By Gilly Carr
Alma Sauvey was born on 6 October 1922 in St Saviour, Jersey. Her French mother, Eugenie Gelard, was born in St Brieuc in the Cotes du Nord. Eugenie was a nurse, who married Jerseyman Albert Sauvey, a labourer, on 11 March 1922, when he was 17 and she was 21 and two months pregnant. The couple went on to have a second child, John Sauvey, on 9 December 1924. Eugenie and Albert’s marriage did not work out; Albert left Jersey in 1926, when his children were 4 and 2 years old, and went to join his brothers, who had moved to Canada. Unable to cope, Eugenie placed John in a children’s home and Alma was taken care of by Eugenie’s parents, Maria and Jack Marais. Two years later, John also came to live with his grandparents. We cannot say to what degree this turmoil in Alma’s young life contributed to her own unsettled adulthood.
When the German occupation began, Alma was 18 years old. She was not living with her mother, because Eugenie was not in Jersey at the time. According to her occupation registration card, Alma was working as a maid at the start of the occupation. But, on 24 March 1943, she moved to the Panama Hotel in Green Street and took up new employment as a typist.
This is as far as wartime archival information takes us about Alma Sauvey, but it is worth pausing here to note that the Panama Hotel had a certain reputation as the location of a black market ring, the ‘Jersey Jackals’. The young men involved were looked after by Catherine Seaward, the proprietress of the hotel. Eric Pleasants, a notorious member of the group, had lived at the hotel before Alma arrived. In his memoirs, Pleasants tells us that Catherine Seaward was ‘a lively, rascally old Irish Catholic lady’ who didn’t exactly encourage people to steal, but ‘turned a benevolently blind eye’ when people hid their loot in her room.
At this point, we must turn to Alma’s family to learn what happened next. Her niece informed the Frank Falla Archive that Alma was ‘picked up by the Germans for listening to an illegal radio and was transported to an internment camp near Paris where she remained for two years’.
It is important to stress that Alma’s registration card makes no mention of any deportation. Her name is not in the prison log book or the political prisoner log book, and there are no charge sheets in her name. Neither has her name yet been found in any French prison register, although it is equally important to note that many of these were destroyed by the Germans at the end of the war, or were destroyed in bombing raids. There are also no records for her in the International Tracing Service, which tends to support the suggestion that she was held in France rather than moved to Germany, as the ITS doesn’t hold many French records.
While we might be inclined to disbelieve the family story because of this lack of archival evidence, an article exists (shown on this website) in the Calgary Herald, dated 29 January 1945 – several months before the Channel Islands were liberated. In this article, we learn that
“‘the former Alma Sauvey, now Madam Neeman, who was interned by the Nazis for almost two years’, was searching for her father, Albert Sauvey. The article tells us that ‘Madame Neeman states that she is “now liberated, but am without clothes, money or anything. All I had the Germans destroyed … I want my father’s aid.” Her papers have all been destroyed, and her birth certificate is in the Jersey Channel Islands which is still occupied by the Germans … “I should very much like to be repatriated, but without proof of my nationality it would be impossible.”‘
This newspaper article, which stated that Alma was in Paris, is evidence that she must, indeed, have left Jersey during the occupation. Had she (for example) volunteered to work in France, then her absence from the island would have been recorded on her occupation registration card. The lack of any note to this effect indicates that she was deported without any trial or record at all. It seems likely that after her arrest, a deportation vessel happened to be ready to leave the island and she was placed on board. Alma Sauvey’s case is instructive in demonstrating that such actions were possible and may explain the similar lack of records for people such as June Sinclair.
Our only source of information of the date of Alma’s deportation is the Calgary Herald article, which states that she was ‘interned’ (not imprisoned) for nearly two years. This indicates that she must have been arrested and deported fairly soon after moving to the Panama Hotel. This is the last recorded date on her registration form.
We do not know if Alma was sent to a prison and then, at the date of expiry of her sentence, sent to an internment camp (as was German policy for Britons after 11 March 1943). If she was deported without trial, then the length of her sentence was not established and may have been an excuse to hold her for longer than was usual. It is difficult to guess what her movements were without any archival clues. As those from the Channel Islands tended to be sent to certain places, we can only guess which places of incarceration she experienced. A likely suggestion is Saint-Lo Prison, to where Vivienne Mylne was sent for radio offences at about the same time, although Mylne was later sent to Troyes Haut-Clos Prison; this prison was liberated on 25 August 1944. If Alma was alternatively sent to a civilian internment camp in France, then Saint-Denis Internment Camp in Paris (liberated 24 August 1944) is a likely contender. The prisoner records of Saint-Lo and Saint-Denis do not survive.
According to her family, while she was in the camp she met and married her first husband, Nedjat ‘Paul’ Neeman, an Iranian, and gave birth to her first son, Jean-Claude, on 7 April 1945, followed by a second, Alain, on 29 November 1946. It is worth noting that the date of Jean-Claude’s conception must have been in early August 1944, and – depending on where Alma was incarcerated in France – this may indicate the date of liberation given that camps were usually segregated by sex, if indeed Nedjat was a co-prisoner. Similarly, this early date may corroborate the family story that Nedjat was incarcerated with Alma, and suggests that they could have been in an unsegregated camp like Saint-Denis.
According to Alma’s brother John, Nedjat took up the profession of textile merchant in post-war Paris, but, one day in 1947, whilst buying material on the black market, he was murdered; John was staying with his sister in Paris at the time.
After this, Alma returned to Jersey, but made plans to move to England to be with her mother; this did not work out and caused a large rift in the relationship between mother and daughter. Alma remarried in Jersey, but the relationship didn’t last. She moved to London, leaving her sons behind temporarily. After marrying a third time, her sons came to live with her.
After this relationship also failed, Alma moved to Canada, following her son Alain who had moved out earlier. While in Canada, Alma met and married her fourth husband, although this, too, ended in divorce. Eventually Alma met and married a fifth husband, the love of her life, but he was killed in a car accident.
Alma Sauvey died in 2009, just four days before her 87th birthday.
The Frank Falla Archive would like to thank Alma Sauvey’s niece, Irene Storrar, for bringing the story of Alma to our attention.
Registration card of Alma Sauvey, Jersey Heritage ref. D/S/A/4/A10819.
Registration form of Alma Sauvey, Jersey Heritage ref. D/S/A/4/B10819.
Article in Calgary Herald, 29 January 1945.
Pleasants, E. 2003. [eds. Ian Sayer and Douglas Botting], ‘Hitler’s Bastard’. Mainstream Publishing.