Sir: You refer ("Scandal of PoWs sent to deaths on minefields", "Minefield plague was legacy of war for France", 23 May) to the French estimate that "2,500 Germans and 500 French died during the mine clearances" [in post- war France], while "archives held by a former Red Cross inspector suggest that more than 20,000 may have been killed".
Indeed, in May 1948, a report of the International Committee of the Red Cross published a report to that effect. In fact, read carefully, it would tend to corroborate the French estimate of the number of deaths. The French authorities have given a global figure of 3,000 deaths. The Red Cross report had put forward a crude estimate of one death per 5,000 mines. The figure of 20,000 was reached on the basis of that proportion.
In fact, the report had been based on the very first estimate of the existence of 100 million mines, made in 1944 by the Ministry of War, whereas the total number of detected mines was in fact around l3 million. Consequently, while the proportion of one death for every five thousand mines was roughly accurate, the total number of deaths was, as stated by the French authorities, approximately 3,000 which, although very high, was very far short of 20,000.
Secondly, while you correctly make it clear that the mine clearance was not carried out solely by the Germans, it is perhaps right to highlight the fact that the French involved were civil volunteers, that it was they who had the task of actually defusing the mines and that 20 per cent of them sacrificed their lives in that exceptionally dangerous work.
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