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  • Writer's pictureRachel Pistol

Routes out of internment - a handy reference guide to White Paper categories

Updated: Sep 16, 2023

From almost the time that Great Britain implemented its policy of mass internment of enemy aliens from May 1940 there were plans to release those who were considered to be ‘friendly aliens’. The majority of those interned were German, Austrian, or Italian, and many were refugees from Nazi oppression who were eager to help the Allies in the war effort.

This list is designed to help those researching individuals who were interned to understand under which 'White Paper category' individuals were released. Often on records there is a note of the category number but no explanation of what this actually meant – below is a summary.

A series of White Papers were produced by the government between July and November 1940 that detailed the categories under which internees could apply for release.

In July 1940, 18 categories were created:

1. Persons under 16 or over 70 years of age;

2. Young persons under the age of 18 who, at the time of their internment, were resident with a British family or in an educational establishment;

3. The invalid or infirm;

4. Individuals who, at the time of their internment, held an employment permit issued by the Aliens War Service Department;

5. Persons who, at the time of their internment, had permission from the Secretary of State or local Chief Constable to remain in an Aliens Protected Area;

6. Individuals who occupied key positions in industries engaged in work of national importance;

7. Skilled workers in agriculture, commercial food-growing or forestry;

8. Scientists, research workers and persons of academic distinction for whom work of national importance in their special fields was available;

9. Doctors of medicine and dentists who had been authorised by the Secretary of State to practice in Great Britain;

10. Doctors and dentists who had been permitted by the Secretary of State to study in Great Britain for British degrees and who had been pursuing this study prior to internment;

11. Persons who, having served in His Majesty’s Forces (including the Auxiliary Military Pioneers Corps), had been discharged from the Corps on grounds not reflecting their loyalty to Great Britain or their personal character;

12. Internees accepted for enlistment to the Auxiliary Military Pioneers Corps;

13. Individuals engaged in refugee organisations that still functioned, such as offices of voluntary organisations, hostels and training establishments;

14. Employers of at least 12 British employees in works or factories engaged in work certified by a Government Department to be of value to the community if it could be shown that unless the internee was released the business would be closed down with the unemployment of British employees.

15. Persons who had a British-born or naturalised son serving in the British Navy, Army or Air Force;

16. Ministers of religion, if they held a spiritual charge, except ministers of a German Church;

17. Individuals about to embark for emigration overseas;

18. Special cases of extreme hardship, such as where a parent, wife or child was dangerously ill.

After complaints that many internees would be unable to apply for release under these 18 categories, an extra category was added in August 1940:

19. Any person to whom a Tribunal, appointed by the Secretary of State, reported that enough was known of an individual’s history to show that by his writings or speeches or political or official activities he had consistently, over a period of years, took a public and prominent part in opposition to the Nazi system and was actively friendly towards the Allied case.

It was still very difficult for significant numbers of internees to apply for release, even with the addition of Category 19, so 3 further categories were devised in October 1940:

20. Persons of eminent distinction who had made outstanding contributions to Art, Science, Learning or Letters;

21. Students who, at the time of their internment, were studying at a university or technical college, provided that the vice-chancellor of the university or head of the college certified that it would be desirable the student continue his studies at the university or college and that a British student would, in similar circumstances, have been allowed to continue his studies;

22. Any person as to whom the Tribunal, appointed by the Secretary of State, reported that he had, since childhood or for at least 20 years, lived continuously or almost continuously in Great Britain; had long severed connections with his country of nationality; that his associations and interests were British; and that he was friendly towards this country.

Many aliens index cards make reference to a Category 23, not listed on the White Papers. Category 23 was for those who had tried to enlist in the Auxiliary Military Pioneer Corps but had been rejected on medical grounds or were ineligible due to age restrictions. A tribunal had to confirm the individual was anti-Nazi and then they were released under Category 23.

In some cases, no category number appears and instead the term 'Special Case M/L' is used. This relates to releases agreed by the Ministry Labour for work supporting the war effort but not covered in the above categories.

Italians were eligible for release under the same categories for release but because Italians had not been before a tribunal, all such applications had to go before an Advisory Committee before a decision could be reached.

White Paper Sources: Home Office, ‘Categories of Persons Eligible for Release from Internment and Procedure to be Followed in Applying for Release’, July 1940, Cmd. 6217; August 1940, Cmd. 6223; October 1940, 364-41.

© Rachel Pistol, June 2020

If you would like to cite this article:

Rachel Pistol, "Routes out of internment: a handy reference guide to White Paper categories", June 2020,



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