London medical students at Belsen

The London Medical students who went to Belsen, 1945

In early April 1945, the British Red Cross and the War Office, at the request of the British Army, called for 100 volunteers from among medical students at London hospitals to assist in feeding starving Dutch children who had been liberated from German occupation by advancing Allied forces. However, in the meantime, British troops had liberated Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and the students were diverted there on the day they were due to travel to the Netherlands. The students had previously spent most of the Second World War at school and in medical training.

The students were tasked with taking over one or two of the 200 camp huts each, with the responsibility of cleaning and feeding the survivors and supervising a fair distribution of food. Their work was instrumental in reducing the death rate from over 500 a day at liberation to less than 100 a day by mid-May 1945.

Sources show that twelve students came from each of Guy's Hospital, St Thomas', St Mary's, The London and University College, eleven from Westminster, nine from St Bartholomew's, eight from the Middlesex and the remainder from King's.

The Imperial War Museum holds a number of the students' letters and diaries which were a source for Ben Shephard's 2005 book After Daybreak: The Liberation of Belsen, 1945. Their story has also been portrayed in the 2007 feature-length drama, The Relief of Belsen. The diary of Westminster student Michael Hargrave was published in 2014.


Brigadier Hugh Glyn-Hughes, June 1945.[1]

In early April 1945, a call for 100 volunteer medical students in their final 18 months of medical school was made by the British Red Cross and the War Office at the request of the British Army, to assist in feeding starving Dutch children. However, in the interim, British troops had liberated Belsen and at the request of Brigadier Hugh Glyn-Hughes, the students were diverted to Belsen on the day of departure to Holland.[2][3][4] The total number of students who volunteered was more than 100 and they were therefore shortlisted by ballot.[3][5] Somewhere between 95 and 100 took part,[2] with the exact number uncertain.[3][6][7][8] Up until this time, these students had spent the larger part of the Second World War at school and in medical education.[9]

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