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Friday, 7 May 1915

Senator PEARCE (Western Australia) (Minister of Defence) .- The Leader of the Opposition need make no apology for having brought this matter before the Senate. He mentioned it to me last night, and I think the facts that he has brought forward to-day will provide us with the connected story in a much better form than would the correspondence. All that the Department knows about the matter is that it was first raised by Mr. Burns upon a question in another place. After that question had been; asked, Colonel Holmes, who was then at Rabaul, was called upon for a report, a copy of the question being transmitted to him by wire. The following is the text of the telegram which was despatched to the Administrator on the 2Sth December last year -

Represented in Parliament that two members Expeditionary Force on duty Rabaul purchased two pairs pyjamas from local storekeeper, and found in each pair a note showing that pyjamas had been donated to Bed Cross League for men serving at front. Minister desires inquiries made how these articles got into hands of traders and report by wire.

I may say that the question put by Mr. Burns in another place did not allege that the pyjamas were bought at the dry canteen, but at the store.

Senator Millen - That is explainable by the fact that the report referred to them as having been purchased at the store.

Senator PEARCE - I have here the report of Colonel Holmes, which had apparently been drafted before our inquiry reached him, because it commences -

My attention has been drawn to a paragraph which appeared in a Sydney newspaper, the Sun, dated 7th December, alleging that certain garments which were forwarded by a Bed Cross Society in Australia for the use of hospital patients had been purchased at the English store at Rabaul by a man of the Force under my command. I immediately caused inquiries to be made into the matter, and find that the report in question has no foundation whatever in fact. The man referred to is Private R. B. Campbell, and ho is writing the following letter to the newspaper to correct the false report.

Then follows the letter which has been quoted by Senator Millen. Colonel Holmes thus reported that Private Camp- bell was writing that letter to the newspapers. The Colonel then proceeds -

Certain parcels of goods were received from the Red Cross Society, and went straight into the possession of the principal medical officer at the hospital, and have been used exclusively for the purpose for which they were sent.

None of these articles were broached on the voyage or before unloading. It may be that a. man who had received these whilst a patient in the hospital afterwards disposed of them, but I have been unable to ascertain whether this is so. Certainly the report as to the pyjamas having been purchased in an English store in Rabaul is quite wrong, as there is no English store in existence here, withthe exception of the Government Store under the control of my Supply Officer, and at this store nothing whatever is sold to the troops, and no pyjamas whatever have at any time been stored there.

I consider the report as published a serious reflection upon the honour of those under my command, and is also a damper on the efforts of those good ladies who are doing so much at home for the comfort of the troops on service. It is to be regretted that respectable newspapers should publish statements of this kind before they have first established their facts. I have no hesitation in saying that the' accusation is entirely false. * 'As' Parliament had adjourned when that reply was received, a copy of it was for warded to Mr.. Burns on the 27th February last. Now, anybody reading that reply would come to the conclusion that it constituted a complete rebuttal of the charges that had been made. Nobody would ever dream that an officer of Colonel Holmes' standing would deliberately say that Private Campbell was writing that letter to the press unless he had good reason for saying so. Yet we now have put before us the startling statement that Campbell denies ever having written such a letter to the Sun, and the allegation of the Sun that it has never received such a communication. I shall have a searching inquiry made into these statements. Colonel Holmes should be able to produce the letter, or, at any rate, the authority that he had for making the statement which he did. Both Colonel Holmes and Private Campbell are now in Sydney, so . that they are readily accessible. We shall do all that is possible to ascertaiu who is telling the truth in this matter. In regard to the statement that Campbell waspacked away in a transport - which seemsto imply that he was got out of the road - I say unhesitatingly that that also warrants inquiry, with a view to determiningwhether he was sent away at that time, and, if so, why. Of course, in all the ships despatched to the various islands, soldiers were sent, and it may be that the unit to which Campbell was attached wasone of those which were sent away.

Senator Millen - That can be easily determined by ascertaining whether the orders given to Campbell varied from those given to other men.

Senator PEARCE - Exactly. It can be very easily determined. I can assure the Senate that I shall ask Senator Millen to supply me with a proof of his remarks, and I shall then have an inquiry instituted into this matter.

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