alter the whole aspect of things. The only way of maintaining our island isolation in the future is by having the complete and absolute supremacy of the air. That is going to be a very expensive proposition. If, owing to the foresight of our forefathers, we have inherited the supremacy of the sea, then it is our duty to our children to leave to them the supremacy of the air.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
The House—and the hon. Members—will forgive me, I am sure, if I do not reply to the speech which has just been delivered by the hon. Member for East Herts (Mr. Billing), in so far as it dealt with the naval and the Royal Flying Corps. I think the House will realise that most of his speech, which was not a direct denial of the allegations in the Air Committee's Report, was clearly a repetition of the remarks which he has pressed upon this House more than once. Before I come to deal with the main points of this discussion to-night, namely the question of held punishment No. 1, I should like to deal with two, if I may call them so, subsidiary points, which have been raised, the one by the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. J. Mason) and the other by the hon. and gallant Gentleman for Bath (Major Sir C. Hunter). The point which the hon. Member for Windsor brought before the House appears to me on the face of it, to be very useful. As I understand it the present application form for a commission does not leave a space for the applicant to fill in what occupation he pursues in civil life. It does seem to me to be a reasonable request that I should ask those responsible at. the War Office to consider whether in the interests of the Army, and the men themselves, we should not have this little alteration made to the form.
In regard to the second subsidiary point raised by the hon. and gallant Gentleman the Member for Bath, I can assure him that I quite understand the spirit in which he raises this subject. I know it is not in any way to embarrass the Government, nor to embarrass the generals who are in command in the field. He was, I think, the every first in this House to raise this question of the thieving and looting of the goods, chattels, and effects of soldiers 1757 who have been wounded and could not, therefore, look after their goods, or who have been killed. It has, I believe, been brought to my hon. and gallant Friend's personal knowledge that this matter has caused a great deal of natural disquiet all over the country. I think he will be pleased to know that only this last week we had a very long letter from General Sir Douglas Haig, who himself has taken a very deep interest in this question, and I assure the hon. and gallant Member that from this letter I gather that everything which can be done is being done at the present time to deal with this matter. One can easily see that circumstances of this sort touch the finest instinct and the most natural sentiments of the people of this country who have got those nearest and dearest to them at the front. Consequently I am perfectly certain that whatever can be done—we have the assurance of the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief— will be done by all those concerned.
But I should like in the interest of the great, the very great, majority of the Army to point out that while it may be, human nature being what it is, and this Army being the most gigantic Army that this country has ever placed in the field, with all sorts of troops and all conditions of men—I am perfectly certain more than 99 per cent. are the very best blood of the country, and the finest type of men— when we have an Army of this magnitude, it is not surprising to learn that a few men are there whose past records would not lead one to expect them to leave anything alone that does not belong to them. While that may be so, I think hon. Members should be reminded of this fact: that the greater amount of goods belonging to soldiers in war who are wounded in battle are lost, firstly, because there is a good deal of rifling done by the enemy, and secondly, when a man is killed by shell fire, although we report his death as instantaneous, what unfortunately occurs is that usually the man and everything upon him is blown into bits and scattered all over the place, and no trace of himself or any of his goods or chattels can be found. Then, again, there is a tremendous lot of things lost in the mud. It is a strange thing, but the mud conditions are extraordinary; consequently the losses by this abnormality of nature is also a very strong factor in the general accumulation of losses. There is another 1758 very sad point. There is what is called No-man's Land. When a man falls there his body is lost, and consequently every article of intrinsic value which he might have, and which is of double value to those whom he leaves behind, is lost with him. While, as I have said, there may be a certain amount of thieving and looting, I suggest to the House that it can for the greater part be accounted for by the considerations which I have mentioned. I now come to what I really think was the gravamen of this charge against the War Office by all those who have taken part in this discussion. The gravamen is, first of all, the existence and, secondly, the cruelty of the punishment which has been called—and, as was pointed out the other day, because it is an unjust appeal to sacred associations—wrongly called, crucifixion.
