By Gilly Carr
WARNING: CONTAINS EXPLICIT DETAILS OF NAZI BRUTALITY
Charles Albert Friend was born in Guernsey 4 August 1914. He was a police constable in Guernsey at the time of the occupation of the island and unmarried.
Friend, along with many of his fellow policemen, was to get involved in a case which would cause ripples for decades to come. From the earliest post-war days, these men of military age consistently argued that their actions were inspired by the BBC broadcasts of ‘Colonel Britton’, otherwise known as Douglas Ritchie. These broadcasts were transmitted on the European service to the occupied peoples of Europe but were not aimed at the Channel Islanders because of the precariousness of their situation as sitting ducks in small islands. These broadcasts gave instructions to civilians to sabotage and harass the occupiers in numerous non-military ways. For these young men denied the opportunity of fighting in the armed services, such broadcasts appealed greatly. Their role as policemen gave them opportunities for action denied to most other civilians, such as being out after curfew. However, their position was a double-edged sword. Policemen were also required to salute passing German officers, which they found hard to stomach.
Information about what happened to Charles Friend during the war comes from a number of sources. First, we have the 1979 edition of the 1958 memoirs of his police colleague Kingston George Bailey, in which Bailey and another colleague Frank Tuck narrated the story; as Charles Friend was with Tuck for much of the time of his incarceration, we can learn about one man’s experience from the other. We also have the 1974 thirty-eight page booklet entitled Bread Between the Rails by Louis Dutot about Neuoffingen Forced Labour Camp, to which Friend contributed. Friend also wrote a brief account of his experiences in his mid-1960s compensation claim. In addition to these narrative testimonies, we also have prison and camp records from the International Tracing Service and various archives. Taken all together, we can piece together the following account:
Bailey described how he and Tuck decided, in the first winter of occupation, to do all they could to annoy the Germans. From March 1941 they compiled a dossier on their activities, cut telephone wires, put sand in the petrol tanks of German cars, and painted V for victory signs around the island.
By the following winter, the civilian population was suffering from food shortages while, at the same time, the Germans stockpiled food in stores throughout St Peter Port. Bailey and Tuck broke into these stores by night and took tinned food to redistribute to those in need. They brought a number of other policemen into their group such that, by February 1942, ‘the operation was … getting out of hand … practically the whole police force was now taking part and, as we were on different shifts, it was impossible to know what each man was doing.’ Civilian stores run by people trading with the Germans were also entered.
On 3 March 1942, Bailey and Tuck were caught red-handed by German soldiers lying in wait for them at one of the food stores. They and most of the other police, including Charles Friend, were taken to Guernsey prison and their houses were searched. The men were taken to Grange Lodge in St Peter Port, the HQ of the Secret Field Police (Geheime Feldpolizei) for questioning. They were beaten and given decreasing rations over the period of interrogation. Of this period, Charles Friend later recalled:
For about a month I was continually being questioned at Grange Lodge, which was the Feldgendarmerie headquarters. I was taken to the top floor and made to sit down in the centre of three chairs. I was offered cigarettes, etc. and I was hit severely about the head and face and I spent a great deal of time on the floor. They questioned me and accused me of sabotaging the German occupation forces … I was threatened by them with revolvers and they stated that it would be easy for them to kill me accidentally. They also said that if I did not plead guilty and give them a full admission to these various charges, they would fetch my mother and those nearest and dearest to me and torture them as well. It was in these circumstances that I made a full confession. On one occasion I was taken back to the Guernsey prison with my face unrecognisable from the beating I had taken.
(quoted in Bell, I Beg to Report, 1995, 196)
Back in the prison they were kept in solitary confinement and not allowed to wash or change their clothes. Lack of sleep also took its toll. They were also presented with forged confessions during this period.
Eighteen policemen were then taken to Fort George in St Peter Port for four weeks, where they were able to recover from their beatings and receive food from family and friends so that they looked well for their trial. On 24 April 1943 they were tried by military tribunal. Friend was convicted ‘for theft in two cases and serious theft in two cases, to three years and six months hard labour’.
