There are two books that are readily available which recount the experiences of internees at the camps and details follow...
‘Rosie’s War’, by Rosemary Say and Noel Holland describes the experiences that Rosemary Say had in Besançon and Vittel, and her escape, (together with another woman - Frida Stewart), and subsequent arrival back in Britain.
‘FRONTSTALAG 142 The Internment Diary of an English Lady’ by Katherine Lack describes the experiences of her 'Aunt Fan', (F. Twemlow), in these camps.
A third book is ‘SOFKA the autobiography of a Princess, by Sofka Skipwith.
She was born into an aristocratic Russian family, (as Princess Sophy Dolgorouky), and she and other family members lived a very privileged life. That is until revolution came to Russia in 1917, and which dramatically altered their circumstances. This was when she was aged 11. The family and other relatives were able to leave Russia, (courtesy of the Royal Navy), and they lived in various other countries including Britain, sometimes in abject poverty. One of the jobs that Sofka was able to get was that of secretary to the actor Laurence Olivier. Sofka gained British nationality, married twice, had three children, but was in France in 1941 – and interned in Besançon and then Vittel…
In her time at these camps she was separated from her children, including the youngest one, aged 18 months, and was also to learn that her second husband, Grey Skipwith had died whilst serving in the R.A.F.
She seemed to have been a natural leader; for example, becoming the ‘chef de chambrée’ of the room that she was in, and when it was announced that there were to be hot showers, she realised that the situation would get hopelessly out of hand, so...
‘I whipped a piece of paper and pencil out of my pocket, sat down beside the door with a resolute and official air which no-one queried, and began taking names. That was the most rewarding spontaneous act of my existence! I became the undisputed chef of the douches and had my own shower daily, either before the doors were opened or else after closing time...’
(She went on to organise the allocation of showers for the whole camp, a week in advance.)
As time went on, events at Vittel became more sinister. It was used as a transit camp, so that people, mostly Jewish, were coming through on the way to camps further east. For her efforts to help such people she was given the award 'Righteous Among the Nations' by Yad Vashem, an organisation set up by the Israeli government to honour non-Jewish people who had risked their lives to save Jewish lives.
The following is a transcript of the Christmas card shown to the right. It is from 'Aunt Fan' the British woman who figures in the first book, and it is to Vashti Vincent...
Dec 11th Erromenia. Ciboure B.P.
I wonder how things are going with you. I hope your mother is better. We did not go to England this summer but possible we shall go next summer – or anyhow my sister will.
I had a short time in Spain – up in the north, in Aragon which I like for painting. Very different to here and they have little rain there and all is bare and lovely colours – I painted all day and lived in little inns very cheaply.
We had a very wet summer but the last fortnight has been lovely – with a hot sun – wish you were here to enjoy it. I know you miss the sun so. I’m going up to the frontier this afternoon on my Solex bicycle – about 5 miles – it’s a lovely road and at this time of year nothing almost on the road. I’m taking a sketch book as last week I saw something very paintable up there. There is a house at the top of the col just in Spain where one can buy oranges, turron etc.. A bottle of sherry there is 280 ps and here it’s over 1000 F, not that I buy it anyhow but if I go with a friend she always takes some. I have not news of Miss Trotter for ages. Miss Marshall is here – looking just the same. Miss Tillott talked of coming here in January but nothing has eventuated yet. My Xmas cards have sold well this year – but paper has gone up so I make less on each.