The outbreak of World War Two found me employed by the Southern and Great Western Railway as office junior at their Bond Street office in St Helier.
In June 1940 all staff were advised to pack a suticase ready for immediate embarkation on the last steamer from Jersey should the advancing German army in France reach the coast. Unfortunately the management in Southampton responsible for us failed to appreciate the speed of the advance, and also had the idea that the Channel Isles would be of no strategic importance for the Germans.
Consequently on the Friday (28 June) when the islands were bombed whilst the Isle of Sark was in harbour at Guernsey, the decision was made to cancel all further sailings, leaving the staff isolated and trapped in the island for the duration.
Most of the clerical staff were given employment in various States departments. I found myself in the Food Control office under Mr Le Gresley, after a spell in the Identity Card issue operation in January 1941 - incidentally the signature of the registration Officer which appears on many identity cards, and is featured on the occupation tapestry, is that of G W Le Cocq who was chief clerk in the Bond Street reservation office of the railway both before and after the war.
At the end of the first year of the Occupation my pal and I decided to study a foreign language. I took German lessons and my friend, Reg Burnell, also a railwayman, took French.
My job in the Food Control was assistant to Herbert Gallichan, who in June 1942, in response to the German command that all wireless sets and photographic equipment was to he handed in, decided to publish a leaflet showing that under the terms of the Hague Convention this was an illegal act.
The leaflet was produced on Mr Gallichan's personal portable typewriter in the Food Control Office, after working hours, quite unknown by anyone. The reaction of the German authorities was immediate. As soon as the leaflets were distributed by Mr Gallichan, assisted by his family and others, 10 well known local men were arrested and imprisoned with the further arrest of 20 should the perpetrators not come forward.
Ironically, when people went into prison it was the job of our department to send for their food ration books so that they could be fed by the prison authorities, and the letter advising that this must be done was always signed by Mr Gallichan.
Ten days later I was asked by Mr Gallichan to take his typewriter to a friend of his, as he intended to give himself up. This I did on a Thursday afternoon when the office was closed, and the Germans never found out what had happened to it, and had to assume that it was one of the machines in the office which had been used.
On 7 July Mr Gallichan was sentenced to 5 years imprisonment in Germany and his brother to one year. When the office opened, the morning after Mr Gallichan gave himself up, we found it taken over by the German Field Security Police, and all staff were interrogated at length to discover who knew of the leaflets and who had assisted with their printing.
After a couple of hours I was allowed to carry on with my work, although the office was closed to the public, and one of the Police sat at Mr Gallichan's desk opposite.
At midday another member of staff asked the German for permission to leave the office to visit a grocery shop in Halkett Place where he had to carry out a check on ration book coupons. The German could not speak English so my colleague asked me to interpret hie request, this I did, but instead of replying the German leapt to his feet and demanded to know why I had not said I could speak German, and then called his chief who grilled me again for another half hour, finally releasing me but quite unconvinced that I knew nothing of the leaflets.
Hidden wireless set
All the time this was going on my parents were wondering what was happening as they had heard that the food office was closed and full of Germans, and rumour was rife. I, on the other hand was hoping that they would not take me home to search my house, as at that time I had a wireless set belonging to my friend in my wardrobe, quite unbeknown to my father, who would have put an axe through it had he been aware of it. We were allowed to go at about 12.30 midday, and I went straight home, collected the set ( which was in a suitcase) and transferred it to my pal’s house in Golomberie. Within a few days we had found a home for it by renting a house in Val Plaisant, and Reg Burnell kept it for the rest of the Occupation, dispensing the news to trustworthy people.
On 15 September 1942 on my way to the office after lunch, I saw the notice in the window of the ‘’Evening Post’’ office, Bath Street advising that all those born in England aged between 16 and 70 were to be evacuated and transferred to Germany. This applied to me as I was born in London, my mother having married a Londoner in 1919, and although the family came back to Jersey three months after birth, in 1923, and though I knew nothing about London, I knew that I would be sure to go.
Deportation papers were served the same evening, and the island was in a state of shock. I went to the office the next morning but at 10 o'clock my father rang to say that the Germans had called with deportation papers for us all, and we had to be on the quayside by 4 pm that day, in default we would be courtmartialled.
It is difficult to explain the feelings of someone like my father who had worked for years building up his grocery business and who owned his house, to be suddenly faced with the prospect of abandoning everything at six hours notice to go off into captivity, with no idea of where we were going or what conditions we would find ourselves in. There had been no mention of internment camps, or what we would be expected to do when we got to wherever we would find ourselves.
