By Gilly Carr
Frederick Peter Duquemin was born in Guernsey on 19 July 1895. He had previously served in the army during the First World War, during which he was wounded, which left a scar on his right lower leg. He retired from the army on 14 November 1919.
He was a police sergeant at the time of the occupation of the island. His wife, Florence, and four children (Ruby, Rose, Thelma and Steve) had evacuated to the UK and so were not in Guernsey during the occupation.
Duquemin, 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, or the older men who had previously served in WWI, 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.
We have five main sources of information from which to draw to learn more of Duquemin’s story: Bill Bell’s interviews with the policemen later in their lives; Duquemin’s daughter Rose’s memoirs; Duquemin’s 1965 compensation testimony, although much rich detail is sadly lacking from this given that Duquemin had by then died and his wife wrote a brief entry on his behalf; the International Tracing Service documents, which record Duquemin’s stays in various German prisons; and the memoirs of his police colleague, Kingston George Bailey, from which we can learn much about the experiences of the other policemen. Bailey described how he and fellow ringleader, police constable Frank Tuck, decided, in the first winter of the 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, controversially, also by the local authorities in the Royal Court on 1 June 1942, on account of the civilian stores that had also been entered; this was a show trial. Duquemin was sentenced to two years and 6 months hard labour for ‘theft and serious thefts, as well as for receiving goods’ 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 Prison in Paris, where Duquemin was imprisoned on 16 July. On 21 July 1942, five days after his arrival, 47 year-old Duquemin was transferred to Fresnes Prison hospital, but returned to Villeneuve on 12 October 1942. We do not know what his illness was, but three months’ absence indicates something relatively serious. According to the prison’s records, he stayed incarcerated in Villeneuve until 30 September 1943.
Lest there be any misapprehension that life in a French prison was easy, the following description by Duquemin’s colleague Fred Short of Villeneuve-Saint-Georges was as follows:
‘We slept 50 to a room on beds of straw. Vermin was at its height (lice, bugs, fleas) and the sanitation and washing facilities were practically nil. A galvanised dustbin with a wooden plank for use as a WC was issued to each room for sanitation purposes and was emptied twice daily (morning and night) so the smell in the room as you can imagine was terrible. Washing facilities consisted of four small taps running out of a wall where one had to cup one’s hands in order to gather enough water to swill your face. No baths or showers, so being impossible to wash one’s body. Razors were forbidden, there being no facilities whatsoever for haircutting and shaving so you can imagine what a sorry mess we all looked when we left this Prison Fort for Germany. Food consisted of a semi-starvation diet, with two small cups of watery soup daily with two slices of dry bread and one thin slice of meat or cheese fortnightly and finally for good measure the Nazi guards would raid and search the rooms on an average twice weekly (day or night) and each of us in turn would get a beating up by getting struck with their rifles and kicked.’
(Frederick Short, compensation testimony, TNA FO 950/1224)
Records from the International Tracing Service indicate that Duquemin was moved to Siegburg Prison, arriving on 6 October 1943, indicating a six-day train journey from France into Germany. About his sojourn in this prison, his wife wrote:
‘Although he was sentenced by the Germans in Guernsey to 2 ½ years hard labour for sabotage in 1942, he actually served 3 years in a German prison in Siegburg. He was released by the US army in March 1945 when he was being taken with others (not British) to Belsen Concentration Camp.
He was made to work as a navvy while on a starvation diet, and was knocked and kicked on many occasions. He had no warm clothing only pyjama type jackets during the severe winters they experienced. He was normally a 15 stone man and when released weighed between 8 and 9 stone and never again regained his health, despite prolonged medical attention.’
(Florence Duquemin, TNA ref FO 950/1228)
Although Duquemin’s sentence was due to end on 23 September 1944, a stamp on his prison card at Siegburg indicates that he was made (or remained) a police prisoner on 24 September 1944. He stayed in this prison until he was moved in the direction of Butzbach Prison (which he did not reach) on 25 March 1945. It seems likely that Florence Duquemin’s mention of Belsen was an error.
About the end of his experience in Siegburg, Bill Bell, who researched the fate of the Guernsey policemen, wrote that:
‘Duquemin served the main part of his sentence at Siegburg in Germany … Fred’s two-and-a-half year sentence turned into three years. When the Americans crossed the Rhine and started threatening Siegburg, he and another 20 prisoners in his working party were moved eastwards. After a time the lorry they were travelling in, broke down and they were lodged in a local prison whilst the guards searched for another lorry. However the Yanks beat them to it when on 27 March a US tank drew up outside the prison and Frederick Duquemin was liberated. He and his fellow prisoners, Frenchmen, Dutchmen, Poles and Russians, had been employed filling in bomb craters at nearby airfields. Fred Duquemin had not spoken English to anybody for eighteen months.
