The Prime Minister (Mr. Churchill): The object of giving medals, stars and ribbons is to give pride and pleasure to those who have deserved them. At the same time a distinction is something which everybody does not possess. If all have it it is of less value. There must, therefore, be heartburnings and disappointments on the border line. A medal glitters, but it also casts a shadow.
The task of drawing up regulations for such awards is one which does not admit of a perfect solution. It is not possible to satisfy everybody without running the risk of satisfying nobody. All that is possible is to give the greatest satisfaction to the greatest number and to hurt the feelings of the fewest. But that is a most difficult task and it is easy to err on one side or the other. One must be careful in the first place to avoid profusion. The tendency to expand, shall I say inflate, dilute the currency through generous motives, is very strong. When the Order of the Golden Fleece was founded its first motto was "I will have no other" ("autre n' aurai"). But this proved too austere an ordinance for the Emperors, Kings and heroes concerned, and the motto was very rapidly changed to a much less self-denying and noncommittal form, "I have accepted it" ("Je l'ai empris").
The German distinctions have usually been very lavishly bestowed. When Voltaire was invited to visit the Prussian Court he stipulated that all expenses should be paid, and that the Order of Merit should be thrown in. Both were forthcoming. So there were, before 1914, as is well known, very many German medals and orders. Nevertheless, during the last war the Germans created about 80 different crosses, medals and decorations, including various kinds for the different Duchies and Principalities, and about 20 different distinctive badges of a similar character. At the start of the 873 last war the Iron Cross was a highly prized decoration, but by 1918 it had been granted so freely that it was little valued except, I believe, by Herr Hitler, who it is alleged gave it to himself some time later. After the Armistice, the Germans, who are a most adaptive people, manufactured large numbers of Iron Crosses for sale to the French troops as souvenirs. In the present war they have already some 15 new medals and 29 new distinctive badges. They have not yet reached the stage of manufacturing them for sale to the Allies.
The French, in the last war, were wiser than the Germans, but even they were inclined to err slightly too much on the side of generosity. When, after the termination of hostilities, they instituted a war medal for the troops, they got drawn beyond the line which limited it to the armed forces. It was granted, for instance, to hospital staffs generally, and then to the police, park keepers, Customs officers and so on. The result was that, very soon after the war, it was impossible to tell whether an individual had actually fought in the real fighting zones or not. And ten years later the French found it necessary —and this also gave pleasure—under the pressure of the ex-Service men to reopen the whole question and create a distinction called the Croix du Combattant.
A similar process, though much more dignified, sedate and tardy, took place in this country after the Napoleonic wars, but it was not until 1851 that the services rendered between 1793 and 1814 by the veterans who still survived were recognised. Queen Victoria took a great interest in this, and the Duke of Richmond, who led the public agitation, was given by the grateful recipients of the long overdue awards, plate worth about 1,500 guineas. I hope that this example will encourage my hon. Friends in their zeal and activities in this matter, and that this hope may assuage any temporary dissatisfaction they may find in the announcements which I have to make.
It would have been very much easier to leave all this matter over on one side until more leisurely times have come. On the other hand, this war has now raged for 54 months. Many famous campaigns have been fought, several have been brought to a successful conclusion. Devoted, valiant service has been rendered in many parts of the world on land, on the 874 sea, in the air. Several million soldiers, sailors and airmen have been sent abroad, where they have remained for long periods, enduring severe hardships, rendering faithful service and achieving splendid results. They greatly value the distinction which a ribbon gives them.
I know of the satisfaction which has been given to our battalions of troops which have been authorised to mount the Africa Ribbon or the 1939–43 Ribbon, and I felt myself bound to try to attempt at any rate a partial solution of the problem which I could submit to His Majesty, with whom these matters rest, subject to advice. Accordingly, the Commitee on the Grant of Honours, on which all Services are represented, was directed in March last year to frame Regulations governing the grant of the Africa Star—this was to commemorate the expulsion of the enemy from the African continent—and also the 1939–43 Star, with a different ribbon, covering service in other theatres of war, including, of course, the oceans and the air. The Africa Star has already been awarded to 1,500,000 officers and men, and the latter decoration, the 1939–43 Star, to 1,600,000 officers and men, a total of 3,100,000 of our warriors in all spheres; and with the other cases that are now under consideration I am told the two ribbons together may ultimately cover nearly 4,000,000 men.
