By Gilly Carr
Charles Nicholas Machon is best known for his role in GUNS, the Guernsey Underground News Service. His experiences after his deportation from Guernsey, and those of his colleagues, are detailed in the 1967 memoir, The Silent War, written by his GUNS colleague, Frank Falla.
Charles Machon was born in St Peter Port, Guernsey on 10 September 1893. During WWI he joined the Army as a Private, demobilising in March 1919.
At the time of the Occupation, Charles was legally separated from former wife, Annie Le Page, and was working as a linotype operator at the Guernsey Star and Gazette Ltd newspaper. He lived at 74 Victoria Road in St Peter Port.
Machon was one of several people involved in the writing of GUNS; he was the ringleader and originator of the news service and worked with three other people: Ernest Legg, Joseph Gillingham, and Henrietta Gillingham. Henrietta would write down the BBC 9pm news from her hidden illegal radio, making eight copies using carbon paper. The following morning, Legg would listen to the 8am news and make additions. The copies were taken into their workplaces by Legg and Gillingham, and another copy would be given to Charles Machon, who would incorporate it into his typed (and sometimes linotyped) news sheet.
Less than a year later, Frank Falla and Cecil Duquemin joined the group. Henrietta pulled out in mid-1943 after becoming pregnant, fearful of the risks she was taking. Providing the news to the people of Guernsey was vital after radios were confiscated in the Channel Islands in June 1942. The occupiers did not want people to hear pro-Allied propaganda from London, and it became a punishable offence to retain a radio set or listen to the news. GUNS operated from May 1942 to February 1944. Around 300 copies were produced every day, and these were borrowed and passed around the island. A copy was even passed daily to the Bailiff of Guernsey, Victor Carey. A number of other people were involved in distribution, including Hubert Lanyon in Sark.
The men involved in the news sheet were denounced; a local policeman witnessed the informer pointing out Duquemin and Machon’s houses, both on Victoria Road, to the Geheime Feldpolizei (Secret Field Police). Machon was arrested on 11 February 1944 at the same time as Cecil Duquemin. Machon’s house was searched and his typewriter and copies of GUNS were found. Two months’ worth of news letters were also discovered, hidden in a trunk. Machon was kept in prison and interrogated. He had an ulcerated stomach and needed to have a special diet, but this was denied him during his period of interrogation. After they threatened to put his mother in prison too, he confessed and the other men were arrested in March and April 1944.
On 26 April 1944, Machon was given a sentence by a German military court of 2 years and 1 month hard labour. This was more than the other men. As Machon was the ring leader, he was deported from the island earlier than the others, and sent to different prisons. His date of deportation is unknown; Falla recorded in The Silent War that it was 17 April 1944, but as this was before the trial, it is probable that he meant 17 May 1944.
After Machon left the island, he was never seen by the others again. What happened to him next can only be pieced together through records from the International Tracing Service. These indicate that he arrived at Rheinbach Prison on 22 May 1944 (quite possibly his first prison). From there he was transferred to Hamelin Prison, arriving 16 September 1944. In a 1965 letter to Charles Machon’s former wife, Annie, Frank Falla said that Machon was sent to Potsdam Prison in May 1944, but it is not known where this information came from. No archival evidence has been found to support it.
Charles Machon died on 26 October 1944 in Hamelin prison hospital. His death certificate indicates that he died of a gastric ulcer and haemorrhage. This is consistent with his known stomach problems. He was buried in Hamelin Friedhof (Hamlin graveyard) Am Wehl, in grave 102, field I. Although searches for his body after the war concluded that on 15 November 1949 his body was exhumed and moved to France, in December 2016 it was discovered that his body had not been exhumed although others in the same cemetery had at this time. His grave marker was removed in 1973 to save the city of Hamelin maintenance costs, a standard procedure in Germany for graves that do not have historical protection. If the grave had been recognised in 1973 as a war grave, as it rightly should have been, it would have been under perpetual historical protection.
Charles Machon’s name can be seen on the Resistance Memorial in Guernsey, erected May 2015.
On 12 June 2018, a new memorial was unveiled to Charles Machon in Am Wehl cemetery, Hamelin. This was erected with the enormous help of local historian and activist, Bernhard Gelderblom. Charles Machon’s grandson, Philip Machon, attended with his wife, Diana Hill. At the ceremony, speeches were mede by the local mayor, Oberbuergermeister, Claudio Griese, Gilly Carr and Bernhard Gelderblom. Images of the ceremony can be seen on this page, and the resulting article in the Guernsey Press, published on 19 June 2018, is also available on this page.
Falla, F. 1967. The Silent War. Leslie Frewin.
Private papers of the family of Charles Machon.
The National Archives ref FO 950/2489, Nazi persecution compensation claim Charles Machon.
International Tracing Service records for Charles Machon, Wiener Library refs. 11361763/0/1, 76803477/0/1.
Island Archives, Guernsey, Charles Machon occupation registration forms
Island Archives, Guernsey, Charles Machon sentence records ref. CC14/05/344