§ Mr. MORRELL
My hon. Friend does not surely suggest that it is not known as crucifixion? He knows as well as we do that it is known in the rank and file of the Army as crucifixion.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I cannot help that. I am not—unfortunately for me and fortunately for the country—a soldier myself, but I have taken great pains to find out the facts from men who have spent all their lives in the Army, and field punishment, from its existence until a recent time has never been known but as field punishment No. 1. This word "crucifixion" has been used and used frequently.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
We know the matter has sacred associations. It means a man with his arms stretched out on a piece of board, and his feet resting off the ground. That is what we understand by crucifixion. That is what the man in the street understands by crucifixion. That is what by sacred tradition and otherwise we have been led to understand was crucifixion. I defy a single critic of the Government to come forward and say that a single instance of that kind of crucifixion has taken place up to the present. If so, let him bring it before the House. The hon. Member for Burnley (Mr. Morrell) has asked me to give an assurance that what I did say at some length in answer to a question would not be in the nature of an instruction but in the 1759 nature of law. It is probably not new to him, but it may be to others, that we ourselves in the House of Commons, or our predecessors, are responsible for the nature of the punishment. The punishments have been for years past on the records of this House and in the Army Estimates. Men might very well have talked about the justice or injustice of the matter during peace time. I defy any man on that side of the House to produce a single Debate in the House of Commons where the gravity or injustice of this particular punishment was ever brought before the notice of the House.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
We are now in the very throes of a death struggle, and very rare cases are brought forward. Even the hon. Member for Burnley could not produce more than three.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
I am assured that not a single case can be produced where, as a result of field punishment No. 1, death or even illness ensued. The hon. Member for Burnley may be assured that this standardisation of punishment will be proceeded with. I think I can guarantee that there will be no stretching the hands out. I think that is going a long way. If this punishment is continued—and my advisers tell me it is absolutely necessary that it should be continued—I think I can safely say there will be such modifications as will, I think, satisfy the critics who have spoken to-night in the Debate. I do not go any further than that, but I know a general order will be given. That punishment is not inflicted, I would remind my hon. Friends, except in cases of absolute necessity. Those who order it are as kind-hearted men as the hon. Member for Burnley. They do not want to see a human being put under an irksome indignity. But the conditions of war are stern conditions, and it might often happen that a man, if he thought he was going to get two years' imprisonment, instead of passing two or three nights more in the trenches, would willingly take the two years.
§ Mr. BILLING
Will the hon. Gentleman give his assurance that it will stop in England? If I bring any case forward of it happening in England will he have it inquired into?
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
My recollection of my answer to a supplementary question was that that punishment had not been used in England. I made further inquiries after the Debate the other night, and learnt that, immediately on the outbreak of war, a letter was written saying that that punishment was not under any consideration, to be used in this country, and that- letter is now on the files of the War Office. The punishment that is used in this country is field punishment No. 2, which is entirely different. It is a punishment by means of which the soldier is tied by ropes or strings, or whatever it may be, but he is not attached. Field punishment No. 1 is when you tie him by ropes and attach him by ropes. That is the distinction. As I said the other day, in the stern conditions of war, when you deal with men—thank God, these cases are very few—on account of carelessness, negligence, or cowardice or other vice in the field, you have to deal with these men by the quickest and most effective method in order to encourage the others and to stimulate a sense of shame in the men themselves, and I know this punishment has had more effect than any other punishment could possibly have, because they know it is a disagreeable and irksome thing, and they must recognise that that punishment is given for very grave offences, often in the front line. There is no alternative except the death penalty, and I ask the House of Commons if it got the alternative which it: would have You cannot afford to take away from the firing line three, four or five men in order to guard one recalcitrant soldier, when the taking away of three, four or five men, or even two men, might mean breaking the whole of the line. It is a preposterous contention. Then my hon. Friend made some appeal like this to me: "If my hon. Friend cannot get