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“Women’s Experience of Internment” by Miriam Kochan

“Women’s Experience of Internment” by Miriam Kochan is a very detailed account of how interment looked for many women at the beginning of the Second World War. Overall, the chapter provides a timeline of events and key turning points in legislation which made a difference in women’s experiences during internment. Simultaneously, the chapter gives the reader an overview of different aspects of experience which women encountered which are mainly split into working/living conditions, relationships and communication with the outside world. Finally, the chapter also makes a number of comparisons of the treatments of women in internment camps as opposed to that of men.


In terms of the timeline, Kochan presents a number of the legislative changes which impacted internment. Beginning in 1940, with the Home Office order on 12 May of internment for all males ages 16-60, later on 27 May the first order to arrest women of the same age group (although they were subject to exceptions). The first main turning point in terms of internment was made on 10 July 1940 where a House of Commons debate highlighted the evils of the internment scheme. On 31 July White Papers announced the preparation of release of grade C internees who fell into one of the 18 categories presented. Kochan also highlights the importance of the Asquith Committee who made a number of recommendations which affected internment, which largely focused on releasing grade B internees – subject to a tribunal interview. Kochan states that internment was a largely finished incident in August 1942 when there were less than 5000 enemy aliens remaining on the Isle of Man.


Kochan also illustrates the changes which took place over time in terms of conditions within camps. In terms of conditions she highlights that they were never great, but they progressively changed from women living in small cells with the doors closed to the ability to wander round the villages of the Isle of Man when they were placed there. Also, Kochan mentions that although women always carried out domestic jobs within their hotels, they were later given a payment for their work which was 6 pence a day. In terms of relationships within camps there was a conflict noted between Nazis and non-Nazis, but regardless of that Kochan notes that fights and arguments took place daily, even amongst those who shared the same opinions which conveys that the tensions were high. Communication with the outside world as Kochan notes was very limited during the early days of internment but later became readily available and used by most, this was both in terms of news and communication between camps.


Kochan in the chapter also makes a number of comparisons which go to show that women were treated much more leniently than their male counterparts. This she said could be due to the fact that the Home Office was in charge of the custody of internees for women, where in the case of men it was the War Office.


The article is very informative and a sources its information mostly – if not entirely – from primary sources such as newspapers produced at the given time, as well as statements provided by women who experienced internment which makes the information very reliable.

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