The Internment Diary of an English Lady
- Dr Katherine Lack
15th July 2011
IN DECEMBER 1940, as the coldest winter in living memory fastened its grip on war-torn France, the Nazi conquerors rounded up nearly 5,000 people, mostly women and children, and sent them to an internment camp. Their destination, Frontstalag 142, was in the Besancon army barracks near the German border. There they remained for months in conditions so bad that many died of cold, food poisoning and disease. The internees had only one thing in common: they all held British papers. Wealthy expatriates, holiday-makers caught out by the speed of the Blitzkrieg, wives of First World War 'tommies', French nationals born in England - all were on the list. Among them were two English ladies, Miss Kathleen and Miss Fanny Twemlow - great aunts of the author. Aunt Kathleen soon succumbed to the terrible conditions, but was hospitalised and survived. Aunt Fan remained in the camps (she was sent to a camp in Vittel after Besancon) for a year until, aged sixty, she was released. The conditions in Frontstalag 142 are revealed here in all their harrowing detail, through Aunt Fan's diary and the memoirs of some of the other survivors. Aunt Fan was an artist, and her sketches of camp life, many drawn secretly on tiny scraps of paper and kept in the family ever since, give a poignant insight into the hardships these women endured in this forgotten chapter of the war.