By Gilly Carr
Annie Muir Henderson Ross née Gilmour was born in Alexandria, West Dunbartonshire, Scotland, on 7 January 1906. At the time that she comes to our attention during the Occupation, she was married to Edward Ross and they were living at 23 David Place in St Helier. Annie was a housewife and Edward was a dental surgeon. We do not know what brought the couple to Jersey, or when they arrived, but we know that they were friends with Dr John Lewis, known for his Occupation memoir, A Doctor’s Occupation, published in 1982. Dr Lewis acted as witness to the signatures of both Annie and Edward on their Occupation registration forms.
Annie and Edward were brought to prison on 14 September 1942. On 28 September, they were tried by the tribunal of the court of the Field Command and sentenced to six months’ imprisonment each for ‘consorting without authority with prisoners of war and distributing wireless news hostile to Germany’.
On 5 November 1942 they were deported. Ironically, had no offence been committed, they would have been deported in September 1942, along with many other residents born outside the Channel Islands, to the civilian internment camp of Wurzach, although Edward (and thus Annie) may have gained exemption because of his important job.
No prison records in France have yet been found for either Annie or Edward, although a document in the Paris archives states that they were in Coutances Prison in January 1943. However, in Jersey War Tunnels (JWT), information about the couple was gathered by Joe Mière, a former political prisoner and curator of JWT when it was still under its previous management and called the Jersey Underground Hospital. This text, which contains errors but is now on display in the café, is as follows:
In September 1942, moved by the plight of the Ukrainian slave workers, Edward Ross and his wife Nan resolved to raise the workers’ spirits by passing on information about Russian progress on the Eastern front. They drew a crude map using information gleaned from outlawed BBC news broadcasts and, during a trip to St Ouen’s Bay to walk their dog, attempted to pass the information to a group working on the sea wall. They were challenged by German guards and arrested after a chase. During their initial imprisonment in the Gloucester Street prison, their house at David Place, St Helier, was searched and their radio discovered. Despite vigorous denials, the couple were found guilty of consorting without authority with prisoners of war and distributing wireless news hostile to Germany. They were sentenced to six months imprisonment and moved to Coutances in Normandy. Less than one month after the commencement of their sentence, they were separated and re-imprisoned. Nan was sent to the notorious hostage prison at Fort Romainville from where many prisoners were transferred to Ravensbrück concentration camp. Eddie was sent to Maison d’Arret Prison, Compiègne, to the north of Paris. In total, Eddie and Nan served over one year in prison; their sentences finished on 27 March 1943. In August of that year Nan requested a transfer to an English or American camp such as Vittel. During this time Eddie managed to smuggle out a letter to the Red Cross. As a result they were reunited at Vittel the following November. They and their new-born son Shiel were liberated in September 1944.
An alternative version of the arrest of Annie and Edward Ross comes from the memoir of Dr John Lewis, who witnessed it. He stated that he lived six doors away from the Rosses, who he described as ‘great friends’. The Rosses had invited him to Sunday afternoon tea as they were expecting a couple of foreign workers who habitually escaped from their labour camp by night and on Sundays. The group tried to communicate with the men as best they could with the aid of an atlas, paper and pencil, and the two labourers told them of various brutalities, tortures and indignities that they had had to endure. After the two labourers had departed, slipping out of the house by the back door, the Rosses decided to go for a bike ride in St Brelade. But it seems that the labourers had been followed and watched, as had the Rosses, and they were grabbed by a camp guard. They fought back, but reinforcements arrived and arrested them and took them to prison.
There is yet a third written version to be found in Islands in Danger, published in 1955, which apparently was told to the authors by the Rosses themselves, although apparently they weren’t entirely happy with the published version for an unknown reason. This version is likely to have been copied by Joe Miere for use in Jersey War Tunnels as it accords with his version above. In this version of events, the Rosses had been shocked by the plight of the Russian POWs in Jersey and so set off on bicycles to find some. They brought with them some food and a rough sketch map showing the latest position on the Russian front to cheer the prisoners up. When they found some Russians in a working party, the Rosses sat down and pretended to have a picnic, when they were challenged by guards who told them that they were in a prohibited area. Annie Ross tried to hide the map, but was seen by the guards, so she got up and ran away, trying to swallow the map as she ran. She was caught and pulled back and Edward was seized and kicked. They were taken to the prison in St Helier and the Geheime Feldpolizei searched their house and found a radio. This was used to extract false confessions from the couple as the Germans accused them of holding ‘BBC news parties’. Nan denied this.
The series of prisons in this version of events was, once again, Coutances Prison for 6 months for them both, followed by Fort de Romainville Prison for Annie and Compiegne Prison for Edward. While here, Edward smuggled a letter out to the Swiss Red Cross in Paris, which resulted in them being reunited in Vittel Internment Camp.
Although information concerning the birth of Shiel Ross in Vittel Internment Camp in July 1944 survives, no archival evidence from French prisons have yet been found, with the exception of the Paris document, to corroborate the presence of the Rosses. However, the Frank Falla Archive had the great good fortune to meet Shiel Ross in Jersey on Liberation Day 2018. He was able to confirm that after a period in Jersey jail, his mother was sent to Coutances Prison for three weeks with his father, after which they were split up. Annie Ross was then sent to Fort de Romainville in Paris for around one year, and Edward Ross was sent to Saint-Lo Prison and then to Compiegne Transit and Internment Camp, where he was kept in very bad conditions. While there he met another prisoner – thought to have been from Guernsey – who was leaving the camp. Edward asked this man to get in touch with the Red Cross to let them know that he was still there and being held beyond his official release date (indicating that the date was after March 1943). The Guernsey man was able to do this, and Edward Ross got moved into a better compound of the camp. Neither Annie nor Edward knew where the other was being held. However, Annie was told that she was being transferred and feared the worst. However, she was sent to Vittel Internment Camp and, a few weeks later, she was joined by Edward. Both assumed that the Red Cross was behind their move. As Shiel Ross was born in July 1944, we can assume that the Rosses were reunited in Vittel by October / November 1943 at the latest. Shiel was able to tell the Frank Falla Archive that his parents were liberated in late September 1944 and then taken to the UK via Toul in France. They arrived in October 1944 and spent a while in London, followed by Scotland, then Stroud. The family returned to Jersey in August 1945.
Annie Ross died in 1970.
Gilly Carr would like to express her sincere thanks to Shiel Ross for shedding light on his parents’ story.
Lewis, John. 1982. A Doctor’s Occupation. Transworld Publishers Ltd.
Annie and Edward Ross, Occupation registration card and forms, Jersey Archives ref. Dep/2/447, Dep/7/76, Dep/7/77.
Annie and Edward Ross’s court records, Jersey Archives ref. D/Z/H6/4/34.
Annie and Edward Ross’s entry in the logbook for Jersey Political Prisoners, Jersey Archives ref. D/AG/B7/7.
Account of Annie and Edward Ross, Jersey War Tunnels information panel.