PROVISION FOR GRANTING TO HIS MAJESTY AID FOR NATIONAL DEFENCE AND SECURITY
The house resumed from Thursday, April 5, consideration in committee of a resolution to grant to His Majesty certain sums of money for the carrying out of measures consequent upon the existence of a state of war-Mr. Ilsley-Mr. Bradette in the chair.
DEPARTMENT OF NATIONAL DEFENCE
(Deputy Speaker and Chair of Committees of the Whole of the House of Commons)
Mr. D. C. ABBOTT (Parliamentary Assistant to the Minister of National Defence):
There was a certain amount of unfinished business last night arising out of yesterday's proceedings in committee, and perhaps I might be allowed to dispose of that first before further questions are submitted.
I omitted to mention in my opening remarks yesterday that the appropriation that is being asked for, for the armed services, totals 1699,235,000 for the five months period- $640,917,000 for the army services and $58,318,000 for sundry services, making the total I have mentioned.
The hon. member for Prince asked if it would be possible to give a statement of the total savings in casualties for the months of November, December, January and February, and he also wanted to know what proportion of the 11,836 N.R.M.A. men sent overseas were trained infantry. First, as to the savings in casualties, as my hon. friend will know, it is not possible for me to give exact figures as to casualties. The total casualties as reported in the newspapers are not the only source of wastage. There are also battle casualties and sickness, accidents and the like, to which I referred yesterday evening. I draw attention to the fact that in the period under review living conditions at the front were markedly adverse and coming at the end of prolonged action the normal wastage was exceptionally high. However, the officers of the department tell me that during the four months from November to February inclusive, as accurately as they can estimate it, the total savings in net wastage, that is after taking recoveries into account, have been somewhat less than 10,000; and, of the total saving in wastage, some 7,000 have been in the infantry. There have been some further savings in March, but figures on that are not compiled yet.
No, not at the moment. I remember now that my hon. friend asked for that information, and possibly I can give the figures a little later in the afternoon.
As to the state of training of those N.R.M.A. personnel, I am advised that it is extremely difficult to give specific figures as to the number of fully trained infantry who have proceeded overseas out of the N.R.M.A. personnel in Canada in October last, and that is due to the fact that a substantial number of these converted to general service prior to proceeding overseas. I made reference to that yesterday evening. Up to the last minute, changes were occasioned by absenteeism and adjustments between infantry and other corps. The best information available, however, is that approximately fifty per cent of all those proceeding overseas had completed normal infantry training, that is either through the training system or through long service in one or other of the infantry battalions-sometimes both. In other words, fifty per cent of those who proceeded would have completed the minimum of the equivalent of basic and infantry corps training. Those who were considered as fully trained infantry received the normal reconditioning and refresher training in the United Kingdom, while those who were not fully trained as infantry at the time of dispatch either received reconditioning and refresher training for service in their own arm or received the appropriate retraining as infantry. In the normal course of events a large majority of those who could not be considered as fully trained at the time of dispatch will have completed any additional training required by this time. The committee will recall that the first flight arrived about the tenth of January, and the second . sailing, about the seventeenth of January.
I am afraid I cannot answer that offhand, but I assume that would be so. However I can verify that. I think those are the two questions asked by the hon. member for Prince.
The hon. member for Lake Centre asked me to give details as to the disposition made of the absentees or deserters. I mentioned in general terms that the practice followed was so far as possible to put these men on ships and send them over to the other side, and that disciplinary action would be taken there, because of the fact that the absenteeism or desertion had been for the purpose of avoiding going overseas. If they had been subjected to courts martial or other disciplinary action here, they would have achieved their purpose. In all, seventy N.R.M.A. soldiers have been tried by courts martial on charges of absence without leave or desertion after having been warned for service abroad. One case has been dismissed, and in three cases sentence has not yet been promulgated. I have here a record of the disposition. In the other sixty-six cases-I do not know whether my hon. friend wants me to give them in detail-the penalties vary from imprisonment with hard labour for fourteen months down to detention for fifteen days. I can give the particulars if my hon. friend wants them. But I repeat that the majority of the cases have been dealt with on the other side, summarily by the commanding officer of the unit. In most cases, I am advised, the punishment has been deduction of pay for varying periods of time. After all, the purpose was to make these men soldiers.
Well, that is what I am referring to now. I say, with the exception of the seventy odd who have been tried by courts martial, the cases have been dealt with summarily in the ordinary way by the commanding officers of their units; that the disposal of most of these cases has been made op the other side, where these men have been sent. In other words the effort has been to make them into soldiers, not to put them in detention for months or a year. They went absent or deserted in order to avoid going overseas. They have been sent over in the hope that they will be made into soldiers, and I am advised that the action I have mentioned has been taken in the majority of these cases.
I want to correct one point in an answer I made to the hon. member for Lake Centre on the matter of the status of these men on embarkation. He said, as reported in Hansard, page 582:
War Appropriation-The Army
I ask the parliamentary assistant now, has the right to conversion by the N.R.M.A. men been extended beyond the confines of Canada? Has it been extended so that those who are overseas are permitted to convert and thereby take themselves outside the ambit of the order in council?
They have to convert before embarkation.
My answer is perfectly correct, but it may be misunderstood. An N.R.M.A. man may convert to general service after he is overseas, but that conversion does not avail against the 16,000 authorized by the order in council. In other words, in order to be considered as coming within the ambit of the order in council-to use my hon friend's language- they must have converted' before going on ship-board.
I do not know whether he becomes a volunteer; he becomes a general service man and is entitled to whatever status that particular man has. I suppose he becomes a volunteer; I am not too much interested in refinements of meaning.
I think that is a fine example of "refinement." But what I have in mind is this. An order in council was passed recently extending, as I understand, rehabilitation grants to all those men who were sent overseas, regardless of whether or not they convert over there or in Canada. Why has this order been changed, or why was the direction changed which was referred to by General McNaughton, that conversion could take place only prior to embarkation?