By Gilly Carr
Dorothy or ‘Dolly’ Edwards was born on 3 April 1925 and was 15 years old and working as a maid at the outbreak of the Occupation. Our knowledge of what happened to her during the Occupation comes from four sources: the scant information that can be gleaned from her occupation registration card; a TV interview with her in 1994 on the occasion of her 50th wedding anniversary; an interview with her published in A Model Occupation by Madeleine Bunting; and a recent interview with her daughter published by The Sun tabloid newspaper to mark the release of the film ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society‘.
There is no record of Dorothy being deported, nor any record in the police log book, which lists the charges against islanders made by the German authorities. And yet Dorothy herself said that she was deported to Loos-les-Lille Prison for four months. She is, to the best of our knowledge, the only islander to have been sent to this prison. The fact that she was deported without archival records noting this fact suggests to us that she may not have been the only Islander deported from Guernsey without the relevant surviving paperwork being registered.
An examination of the Island’s registration cards shows that not only was Dorothy’s father, George Henry Edwards, absent from the Island because he was fighting in the armed forces, but no trace can be found of Dorothy’s mother. She had evacuated and was living in England with Dorothy’s eight brothers and sisters. Dorothy missed the last boat off the island and so stayed with her aunt and uncle. As her occupation was listed as that of ‘maid’, this is perhaps how she paid her way at her aunt and uncle’s home at 5 L’Hyvreuse Terrace in Cambridge Park, St Peter Port. Dorothy’s form also tells us that she moved twice: once in March 1943 to Trouville in Fosse André, and on 31 January 1944, back to L’Hyvreuse Terrace. Before both moves she had been to France and returned.
Dorothy had been accused of handling stolen goods at her uncle’s shop where she had been working; the recent news article says that she was accused of stealing a loaf of bread from the shop where she worked. The German police came one day to take her name, and two months later she received a form telling her to go to German headquarters.
A German said to me, ‘You are a German undesirable. You have received stolen food from the German forces. You are going to prison for four months.’ Bang, he stamped my form. I didn’t know what he was talking about. Later, I learned my uncle had been a black marketer and was also sent to prison.
I was very proud that I was going to prison; I thought it made me something of a resistance heroine. I expected to go to the Guernsey prison, but some time later I got a letter saying I was going to prison on the Continent. A car came to collect me; I wasn’t scared, I was excited. I was handed over to a German gendarme who looked after me very well.
When we arrived in St Malo he took me for breakfast and then we walked all over the town, sightseeing – our train wasn’t until the evening. We had a lovely dinner in a café and the gendarme got drunk on beer and I had to help him out of the café and I sat him on a seat on the wall around St Malo to sober up. I could have run away but I didn’t know where to go so I just sat there and waited for him.
Although we do not know the precise date when Dorothy was deported, we know from her prison records that she entered Loos-les-Lille Prison on 17 October 1942. On 4 December she was transferred to Caserne Vandamme. On 26 December 1942, she was sent to the Hospital de la Charité in Lille, and returned to the Caserne Vandamme on 11 February 1943. She returned to Loos-les-Lille Prison and left there on 19 February.
Bunting records that Dorothy was nicknamed ‘La Petite Tommy’ in Lille prison, where she ‘learnt some French and made some good friends.’ She ‘received French Red Cross parcels with delicious food, and she managed to survive a number of scrapes and adventures, including falling seriously ill.’
Dorothy was expected to find her own way back to Guernsey after being released from prison. This, she managed successfully. On the boat on the way home, Dorothy was ‘put in the hold with all these Algerian and Moroccan forced labourers. I was terrified and then I saw these jackboots coming down the stairs. It was Willi and he took me up to the deck and gave me coffee and bread. He already knew me. We’d never spoken, but he’d seen me and I’d seen him playing football near my house. He told me afterwards that he had always liked me and had nicknamed me ‘Blondie’ … Before I went to France, he used to salute me and I would put my tongue out.’
Willi Joanknecht and Dorothy Edwards struck up a relationship. They eventually married themselves informally in August 1944, using a curtain ring in place of a wedding ring, in the Little Chapel in Guernsey. In August 1947 they married formally. In 1948 they tried to settle in Guernsey but Willi was refused a work permit so they settled in Plymouth. Dolly always wanted to return to Guernsey but the couple could not afford it.
Having fallen in love with a German, Dolly was at risk of being labelled a ‘jerrybag’, but she was fortunate that very few people were rude to her. This contrasts with the humiliation and violence that some women in Jersey experienced after the Liberation.
Dolly and Willi had five children and twelve grandchildren together. Willi died in 2015 aged 93 and Dolly died in 2017. Their ashes were scattered at La Valette pools in Guernsey, where they used to go when they were dating.
Bunting, M. 1995. A Model Occupation: The Channel Islands under German Rule, 1940-1945.
GMTV Interview with Dolly and Willi Joanknecht in August 1994 (see Links below)
Dorothy Edwards, Occupation registration form, Guernsey Island Archives.