Frédéric Turner author of the book "The forgotten de 39-45, The round-up of British Civilians"
I am writing about the BBC Four broadcast on the 25 March 2013 of "Wodehouse in Exile" about the internment of P.G. Wodehouse and his broadcasts from Berlin, after his early release from Tost on 21 June 1941 before he was sixty. If this film was intended to be entertainment, only loosely based on the facts, then I think it should have said so at the beginning. As a descendant of one of the men who were interned there, knowing their sufferings, and in contact with some of them still alive today, I feel compelled to recall the facts to which the programme refers.
These were facts of total war, servitude and suffering that should not be minimized nor forgotten. Several of his co-internees that I interviewed in the past strongly disapprove of Wodehouse’s behaviour after his early release. The Geneva Convention stipulated that internees should be released at the age of 60 but many prisoners at Tost were more than 70 when Wodehose was liberated, the oldest was 72 and 40 prisoners were more than 60 (see the report of the Red Cross of 18/6/1941, a few days after the liberation of Wodehouse). After his liberation, Wodehouse was welcomed by the Germans in Berlin. He stayed there in a luxury hotel and his wife joined him there from Paris. From Berlin, Wodehouse gave five short-wave radio broadcasts to America not yet at war with Germany. These broadcasts were also transmitted to Britain, a fact that Wodehouse was not aware of. Neither was he aware that his broadcasts were listened by his fellow prisoners who remained interned in Ilag VII at Tost.
I am a descendant - French - of one of the many British soldiers of WW I who stayed in France after the war, married French girls and had children. I am also the author of a book on British civilians who were arrested in France in July and August 1940, after the armistice signed by Pétain on June 22 1940. Because Britain and the Commonwealth remained alone at war with Germany, British civilians who could not escape to Britain but remained in France, were arrested and interned at Ilag VIII (Civilian Internment Camp), in Tost Upper Silesia, now Toszek in Poland. Most of them, remained interned until their liberation by the allied forces in April-May 1945.
I talked to former prisoners of Tost about P.G. Wodehouse’s broadcasts from Berlin. Unbeknown to Wodehouse they were able to listen to them from the camp. In their view, Wodehouse was at best trying to inform, at worst, acting traitorously.
Why did P.G. Wodehouse not come to Britain to receive the knighthood bestowed on him by Her Majesty the Queen, in 1958? He probably feared having to face a committee of former prisoners who were waiting to remind him of his odious behaviour on the Nazi radio in 1941. P.G. Wodehouse died a few months later having never returned to his home country after the war.
Regretfully, I have not been able to see the film in its entirety because of restrictions on viewing BBC4 outside Britain. I only saw the trailer on "You Tube", but many English friends have given me their opinions. After many years of documentary research for my book, written to honor the memory of those men who deserve our respect and to remember how much they suffered in these dark times, I have collected factual information. On the trailer of the film, my reaction is as follows: by showing barbed wire at the entrance to the camp viewers may have wrongly concluded that the entire camp was surrounded by barbed wire, whereas in fact the camp at Tost where the buildings still exist, was mainly surrounded by a high brick wall. The prisoners arrived at the camp at night, not in daytime. They wore the clothes they had on the day of their arrest in July 1940, that is to say light clothes, not heavy overcoats.The men who were interned at the horrible fortress of Huy in Belgium (*), were 623 men, having been arrested in Belgium and in the departments of Nord and Pas-de-Calais of France. They arrived in this camp after three days and three nights of a long, painful and distressing voyage.
(*) William Griffin from Calais France, died on 9 September 1940 at Huy due to bad treatment in this sinister fortress.
I am in contact with three elderly prisoners who were at Tost with P.G. Wodehouse. They still live where they were arrested in July 1940: one near Boulogne-sur-Mer, the second near Dunkirk and the third near Lille. They are more than 90 years of age. The BBC may wish to interview these survivors or myself to provide factual information about the internment of British subjects, for the benefit of British viewers who may have been misled by this amusing, entertaining and light film on the life of P.G. Wodehouse at Tost. The life of British internees at Tost was not like that. The number of those who died there and of suicidal attempts are evidence.
Looking forward to a reply, yours sincerely
PS: The first edition of my book - 'Les oubliés de 39-45 "la rafle des britanniques' is currently out of print, but a second enlarged edition with additions will be available end of April. In this second edition I have recorded the names of 2,300 ex-internees, ie. 375 more than in the first edition.
12 rue Georges Auphelle
62000 Arras France
In collaboration with:
Guy William and Pierre Ratcliffe (firstname.lastname@example.org), son and nephew of Harold Ratcliffe 1896-1979, arrested and interned from July 1940 to May 1945
Anne Gregson, grand-daughter of Arthur George Gregson; http://anglais62.blogspot.fr/2013/01/les-anglais-de-calais-arretes-en.html/
Les oubliés de 39-45 "la rafle des Britanniques" by Frédéric Turner Editions JAFT-Arras 30/11/2010 ISBN978-2-9538021-0-8
[http://lesamisdupatrimoinesaint-martinois.over-blog.com/article-les-oublies-de-39-45-par-frederic-turner-65883548.html/ Les oubliés de 39-45 "les Britanniques internés à Tost, Kreuzburg, Giromanie et Westertinke" by Frédéric Turner Editions JAFT-Arras Avril 2013 ISBN978-2-9538021-1-5]
[http://www.radio-canada.ca/emissions/samedi_dimanche/2011-2012/chronique.asp?idChronique=147948 Radio Canada Les oubliés de 39-45, la rafle des Britanniques; interview de Frédéric Turner]
[http://www.holywellhousepublishing.co.uk/Calais.html The evacuation of British citizens from Calais by the V & Ws/L'évacuation des citoyens britanniques de Calais par les V & W; HMS Venomous was at Calais on the 21 and 23 May 1940]
[http://anglais62.blogspot.fr/2013/01/les-anglais-de-calais-arretes-en.html Les anglais de Calais arrêtés en juillet 1940, après l'armistice du 22 juin, et déportés à Tost; le journal de George Arthur Gregson]
[http://anglais62.blogspot.com La longue histoire de l'amitié franco-britannique/The long story of Fanco-British frienship a blog of Pierre Ratcliffe]
[http://anglais62.blogspot.fr/2013/03/greenlit-children-who-fought-hitler.html "The children who fought Hitler" from the IWGC Imperial War Graves Commission]
[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P._G._Wodehouse#Life_beyond_Britain Pelham Grenville Wodehose in exile]
[http://www.pgwodehousesociety.org.uk/broadcast1.html/ Five Berlin broadcasts by P.G. Wodehouse]
[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oswald_Mosley Oswald Mosley and the British Union of fascists]
[http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/British_Free_CorpsB The British free corps]