HL Deb 14 November 1918 vol 32 cc90-3

My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government a Question of which I have given private notice to my noble friend Lord Newton. Is he able to give the House any information as to the arrangements which have been made or are in contemplation for bringing back the British prisoners of war?


My Lords, arrangements have been made for the repatriation of prisoners from all the countries with which we have been recently at war. With regard to Austria, a certain number has already arrived in Italy or at. Trieste, and the Earl of Cavan has been instructed, and the Italian Government have been requested, to take all the necessary steps to secure the early repatriation of such as desire or are entitled to return. With regard to Bulgaria, all the British prisoners, with the exception of, I believe, something between forty and fifty, are already in British hands. As regards Turkey, a considerable number of prisoners have already arrived in Egypt and other districts under our control. A certain number have also been exchanged across the lines, both in Mesopotamia and in Palestine. The bulk of the British prisoners in Turkey are concentrated in the neighbourhood of Salonika, and arrangements have been made to bring them from Salonika in British vessels. In the meanwhile the authorities in Egypt have been instructed to see that everything necessary for their comfort is supplied.

As regards the prisoners in Germany, our information is that the number of prisoners who have arrived in Holland up to the present date are not believed to exceed, roughly speaking, 1,000. Our Minister at The Hague has appointed, with the approval of His Majesty's Government, a Committee consisting of the Consul-General at Rotterdam, our Military Attaché at The Hague, and General Bruce, who has himself been a prisoner in Germany, to act as a Committee charged with the welfare of our prisoners arriving in that country and their earliest possible repatriation. Extra medical supply and transport staffs are being sent out, and besides a very large stock of emergency parcels from the Central Prisoners of War Committee, 30,000 full kits and 30,000 rations for a month will be sent immediately as a first instalment. All Red Cross workers, V.A.D.'s, and medical personnel now in Holland will be retained for the present to cope with the emergency if required. Besides such Dutch ships as may be available, seven ships capable of carrying 9,000 persons have been ordered to Holland to bring back the prisoners, and three of them sailed yesterday. I may add that, independently of these arrangements, a small party is expected in England to-day or to-morrow. And I might observe, in connection with this, that the statements in the Press with regard to the arrival of British prisoners appear to be totally inaccurate.

In addition to these arrangements, arrangements are being made in order to evacuate prisoners from the Baltic, if necessary, or from Copenhagen. In connection with these measures 10,000 kits and 10,000 rations for a month are being sent, and it is hoped to effect the repatriation of prisoners east of the Elbe by neutral ships from Baltic ports. For such of our prisoners as may return via Switzerland, like orders are being given. For these prisoners it is proposed to draw on the British Army in France for supplies of food, and a large supply of clothing has been placed at the disposal of General Hanbury Williams, our representative on the spot. For any prisoner who may be returned directly across the lines in France and Belgium, instructions are being sent to expedite their passage to the Channel Ports and to do everything possible for their comfort on the way.

The whole question of moving the prisoners from the camps in Germany under the Armistice will be dealt with at an international conference which opens tomorrow at Spa, at which Major-General Sir John Adye will represent the interests of British prisoners of war for some considerable time.

All the combatant prisoners, on their arrival in England, will go to large reception camps, where it is to be hoped they will receive the heartiest of welcomes, their medical wants will be attended to, and arrangements will be made for giving them leave as soon as possible. Other arrangements are being made for the reception of the civilian prisoners. I trust and believe that, in so far as time allows, nothing will be lacking to secure that the practical gratitude of the nation shall be shown to those who have done so much and suffered so grievously in the cause of right.


My Lords, there has been a statement universally published in the Press about our prisoners in Germany having to work and being guarded by armed guards. Apparently it was official, but published without comment by the Press Bureau. It would tend to reassure the public mind if the noble Lord could say whether it is an ordinary measure of discipline, or whether it has any significance.


We are under the impression that it is, as the noble Earl describes it, only a measure of discipline of a purely temporary character. We have every reason to suppose that the German Government, so far as we know, is anxious to expedite the repatriation of prisoners.


May I take it that the term the noble Lord used of camps for prisoners means huts, and not canvas?


Oh yes, that is an arrangement for which I am not responsible; it is an arrangement for which the War Office is responsible. I understand that two large camps have been prepared, one in the neighbourhood of Hull, and the other in the neighbourhood of Dover; that all combatant prisoners will be directed to these camps upon their arrival, and that everything possible will be done for their convenience and welfare generally.


I am sure we are all very much obliged to the noble Lord; but there is one point which, probably owing to my stupidity, I did not understand. He spoke of the Turkish prisoners, and said the bulk of them were concentrated at Salonika. Will be explain whether we may hope that nearly all the British prisoners of war who were taken by the Turks are now in British hands?


I am sorry I should have misled the House. When I said Salonika I meant Smyrna. The bulk of these prisoners will be concentrated at Smyrna, and will be brought home via Italy and France as soon as possible.