In considering the qualifications for the grant of the 1939–43 Star the question arose of what period of service would be required. There are some forms of service which are measured by time and others by the episode itself. We have adopted both conditions. Six months is taken as the qualifying period of time, but in special operations in which individual combatants would not have the opportunity of serving six months actual presence with the Forces will be sufficient. Naturally, in drawing up a list of such episodes it was necessary to consult the Dominion and Indian Governments. The final list is now complete and will be made public immediately. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Air, who will deal with any points which are raised in the Debate, will, if he thinks fit and the House desires it, be in a position to read out the list as we have so far devised it. It had been hoped that it would be published two days ago, but I am perhaps to blame for having somewhat delayed its publication. Additions can be 875 made to this list in accordance with well-informed opinion. I am very anxious that Service opinion should fix and focus on these different points, and that we can profit by it as we get to hear of it, so that one can make submissions to the Crown in respect of these matters, for this is a Royal Prerogative.
I hope that even in its present form the list may meet some of the many questions which are asked about this episodic aspect of the qualifications for the 1939–43 Star. Among the Naval Forces who served for a long time afloat and ashore in the Mediterranean, and played a vital part in the victories there by cutting off the German reinforcements, there has been, I am told, a discernible preference shown for the Africa Star as against the 1939–43 Star, and the suggestion has been made that an officer or man whose service qualifies him for either award should be permitted to choose one or the other. I am advised that such an option would be very difficult to work. It might also seem to reflect upon the 1939–43 Star if people who, on account of local associations, chose the Africa Ribbon instead of the general service ribbon, which must be considered as the primary, the senior ribbon. I am still studying this question. The same kind of question occurs again in the case of those who served both in the First and Eighth Armies, where there is an emblem. I have not finally closed the discussion of this difficult problem. I would like to see, in all these subjects, how opinion shapes. One thing is clear, however, that no one can have both stars or both ribbons, nor can they have both the two emblems, x and 8. To this last rule there is one exception. His Majesty has approved of both the Emblems I and 8 being mounted on the ribbons of General Eisenhower and General Alexander, these being the only two officers who did, in fact, command the whole of the First and Eighth Armies.
I ought not to overlook two other forms of reward of merit which have been approved. First, there is the King's Badge, about which a discussion was promised. The issue of the King's Badge is at present restricted to those invalided from the naval, military and air forces and the Merchant Navy and fishing fleets through wounds or war disablement attributable to service since 3rd September, 876 1939. The question has arisen, Should it not be extended to those discharged through disability not due to service? Against this, as the House will see, it may be urged that a considerable number of those eager to join the Fighting Forces have to be rejected on medical grounds, and it would be argued that those whose disabilities escape notice until after they had been enlisted ought not to have an advantage over those who are rejected at the outset. Under National Service all men and women in this country are doing the work which renders best service to our nation.
All forms of faithful service are honourable, but we do not propose at present to extend the King's Badge beyond those whose disabilities are attributable to their service. The matter must, however, be considered in conjunction with chevrons, about which I will say a word in a minute or two. The only ex-soldiers who will not be able shortly to wear any token of their service will be those who have not qualified for either the Africa Star or the 1939–43 Star and who were discharged for non-attributable reasons with less than one year's war-time service, and these may be eligible in due course for any awards which may be granted later in respect of military service, such as a general medal. But only those I have specified, who do not qualify for either of the stars or who were discharged for non-attributable reasons and who have less than one year's service, will not have some record of their connection with our Armed Forces, be it by chevrons or some other form.
