No. 245  NAI DFA Paris Embassy 100/2

Extract from a memorandum from Seán Murphy to Joseph P. Walshe (Dublin)
'Work of Count O'Kelly in Paris up to 10th June, 1941'

VICHY, 24 November 1942

Count O'Kelly took up duty in Paris on August 1st 1940. His duties were in general those of Chargé d'Affaires in occupied France, inasmuch as no other member of the Legation staff was permitted to enter occupied territory after that date. His work divided itself broadly into two branches:

  1. the succouring of Irish citizens in distress.
  2. the liberation of internees.

a). The succouring of Irish citizens in distress.
With the occupation of five-eighths of France by the German authorities and the setting up of the ligne de démarcation all Irish nationals in the occupied zone found themselves completely cut off from home, and, in most cases, from all sources of income. The net result was that they flocked to the Legation for assistance and advice and Count O'Kelly had to handle their applications, dealing directly with such as he could and transmitting the rest to the Legation at Vichy by such means as he found available, correspondence between the zones being prohibited by the occupying authorities. As there was no staff at the Legation building in the Rue de Villejust Count O'Kelly put his premises< in the Place Vendôme at the disposal of the Legation and opened there a chancellerie provisoire which he ran entirely with his own staff until it was possible to send him, first of all, Madame Froc in November and ultimately Mlle. Marquetout in March 1941. From the very beginning of the period in question his duties involved full time work, and compelled him to hand over the running of his business entirely to his manager. There were often more than 20 people to be interviewed during the day, some asking for news from home, for money, for help in leaving the country, for the regularisation of their identity papers etc. This latter was probably the most troublesome part of the work, because in the vast majority of cases the persons concerned held British passports, having neglected to change them for Irish passports in the years gone by. Another great source of trouble, which entailed innumerable interventions on Count O'Kelly's part with the German authorities, was the habit of the local police of inscribing on the identity cards even of holders of Irish passports, the description 'nationalité britannique'. This habit had obtained for years and, as a result, when the Germans occupied France, the local French police, in giving Germans the lists of British subjects resident in their area, included therein nine-tenths of the Irish, whom the Germans consequently treated as enemy aliens, until proved to the contrary. Finally Count O'Kelly obtained from the French Delegation in Paris that a circular be sent to all the Préfectures in the occupied zone instructing the état civil authorities to change the description 'britannique' to 'irlandais' on the identity cards of all holders of Irish identity papers.

Apart from the official assistance given to distressed nationals, Count O'Kelly distributed some 40,000 French francs in charity collected by him among his friends.

b). The liberation of internees.
As you are aware, internment camps for British subjects were instituted in the occupied zone almost immediately on the arrival of the Germans. In it were placed all male British subjects between the ages of 18 and 70. Owing 1) to this failure to take out Irish passports in time and 2) to the French police practice of describing Irish citizens as 'sujets britanniques' these camps were straight away full of Irishmen – clergy, clerical students, jockeys, stable lads etc. They immediately applied to the Legation for help and Count O'Kelly visited the camps in the vicinity of Paris on many occasions with the assent of the German authorities, to interview the claimants to Irish nationality. The position was exceedingly confused. Among the clergy and students, many were full citizens, but carried English passports, either through their own fault, or, in many cases, through the fault of their superiors. They were interviewed in the presence of German officers and dossiers constituted which were sent to Vichy. Eventually a considerable number were released, but others were still being held by the Germans at the time Count O'Kelly left Paris last June. In the beginning conditions were bad in these camps and Count O'Kelly brought the Irish there food, clothing and tobacco from time to time.

On December 5th 1940, the German authorities suddenly rounded up all British women under 60 years of age, and interned them in a barracks at Besançon. On hearing the news early in the morning Count O'Kelly immediately got in touch with the German military authorities and got authority to visit the platform at the Gare de l'Est where the internee trains were being found, to see if there were any Irish citizens among the people taken. He spent most of the day at the station and found a great number of Irish women, but all of them holding British passports. He took their names and promised to go down to Besançon as soon as the Germans would let him, to try to obtain their release. It took him nearly two months to secure the necessary authority and finally in February 1941 he went down to Besançon where he spent the days, in company with an Irishman Mr. John KEANE, who volunteered his services as Secretary, interviewing the claimants to Irish nationality in the internment camp and constituting the dossiers. He interviewed about 170 claimants – mostly nuns, governesses and nurses – and was successful in obtaining the release, within the following six weeks, of about 100. These results, meagre as they were, entailed constant visits to the German military and Embassy officials and a great deal of entertainment. In many cases it was very difficult to get appointments with the officials concerned unless one asked them out to meals, the plea being that they were too busy between meals. Indeed the German practice of doing official business at meals became an abuse because in certainly 50% of the cases where an officer was invited to lunch or dinner, he would bring along with him at least one friend and on several occasions an officer he invited has brought three and even four friends to share the entertainment.

Another part of Count O'Kelly's duties entailed the obtaining of exit permits for Irish citizens desirous of leaving occupied France. Every conceivable difficulty was put in the way of obtaining these permits from the German authorities and only by repeated visits to the Embassy, the Consulate and the Military police, combined with repeated invitations to meals to all concerned, could any results be achieved.

In March 1941 it was possible to send Mlle. Marquetout to assist Madame Froc in the keeping of the a/cs etc. and thereupon the Chancellery was shifted back to the Legation at the Rue de Villejust, where it functioned until Count O'Kelly was expelled from Paris with the rest of the Diplomatic Corps on June 10th 1941. During that period he spent all the mornings at the Chancellery and the afternoons were devoted to calls on the various authorities, both French and German whom he had to see.

[matter omitted]

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