On 1 June 1943 the men were tried – controversially – by the local authorities in the Royal Court, on account of the civilian stores that had also been entered. Bailey later described this trial as a ‘farce’. Friend was given a 12-month hard labour sentence, which the tribunal declared was to be served concurrently with his German sentence. After sentencing, the men were taken back to Fort George until their deportation on 13 June 1942, during which they were handcuffed to each other in pairs. They were taken first to Jersey Prison for the night, then on to a prison in Granville for a few hours, and then Caen Prison, all the while still in handcuffs.
They were in Caen from 16 June to 16 July 1942. For the first night they were put in dungeon cells in which straw mattresses, complete with wet blankets, were placed on the floor in two inches of ‘what smelt like a cesspool’. After that they were placed in a room filled with 100 cubicles, each locked up at night, and each containing a bed. Although Charles Friend did not write about this prison, in his memoirs Kingston Bailey wrote that ‘the cubicles and bed frames were full of bugs which were, indeed, as hungry as ourselves … The food was terrible, consisting mainly of cabbage soup, with about 3/4 of a pound of bread each day … Many of the prisoners suffered from a mild form of dysentery, probably caused by too much cabbage water.’
The next stage of their journey, also spent handcuffed in pairs during the night, took them to Fort de Villeneuve-Saint-Georges in Paris, where Friend was imprisoned from 16 July to 5 August 1942. This prison was managed by French warders but inspected daily by the German officer in charge. The men were split up and put in a room for sixty, but the beds were full of fleas and lice, according to Bailey’s memoirs. Bailey recorded that he found the monotony ‘unbearable’; they spent each day locked in their dormitory, allowed only thirty minutes exercise a day. While the French prisoners in their dormitory were allowed food parcels from relatives, the Guernsey policemen found the prison food insufficient. Bailey recorded that a ‘black market flourished in the prison … with the help of the warders.’ Even stamps for letters and Red Cross parcels were available. Otherwise prisoners were issued them once a month. Bailey was helped in the prison by two French ladies, Marie and Suzanne Hubert, who wished to help him and his ‘English comrades’, which would have included Charles Friend. These women brought food parcels and clothes to the men. They operated through one of the French warders, who was pro-British and a former policeman.
On 5 August 1942, Friend was taken to Germany. On 7 August, three other policemen, Frank Tuck, Herbert Smith and Jack Harper, were among 100 Frenchmen taken away in manacles on lorries, also Germany. It is not entirely clear the extent to which Tuck, Friend, Smith and Harper shared the same trajectory. Frank Tuck is clear that he was taken briefly to Karlsruhe Prison for a ‘few days’, and then – for a total of three days – to Landsberg Prison in southern Bavaria, which he described as ‘huge, spacious, cold and bleak’. Tuck, Smith and probably Harper were then sent on working parties to repair the railways for two days before being incarcerated in the main Gestapo prison in Augsburg. Charles Friend, on the other hand, records only Augsburg prison after Fort de Villeneuve Saint George. As he left the prison two days before he others, he may have been sent straight to Augsburg, where a few days later he was reunited with his friends.
It was presumably still only mid-August 1942 – only two months after their departure from Guernsey – when the three Guernsey men were sent to Neuoffingen Labour Camp, four miles outside the nearby small town of Gundelfingen, a camp that comprised only two barrack blocks on the edge of a forest. Between 80-100 men of various nationalities, most of whom were French, were interned there, included a total of four Guernseymen (Tuck, Jack Harper, Charles Friend and Herbert Smith) and two Jerseymen (probably Philip Ozard and Paul Gourdan). Harper, Ozard and Gourdan arrived at the camp at a different time to Smith, Tuck and Friend.
The men’s jobs were to repair and build German railroads. This involved carrying railway sleepers, digging cable trenches, and unloading trucks full of stones. Frank Tuck’s account of the daily conditions of the camp is worth repeating here:
The commandant of the camp … Seemed to delight in petty and grosser acts of savagery and sadistic cruelty … The workmaster – the man who was in charge of and accompanied the working-party each and every day … (Was an) embodiment of everything that is evil, who, aided by the guards, saw that the work was carried out.’ One of the overseers ‘took pleasure in punishing prisoners on the slightest pretext’.