Even greater complications would arise if men and women invalided from the Civil Defence general services, including the National Fire Service, were made eligible for the badge. There is no fixed minimum medical standard for discharge, and there are those who have been discharged on account of reductions. I can, however, announce to-day that the official chevrons for war service are to be extended to certain further Civil Defence organisations, including the Rest Centre, the Emergency Food (including the Queen's Messenger Convoy Service), the Canteen, the Emergency Information and the Mortuary Services, which have been up to the present excluded. We are also on the point of expanding the chevron 877 scheme so that some 227,000 additional members of the Women's Voluntary Services engaged in Civil Defence will also be eligible.
At this point I must explain that medals are struck at the end of wars and stars are given for particular episodes or periods during their course. I must also explain that the manufacture of medals or stars cannot possibly be undertaken during the war and therefore all that we can do is to issue ribbons.
Apart from the right to wear particular ribbons certain emblems have been approved under conditions which have been set forth in the White Paper. These emblems are a very highly-prized feature of these awards. There are the Arabic numerals 1 and 8 for service in the First and Eighth Armies, which played the main part in liberating North Africa and which are valid from the period of the Battle of El Alamein in October—.perhaps, I am not sure, from the final repulse of Rommel in the month before, I may be in error as to which. They served from that period to the complete surrender or destruction of all the German and Italian forces, upwards of 300,000 prisoners being taken, in Tunis in May. There is also the Silver Rose, which is worn as a special emlblem for the Royal Navy and Royal Air Force, with the 1939–43 Ribbon. Those emblems, of which there can only be a few, can be worn on their respective ribbons. They are undoubtedly a super-distinction and are intended to be so. It will not be physically possible to add to them indefinitely, because there is no more room on the little slip of ribbon for a multiplicity of emblems without producing a confused impression.
The question of clasps, or bars as they are sometimes called—in my opinion miscalled—on medal ribbons will not come up till after the war. Then, when all the events can be seen in their true perspective and proportion, it must be carefully considered. After the last war a large number of clasps were provisionally approved, but it was found impossible to make a general issue of them on account of the great number earned by individuals and of the vast number of persons whose claims had to be examined. This would have entailed enormous staffs at a time when, among many difficulties, the need for economy was considered to be important. I do not 878 know what will happen after this war, when, of course, we are all going to be so rich, or we hope so. The clasps can only be worn on the long ribbon—the long length of ribbon which carries a medal or a star. There is no room for them on the ordinary narrow strips of ribbon which are all we have to give at the present time. However, this whole matter will be most attentively studied, bearing in mind, of course, that a clasp for a spectacular action may connote less sacrifice and endurance and daring than long service in the submarines, or in a series of bombing sorties, or hard service in the front line, or in going to-and-fro across the oceans for months and years on end.
There is another general principle which I will venture to commend to the House. It is always easy in these matters to widen the Regulation and to admit a new class. On the other hand, it is never possible to go back and take away what has been given unless it has been given in error. There is no need for us to take any final negative decision at the present time. I thought this Debate would be one for consultation, for sensing the feelings of the country through its best exponent, the House of Commons, rather than for the arbitrary laying down of final awards. It is, however, necessary, while not taking negative decisions, to take every step with great caution and to examine carefully the consequences of other classes besides those newly benefiting.
The most difficult border line case is, of course, the anti-aircraft battery, and especially the Dover coastal batteries, which are constantly engaged with the enemy's artillery across the Straits. I have been most anxious to include these batteries in the 1939–43 ribbon. Up to the present I have found no way of doing so without opening the door, successively, first to the whole of the Ack-ack Command and, secondly, to the searchlights and predictors of all kinds, without which the guns cannot fire or cannot hit, and whose personnel were and still often are, in equal danger to that of the gunners. In the next place you would immediately come to the National Fire Service, whose casualties have been at a much heavier rate than the ack-ack batteries. And, then, what about the Police, who stood around and kept order and rendered every assistance? And what about the A.R.P. and the fireguards so often in danger and dis- 879 charging their work with so much efficiency as we can see even from our recent minor experiences? If the National Fire Service and others like them were included, how could the whole Regular Army which stood in Great Britain be excluded, or the Dominion Forces which performed here a vital strategic role? If the Regular Army were included, why should not the Home Guards be eligible, who did their work without pay at the end of long days, who wore their uniforms and played an essential part in hurling back the danger of invasion from our shores? There remain a number of other categories such as the training and maintenance personnel of the R.A.F., the bomb disposal squads, which is, with the ack-ack batteries, one of the balancing cases. In many cases personal decorations have been won on a large scale by that heroic band of men, but, at the same time, I am admitting quite frankly the difficulties which these cases have created—the difficulty of denying and the difficulty of opening the door almost to a very vast extent.
