Finest Hour 111, Summer 2001
Question Time is that period in the Parliamentary week where Members are allowed to ask the Prime Minister any question they wish, governed only by decorum and the judgment of the Speaker as to whether they are genuinely asking questions or (commonly) giving a speech. Churchill was a master of Question Time, and Mr. Courtenay provides examples of his wit and command.
Merchant Navy Awards
On 8Sep42 the Prime Minister was asked about awards for gallantry in the Merchant Navy. This was clearly a planted question, as a mechanism for giving information…
WSC: “Officers of the Merchant Navy, serving as such, who receive the Order of the British Empire, are appointed to the Civil Division, which is, of course, of equal status to the Military Division of the Order. It is not proposed to vary this arrangement, or to make any recommendation for the creation of further decorations. The personnel of the Merchant Navy serving under special agreement as part of the Royal Navy have hitherto been eligible for the naval gallantry awards other than the [Distinguished Service Order]. That position has now been rectified, and the DSO is available for Merchant Navy officers serving in these circumstances. The special services of the Merchant Navy generally were recognised several years ago by His Majesty’s approval of officers and men in that service being eligible, under certain circumstances, for the award of the Victoria Cross and the Distinguished Service Cross. I am glad to be able to inform the House that His Majesty has been pleased to approve the addition of the DSO to the list of decorations open for award in the Merchant Navy.”
On 22Sep43 the Prime Minister was asked several questions concerning the issue of the 1939-43 Star and the Africa Star. (Advance notice would have been given of these questions, allowing an answer to be prepared; but supplementary questions without notice could follow.) The 1939-43 Star was later modified to become 1939-45 and the bar to one person’s receiving both it and the Africa Star was revoked.
WSC: “Service in Cyprus will not qualify for the Africa Star. Malta alone of the Mediterranean islands is included in the award of this Star, by reason of its heavy action and long ordeal in combination with the operations in Africa. In the Navy the 1939-43 Star takes priority of award over the Africa Star, and no one eligible for the former will receive the latter. The reason for this is that, from the naval point of view, service in the African campaigns cannot be accepted as ranking before world-wide services performed by the Navy in other areas of operations….
“When the Africa and 1939-43 Stars are manufactured after the war, they will be given as mementos to the next-of-kin of those who have suffered death as a result of service in a theater of operations during the periods laid down. We are going to get on with the giving-out of the medals. We are not going to delay the issue of the ribbons, but the question is whether some others should come in. There are officers and men, some of whom have been fighting for three years continuously, and who, perhaps, have only a decoration for personal gallantry on their breasts. They will value it very much. We must be careful not to destroy the value of the award by making it practically universal. On the other hand, it may well be that some expansion may be permitted from the present conception. Everyone will recognise the difficulty of the problem, and how easily opinions may differ upon it. I certainly hope the House will be able to find time to discuss this, because we obviously want to make these awards correspond with the general wish and feeling of the country and of the House, which represents the country, and also to make them in a form which will be acceptable to the far more critical opinion of the Fighting Services.”