HC Deb 01 February 1944 vol 396 cc1108-10

The following Question stood on the Order Paper in the name of Mr. PARKER:

3. To ask the Secretary of State for War what evidence he has of brutality done by our own men in German prison camps to fellow prisoners; and whether he will make quite clear that effective disciplinary measures will be taken against such men on their return.

Mr. Shinwell

On a point of Order. As regards this Question I observe that the hon. Member in whose name it stands is not present, but the Question contains a very serious allegation about our prisoners of war in Germany. As the Question cannot be answered orally, now, is it not desirable that an opportunity should be afforded of enabling the hon. Member to ask the Question in the House later so that supplementary questions can be put to my right hon. Friend, in order to dispose of this very serious allegation?

Mr. Speaker

It is always open to a Minister at the end of Questions to answer Questions which are on the Order Paper but have not been asked. It depends entirely on the Minister.

Sir J. Grigg

I would be very glad to read out this answer at the end of Questions if that is desired by the House.


Sir J. Grigg

In spite of the mental strain caused by long captivity I am glad to say that only three or four cases of assaults by British prisoners of war in Germany on fellow prisoners have been reported. Disciplinary action was, I understand, taken on the spot. If other cases are brought to my notice with sufficient evidence such disciplinary action as is called for will be taken when the men return to this country.

12 and 13. Mr. Hutchinson

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) how many British prisoners of war are known to have been prisoners in Campo P.G. 154; in how many cases has further news of these prisoners been received; and in how many cases is it now considered that death must be presumed;

(2) whether he will endeavour to ascertain from those Italian authorities and individuals with whom this country now has relations such information as they may be able to furnish regarding British prisoners of war known to have been in Italian hands, of whom no further information has been received, particularly prisoners transferred from the camps in North Africa.

Sir J. Grigg

As I stated in my reply to my hon. and learned Friend on 18th January, no official lists of prisoners of war in this camp have ever been received. As this was a transit camp there is nothing unusual about this. Many thousands of prisoners passed through this and other transit camps in North Africa before they arrived in the normal way in camps in Italy. The knowledge the War Office has that any individual British prisoners of war were at one time or another in Camp 154 is derived from information communicated by relatives who received post cards from men in that Camp, and communicated the fact to this Department. Furthermore, we have asked relatives in an advertisement in the Red Cross magazine to send such particulars as they have of cases where men have written from one camp or another in North Africa, and have not been heard of since. The number of cases reported is certainly incomplete, but it is clear from these investigations that there are about 700. I regret that it is extremely unlikely that any of these men have survived. My hon. and learned Friend will, however, appreciate that death can only be presumed in each individual case after the most careful examination of every available fact, and this process of examination is not yet complete. For over 12 months inquiries about British prisoners of war of whom nothing has been heard since transfer from North Africa have been proceeding both through the diplomatic channel, and, more recently, through the Allied military authorities in the theatre of war. The latter are, of course, in touch with the Italian authorities in the part of Italy now occupied by the Allies. I do not, however, think that those authorities, as they are at present situated, are in a position to give much information.

Mr. Hutchinson

Can my right hon. Friend assure the House that these inquiries from Italian sources will be actively continued?

Sir J. Grigg

They will certainly be continued as long as there is even the slightest possibility of any result.