By Gilly Carr
Francois Réné Julien Le Villio, better known as Frank or Frankie Le Villio, was born in Jersey on 13 September 1925. He worked as an apprentice mechanic and comes to our attention during the occupation because he was one of the Jersey 21 whose names are inscribed on the Lighthouse Memorial in St Helier today.
On 19 June 1944, Le Villio was convicted by troop court of serious military larceny and given a sentence of three months. He was placed in Jersey prison on 27 June and the local authorities requested that he spend the length of his sentence in Jersey. However, on 30 June 1944, on what must have been the penultimate or even the last deportation ship to leave the island, Le Villio was deported. Also on board was Louisa Gould, Berthe Pitolet, and (we might assume, although his name and date of deportation was not noted in Jersey’s political prisoner logbook), Harold Le Druillenec. For Le Villio to be deported at this time suggests that the occupiers wished to empty the Island of troublemakers and ‘undesirables’ while it was still possible to do so before the Allies had liberated too much of northern France, blocking the deportation routes and preventing imprisonment in French prisons.
Historian Paul Sanders has found evidence of further, earlier convictions of Le Villio, each time for theft. The first conviction was for stealing groceries, for which he was given a three-month sentence with two years’ probation in March 1942. The second time he was convicted of stealing a bicycle and given another three-month sentence. These earlier convictions help explain the desire of the Germans to deport him to France on the third occasion. Le Villio, like Walter Dauny, was a young man with a disruptive home life triggered by the loss of his mother at a young age, and a lack of parental love and guidance to keep him on the right track.
A communication of the troop court dated 1 July 1944 indicated that Le Villio was already on his way to Fresnes Prison in Paris and therefore would not be serving his sentence in Jersey as requested. Sanders suggests that Le Villio stayed in Fresnes until some time before Paris was liberated, then sent to Fort Hatry Prison in Belfort. The evidence for this comes from Harold Le Druillenec – or more precisely, in the radio play about him by Leonard Cottrell written in collaboration with Le Druillenec. Here we learn that Le Villio was with Le Druillenec as he travelled into Germany, from Belfort, in a cattle truck, which puts the date at 1 September 1944. We have good reason to assume that Le Villio was in Alter Banter Weg Concentration Camp in Wilmshaven with Le Druillenec; in his testimony at the War Crimes trials, Le Druillenec says that there was another Briton in the camp with him. This is very likely to have been Le Villio.
Records from the International Tracing Service (ITS) indicate that Le Villio was in Neuengamme Concentration Camp (with Le Druillenec), and was transferred from there to Stalag X-B / Sandbostel Concentration Camp on 7 May 1945. He was not in Belsen with Le Druillenec, contrary to long-held belief.
The content of ITS records is not, however, infallible. Newly discovered information in the form of silent film footage dated 1 May 1945 has come to light. It shows scenes of Sandbostel camp after its relief by British troops, and gives a close-up of a young man identified as Frankie Le Villio laughing with joy at his release and exclaiming to those next to him ‘Oh my, it’s stopped at us!’ (referring to the film camera). This footage starts at 6 minutes and 13 seconds into the film. The caption sheet of this silent film states that Le Villio had been in Sandbostel (in its guise as a sub-camp of Neuengamme) for a short period of time before British POWs rescued him from his ‘awful compound‘ and hid him with them from 24 April 1945, finding him an (unidentified) uniform to wear. The film also shows an open wound on Le Villio’s wrist where, according to the caption sheet, ‘a German officer struck him with the butt of his revolver to make him move out of the way‘. While the caption sheet of the film identifies the young man as Le Villio, this identification must remain provisional until a family member has been able to make an identification.
The caption sheet also provides some previously unknown information about Le Villio’s earlier wartime trajectory, as told to the photographer by Le Villio. While we cannot verify the contents, nor know whether Le Villio was telling the truth, the caption sheet states that Le Villio was sent first from Jersey to Guernsey, then to Alderney. As Le Villio was on the last deportation ship out of Jersey, it is just possible that this vessel had to sail via Guernsey and Alderney in order to make safe passage to France. From here, we are told, he was sent to a ‘concentration camp in Northern France. After a short while he was wrongly accused of stealing a woman’s wristlet watch (by the woman) and because of this he was persecuted, tortured and moved from camp to camp through France and into Germany.’
Sanders’ research shows that, following Le Villio’s repatriation to Nottingham where he had relatives, and after his release from Sandbostel, Le Villio was treated for TB. However, his health soon deteriorated beyond recovery, fatally weakened by his camp experiences and ill treatment. On 26 Sept 1946 he died in Nottingham City hospital aged just 21.
In May 2017, the BBC news announced that Le Villio’s body had been tracked down to a pauper’s grave in Wilford Hill Cemetery in Nottingham. In June 2017, a special service was held at Le Villio’s grave with assembled members of his family. A cross has now been erected on the grave and his family hope to move him back to Jersey. However, as he now lies in a grave with six other people, DNA analysis might be required to identify him.
In May 2018, BBC Jersey announced that enough money had been raised to repatriate Le Villio’s body back to Jersey. On 9 August 2018 his body arrived back in the Island (our thanks to ITV Channel for this clip). Two photos of that arrival are shown on this website.
On 5 September 2018 a moving memorial service to honour Le Villio’s life took place at St Saviour’s church, led by the Reverend Peter Dyson. This event was covered by the BBC, whose online article and film can be seen here. ITV news also covered the story and made a small documentary about Le Villio’s life. This can be seen here. The Frank Falla Archive was pleased to be able to contribute to both films.
The reburial ceremony took place on 6 September 2018. Images from the memorial and reburial can be seen on this website. An associated article written for the Jersey Evening Post on 11 September 2018 by the author can also be seen on this website.
My thanks to Jacqui Press for her lip reading skills in deciphering the words of Frankie Le Villio in the silent film footage from Sandbostel.
Miere, J. 2004. Never to be Forgotten. Jersey: Channel Island Publishing
Sanders, P. 2004. The Ultimate Sacrifice. Jersey: Jersey Heritage Trust
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-nottinghamshire-40387527, accessed 15 September 2017
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-jersey-39872771, accessed 15 September 2015.
Court documents relating to Frank Le Villio, Jersey Archives ref. D/Z/H6/7/90
Political prisoner logbook, Jersey Archives ref. D/AG/B7/1
Occupation registration card and forms, Jersey Archives ref. St H/7/6876 – 6878