If we were to take the whole course I have indicated and open the door to class after class, as I have shown you would be asked to do and bound to do, think, in logic, this would involve throwing the 1939–43 Star and Ribbon open to an additional 12,000,000 persons and by doing this I am sure you would take away much of the distinction now attaching to the decoration. It would become so common as to be very nearly universal. I am sure the soldier, the sailor and the airman returning from prolonged active service abroad and wearing the Africa or 1939–43 Star would feel bewildered when he saw all around him 12,000,000, mostly adult, males who had not left the island but had got the same ribbon too.
Viscountess Astor (Plymouth, Sutton) Hear, hear.
The Prime Minister I am glad I carried the Noble Lady with me. I was about to remark that "bewildered" is, I think, an instance of under-statement.
But if these grants were made so widespread, could you stop at the Services themselves? Indeed, I think the civil population, the railwaymen, who bore with immense composure and unflinching fortitude the full fury of the blitz and went about their ordinary work with faithful 880 diligence and punctuality under the most trying conditions and those who continued in factories at work while the danger signals were going, would certainly have a moral claim to be considered. If danger is to be made the test, if proper and correct demeanour in the face of danger, and showing indifference to personal injury or life, if that is to be made the test, millions of civilian men and women in their small homes with nothing but the Anderson or Morrison shelters to shield them—not that I deprecate those admirable institutions—who all the time preserved so fine a spirit, they would have a claim as against the men in uniform, and there are many who have so far passed the war in districts unaffected by the blitz and have not been in action—had the honour to be in action—or come under the fire of the enemy.
I can assure the House I have given a great deal of thought to these questions which I have been interested in all my life and I have assumed the duty of giving the Committee on the Grant of Honours guidance from time to time and representing the results of their labours to His Majesty in respect to the use of his Royal Prerogative. I trust the House will see how very numerous the difficulties are, yet I do not at all repent that we have embarked on this because I know the pleasure it has given the 3,000,000 men who already wear the ribbon on their breast. As at present advised, we cannot consent to widen the 1939–43 Ribbon in order to include the whole Army or all who took part in the Battle of Britain, and we could not take any step which would lead us or drag us into such a course for the reasons I have tried to explain to the House.
The question then arises whether a third and different Ribbon for another Star should not be instituted for service in this country, whether it should not be issued to the ten or 12,000,000 persons affected. This would not detract in the same way from the distinction of the 1939–43 decoration and it would certainly be well deserved in several million cases. Well, I have asked that this should be examined and pondered over and certainly, on this and other points as I have said already, we shall be influenced by the opinions expressed and the feelings manifested in this Debate and generally endeavour to sense the feelings of the House as a whole. I have not so far been able to 881 reach any decisive conclusion myself and certainly not any negative conclusion upon the point. All the same, there are important or substantial reasons for postponing to the end of the war this award which would, of course, involve something similar for the Civil Defence in Malta, in other British countries, islands and fortresses which have been subject to attack, and there are many other complications connected with it. Therefore, I say that I remain in a state of not being at all convinced that this step would be possible or desirable.
I may say, however, that at the end of the war, when medals are struck, every one who has worn the King's uniform and served in uniformed, disciplined Services, will, I presume—I say "presume" because the matter may not rest with His Majesty's present advisers—receive a Victory Medal to commemorate this great struggle for human freedom. There will also very likely be a United Nations or Allied war medal of the widest possible application and it is upon the background of these general medals, that the Stars, the issue of which His Majesty has already approved, will shine brightly forth.