§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, before your Lordships adjourn perhaps I may be allowed to ask the Under-Secretary of State for India whether he is prepared to make any statement with regard to the Karachi troop train disaster.
§ LORD ISLINGTON
My Lords, I would remind the House that I informed the noble Viscount last week that the Secretary of State for India had instructed the Government of India to make a comprehensive Inquiry into the whole circumstances surrounding this calamity, and also to hold to strict account the officers who were found responsible. I will give the answer that has just been received from the Government of India—
" Your telegram of the 28th instant. July 30. We can now give a considered opinion, having received Report of Committee. The responsibility for diverting the ship from Bombay to Karachi rests with Brigadier-General Roe, who was acting as Q.M.G. at the time. He knew unacclimatised troops had never before been sent in large numbers by rail in the middle of summer through the Sind Desert. He knew, or should have known, that the Commander-in-Chief in December, 1915, had decided that Karachi should not be used as a port at which wounded and sick British troops should be landed and distributed to other stations, on account 1038 of danger of sending them in the hotseason through Sind. It follows that before the ' Ballarat ' was diverted to Karachi, acting Q.M.G. should have consulted Commander-in-Chief, and he did not do this. Having taken on himself responsibility he should certainly have warned Karachi military authorities to take special precautions for safety of troops during journey by rail. He did not do this. We therefore must hold him responsible, and propose to remove him from his appointment of Deputy Q.M.G.
" It is clear from evidence that the mischief began before disembarcation, many men having been seen on deck bareheaded in the sun. All the officers on board were quite inexperienced, and we cannot therefore hold them blameworthy. The G.O.C. at Karachi was responsible for all arrangements for railway journey in his capacity as Embarkation Officer. It is shown from evidence that on the day concerned he was very busy, but ho had ample warning of ' Ballarat's ' arrival. Though he knew responsible members of his staff, with one exception, were inexperienced, he took no steps nor gave any orders to see that the safety or comfort of the troops was provided for. In this we consider he failed in his duty, and we propose his removal.
" Special blame we consider attaches to the Assistant Director of Medical Services at Karachi, an officer of long experience of the Indian Medical Service. In the circumstances it was undoubtedly his duty to see that every precaution suggested by medical science for the safety of the troops was taken. He failed in our opinion, to do this. We therefore propose to remove him.
" A number of omissions and errors on the part of other officers were committed, but these were due partly to inexperience and partly to adherence to regulations intended to govern only the ordinary trooping in cold weather. We do not propose to take any action in these cases. The only excuses that can be urged in favour of the officers who are, in our opinion, responsible, are that many of the casualties were due to fact that in many cases the men left their carriages bare-headed, and that the temperature during the journey was unusually high. Nevertheless, though these facts may 1039 have increased the number of casualties, we are clear that there can be no doubt that the train left Karachi insufficiently equipped, overcrowded, and without experienced officers, either medical or combatant. We place for these reasons the responsibility on Brigadier-General Roe, on the G.O.C., and on the Senior Medical Officer at Karachi. All that was possible seems to have been done by the local authorities beyond Karachi throughout the journey."
I may add that we have communicated with the Government of India instructing them to formulate definite and explicit regulations for all troops arriving in India who are unacquainted with the climatic conditions, and to see that those regulations are strictly adhered to in order to prevent trouble of this character in the future.
My Lords, I gathered from the noble Lord's reply that there had been an absence of preparation for trooping in a season when trooping never takes place in India, and that no regulations were issued from headquarters for trooping, whether the disembarcation was to take place at Bombay or Karachi. Unquestionably it had better have taken place at Bombay; but in either case it was happening in a season when it is quite unusual to have trooping in India. I could not gather from the noble Lord whether amongst these unfortunate men who died there were any wounded or invalids, or whether it was merely the return of men no longer required in Mesopotamia.
§ LORD ISLINGTON
No; these were drafts coming out from England to replenish the Territorial regiments.
Then my remarks apply to a greater extent, because the whole system of drafting to India is laid down upon a carefully arranged plan for the cold weather. There is an interesting point which perhaps I might be allowed to notice. When I was at Bombay the Commander-in-Chief at that time told me "I am going to have all the drafts out of the troop ships taken up into the Deccan, and I am going to train them with trained troops. The doctors tell me they will get sunstroke but you will see they will not." Well, he did that for two years, and I think in the course of that time he had three 1040 cases of sunstroke but no deaths amongst the whole of the European troops. I asked him the reason, and he said "It was simple. I sent them out after they had had their breakfast and after the sun had got above the line of the eyes." He was a very practical man.
It seems to me that here there has been either a want of practical acquaintance with trooping or else an entire indifference to the fact that the trooping was taking place at a time of the year when I should think it had hardly ever taken place before. I would only further remark that the responsibility for the change from Bombay to Karachi must, I think, have rested with an officer who had no experience of Sind, because it is perfectly well known by the Bombay Government that in the hot season in Sind, amongst the very small European staff there, it is almost a certainty that you will have one death every year from heat apoplexy; and in the trains bringing down natives, if they are at all over-crowded, you will occasionally pick out a dead man from heat apoplexy. Here these unfortunate men were sent in the worst season along the valley of the Indus where the humidity is very great and the heat of the sun intense. It seems to me that the fault is not only that of the General Officer Commanding and of the medical officer at Karachi, but that the office of the Commander-in-Chief ignored altogether the change of practice from trooping in the cold weather to trooping in the hot weather. Therefore in my opinion the highest officials in the Government of India are almost, if not quite, as responsible as the Quartermaster-General.
§ VISCOUNT MIDLETON
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Lord the Under-Secretary for his information. But the effect left on the minds of your Lordships will be that owing to the large number of officers taken away from India for various Expeditions there does not seem to be available sufficient experience in the various commands. It may be impossible to replace all the officers in the various commands, but I should like the noble Lord to give us this assurance, both with regard to the experience in this particular trouble and in the Mesopotamian Expedition, that the Secretary of State will see that the highest military posts are sufficiently equipped with officers of experience to meet the enormous work which is now falling upon them.
§ LORD ISLINGTON
My Lords, with regard to the point raised by Lord Harris, I would repeat what I read out in the telegram, that the Deputy-Quartermaster-General, an officer of high rank and responsibility on the Headquarters Staff, was blamed by the Government of India and has been removed from his post. As regards the question of the noble Viscount, I will certainly refer it to the Secretary of State, and I have no doubt that he will communicate with India on the matter. I fully appreciate the importance 1042 of what the noble Viscount said, that many of the Staffs are depleted of men with Indian experience, and that there is grave danger of troubles like this one arising owing to officers on the Staff not being conversant with the conditions of the country. I will certainly bring the point before the Secretary of State.
§ House adjourned at ten minutes before Seven o'clock, till to-morrow, a quarter past Four o'clock.