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British Prisoners Of War (Repatriation)

Volume 411: debated on Tuesday 29 May 1945

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32 and 34.

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) if he is in a position to make a statement regarding British prisoners of war who are now in the sphere of the Soviet Union; how many prisoners are unaccounted for; and what was the last place and date when located;

(2) how many British and British Commonwealth released prisoners of war have now been repatriated; how many have come by air and how many by sea; and what is the estimated number to be repatriated from the European theatre of operations and where are they mostly situated.

37 and 38.

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) what steps are being taken to get in touch with the British and Dominion prisoners of war who may be outside the areas in Europe controlled by the British and American Armies;

(2) how many British and Dominion prisoners of war have so far been accounted for and how many are still unaccounted for.

41.

asked the Secretary of State for War the number of British prisoners now in camps in areas occupied by our Russian Allies; and what progress has been made in arranging their evacuation to British or U.S.A. occupied territory.

99 and 101.

asked the Secretary of State for War (1) whether he is aware that British prisoners of war in Stalag IIIA, Luckenwalde, were liberated by the Russians on 23rd April, but have been retained in the camp; that no British officer has visited the camp; that American trucks which arrived to evacuate the prisoners were sent away as permission for their release could not be obtained; and what steps he is taking to have these men repatriated;

(2) the reason for the retention of British prisoners of war released from Stalag IVB Mulhoerg by the Russians, on 23rd March; whether he is aware that no British officer from our Mission has visited the camp and that there is a shortage of food; and when these British prisoners will be repatriated.

At the beginning of this year it was estimated that there were some 180,000 British Commonwealth prisoners of war in German hands. This estimate was made for the purpose of the provision of relief supplies, and accordingly it contained an allowance for the possibility that some of those notified as missing might turn out to have been taken prisoner. As my hon. Friends are aware, the repatriation of prisoners was undertaken as soon as they were reached by the British and American Armies, and very large numbers were flown back to this country within a very few days of their release. The Soviet authorities were meanwhile evacuating to Odessa those British prisoners which they had overrun in Western Poland and Eastern Germany. In the last days of German resistance considerable numbers of British prisoners were reached by the Russians in Saxony, Bohemia and Austria. When the Soviet Forces had linked up with the American and British Forces it was clearly desirable to transfer the prisoners directly rather than to take them round by Odessa. The local Russian commanders, however, had no instructions to do this, and as they were anxious in the interests of the prisoners themselves that the transfers should be orderly they prevented the men making their own way westward. An agreement for the transfer of prisoners was reached on 22nd May and has been going on since. As a result it is unlikely that there is still any appreciable number of British prisoners in the Soviet zone except in Austria.

The overall position now is that 156,000 British Commonwealth prisoners have been repatriated, over 140,000 of them by air. About 10,000 are awaiting repatriation either in General Eisenhower's or Field Marshal Alexander's zone and about 400 in Odessa. It is known that about 8,500 are in the part of Austria controlled by the Red Army, and it is hoped that arrangements will soon be made for their transfer to the British or American Forces. There must be a number of stragglers on the Continent whose collection and repatriation will take some time, and it is therefore impossible at the moment to estimate how many prisoners cannot be accounted for. The number is not likely to be large.

Is the Secretary of State for War aware that there is considerable gratitude among all ranks of the Army and the Air Force for the steps taken by the War Office and the R.A.F. combined to get these men back?

I am very grateful to the hon. and gallant Member for saying that, but do not let us forget that great thanks are due to the American authorities.

Has the right hon. Gentleman any specific information about the two camps mentioned in Questions 99 and 101?

Speaking offhand, I think the prisoners from those camps have been returned by the direct route rather than through Odessa.

Have any inquiries been made in Yugoslavia about the airmen who baled out and have not since been heard of?

I would like notice of that question. I have not any special information about prisoners liberated in Yugoslavia.