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15 October 2014
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Internment as a Briton, in war-time Europe

by cambsaction

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Contributed by 
People in story: 
Gerald Arch
Location of story: 
Belgium, Spain and France
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
21 December 2005

My father married a French woman, at the end of the first world war and they lived together in Belgium. They were my parents. I grew up in Belgium and I was 13 when the second world war broke out. At the beginning of the war, we went to the consul at Charleroi; my dad wanted to come back to England because he had heard on the radio that Sir Malcolm Campbell was making an appeal for drivers. The consul told him that we would have to make our own way back; so we packed as much as we could into the car and set off across France, to avoid the occupied zones. In fact, we had to go right across to Spain; we wanted to go to Gibraltar but one of the senior Spanish emigration people made an excuse, wanting to hold onto our passports. My father wouldn’t leave our passports behind and we left that office, only to find that the Germans had finally caught us up. My father and brother were arrested and sent to a camp outside Bordeaux. My mother and I were left behind. But at around this time, Hitler made a state visit to Franco and, in preparation for that visit, the police rounded up the remaining Britons and we were caught up in that sweep. We were taken to a hotel with other British people and we stayed there for about a week. After that, my mother and I were arrested by the Germans and put on a train to we knew not where. With a number of stops along the way, to pick up more people, we went across Spain to the French border. There we de-trained and were taken in army lorries to an internment camp. Whilst there, my mother contracted pleurisy; they therefore sent us, with a Red Cross contingent, to Paris. There we were placed in a hotel, and we had to report at the police station, every day. At around the same time, my father and brother were transferred to a prison in Paris, along with about 3,000 men: there we were able to visit, once a month for about a half hour on each occasion. My brother got tuberculosis when he was in the prison and although he was transferred to a French Military Hospital in Paris, he was very ill and eventually died there. I also got tuberculosis and was treated in the same hospital but in my case the treatment was successful. And that is how things went on until the liberation of Paris in 1944. I was transferred to an English hospital; my parents split up, what with the strain of the internments and so on. The war had several destructive effects upon my family.

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