By Gilly Carr
Berthe Léonie Pitolet was born in the Saône region of France on 1 February 1895. We are missing some key documents relating to her life, such as her Occupation registration form and her photograph, but the Frank Falla Archive has noticed that some of the key records of more prominent victims of Nazism are missing, probably removed by collectors before the archives service in the Island became professionalised and moved to the purpose-built archives building that it inhabits today. The photo shown here comes from her Aliens form, which survives only on microfiche today and shows Berthe when she was younger and first came to Jersey in 1921 to work as a domestic servant.
In the twenty years before the Occupation, Berthe worked hard and kept the immigration authorities informed every time she left Jersey to go home to France, a journey which happened a few times a year for up to a month at a time.
At the time of the registration of Islanders in January 1941, Berthe was living at 83 Oxford Road in St Helier and still working as a domestic servant.
Berthe comes to our attention because of her involvement in a case very well known in Jersey: that of Louisa Gould and Harold Le Druillenec, with whom she was friends. On 22 June 1944, she and they were convicted by court martial at the hands of the Troop Court, along with Ivy Forster (Louisa and Harold’s sister), Dora Hacquoil (their friend) and Alice Gavey (Louisa’s domestic helper). Berthe was given a sentence of four months and 15 days’ imprisonment for ‘prohibited reception of wireless programmes and abetting breach of the working peace and unauthorised removal.’ Berthe, Louisa and Harold were the only people from this group to be deported; they left the island on 30 June 1944.
To understand how this all came to pass, we must go back to July 1941 to examine the story of Louisa Gould. Louisa was already a widow at the time of the occupation and ran the Millais Stores at La Fontaine in the parish of St Ouen. Louisa had two sons; the eldest was in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve during the war, but in July 1941 she discovered, through a Red Cross message, that he had been killed in action in the Mediterranean four months earlier.
Around seventeen months later she was approached by Feodor ‘Bill’ Buryi, an escaped Russian slave worker from Lager Immelmann slave labour camp in the parish of St Peter. He had nowhere else to go, and Louisa wanted to do something for ‘another mother’s son’, as she put it, so she took him in. As time went on, Louisa became less careful about hiding traces of her guest, taking only the most basic of precautions against being found out. She also had a hidden radio and passed on the news to her customers. Only at the end of the occupation was it discovered that there were some people who didn’t like the fact that Louisa was ‘getting away with it’ and informed upon her. In a Channel TV documentary, Betrayed to the Nazis, made by journalist Eric Blakeley in 2008, the names of the informers were revealed to the public, having already been placed in the public domain through files at The National Archives. Local people in St Ouen, and Louisa’s sister Ivy Forster, strongly suspected two sisters living close to Louisa, Maud and Lily Vibert. A statement about them was drawn up by British security officers in 1945, and in it they reveal that the handwriting on the informers’ letter was the same as that which signed the German document confirming receipt of the £100 reward money paid to the informers.
The document also reveals that when Louisa Gould learned that it was no longer safe to shelter the Russian (after the informers’ letter was intercepted), ‘Bill’ went to stay with Ivy Forster and her husband for the next five days. When the Geheime Feldpolizei (GFP) searched Louisa’s house, they found papers showing that he had been there, including labels of Christmas gifts showing that ‘Bill’ was the recipient, and Louisa and Ivy the givers. They also found a camera – a forbidden item. Although they did not find Louisa’s hidden radio, which her maid, Alice Gavey, hid, the GFP returned the next day and found it then.
Louisa and Alice entered prison on 25 May 1944. One week later, the GFP searched the Forster house and Ivy was arrested. ‘Bill’ had meanwhile been entrusted into the care of Bob Le Sueur, who helped to place escaped slave workers in safe houses. After another week, two of Louisa’s close friends were arrested: Berthe Pitolet, who was now working as a house-keeper, and schoolteacher Dora Hacquoil. Both were regular visitors to Louisa’s house, and Dora joined Louisa and ‘Bill’ every evening to listen to the news on the forbidden radio. Berthe used to stay with Louisa for several weeks at a time. Harold Le Druillenec, Louisa’s brother, was also implicated in the affair, because although he did not shelter ‘Bill’, he visited Louisa in St Ouen (and was presumably seen visiting her) and listened to the radio with her. Alice Gavey, Dora Hacquoil and Ivy Forster served their sentences in Jersey prison and were not deported.
On 30 June 1944, Louisa Gould, Harold Le Druillenec and Berthe Pitolet were deported as part of a group of twenty Jersey political prisoners. The Germans were anticipating an Allied landing and wanted to get ‘troublemakers’ out of the island while it was still possible. The same day as they were deported, Berthe wrote her will. It is in Jersey Archives today.
The prison locations and dates available to us today are approximate and based upon the recollections of Harold Le Druillenec, and the women who travelled to Jersey after the occupation to tell the family about what happened to Louisa.
Berthe, Harold and Louisa were taken first to L’Espérance Prison in St Malo from 1 to 8 July 1944. They were then taken to Jacques-Cartier Prison, Rennes, Brittany, from 9 July to 3 August. The prison in Rennes was badly hit when the nearby railway station was bombed in the Allied advance. Berthe Pitolet took the opportunity to escape, but couldn’t persuade Louisa to come with her. Berthe was not caught and stayed in the town until it was liberated by Americans less than a week later. Had Louisa escaped with Berthe, it is likely that she, too, would have survived the war. As it was, Louisa died in Ravensbrück Concentration Camp in 1945. Harold was sent to a series of concentration camps, ending the war in Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, which he survived at great cost to his physical and mental health.
Berthe’s aliens registration card shows us that, on 29 July 1945, she arrived at Jersey airport from Croydon in Surrey having traveled from Paris. She returned to her previous address at 83 Oxford Road in St Helier. In April 1947 she moved to 3 Norfolk Terrace in St Helier and returned to her previous pattern of visiting France now and again and living in St Helier. To what extent Berthe kept in touch with Harold Le Druillenec and his family is unknown.
Berthe Pitolet’s Occupation ID form, Jersey Archives ref. D/S/A/24/1276
Berthe Pitolet’s charge sheet, Jersey Archives ref. D/Z/H6/7/104.
Berthe Pitolet’s entry, political prisoners’ logbook, Jersey Archives ref. D/AG/B7/7.
Sanders, P. The Ultimate Sacrifice. Jersey: Jersey Heritage Trust.
Collaborators in the Channel Islands, The National Archives ref. KV 4/78.
Harold Le Druillenec’s compensation claim, The National Archives ref. HNP 272.