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Wednesday, 9 September 1942

Private Henry Lawrence Ruddell, at a camp somewhere in New South Wales, received a [utter from his wife on the 5th May telling him that their baby daughter was critically ill with malignant diphtheria.

Without securing Army leave, Ruddell at once headed for the child's bedside.

These facts, and the vain fight to save the child, who died several days later in hospital, Ruddell told to a district court martial at Victoria Barracks yesterday, in explanation of his absence from camp from the 5th May to the 27th July without leave.

Ruddell pleaded not guilty to a charge of desertion.

Ruddell stated that he himself had contracted the disease. He was admitted to Prince Henry Hospital on the 2nd June.

A recurrence of the disease, just when he had almost recovered, again sent bini to bed, he added. "This soldier fearlessly exposed himself to the disease in his fight to save his daughter's life", pleaded the defending officer.

Ruddell was found not guilty.

Magnanimously, the court found him not guilty. [Extension of time granted.] That case provides another instance of the wooden-headedness of those who decide who shall he paraded before courts martial, and what shall be done to them. It is obvious that a minor revolution is needed in Army administration, and I hope that the Minister will commence it to-morrow morning. A constituent of mine who served in Libya, Greece and Crete was a member of the Second Field Hygiene in the Australian Imperial Force. He is now back in Australia with a few entries on his crime sheet. He was absent without leave in Melbourne for five hours before embarkation, and was fined a small sum. He was absent without leave for two days in Alexandria after the first Libyan campaign, and was fined £3. He was court-martialled for breaking guard and attempting to strike a warrant officer, and for this he was sentenced to 56 days' detention. Upon return to Australia in March last, the unit was in South Australia for 26 days. After his application for leave had been refused, he came without leave to Melbourne for thirteen days. He then gave himself up, and was sentenced by a court martial to six months' imprisonment. Such treatment, I consider, is outrageous and violates every canon of decency. He had served 60 days when I wrote to the Minister for the Army a month ago and asked for the remission of the rest of his sentence. However, I have not received a satisfactory reply because, apparently, those in charge have little sympathy with the man. It would seem that, in the Army, penalties are imposed with ever-increasing severity for each fresh offence. If this man gets a few more convictions for being absent without leave, he will one day, no doubt, be sentenced to imprisonment for the duration of the war and six months thereafter. On a previous occasion, I told, the House of a colonel in South Australia who was affectionately known as " February ", because he never handed out less than 28 days when imposing sentence. I also spoke of the other officer at Broadmeadows in Victoria who was known as the " Mad Major ". The commanding officer in the case which I have just cited was Major Drummond, now lieutenant-colonel in charge of all field hygiene in the Second Army. He is a mean old Scotsman, who drew ls. a day batman's allowance, but never had a batman until a private was given 28 days' detention for refusing to bring him hot water at 6 o'clock in the morning in Syria when there was snow on the ground. Immediately that happened, Drummond got a batman in order to protect himself. I have been told that he was 25 days in Crete, and never slept on the ground once because private soldiers had to carry a stretcher around for him, though they had to throw away part of their own equipment in order to do so. I understand that he has suffered no ill effects from his experiences in Crete. This officer had a decided animus against my constituent and his report to the court martial was probably responsible for the harsh and grossly unfair sentence of six months' imprisonment. The next case is that of VX503R7 Gunner Charles D. Hanley, 2nd/2nd Field Regiment, Australian Imperial Force, who was courtmarti ailed in Ceylon on a charge of, " When on active service, conduct to the. prejudice of good order and military discipline in that he at Colombo on the 18th April, 1942, was found in possession of two cases of Australian beer suspected of being stolen ". The evidence at the court martial showed that a truck driven by a British private, and with Hanley in the front seat, was stopped at the customs gate. When the truck was stopped, a number of soldiers jumped out of the back of the truck and ran away. Military police arrived and took Hanley, the British driver and another British soldier who was in the truck to their office. In the back of the truck were two cases of Australian beer which undoubtedly had been stolen. At the court martial, Hanley, who had been given an excellent character reference by his commanding officer, strenuously denied that he had any knowledge of the beer, or that he had ever made any admissions of his guilt to the members of the Provost Corps who had arrested him. The evidence for the prosecution consisted of two provost noncommissioned officers. Corporal L. A. Provost, 6th Divisional Provost Corps, swore that Hanley, when arrested, admitted that he had stolen the beer, and that the " Tommies " knew nothing about it. This Hanley denied, and the two British soldiers, who every one admitted were standing within 2 yards of Hanley when being questioned, swore that they did not hear Hanley make such a statement. Under cross-examination, Corporal Provost swore that he had returned the two cases of beer to the Customs House, although he " did not know to whom they belonged ". He did not get any receipt for them, and, in reply to a further question by the defending officer, admitted that it would be quite correct to say that the beer had " just vanished ". None of these remarkable statements apparently disci-edited Corporal Provost in the eyes of the court. Corporal Whiteside, 6th Divisional Provost Corps, corroborated Corporal Provost as to Hanley's admission of guilt. Whiteside swore that notes of Hanley's statement had been taken at the time by Corporal Provost, but under cross-examination admitted that he was not sure of this, but he " had sworn to it because it was the usual thing for arresting provost non-commissioned officers to take notes ". This method of giving evidence did not discredit Corporal Whiteside in the eyes of the court either. On such disreputable evidence is a soldier, who, according to his commanding officer, had a "very good" general character, found guilty. The submission of the defending officer, who was a qualified solicitor, that Hanley had nothing to answer was lightly brushed aside by the president of the court. On the advice of the defending officer, Hanley petitioned the General Officer Commanding Australian Imperial Force, Ceylon, to have the case reviewed, but his petition was rejected. I understand that he has now lodged a petition to have the case reviewed by the Judge Advocate-General, and I ask the Minister to see that that is done without delay. In view of the widespread dissatisfaction of the Australian Imperial Force recently stationed in Ceylon with the conduct of courts martial under the presidency of Major Cochrane, I also ask that decisions of other courts martial over which that officer presided in Ceylon be scrutinized, and, if the Minister be satisfied, as I am sure he will be, that a number of them should be quashed, I ask that Major Cochrane be debarred from sitting on these vital military courts in future. The attitude of Major-General Boas regarding these courts should also be looked into. I am assured by members of the Australian Imperial Force who served in Ceylon that previously it was always believed that careful consideration was given by the divisional commanders to the findings of courts martial before they were promulgated, but that in Ceylon, under Major-General Boas, this was not done. If a divisional officer does not ensure that absolute, and impartial justice is meted out to the men under his command, it is difficult to see how he can expect them to follow him implicitly.