Rumours of concentration camps and deep/nibble treatment to non-aryan peoples inflicted by the Nazis were well known, and at the time of our deportation, thoughts of these filled our minds. My mother was completely in a state of shock. However, somehow we managed to pack the one suitcase each allowed, and found our way down to the Weighbridge before 4pm. People lined the streets to give us a good send off.
Father had a frost bitten foot in February of that year which had not yet fully recovered, so had one foot in a slipper. On arrival at the Weighbridge and having had our names entered in a register, I asked whether my father could be medically examined before embarkation. One of the St John ambulance men present took my parents to an office where two German officer doctors examined them. One of these doctors came out to me and asked whether I was prepared to go alone. If I was he would call in a few weeks time to examine my folks again, and if they were then fit they would join me in Germany.
We spoke in German and I gathered by the tone of voice and sympathetic manner that should I agree, there was every likelihood of my parents being allowed to stay at home. This in fact turned out to be the case, and my parents returned home to a warm welcome from neighbours, and survived the occupation without further trouble.
Being at that time just 20 years old I felt that this was another adventure in life that one just had to make the best of. I asked incessantly of any German who would listen as to our destination, but all said that they had no idea, which was probably perfectly true - and it was only the night before that a sentry on our train pointed to a map of the rail system and showed me Biberach/Liss, a place I had never heard of.
On arrival the Commandant of the camp apologised to the mothers with young babies for the lack of milk. He had been told to expect up to 700 internees but no one had even mentioned babies. He also appealed for German speakers as he had no interpreters of english. I saw an NCO with 'Dolmetcher' on his sleeve and asked if he was not an interpreter. He said yes, but of Croatian and Serbians the camp having been occupied by officers from Yugoslavia before our arrival. The propoganda we had heard about the efficiency of the Germans began to evaporate: Eventually we did get an English speaker, more cockney than German, having been living in London all of his life before being called up whilst on holiday in Germany.
I found that even a limited knowledge of German brought responsibility when I found myself Barrack leader. Being just 20 and surrounded by people whose ages ranged up to the seventies and over. However, we survived the first six weeks at Biberach, during which further deportees arrived from Jersey. At the end of the six weeks a party of 124 single men left for Laufen, on the Bavarian/Austrian border, later married people with families were sent to Bad Wurzach and those couples without children remained at Biberach.
On arrival at Laufen I was appointed Camp Senior - a title which tickled my sense of humour, as I was patently junior to most of my fellow internees - until the arrival, some three weeks later of a contingent from Dorsten in North Germany, consisting of men from Guernsey and also Jersey. This group were about 450 strong and led by Frank Stroobant, who offered to let me continue in my role, but I was very glad to agree to him becoming Camp Senior with me as Deputy. Frank details very well the life we led at Laufen in his book of his wartime experiences, One Man's War published by Corgi, but one or two of my own recollections may not come amiss.
Arriving at Laufen in the evening of 1 November 1942, we spent the night sleeping on straw and were taken at first light to be deloused. Stripped naked our clothing was put into an oven and baked whilst we all were shaved of pubic hair and given a Lysol oil to rub into the bare skin. I can still feel the burning. We all shared a feeling of absolute degradation, and later agreed that this was the lowest we had felt since leaving Jersey. However, we perked up again on entering the rooms which would be our homes for the rest of the war. Our camp was in fact a castle, the summer palace of the Bishop of Salzburg in times passed. Situated on the banks of the river Salzac and joined by a bridge to Obendorf, the Austrian village where the Christmas carol 'Silent Night' was composed.
Soon after our arrival one of the internees was taken ill, and although there was a room set aside for patients within the camp, more serious cases were sent to the hospital in the town. This was a 'cottage type' hospital capable of performing general surgery, and later quite a number of internees were treated there. I was given permission to visit the patient, and later this became a regular event as letters began to arrive from the islands and the UK and more internees required to be hospitalised.
The surgeon was a Doctor Ortbauer, a kindly 'old school' gentleman, but the matron was definitely not a friend of ours. However, the theatre sister was quite the opposite, a 21-year-old Austrian from the Tyrol who spent much of her time off in caring for the internee patients. We kept in touch after the war and have throughout the past 50 years remained friends. Her family have visited the island together with their children, and I and my children have made many visits to the Tyrol in exchange. A little good which started during the war.
Whilst speaking of 'Silent Night' I am reminded of our second Christmas at Laufen, 1943, when, on Christmas Eve the camp choir went into the courtyard in the moonlight, with thick snow all around, and sang carols. The night was quite still, and sound curried all over the town. Most of us just sat and listened with our thoughts of home, loved ones, and past Christmases. One can imagine the scene, and the feelings of nostalgia affecting us all.
