Internment camp in Liverpool, 1940

In May 1940, following Winston Churchill’s appointment as prime

minister of the war-time coalition government, a policy of mass

internment of aliens was introduced. The established categories

were extended and in total some 27,000 aliens, including Jewish

refugees, Italians, non-Jewish Germans and Austrians, were interned.

Eleanor quickly responded to the new policies, which she largely disagreed

with, and launched a barrage of questions relating to tribunals and

conditions in the camps at Sir John Anderson, the home secretary, and

other ministers. She was particularly vociferous during the adjournment

debate on refugees and other aliens which took place on 10 July 1940.

In a session lasting nearly six hours, Eleanor was one of only nineteen MPs

to speak, and besides her numerous supporters, there were a few MPs who

showed no sympathy with the plight of those interned.  What Eleanor

wanted was for the internees to be treated humanely, from the basic provision

of soap and toilet paper to books and personal musical instruments.

She pressed for the tribunal process to be speeded up and for the hardships

suffered by elderly, sick and invalid aliens to be addressed. The fact that

one German professor of chemistry had committed suicide rather than be

interned highlighted the renewed fear of incarceration experienced by

those who had escaped from Nazi Germany. Permission for MPs to visit

the internment camps came more speedily than Eleanor had anticipated,

and on 20 July 1940 she and H.Graham White, (Liberal MP for East

Birkenhead), a member of her all-party Parliamentary Committee on

Refugees, travelled up to Liverpool to Huyton to see conditions for themselves.

Internees were housed in the recently built Woolfall Heath Estate, which

was divided by an eight-metre high barbed wire fence. Conditions were

often appalling: inmates lived crowded into unfurnished houses and tents,

many sleeping on mattresses on the floor. Food was limited in quantity

and monotonous. Morale amongst inmates was understandably low

and there were instances of insanity and suicide…….(to be continued)

21st May 1940:  A British soldier guarding an internment camp for 'enemy aliens', at Huyton housing estate in Liverpool.  (Photo by Marshall/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

21st May 1940: A British soldier guarding an internment camp for ‘enemy aliens’, at Huyton housing estate in Liverpool. (Photo by Marshall/Fox Photos/Getty Images)

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