Freedom of Information officers working at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) are not all tied up deviously looking for reasons to deny journalists disclosure to sensitive documents about the war in Iraq or the combat readiness of Prince Harry. A glance at the request log published by the department for the last month shows that most enquiries are from historians, researchers or members of the public trying to trace information about their ancestors.
The questions and issues raised by these requests are sometimes more interesting than the answers. For example, the answer to the question why did Prince William wear a sash at the Sovereign's Parade in December 2006 leads to all kinds of speculation. Could Prince William have been sporting it as a secret sign to Kate Middleton that it was all over between them? Or was it perhaps formal recognition by the army that as second in line to the throne William had absolutely no chance of joining his brother in Iraq? The truth, should it ever be disclosed, is probably much more mundane.
Of the 63 requests made under the Freedom of Information Act to the MOD in April, many are made in the hope of discovering more about British military history. Requests for information regarding the activities of HMS Zulu from 1973 to 1977 or the role of HMS Lancaster in the Dunkirk evacuation of 1940 will be of special interest to historians.
Others are enquiries from families looking for official service records of dead servicemen. Then there are more prosaic enquiries from businesses seeking information that might give them a commercial advantage over their rivals when tendering for MoD work. The answer to the request "Could you provide me with the [names of ] companies that currently supply balmorals to the Highland Regiments in the British Army? …