The following morning I paid a visit to the hospital to see our few patients, and on passing an inn on the way back to camp, the lady proprietor called out to say how much she had enjoyed the singing of the night before, and had cried when she realised that we had the same Christian beliefs as she had, and yet were imprisoned.
Peat fields and a flying bomb
During 1943 as detailed in his book, Frank Stroobant resigned as Camp Senior and his place was taken over by Ambrose Sherwill former Attorney General in Guernsey. I agreed to remain as Deputy until Mr Sherwill was au fait with the job and a replacement for Deputy could be found. After a few weeks this was accomplished and I became free to do other things.
One of those 'other things' was a spell of two weeks with the peat squad at Niederstrasse, a small village about 40 miles from the camp which produced peat for agriculture and for heating. It having been agreed that the camp would receive peat for winter heating provided that labour for turning and stacking could be available during the summer. A spell with the squad was usually given to those who had done something toward serving their fellow internees, and who were capable of the very hard work which was involved.
The peat fields covered an area abaut ½ mile square, and the Germans employed were all past the age for military service. We were attached to various individuals and sent to all parts of the fields to turn and stack as directed. My main memory is of the flies which sucked your blood and the intense heat of the summer. Our guards consisted of one Underofficer and two men, who naturally found it difficult to be everywhere. We were dressed in shorts and shirts - often removed - with nothing to denote that we were prisoners.
The peat field at one end was surrounded by trees behind which was Freilassing Airport used by the military. One morning a plane came over – not in its self unusual - but towing a small plane, more or less the size of a large model plane. Shortly before the wooded area the model detached and flew a few feet on its' momentum before nose diving into the woods.
I carried on working. Minutes later a man appeared wearing a white coat, and shouted to me from the edge of the woods to come over. He asked if I had seen the 'flying bomb'. I showed him where I thought it might be, he asked me to accompany him in his search. He went on to say that he was experimenting with a bomb which could be towed to within launching distance from a target whilst the towing aircraft remained out of range of any anti—aircraft guns. I agreed that this sounded like a good idea.
When we could not see the 'bomb' anywhere he wanted me to go further into the woods towards the airfield. I explained that this would take me out of sight of the peat field and I was not allowed to do this. Only then did he realise that I was a foreigner. Apparently this caused quite a stir when the young man reported to his superiors and the phone line to Laufen became quite hot. Our guards were severely reprimanded for their lapse, although it was impossible for them to be everywhere when the area was so large. I heard later that the underofficer in charge had a pack of cards in his revolver holster instead of a gun.
I would say at this point that we were all told in no uncertain manner on arrival at Laufen that escape for us would mean death. As civilians we had no duty — such as servicemen have — to escape, and being in civilian clothing would be classed as spies. The two men who did escape briefly from Laufen were severely beaten up when captured, before being sent to punishment camp.
Return to Jersey
About this time and after the Protecting Power had visited the camp, it was agreed that certain men who were either sick or elderly and frail should be returned to the islands. They would be accompanied by a guard of three men, together with a similar number of young internees who would carry their luggage and assist in helping the old men on and off trains. The guard and young men to return to the camp as soon as could be arranged.
The Germans specifying that the 'escort' should be men with 'blood relations' on the islands, where they could be accommodated whilst there. Names were put into a hat and the lucky winners went on their way. The third repatriation took place on 8 March 1944, and I was one of the chosen escort. Our party consisted of 21 men, seven of whom were luggage carriers, and three guards. Travelling by train across Germany during the war was not a pleasant experience, but at least we would be home for a day or so. When changing trains at the Gare de l'Est in Faris, we waited all day on the platform and were constantly questioned by passing people who were very curious to know who we were and why we had Red Cross parcels with us.
The escort had only a small rucksack each, the repatriates two suitcases each plus a parcel each. During the day a man approached and told one of the party that he was a Guernseyman living in Paris, married to a French girl, and that the second front was about to start. He said that he was a taxi driver and that he and his friends went out to the South of Paris regularly to fields where the RAF dropped weapons which the taximen then drove further South to the Maquis army. The man then hurried off leaving us quite dazed. We arrived in St Malo the next day where the local Commandant wanted us put into prison until a boat was available. Our guard commander took me with him to explain that we were not prisoners as such, but internees in transit, and after some argument he agreed that we could be accommodated in a hotel, provided that the main door was kept locked
We managed to contact a Mr Lawrence who acted for the island of Jersey in St Malo, and acquired some local money to enable us to visit a cafe whilst waiting. In the event we waited five days for a ship, with no way of letting our families at home know that we were so close. We sailed for Jersey at night on 16 March, arriving in Jersey at 2 am on St Patrick's Day; three men with us bound for Guernsey were shipped there separately.
