A Request and a Response – June 1940

On June 7, 1940, High Commissioner for Canada in Great Britain, Vincent Massey, dispatched a telegram to the Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs that would ultimately have a drastic impact on Canadian internment operations in the years to come.

At this time, Great Britain was holding 15,000 internees, both civilians and combatants, but if Italy was to join the war, which it did three days later, some 6,000 Italian internees could be added to the list. If, Massey noted, Germany was to launch an invasion across the English Channel, a German paratrooper assault could overwhelm Britain’s internment camps and then release and arm internees to wreak havoc throughout the British countryside. The solution was clear: transfer these prisoners outside of the United Kingdom, ideally on the opposite side of the Atlantic.

As Massey described,

“In the circumstances the United Kingdom Government rightly hopes that the Canadian Government may be prepared to come to the assistance of the United Kingdom Government by receiving as soon as possible at least these 4,000 [pro-Nazi civilians and combatants] internees whose presence in this country is a more serious risk, and at the same time would give urgent consideration to accepting 3,000 prisoners of war. United Kingdom Government would be grateful to be informed at the earliest possible moment what would be the maximum number if any of prisoners of war which Canada could accept.”

Assuring that the British government would bear the cost associated with interning these prisoners, Massey closed by noting that the dangers posed by the presence of PoWs in Great Britain would be greatly reduced by interning them on Canadian soil.1

The following week, on June 14, 1940 Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King noted in his diary, “…returned to the East Block for a meeting of the War Committee. (See Minutes) Discussed the question of refugees, evacuees, interned aliens, and German prisoners. I feel some concern at effectiveness of arrangements to receive these people.”2

Despite his concerns, on June 19, 1940, Mackenzie King announced that Canada had agreed to accept German Prisoners of War and civilian internees currently interned in Great Britain. This decision had been made some time previous, for, on June 20, the day after Mackenzie King’s announcement, the Duchess of York set sail from Britain to Quebec with 2,112 Civilian Internees, 168 German officers, and 368 other ranks.3


  1. High Commissioner for Canada in Great Britain to The Secretary of State for External Affairs, Canada, June 7, 1940 HQS 7236 – Policy, Treatment of Enemy Aliens, C-5368, LAC.

  2. Diaries of Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King, June 14, 1940, MG26-J13, LAC.

  3. High Commissioner for Canada in Great Britain to The Secretary of State for External Affairs, Canada, June 7, 1940 HQS 7236 – Policy, Treatment of Enemy Aliens, C-5368, LAC.
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About michaelohagan

PhD Candidate at Western University - Studying German Prisoners of War in Canada during the Second World War

One response to “A Request and a Response – June 1940”

  1. thejoelybean says :

    WLMK was a boss, there is no doubting that.

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