The treatment of the men amounted to
… brutal, premeditated torture … I (was) kicked and knocked down and beaten with a pick handle and flogged with the butt of a rifle, and on one occasion I can remember being weeks that I could hardly walk through having been beaten across the kidneys, but chased to work just the same.’
Charles Friend was brief in his summary of the regime at Neuoffingen in his 1964 compensation testimony: ‘Under brutal and savage treatment by fanatical Nazi guards, tortures which words cannot describe.’
Frank Tuck described his life at Neuoffingen camp as a place where the men were woken by a whistle at 5.30am. Their beds were straw-filled palisades, one light blanket and one light cover, summer or winter, with no stoves to keep them warm. In the depths of winter they would return to the dormitory twelve hours later and place their sodden clothes on the bed, hoping that they might dry a little before morning. ‘The cold was so intense in winter that your clothes touching your skin … were almost unbearable. The term ‘frozen stiff’ had a literal meaning here. I have been … so perished and blue with cold I could not move … All men, however self-possessed or strong-willed, soon underwent some degree of mental and physical deterioration … There were constant beatings and punitive measures.’ Tuck also wrote: ‘If you were too weak to do at least what the Germans considered to be the minimum amount of work, you were battered and tortured in many ways to the point when you could no longer stand up; and at that time, you were moved to the cells in Augsburg prison to die alone and without medical attention. This happened to one of my English colleagues [Herbert Smith].’
A local woman, Annie Sailer, and her aunt, Anna Stadler, whose family owned the saw mill and timber yard next to the station, not far from the camp, left bread, some sausage and cigarettes on the hedge, behind the railway sleepers and among the rails near where the men were working. She also persuaded the workmaster to send working parties of 15-20 men to the timber-yard and on to the farm on a Saturday afternoon. When there, the prisoners were fed and were able to listen to the radio. Their clothes were mended, and they received some basic medical attention. The women also bribed the guards to let them enter the camp to distribute food and cigarettes.
Charles Friend had much to say about ‘Tante Anna’ (‘Aunt Anna’), as she became known to the prisoners:
When ‘Tante Anna’ … and her wonderful family first made us aware of their existence and their concern for our welfare, we were very bitter men having already endured untold sufferings at the hands of our German masters. The ruses she devised to help us at great risk to herself and her family, and the kindness shown to us when able to make contact with us from time to time, softened our hearts and made us realise – perhaps for the first time during the war – that not all Germans were Nazis.
Anna Stadler and her family bolstered us up and boosted our morale. They gave us food whenever humanly possible (albeit of necessity at infrequent intervals, which made it only of minimal benefit to our physical condition) to try to help in some small measure in sustaining our weakened and battered bodies. The concern shown, and the encouragement given, by this family led and inspired by Tante Anna gave us the will and fortitude to endure …
After a while the influence which Tante Anna was able to bring to bear on the Camp Commandant and his henchmen seemed to deter them from their worst acts of savagery and torture. In fact it is doubtful whether any of us British would have survived without her help, as we heard later that they intended to ‘liquidate’ us one by one …’
[Charles Friend’s testimony in Bread Between the Rails]
In mid-April 1945, Charles Friend and the other men were put on a forced march in the direction of Dachau, marching by night to avoid being gunned down by Allied planes who might mistake them for columns of Wehrmacht soldiers. Their march lasted several days and ended back at the prison in Landsberg, over 40 miles from Gundelfingen, and there they were liberated by the Americans. At this stage, Friend and Harper were placed in the local hospital, while Smith had died in Augsburg. The men were looked after by the Americans, fed, and given medical treatment and American uniforms to replace their ragged clothing.
