HC Deb 20 May 1942 vol 380 cc205-6
2. Sir William Davison

asked the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs the date of the latest report he has received with regard to the British women and children who were transferred from internment at Besancon to Vittel; the total numbers now interned at Vittel; the nature of the accommodation provided; whether he is aware that owing to the conditions which existed at Besancon over 700 British women and children died; what representations have been made to the German Government through the Protecting Power, the International Red Cross, or otherwise, on the matter; and what reply has been received?

The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)

The latest report in my possession is on a visit paid to the camp on 15th December, 1941, by the delegate of the War Prisoners Aid of the Young Men's Christian Association. The numbers interned, according to the latest information, are 1,350 women, 11 children and 120 men over 60. All information so far received indicates that conditions at this camp are satisfactory. The accommodation consists of three good hotels, with their original furnishings, a chapel, and a casino used as a school. The grounds are reported to include tennis courts, flower gardens and playing fields. According to information received from the Protecting Power and believed to be reliable, 24 deaths occurred at the camp at Besancon between the 6th December, 1940, and the 10th June, 1941, when the internees were transferred to Vittel. Repeated representations were made to the German authorities with a view to obtaining permission for a representative of the Protecting Power to visit the camp, but no visit was allowed until April, 1941.

Sir W. Davison

Why was no information given to the public of the indescribable sufferings of these 3,000 or 4,000 British women and children who were locked in trains at the Gare de l'Est for many hours before their 18-hour journey? Can anything be done to secure that such a terrible thing can never happen again?

Mr. Eden

As regards the details, I should like to check them up. It is clear that conditions were unsatisfactory, but now I am glad to say these people have been moved to a better camp.