Fred was looked after by the Americans for a couple of days and within a week, was flown by the RAF to Thetford in East Anglia. He was quickly reunited with his wife and family …
Three years of captivity affected Fred in many ways. His twelve-year-old daughter recalled how her father had changed:
“You did not have to hear that he had suffered; you could see. His skin was literally hanging in folds. If a dog barked, his head would turn sharply. He could not walk past a cigarette end without picking it up; he kept a tin in his pocket. If a bell rang or there was a sharp noise, he was looking over his shoulder. If there was food, he ate it, if it was there, the safest place for it was in his stomach, because it might not be there later.”
Fred Duquemin returned to Guernsey with his family and obtained employment at the airport, along with another of his former colleagues, Fred Short. However, he remained for the rest of his life extremely bitter about the treatment he and his former colleagues received at the hands of the local establishment.’
Bill Bell, I Beg To Report (1995, 368-9)
Some of Duquemin’s bitterness was because he had given food taken from German stores to the Bailiff (Victor Carey) during the occupation; he left food gifts, such as a bag of sugar, in the car when he was called upon to drive the Bailiff. Despite this, the Bailiff did not protect the men at their trial.
In his memoirs, Duquemin’s daughter Rose wrote about the return of her father to the UK:
‘The police had been trying to trace us to let us know that Dad had arrived in England … He visited the nearest police station as soon as he was able to and asked them if they could help him find us …
After breakfast Mum visited the police station for the latest news; she had timed it just right. When they phoned through Dad had just walked in at the other end. It was arranged that we would meet him at a house in London. The house belonged to a Channel Islander who lived in London and any Guernsey or Jersey serviceman who had no family to go to when on leave could stay at his house … We eventually found the right place.
We knocked on the door and Dad answered it. I did not recognise him, but I knew it was him because Mum threw her arms around him. He wanted to know how we all were and how we had managed …
After we had had a good dinner, we set out again to take Dad home … We had to cross London to get to the railway station, so we took a taxi. When mum paid our fare she gave the driver a small tip. He did not think it enough and he threw it back at her and told us that buses were good enough for the likes of us! Dad did look like a tramp; he had lost a lot of weight. He was wearing an old raincoat with box cord instead of a belt. He was carrying a duffle bag with a few things the Red Cross had given him and a prison blanket he had brought with him from Germany; it was tied up with more box cord.”
Duquemin’s daughter Rose Short later shared her memories of her father. She recalled that her father was upset not to be reinstated as a policeman after the war. Her mother was comforted by their local vicar, who told her that ‘they will roast in hell’, referring to the Guernsey authorities who convicted the policemen.
When the family returned to Guernsey, they found that the Germans had blown up their house and incorporated the land into the airport. The land was thus no longer there, even though they still had a mortgage to pay on the house. Florence Duquemin threatened to plant potatoes on airport land in retaliation for the loss of their land. Life was a struggle financially for the family after the war and so the compensation from the Foreign Office in the mid-1960s was important. It “made the difference between managing and not managing”, in the words of Duquemin’s daughter. It also acknowledged the hurt that had been done to Fred Duquemin.
On one occasion after the war, when Fred Duquemin needed a blood test, he expressed surprise at how little blood was needed. After questioning Duquemin, his doctor discovered that he must have unwittingly had blood forcibly taken for a transfusion for a German soldier while he was in captivity.
Rose recalled how her father hoovered up food (“if there was food, dad ate it”). On one occasion, her father found a bit of bacon in the larder that had been overlooked and was now crawling with maggots. He rinsed it under the tap, patted it dry, and ate it. After seeing his daughter’s revulsion, he admonished her, saying “you’ll eat anything if you’re hungry enough”.
Rose also recalled that her father returned with a small tattoo between his finger and thumb of a dark blue triangle, but she was unsure of its meaning. Such a triangle attached to camp clothing indicated a foreign forced labourer in the Nazi camp system, and it is possible that another prisoner informally tattooed Duquemin, perhaps at his own request or perhaps forcibly.
Frederick Duquemin died in 1954 of lung cancer aged 59, his early demise no doubt hastened by his experiences during the war. At his funeral, the church was packed to the rafters; he remained very well-liked, respected and popular, despite the trial. He did not lose his good name among his friends.
Frederick Duquemin, like the other Guernsey policemen, never cleared his name and the judgements against him and the other policemen made by the Royal Court in Guernsey still stand to this day, long after his death.
Gilly Carr would like to thank Rose Short, daughter of Frederick Duquemin, for granting her an interview on 13 December 2014.
Bailey, K.G.1979 . Dachau. Guernsey: CI Marine Ltd.
Bell, W.M. 1995. I Beg to Report. Guernsey: Guernsey Press Co. Ltd.
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.
Short, R. Unpublished wartime memoirs. In private ownership.
Florence Duquemin, Nazi persecution compensation claim for Frederick Duquemin, The National Archives ref: TNA FO 950/1228.
Frederick Duquemin, International Tracing Service records, Wiener Library refs. 11469411 & 11362550.
Frederick Duquemin, records from Villeneuve Saint-Georges prison, ref. 500W 8/1, 500W 8/2, 500W-3 & 2742W102. Archives Départmentales du Val de Marne, Creteil.