British Planning and Policy for Prisoners of War, 1939–41
When war with Germany was declared on 3 September 1939, the few British government plans for dealing with enemy civilians involved Home Office programmes for screening and the incarceration only of those who were perceived as a threat to security. This was based on the lessons learned during the First World War when wholesale internment programmes fuelled by anti-alien press campaigns and the notorious ‘spy-fever’ had led to violence and much unnecessary distress. Likewise, the War Office had earmarked only a small number of sites to be used as POW camps, as there was no expectation of large numbers being brought to Britain, and it was assumed that any fighting would take place on continental European soil. The period of the ‘phoney war’ bore out this prediction, with little or no fighting between Allied and German forces in the West and hostilities largely limited to the air and high seas. Thus in March 1940, it was reported to the House of Commons that there were no more than 257 German POWs being held in the country.1 They were supplemented by a small number of captives from the Norwegian campaign and a contingent of some 1,200 Germans, mainly paratroopers, who had been captured by the Dutch and rapidly evacuated before that country’s surrender on 15 May 1940.2
KeywordsWestern Desert Geneva Convention British Empire Labour Company British Authority
Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.