Ill treatment of Merchant Seamen by the Vichy French in prison camps in North Africa

Discussion in 'Prisoners of War' started by Roy Martin, Feb 10, 2020.

  1. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    I cannot find a previous post on this subject:

    Mr Thomson, formerly of the Calumet joined the Wallsend. This ship was torpedoed and the crew landed at Cape Verde island of San Antonio after a boat trip of more than a week. The Portuguese brought them back to Lisbon, from where Thomson and some of his colleagues volunteered to join the Takoradian, which had been released by the Vichy authorities in Dakar:

    The Vichy French puppet Government in West Africa had captured many British Merchant Seamen, some from captured ships and others from torpedoed ships which had managed to land on the coast. The French had a large prison camp at Timbuktui on the Niger River, and the seamen were confined in this prison. (Two died in captivity, their graves form the smallest, and loneliest, CWGC cemetery in the world.) With the fall of Dakar and the collapse of the Vichy regime, the others were liberated. Some of them were sent to Freetown, to stay at the Grammar School (where Thomson and the other crews were billeted) while awaiting repatriation. They had gone through great privation. One chap told of being torpedoed on the coast of Africa, and after several days in a lifeboat they landed on the coast where they were found by the natives, who took them to their village and treated them well, until the French authorities got to hear of them and came and collected them. They were put on a train and were four days on it and then for eleven days in canoes down the Niger River to the prison camp at Timbuctoo. When they arrived at the Grammar School they were in a half starved condition, skin and bone.

    The Ringulv's crew, who had helped in the evacuation of Le Havre, were moved from camp to camp by the Vichy French, being imprisoned in nine in all. They met other merchant seamen, and Jews, Spaniards and Poles in the camps. ‘The condition of the Jews was particularly pitiful; they were being used as slave labour building a railway in the desert.’ They were described as being ‘starved, sick, with only a few dirty rags as clothes.’ii Ringulv's crew were understandably bitter about the treatment they received from the compatriots of those that they had so recently saved. iii

    iTwo British merchant seamen died in this camp and are buried in what must be the smallest CWGC cemetery.

    iiWarsailors website, diaries of members of the Ringulv's crew.

    iii There are other similar accounts of the Vichy French mistreating captured merchant seamen. Mr D C Wickstead, 3rd Officer of the Dagomba reported that the ship was torpedoed on 3 November 1942. They were picked up by the Vichy war ship Aviso Annamite and kept in the ships dirty rat infested capstan flat, under armed guard. They were given water, but were not allowed to wash. He records that the lower deck ratings and the petty officers were sympathetic, but scared of being caught helping the prisoners. They were kept in these conditions until 16 November when the ship arrived in Dakar. From there they were moved to a prison camp in Sebikotane. A number of prisoners there and elsewhere died from ‘sheer neglect’. Had the Vichy in North Africa not capitulated in December more would have died. The 26 page report was provided by Graeme on the WW2 Talk website.
  2. Hugh MacLean

    Hugh MacLean Senior Member

  3. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    Hi Hugh,

    Sorry about the duplication, I lose track of what I have posted earlier. I did do a search of the site before I posted, but did not find it. Please put it down to my age!


  4. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    Don't worry you'll grow out of it;)
  5. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    Not at 83!
  6. Hugh MacLean

    Hugh MacLean Senior Member

    No worries at all Roy.
    The treatment of merchant seamen by the Vichy regime in North Africa is often forgotten. Attached is an article by Bernard de Neumann and George Monk whom I corresponded with a few years ago.

    Attached Files:

    Last edited: Feb 11, 2020
    CL1 and Tricky Dicky like this.
  7. Roy Martin

    Roy Martin Senior Member

    Thank you Hugh. Reading the report on the Dagomba shows that their mistreatment was every bit as bad
    Hugh MacLean likes this.

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