Overseas Australian troops are paid in the currency of the country in which they are serving, their Australian rates being converted at the current rate of exchange. In Ceylon, the rupee is valued at ls. 6d. sterling. With the 25 per cent, rate of exchange between sterling and Australian currency, that is equivalent to ls. 1Nd. in Australian currency. Whilst Australian troops were in Ceylon they were charged ls. lid. for each rupee in their paybooks, the reason given being a typically stupid army one that " the pay office does not deal in halfpennies ". No soldier ever drew only one rupee and, moreover, it would have been easy to lay down that only even numbers of rupees could be drawn. That was, in fact, the general practice. The result of this fatuous ruling was that private soldiers were mulct anything up to 2s. every pay day. A sum of 2s. may not appear much to some honorable members, but to a private soldier, in a place where every article he purchased was dear, it meant a lot. It would be easy for the Minister to have this anomaly rectified in respect of the troops who served in Ceylon, because the number of rupees each drew is entered in his pay-book. I ask the Minister to issue instructions that that be done. Stupid little pin-pricks of this kind when cumulative have a bad effect on the morale of the men.

Is the Minister aware that MajorGeneral Herring when appointed to command the 6th Division issued a verbal order to brigadiers that no man was to be recommended for a commission unless he- had the intermediate certificate? Is he aware that General Herring in another command has since reiterated his order? Will the Minister inform General Herring, who did not serve with the Australian forces in the last war, that such a ruling would have prevented brilliant soldiers from obtaining commissions in the first Australian Imperial Force? Will the Minister take steps to see that this snobbish order is cancelled?

I do not bring these matters forward lightly. I ask that they be brought to the attention of the appropriate officers and that action which will be satisfactory to the men concerned shall be taken. My belief is that numbers of matters raised in connexion with the Department of the Army are not given the attention that they deserve, and are not brought to the notice of the responsible authorities in that department. I hope that the Minister will gee that that state of affairs no longer exists, and that attention be given to these matters by some officer specifically deputed to such work. If that be done, we may hope to see the morale of the fighting forces improve.

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