We were taken to the Police Station (then at the Town Hall) and had to remain there until after curfew was raised at 6.30 am. A lorry was provided to take men and luggage to their various homes - one arriving at Corbiere to find his bungalow had been taken away by the Germans in his absence, and the young men warned to appear at College House by 10 am pending their return to Germany.
I went home via my friend Reg Burnell's house, so that he could ring our front door bell and warn whoever opened it of the shock they were about to get.
When my father saw me his first reaction was to say 'how did you escape’?
Later on I went to College House expecting to be told that a boat was to take us back next day, only to be greeted with a tirade from the Commandant in person about his lack of shipping, and consequent inability to send his troops on leave, his shortage of supplies, and the fact that camps in Germany supposed that they could Organise Cook's tours for their inmates whenever they felt like it... with the shipping in the state it was, thanks to the REF and your navy.
I tried to explain that I was not personally responsible for his predicament, nor were the camp in a position to argue with the Protecting Power who had agreed the repatriation with the German government. But he told me to go, and report back daily at 8 am until something had been decided.
We reported daily, and were told that unless we worked for the Germans we would be sent to Alderney, but that we would not be returning to Laufen. One of our number came up with a letter from the manager of the bank where he previously worked stating that his services were vital to their business, and managed to get released. The remainder were eventually given jobs at various places run by the Germans in the island, but none were allowed to go back to Laufen. Most would not have grumbled because in Germany since early 1943 we did at least have one Red Cross parcel per week each, something which we greatly missed during the last year of Occupation.
I was employed by the Organisation Todt at their food ration distribution depot on the Esplanade. After two months of this, one of the other escorts who was working at the Continental Hotel came to tell me that he had given his boss a week's notice and had been allowed to leave. This was marvellous news, and I tried it out on my head of department - known as the Front Fuhrer - he was most definite that this was impossible, and after some days said that I could go, but must report to College House for a new job to be found for me.
I went instead to the Food Control office where Mr Oscar Mourant, the Deputy Controller, was instrumental in providing a letter saying that I was required for a special job in the Food Office, and carrying a couple of official looking stamps of the department. Armed with this I reported to College House and was able to convince the officer in charge that I was the only one who could do the job which was of great importance.
Night work and the curfew
It was night work conected with an alarm system operated through the local telephone exchange linking several shops and stores in the island, which anyone could have done. I continued to work for the Food Control department in various capacities until Liberation the following year.
During the last year I had severe brushes with the German authorities over being out after curfew, being stopped quite often on my way home at night. I usually managed to talk my way out of trouble, but on one occasion my bicycle was confiscated and I had to appear at College House the next morning to get it back. The underofficer who I reported to listened to my tale of how I had repaired a puncture which had delayed my return home, and fined me 10 Marks before giving my bike back.
Some two months later cycling down Midvale Road at about half an hour after curfew I was stopped by a lone German and was surprised to be greeted by name - it was the self-same underofficer who had dealt with me before. He took my cycle and said 'see you in the morning - another puncture I presume'. Fortunately he had a sense humour and I got off with another fine and retained my cycle.
Some 30 years after the liberation a lady approached me in town and asked if I remembered her stopping me in Midvale Road to ask for help when she was pushing her baby in a pram and a German soldier was speaking to her at the time in 1944? I did indeed, and the lady said she had often told her family of thie meeting as she had been terrified of soldiers and had no idea what the man wanted.
In fact he was wanting to know how to get to the Town Hall, so I obliged with directions which would take him to the Hotel de France - then a German Headquarters - and as the man was on foot this would keep him occupied for a while. When I explained to the lady what I had done she was horrified and rushed off hoping that the soldier would not recognise her again.
The liberation was an experience which to this day fills me with emotion which can only be described by those who were present to witness the scene of that never to be forgotten time.
All staff of the railway went back to work, but had a long wait until the first boat arrived. We were told that volunteers could go over to the mainland to work as there was a shortage of young men with experience. My pal Reg Burnell and I decided to try our luck. I went to Southampton and he to Victoria Station Continental Office. After a month or so we had to register for National Service, and I found myself in the army joining on 4 February 1946. I served in the Intelligence Corps, where I met a young Yorkshire girl serving in the ATS who I managed to sweep off her feet, marry and carry off to Jersey where we have lived happily ever after. Our 50th anniversary will be in two years time….