In August 1940 a committee headed by Lord Bessborough was set up to consider the welfare of Frenchmen in this country. The Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, personally entrusted the task to Lord Bessborough on learning of the plight of 1500 French merchant seamen detained at Crystal Palace for whose welfare neither the Home Office, Ministry of Shipping nor Ministry of Health considered itself responsible. The body emanated from the War Cabinet and became Lord Bessborough's Welfare and Security Sub-Committee of the Committee of Foreign (Allied) Resistance, of which Lord Bessborough was a member.
The first meeting took place on August 15 1940 with the Earl of Bessborough in the chair. Others present were Admiral Sir Gerald Dickens from the Admiralty, Major R Sinclair and Major L H Newton from the War Office, Commander A D Lacy RN, R J B Anderson and C Hambro from the Ministry of Shipping, R J R Farrow from the Ministry of Health, Sir Alan Barlow from the Treasury, H B Brenan from the Ministry of Information, Colonel W d'E Williams of the War Office Mission to General de Gaulle and the secretary was Lieutenant Commander R D Coleridge RN.
The draft terms of reference were to consider "all questions affecting the general welfare of French nationals in Great Britain, and all questions of security arising therefrom."
Other representatives joined the Committee, for example L R Sherwood from the Foreign Office and E N Cooper and Colonel W R D Robertson of the Home Office attended the second meeting and P H Brind of the Ministry of Labour attended the third. Representatives from the Spears Mission also regularly served.
In a press release of 1940, the Committee's functions were given as including "the co-ordination of the efforts of the various organisations, official and voluntary, British and French, concerned in any way with French welfare... correspondence should be addressed to the Earl of Bessborough 'French Welfare'." Hence the Committee came to be known simply as French Welfare. It answered to the Foreign Office as this department funded its operations.
Between 1940 and 1944, French Welfare concerned itself with such things as the welfare of French servicemen evacuated from Dunkirk, those civilians or servicemen imprisoned in Great Britain as aliens, French fishermen pursuing their occupation from the English coast, repatriation of French nationals, welfare of Frenchmen serving in allied forces and co-ordinating all official or voluntary organisations connected with Frenchmen in this country.
Lord Bessborough recommended the winding down of the French Welfare Section of the Foreign Office, as it had become, in 1944 since recognition of the French Provisional Government meant that French nationals could be dealt with by the French Embassy and Consulate General.