rid of this punishment at the present, will he see that that punishment is not given except for grave offences V I think I apprehend rightly what he meant. It is an extraordinary thing that there again the House of Commons is responsible for that, because it has been laid down in the Army Act that this punishment can be given for any offence, and now there is an out- 1761 cry that young subalterns, colonels, and so on, are fire-eating men who are anxious to continue this punishment. But it is due to the House of Commons that when a man, for any trivial offence you like, is made to appear before his commanding officer, he is asked, "Will you be tried by me or by court-martial?" He knows full well that if he elects to be tried by his commanding officer for any of these small offences he may get that punishment. On the other hand, the court-martial does not often give that punishment. It is very often penal servitude or a long term of imprisonment. It is very rare, indeed, to find field punishment given by a court-martial.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
All the punishments of that sort of which I am aware were given by commanding officers. The men know perfectly well what they are likely to get for certain offences. That is how the case stands. In view of these facts, I do not see why the Army should be blamed at the present moment. I think the blame, if it is to be apportioned rightly for this sentence, and for the fact that it can be given in connection with any offence is due, first of all, to the man himself, who elects to be tried that way; and secondly, to the House of Commons, and not to the Army. With regard to the suggestion dealing with the inequality of sentences, I do not know why it should require a debate dealing with Army affairs to bring to the House of Commons what is a well-known fact, namely, that the inequality of sentences depends upon the inequality of human nature. Very often a magistrate at one Court in London will give six months, while another magistrate at another Court will give a fortnight for the same kind of offence. It is the same in the Army. Human nature in the Army is the human nature one finds every day in the Police Courts of London, and if my hon. Friend seems to think that any young subaltern can give any punishment he likes, that I would say is also preposterous. The greatest care is taken in having the sentences reviewed.
§ Mr. MORRELL
I did not say "young subalterns." What I did say was that, as the Army is now, an untried, inexperienced man may be president of a court-martial or may be a commanding officer.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
My hon. Friend would like to lead me into the question of the history and jurisdiction of these men—
§ Mr. BILLING
I was guilty of suggesting that it was any captain. Am I not right in saying so? The point is that the prisoner can either be tried by his commanding officer as a captain or go before a court-martial.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
There is no doubt that the criticisms were meant to belittle the way in which they were acting, and it was urged that we gave this power of life and death to young men quite incompetent to deal with it.
§ Mr. MACPHERSON
The acting commanding officer of the battalion has that power, and no one will persuade me that there is any less chance of fair treatment when this power is given to a man of the rank of captain when the commanding officer is away, and I would sooner trust my life and treatment to him than I would to a great many hon. Members of this House. My hon. Friend asks for an assurance that this punishment will be carefully regulated and supervised. I have already told him that in one ease we made nine different inquiries. All the court-martials are conducted by trained men, and everything that is possible in humanity, so far as the stern conditions of warfare allow, is being done, and has been done during the whole of this War. I do not think you can find a single man who has been court-martialled who says that he has been treated badly. I have read many accounts of the statements made by prisoners, and I have never once come across a case in which the man says he has not been fairly treated or that justice has not been done to him. I appeal to hon. Members to give the Army in the field a chance. You force them to make many inquiries by all sorts of questions in this House. You are forcing these men in the field to do things which you yourselves ought to have dealt with in peace time, and I say that that is grossly unfair. I do not object to any amount of questions, and unofficially I have tried to do my best in this matter, but when a great struggle is going on I think we ought to be as lenient as possible with the men in the field. Hon Members 1763 would not be satisfied with my replies unless I produced evidence from the Commander-in-Chief, who has to consult other commanders. Reports have to be made, and I can imagine those reports would take a soldier twice as long to write as it would take men of our qualifications in civilian life. Consequently, you must take cognisance of all these facts. However anxious all hon. Members who have spoken to-night may be to see that justice is done, I hope they will hesitate in future to put questions unless they have a very strong case to bring forward, and unless they are matters of the highest importance.