The recruitment of non-white soldiers was held back for decades under a secret policy of quotas to ensure that no Army unit became dominated by recruits from ethnic minority backgrounds, it emerged today.
Army medical officers were instructed to make a note of all new recruits who did not have North European facial features, according to files released under the Freedom of Information Act.
Medical staff were told to secretly record details of “Asiatic or Negroid features” as part of a policy of “quota restrictions” which was regarded as so sensitive that not even ministers were told of its existence.
A briefing paper from November 1972, written for the Adjutant General of the Army and marked “Personal – in confidence”, said: “Officially, we state that we do not keep statistics of coloured soldiers.
“In fact we do have a record, resulting from a description put on the attestation paper by the medical officer of the features of the recruit eg, north European, Mediterranean, Asiatic, African or Negroid, others etc.”
Anyone identified as having non-north European facial features was designated “D factor”, which was used to restrict the number of ethnic minority personnel serving in a unit.
The papers also show that medical officers were given considerable latitude in deciding which individuals should be classified as “D factor”.
It could be extended to someone of Mediterranean appearance or even a “swarthy Frenchman”.
Files reveal that the policy began in the 1960s and was still being pursued in 1976.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence, speaking to the Independent, was unable to say exactly when the policy of quotas ended, only that “the Army is an equal opportunities employer”.
Last June, the current adjutant general, Lieutenant General Sir Alistair Irwin, told Personnel Today that the Army was trying to target people across every community.
“We need people from every part of the community to come in; they all bring their own qualities,” he said.
“We do not want to be politically correct, we want to be practical – we want a British Army that represents the population of Britain.”
He said the Army was making “endless efforts to get involved” and persuade people of different ages and ethnic back grounds to join up.