Other formats

    TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Prisoners of War

II: Civilians in Europe

II: Civilians in Europe

It is not known how many New Zealand civilians were on the Continent at the outbreak of war, either in Germany or in countries likely to come under German control. A good many were able to leave before the invasion of Poland, but some chose to stay even after the German entry into the Low Countries and France. Their position became officially known only as inquiries concerning them reached the Government in New Zealand or the High Commissioner's Office in London. Of the numerous inquiries some sixty related to people who had been born in New Zealand or who had acquired New Zealand citizenship. Most of them were people living in the islands of Jersey and Guernsey. But there were nurses, teachers, evangelists, and art students temporarily working in France and Holland, as well as others who had settled there. There were also smaller numbers in Poland, Denmark, and in Germany itself.

No immediate wholesale rounding up of British civilians took place in Germany or Poland, and only a few hundred who might constitute a danger if left at liberty were interned up to the end of October 1939. Some of those seeking repatriation were able to make their way to England after hostilities had begun.1 For those who had not arrived in England the usual practice was to initiate a ‘whereabouts and welfare’ inquiry2 through the Protecting Power. This was a lengthy process, the inquiry going through the British Foreign Office to the United States Embassy in Berlin and so eventually to the locality where the person was living. Often news would not be received for some months, especially if the person was one of those not interned.

For the latter the most urgent problem was financial assistance. Many were living on pensions or other income derived from England or New Zealand. When these payments ceased, these people, especially those who were unable to earn a living locally on account of their age or their nationality, were almost destitute. To relieve urgent distress in such cases as came to their notice, the

1 The same applied to German nationals in England. Only a comparatively small number were immediately interned, and up till April 1940 small parties of them were returning to Germany through Belgium and Holland.

2 The phrase used by the United States Embassy in Berlin. Inquiries were also made through the International Red Cross Committee.

page 7 United States Embassy in Berlin made small advances, which the British Government, and later the New Zealand Government, undertook to refund. Through the same channel relatives and friends in England or New Zealand could send remittances (limited by Trading with the Enemy legislation to £10 sterling a month) on application to the Trading with the Enemy Branch in the United Kingdom or to the United States Consul in Wellington. Beyond the arrangement of financial assistance, little could be done except to open the way for some direct communication with relatives. In December 1939 it became possible to send 25-word family messages through the International Red Cross Committee.1

1 The scheme had been first used by the International Red Cross Committee in the Spanish Civil War. The first messages from Germany were sent in December 1939 and the first from the United Kingdom in February 1940.

page break
Colour map diagram showing location of prisoner of war Internment Camps

Prisoner-of-War and Internment Camps in Germany 1939-42

For those interned, not only was communication much simpler2 but relief in kind, including contributions from relatives, could be sent by New Zealand House in London through the British Red Cross3 in much the same way as for prisoners of war.

2 It was practically the same as that for prisoners of war.

3 For the sake of brevity and the avoidance of confusion with other war organisations, the War Organisation of the British Red Cross and the Order of St. John of Jerusalem is henceforward referred to in the text as the British Red Cross, the abbreviation adopted in the discussions of the Imperial Prisoners of War Committee.