By Gilly Carr
Frederick Winzer Short was born in Guernsey on 10 May 1909 (according to his occupation registration card) or on 10 May 1910 (according to his later compensation testimony). He had been a member of the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry (Militia) from 1928 to January 1930, and joined the Guernsey police force in 1934. He was still a police constable at the time of the occupation of the island. His wife and children had evacuated to South Wales and so were not in Guernsey during the occupation.
Short, 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.
We have three main sources of information from which to draw to learn more of Short’s story: his 1965 compensation testimony; the International Tracing Service documents which record his 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 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 to be a show trial. Short was sentenced to three years and three months hard labour ‘for theft in three cases and serious theft in one case’ by the German court, and nine months hard labour by the Royal Court, to run concurrently with his German sentence. 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 where the gaolers left the prison gate open (deliberately, in Short’s opinion) so he could escape – which he didn’t. Without money, he could not travel. By chance, as Short stepped out into the street, he bumped into Raymond Falla, the Guernseyman from the States of Guernsey Controlling Committee tasked with going on food-buying missions for the Island. Falla refused to lend him any money so Short had little choice but to return to the prison. He was soon thereafter taken to Caen Prison in handcuffs.
The policemen 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 Short was imprisoned from 16 July until – according to his prison record – 21 May 1943. This date accords perfectly with the arrival date at his next prison in Bernau the following day, 22 May 1943. However, in his later compensation testimony, Short stated that he spent only two months in Villeneuve. This discrepancy is difficult to resolve and might be explained by either inaccurate prison records or an inaccurate memory. It is also possible that Short consulted another of his colleagues about their length of time in the prison and spoke to a colleague who left the prison earlier than he.
Short described Villeneuve-Saint-Georges 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)
Short’s transportation to Bernau Prison and Labour Camp in Germany by train lasted three days and two nights, according to his testimony, although the prison records of Bernau indicate that he arrived on 22 May 1943, the day after leaving France. Short testified that he was transported in hand-cuffs and leg chains, and manacled to the next prisoner.
The records in Bernau indicate that he was incarcerated here for just over a month, until 26 June 1943, and given prisoner number 2569. Short’s testimony states that he stayed in Bernau Prison itself for one day and night, during which time he was made to march naked to a large washhouse, where the hair was shaved from his head and entire body. He was then made to climb into a disinfectant tank and then was allowed a shower (which he found a blessed relief after the filth of Villeneuve). He was issued with prison clothing, which was black with yellow stripes, and wooden-soled boots.
The following day he was marched at dawn for three hours to Bernau’s prison labour camp in Rottau, the conditions of which Short found ‘brutal, terrible and horrifying’. This camp was surrounded by three sets of barbed wire, with machine gun posts on stands at strategic points. The camp was patrolled day and night by armed guards with Alsatian dogs. Short wrote extensively about Bernau in his testimony, switching from the past to the present tense, an indication that he was reliving his experience in real time as he wrote.
Each morning, after roll-call, the men were marched for one hour to the work site, a canal which the men were to cut. About 400 prisoners worked in groups of 40, removing peat for fuel. The peat was placed on a machine which cut it up into sections, and placed it onto railway trucks, which were pushed by the prisoners to the canal bank, where it would be laid to dry. The men worked seven days a week in all weathers; their saturated boots became a heavy burden and the men often worked – and marched back to camp (often carrying exhausted friends) – in bare feet. The food was minimal: a slice of dry bread and ersatz coffee for breakfast, weak soup with a slice of dry bread for lunch, and soup with dry bread for dinner. The guards were vicious and brutal at all times, using whips and their fists if a prisoner was late or attempted to speak to another prisoner.
Short soon needed serious medical attention to his hands, which had become like ‘raw meat’. One day he was too weak to get to roll call and told the guards he needed medical help. They entered his barrack, knocked him to the floor, kicked him and dragged him out of the hut to the detention block. Later he was taken before the camp commandant, who also knocked him to the floor and gave him a week of solitary confinement in a specially darkened cell and given a diet of bread and water. After he complained about his treatment, he was threatened with a trial in front of a German court, and the death penalty if found guilty, and returned to the cell for another three weeks.
After an unspecified period of time, Short was given clean clothes and boots, hand-cuffed, and driven from the camp in an army truck, escorted by three guards and two dogs. He was then put on a prison train, which comprised several carriages containing cells of 3×3 ft., each cell containing five men. Each carriage had a corridor running down the centre, with cells on each side. During the journey, the men were moved from cell to cell every half hour and beaten up by the guards each time.