Of this period, Friend had the following to say in his compensation testimony:
I was freed by the Americans Forces at the end of May 1945, at LANDSBERG, I was in a shocking state, a mere skeleton just over 7 stones in weight. I was removed to an American field hospital where I was given blood transfusions and saved from death by wonderful nursing. After 2 to 3 weeks I was moved up by stretcher in a ‘Rod Cross’ train to the American hospital in Nancy, France, where I was kept and nursed back to health for another 4 weeks. I was then still a stretcher case [and] flown by military plane to Swindon in Wiltshire, then on to St Margaret’s hospital, Swindon. I was a patient there for 4 to 5 weeks. I was then still a stretcher case [and] removed by ambulance and train to Bristol, then to Winford Orthopaedic hospital near Bristol. I was a patient there for 6 weeks by which time I had made a wonderful recovery. I was now using my legs again and wanting to live. From there I went to Kingston-on-Thames, Surrey, where I received further treatment at Kingston County Hospital. I was repatriated back to my home in Guernsey in November 1945.
Even after 20 years I still relive those terrible days, also my health is badly affected [in] my lungs and my legs.
This testimony of medical treatment shows that it took four and half months after his liberation before Friend even decided that he wanted to live rather than die. In the medical form within his compensation claim, he stated that he was suffering from paralysis, malnutrition and fractured shoulders on his release from the camp, as well as further medical problems which emerged in 1949. He also had untreated pneumonia during the last winter of the war, which caused permanent damage to his lungs. While a letter from his doctor in Guernsey dated 1949 mentioned a healed TB lesion, the medical board declared that Friend’s chest trouble was due to bronchitis and emphysema. The doctor’s handwriting on his medical report was largely illegible but Charles Friend was declared to be 20 to 50% disabled because of his wartime experience and given compensation for this, as well as for 34 months of imprisonment.
Charles Friend married very soon after the war and had two sons and a daughter. One of his sons remembers that his father had a pronounced scar on his right cheek. He was told that it was caused by a prison warder in France striking him with a bunch of keys, which perforated the cheek and subsequently healed badly. He described his father as a man more of mental than physical scars; a man who carried much bitterness because he and the other police were promised that their convictions would be ‘washed out after the war’ – which they were not. Charles Friend never recovered his full health and turned to drink to manage the aftermath of his experiences, which affected his whole family. Although he was a kind and thoughtful man, he was distant and non-demonstrative with his emotions – likely to have been a symptom of PTSD.
The compensation money should have helped Charles Friend’s family, who were living in poverty. However, as Charles was a gambler as well as having an addiction to alcohol, and medical bills to pay, the family did not benefit as much as they might have.
Charles always cherished and framed a medal that he was given when 11 years old. He was given the highest Scouting award for bravery, the Silver Cross, for rescuing a boy from drowning. This medal, shown here on this webpage, reminded him of a time before he was publicly dishonoured. It reminded him that he was not a bad person or a criminal, and had done something good in his life.
Charles Friend’s son believes that his father died as a direct result of his wartime experiences. On the day he died, the Priaulx Library in Guernsey was holding an exhibition which featured the Guernsey police. Friend went to visit it but died of a heart attack on the way there, having worked himself up about the likely content of the exhibition. His son remarked that the camp ‘got him in the end, one way or another’. Friend was 74 years old when he died in 1988.
Charles Friend, like the other Guernsey policemen, never cleared his name and the judgements against him made by the Royal Court in Guernsey still stand to this day, long after his death.
The author would like to thank Keith Friend for his willingness to share information about his father in an interview on 5 May 2015.
Bell, B. 1995. I Beg to Report. Guernsey: The Guernsey Press Company.
Bailey, K.G.1979 . Dachau. Guernsey: CI Marine Ltd.
Dutot, L. 1974. Bread Between the Rails. Liverpool: FH Tuck.
Sanders, P. 2014. ‘Economic resistance and sabotage’, pp. 277-306 in G. Carr, P. Sanders and L. Willmot, Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation 1940-1945. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
Charles Friend Nazi persecution compensation claim, The National Archives ref: TNA FO 950/1748.
International Tracing Service records, Wiener Library refs. 11494035, 11495013, 11494035/0/1, 11367225/0/1, 11367225, 114905013.
Charles Friend records from Villeneuve Saint-Georges prison, ref. 500W 3, 500W 8. Archives Départmentales du Val de Marne, Creteil.