HC Deb 19 May 1944 vol 400 cc437-9
The Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs (Mr. Eden)

I deeply regret to have to tell the House that His Majesty's Government have received information from the Protecting Power that 47 officers of the Royal Air Force, and Dominion and Allied Air Forces, have been shot by the Germans after a mass escape from Stalag Luft III.

According to the information given to a representative of the Protecting Power by the German authorities in the course of a routine visit to this camp on 17th April, 76 officers had escaped from Stalag Luft III on the 25th March.

Of these 76 officers 15 had been recaptured, 14 were still at large and 47 had been shot, some whilst resisting arrest and some in the course of a new attempt to escape after capture.

His Majesty's Government are profoundly shocked at this news and have urgently requested the Protecting Power to demand from the German Government a full and immediate report of the circumstances in which these men met their death and an explanation of its failure to report the facts at once to the Protecting Power.

The names of the officers shot were furnished to the representative of the Protecting Power on the occasion of his visit and the next-of-kin have been informed.

The House will wish me to express its deepest sympathy with the relatives and to pay tribute to the courage and high sense of military duty shown by all these gallant officers.

Sir Percy Harris

Will the right hon. Gentleman make it clear that the German Government themselves are responsible for all breaches of international law?

Mr. Eden

That certainly is the position. As I have said, I have sent this telegram —it went actually some clays ago—to the Protecting Power, asking for this full investigation, and I would rather, I think, say no more until I get their reply.

Mr. Edgar Granville

I am sure the House will feel a sense of shock at the fate of these brave men. May I ask the right hon. Gentleman if he can say when the Foreign Office first heard this information, and when he made his representations to the Protecting Power? May I also ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will make the names known in the Press, and to this House, as soon as possible, in view of the great anxiety which may be caused to the relatives of many Royal Air Force officers who are in that camp at Breslau?

Mr. Eden

As regards the question of anxiety, as I have said, the next-of-kin have all been informed already, so that anybody who has not been informed, need not feel anxiety. I would like to ensure that there shall be no unnecessary anxiety, and we will certainly consider the publication of the names. As regards the time when the information was received, if my memory serves me right, I think we received it lour days ago, and the very next day we telegraphed the Protecting Power. We did not make an announcement then and there, because we wished the relatives to he informed first, and because we wished, if possible, to get the information for which I have asked the Protecting Power.

Major Sir Jocelyn Lucas

May I ask my right hon. Friend if he will try to find out the name of the commandant of the camp, and anybody responsible?

Mr. Eden

I will, if I may, ask the House to let the matter rest where it is until I get the reply from the Protecting Power.

Mr. Montague

I would like to identify the party to which I belong, with the expression of sympathy with the relatives which the Foreign Secretary has given to the House and to express the view that we are quite satisfied with the action he has taken.

Mr. Thorne

May I ask my right hon. Friend if, when he gets the report later on, he will convey its contents to the House?

Mr. Eden

Most certainly, I will give the House the information as I get it.

Mr. Granville

I am sorry to press the right hon. Gentleman on this point but most of us have constituents who have relatives and friends in this camp, and who have been very anxious about this. When the list was first published the number was five; now the right hon. Gentleman says there are 47. The point I am trying to make is that the relatives of all Royal Air Force officers in this camp are wondering whether that is the complete list, or whether we are still to expect further names.

Mr. Eden

No list of five, or any other number, was published at all. The first published statement is the statement I have just made. So far as I am aware, it contains all the facts. That list contains all the facts in the possession of His Majesty's Government.

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