By Gilly Carr
WARNING: CONTAINS DETAILS OF NAZI BRUTALITY; ADDITIONAL FILES HAVE DETAILS OF DEATH OF HERBERT SMITH.
Frank Hubert Tuck was born in Guernsey 26 May 1914. He was a police constable in Guernsey at the time of the occupation of the island and unmarried.
Tuck, 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.
Much information about Frank Tuck comes from the 1979 edition of the 1958 memoirs of his police colleague, Kingston George Bailey (in which Tuck also dictated his own story). 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 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. 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.
Sixteen 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 1942 the men were tried by the Germans and, on 1 June 1942, controversially, in a show trial, also by the local authorities in the Royal Court, on account of the civilian stores that had also been entered. Tuck was sentenced to three years and six months hard labour by the Germans and to 9 months hard labour by the Royal Court, to be served concurrently. 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. In his memoirs, 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 Tuck was imprisoned from 16 July to 7 August 1942. This prison was managed by French wanders 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’. These women brought food parcels and clothes to the men and promised to write to Bailey’s wife. They operated through one of the French warders, who was pro-British and a former policeman.
On 7 August 1942, three of the policemen, including Tuck, Herbert Smith and Jack Harper, were among 100 men taken away on lorries for forced labour in Germany. As narrated in Bailey’s memoirs, Tuck was taken by train, manacled in pairs, first to Karlsruhe Prison for a ‘few days’, and then to Landsberg Prison in South Bavaria, which he described as ‘huge, spacious, cold and bleak’. Tuck and the others were then sent on working parties to repair the railways for two days before being admitted to the main prison in Augsburg. From here they were sent, the next day, to Neuoffingen Labour Camp, four miles outside the nearby small town of Gundelgfingen, 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, Harper, Charles Friend and Smith) and two Jerseymen (probably Philip Ozard and Paul Gourdan). ‘Needless to say I was delighted about this; to be unable to converse freely with your fellow men because of (a) language barrier is to be alone amongst a crowd’, as Tuck wrote later.
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. Tuck wrote that ‘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.’
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, 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. Anna Sailer smuggled a little Christmas card to Frank tuck one Christmas, showing an angel carrying a lighted candle and the message ‘always have a light in your heart.’ Tuck’s family have the card still and it is shown on this website.
In mid-April 1945, Frank Tuck and the other men were put on a forced march towards 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 at Landsberg Prison, 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 three men were looked after by the Americans, fed, and given medical treatment and American uniforms to replace their ragged clothing. While on route back to the places of his ill-treatment to search for his old camp guards with the Americans, Tuck fell off a truck and broke his arm. He was sent to hospital in Rheims, then taken to the British military hospital in Brussels after three weeks. After this he was repatriated to the UK on 21 June 1945.
From 1964-65. Frank Tuck applied for compensation for his persecution. Even 20 years after the war he was still suffering from a permanent back injury received through a blow across his spine from a rifle wielded by a German guard. Because of this he was incapacitated for up to six months at a time in great agony. He had also suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis, caught in the camp, and had had part of his right lung removed in 1949. This caused him to lose his job as he was incapacitated for two years. In his testimony he wrote that ‘I have had several nervous breakdowns, and am constantly having treatment for bad nerves.’ Because of his physical incapacities and clear Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Tuck was ‘thrown on the scrap heap because my medical history followed me wherever I applied for a worthwhile job’. He was unable to obtain permanent employment after the war and had difficulties supporting his family. Despite this, his family knew him as a wonderful and much-loved husband, father and, later, grandfather.
Frank Tuck was successful in receiving compensation. However, he had medical and legal bills to pay after a Privy Council court case in which he unsuccessfully tried to clear his name in Guernsey. His family were thus unaware that he had been successful in receiving compensation as the money was spent before they could benefit from it. Frank Tuck, like the other Guernsey policemen, never cleared their names and the judgements against them made by the Royal Court in Guernsey still stand to this day, long after their deaths.
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.
Frank Tuck Nazi persecution compensation claim, The National Archives ref: TNA FO 950/962.
International Tracing Service records, Wiener Library refs. 11495013, 11494036/0/1, 11367225/0/1.
Frank Tuck records from Villeneuve Saint-Georges prison, ref. 500W 8/1, 500W 8/2, 500W8 04. Archives Départmentales du Val de Marne, Creteil.