After several hours of this treatment, Short was taken from the train by men in Nazi uniform and driven away in a car to Munich Gestapo Prison. He was handed over to the Gestapo who took him to a room in the prison occupied by German military personnel, who had already been condemned to death by a German military court and were waiting for their execution. This was part of the psychological torture treatment employed in the prison. After a few days, Short was the only man left in the room. He was then removed to a prison cell to await his tribunal. At his tribunal, he was sentenced to 28 days solitary confinement on a diet of bread and water for his ‘political activities’ while at the labour camp in Rottau.
After this punishment, which was probably in the late Summer of 1943, he was again handcuffed and driven to a railway line and put once again into a prison train where he endured the ‘usual treatment’. After a day, he arrived in Schwandorf District Court Prison, where he was kept for two days and then put on another prison train for a couple of hours. Following this journey, he was met by four armed prison guards and taken to Amberg Prison for three days. He was then moved, by prison train, to Nuremberg Prison for two days. Following this he was once again placed on a prison train for a whole day and night. During this time the train was bombed and strafed by aircraft fire, and part of the train was destroyed – a ‘most terrifying experience’. At no point during any of his experiences on a prison train was he given food or water.
Eventually, Short was taken to Diez Prison, near Frankfurt, where he was ‘kept for two years in solitary confinement in the same cell, on the top floor.’ The treatment in the prison was:
‘at all times vicious and brutal, especially during the latter twelve months when aerial bombardment became more frequent by day and by night. The guards would enter my cell quite frequently and beat me up and often leave me without food for one whole day and on numerous occasions even deny me drinking water. I would have to remove all my clothing at the end of each day. The clothing was then taken from the cell and returned in the morning. The only covering for my naked body during the night was one thin tattered blanket. I was also denied heat in my cell …
I was given half an hour exercise each day in the prison yard, but the latter four months before Liberation this was also denied me, due to the fact that we were subjected to a heavy air bombardment in December 1944, which demolished the east and west sides of the surrounding prison walls. Food consisted of a semi-starvation diet and during the latter six months was at its lowest. One thin slice of dry black bread and a small bowl of watery cabbage (sauerkraut) soup daily. It was a case of being slowly starved to death. My weight when liberated was five stone, ten pounds (my height is six foot, my normal weight thirteen stones) … I was the only Britisher in this prison … and when liberated was too weak to walk without aid due to malnutrition. The American Military Authorities eventually removed me to their large Military General Hospital near Metz … where I spent four months … When I left this hospital to commence my journey home I was then weighing nine stone and making a steady recovery from being a very sick patient…
On my arrival home I spent several months under doctors orders and was convalescent and unable to work for 12 months. I recommenced work in October 1946. I would say that I am suffering from a permanent mental disability, in this respect that my outlook towards my fellow beings has very much changed. For after all these years since my imprisonment (20 years) I am still inclined at times to become very callous towards them and have got to take a firm hold on myself. It is something I have been fighting ever since my prison nightmare of torture and I suppose I will have to go on fighting until such time when I reach my allotted span.’
(Frederick Short, compensation testimony, TNA FO 950/1224)
Frederick Short later stated that he was liberated from Diez Prison in March 1945 and kept in hospital until July 1945. He was then taken to convalescent hospitals in Metz and in Epinal, France, for three months. He was then flown by the RAF from Paris to Hendon. Once back in the UK he travelled to Pembrokeshire in South Wales to be reunited with his wife and children. He stayed under the care of a local doctor until August 1946. He eventually moved back to Guernsey in September 1946 to find someone else living in his house. He had to serve them with an eviction order. After three months he was able to move back in and saw the damage caused to his property by the Germans, who had been billeted there during the occupation.
Short ended his testimony of Nazi persecution by looking back at the original offence in Guernsey which led to his arrest stating that he was ‘and always will be, a patriotic Britisher, and I will always look on this German crime of sabotage as a small measure of help for my (then) King and Country, and the Allied war effort.’
Fred Short, 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.
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.
Frederick Short, Nazi persecution compensation claim, The National Archives ref: TNA FO 950/1224.
Frederick Short, International Tracing Service records, Wiener Library refs. 11366697, 38285222, 11538731.
Frederick Short, records from Villeneuve Saint-Georges prison, ref. 500W 8/1, 500W 8/2, 500W-3 & 500W-8. Archives Départmentales du Val de Marne, Creteil.