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Problems of 2 NZEF

CLAIMS FROM CIVILIANS

CLAIMS FROM CIVILIANS

The people of Egypt and the Levant soon found out that the British Army was fair game for claims for compensation arising out of alleged damage done to the person or to belongings. No doubt the troops were often careless, sometimes rough with the inhabitants, and only too easily involved in accidents. In Cairo particularly there was always a mass of MT weaving its way in and out of an anarchic jumble of civilian donkey carts and hawkers. Accidents were inevitable.

Claims from civilians were lodged first with the British headquarters, and then, if our men were concerned, were passed over to us. For a while we tried to wrestle with these ourselves; but our knowledge of Egyptians was slight, we had no idea of local values, and had to rely in any case on the help given us by the British authorities. In the end, by mutual arrangement, the British Claims Commission handled our cases entirely. We gave it authority to settle outright any claims not above a certain figure, subsequently obtaining reimbursement from us; and we engaged ourselves to give much weight to any recommendation made by the commission when bigger amounts were involved.

The commission saved us an enormous amount of work. However, in some ways we were not satisfied with its methods or recommendations. We thought that it was too kind to the Egyptians, and we had a feeling that the necessity of maintaining good political relations with Egypt sometimes weighed with it. It appeared to us that often it was we who had a claim against an Egyptian, and not the reverse. It became our habit to examine the commission's recommendations closely, often not to accept them, but to ask that they be reconsidered. Gradually relations between the commission and Headquarters became more and more strained, until a point was reached when the commission took umbrage at one of our remarks and asked for an apology. We had undoubtedly gone too far, and page 263 the apology was given; but all the same, we were never very happy about the position. However, the alternative was that we should handle the claims ourselves, which we did not want to do. The conclusion must be that we were in the wrong, and should have accepted the recommendations of the commission without cavilling at them.

In Italy the position was easier. The troops did not run foul of the inhabitants to anything like the same degree as in Egypt, and claims were less common.