By Gilly Carr
Geoffrey Ernest Delauney, born on 27 November 1924, was single, and was living in St Helier at the outbreak of the occupation. He worked as a baker at the time of his registration in January 1941. Delauney had left school at 14 years of age and wanted to join the Royal Navy, but was too young for the age groups that were being recruited at that time.
Delauney comes to our attention during the occupation because he was, on 11 March 1944, convicted by military tribunal, at Victoria College, of two cases of ‘insulting the German forces’. For this he was sentenced to six months imprisonment and deported on 29 March 1944.
Thanks to his memoirs, we have a fuller picture of the offence for which Delauney was convicted, and what happened to him after his deportation.
In his memoirs, Delauney presents himself as a defiant teenager, getting involved in protests against the deportations of September 1942, and becoming a marked man in the eyes of one particular German soldier after shouting abuse at him, cycling off and, later, almost getting into a fight between the soldier and his comrades on the one hand, and he and his friends on the other. During this particular commotion, a passing patrol officer took charge and took Delauney to Silvertide, the HQ of the Geheime Feldpolizei, where he was beaten up – an attack from which he took four days to recover.
Within days he was taken to prison, tried, and deported to France on 29 March 1944 with six other men, none of whom are listed in the political prisoner log book except Delauney, but whom Delauney recalls as being fellow islanders.
Delauney, who spent his first night after deportation at Granville Prison, sleeping side by side with his fellow prisoners, describes the experience thus:
We were put on a barge and taken to Granville before moving on to the prison at St-Lô in Normandy. At first it wasn’t too bad; we were locked up all day but didn’t have to work.
Prison records from France show that Delauney was moved, with other prisoners, to Fort de Villeneuve-Saint-Georges Prison, arriving on 13 April 1944. The move from St-Lô Prison to Villeneuve was carried out on foot.
The prisoners had to march on foot from St-Lô to Paris with only cabbage soup and bread to eat. We slept in barns or out in the open. Luckily I was young and fit but some of the old, sick and weak men died along the way and were just left where they fell; they were French and English POWs. Two weeks after I left the St-Lô prison it was bombed and razed to the ground; everyone was killed.
In fact, although many prisoners were killed in the Allied bombing of the town, there were some survivors. Delauney’s situation hardly improved when he moved to Villeuneuve, where he carried out forced labour.
There was a huge railway junction and it was getting bombed night and day and there were lots and lots of unexploded bombs. They made us dig up the bombs. There were four people to each bomb … We would dig down about six feet in steps. On one occasion the gang I was in was sent to an area just below a large fort in the town which was where a lot of the bombs had been dropped. We were then redirected to another area. The gangs digging up the bombs in the first area were all killed when one of the bombs exploded during the digging. Although French prison officers looked after the prisoners, the Germans had taken over control of the prison. The German guards used to stand about 50 yards away with their guns and dogs. They weren’t front line soldiers, but probably fought in WWI.
Like Stanley Green, (who Delauney later recalled meeting in Villeneuve along with Walter Dauny), Delauney met fellow islander John Soyer in prison, and Soyer told Delauney, as he had told Green, that he was planning to escape ‘in the confusion of an air-raid’; Delauney was glad not to be invited to escape too, as he ‘didn’t have any experience’ and was ‘just a kid really’.
Delauney dug up unexploded bombs in Juvisy (another suburb of Paris a few miles away, and a location we learn from Soyer’s prison records) for ‘quite a few months’, but on hearing that the Allies were coming, the guards left and the prisoners walked back to Villeneuve. However, there was still a German garrison controlling the town, who opened fire on the group of prisoners, killing those in the front. Fortunately, Delauney was at the back and was able to run back to the prison with his friends until the Free French arrived. His prison record notes that he was officially liberated on 17 August 1944. After this, he and an Australian prisoner (the only other English speaker at this point, and now identified as Thomas Patrick Nelson who had been deported from Jersey) were invited to march into Paris with the Free French the day before de Gaulle arrived, which dates this event to 25 August 1944.
Delauney was looked after by a French family for a few weeks before getting a lift with some Americans to Southampton, where he was interrogated (as were all returning prisoners). At this point in his adventures, Delauney weighed only 7 stone.
With the help of the Mayor of Southampton, a Guernseyman, Delauney got a job as a stoker with the Navy, and served on HMS Berwick, a heavy cruiser escorting the North Atlantic convoys. Although it had taken five years, Delauney had finally achieved his dream of working for the Royal Navy.
Gilly Carr would like to thank the daughter of Geoffrey Delauney for the photographs which are uploaded here; Joanne McAuliffe provided the two photos of Delauney with her grandfather, Thomas Patrick Nelson, whose real name was Thomas Nanson.
Memoirs of Geoffrey Delauney, compiled by his family from an interview with the Jersey Evening Post on 28 April, 2005. Reproduced by kind permission of his family.
Further recollections of Geoffrey Delauney, 15 August 2017.
Registration card, Geoffrey Delauney. Jersey Archives ref. St/H/4/7046-7048.
Jersey Court documents. Jersey Archives ref. D/Z/H6/7/54.
Political prisoner log book, Jersey Archives ref. D/AG/B7/1.
Val de Marne archives ref. 500 W/3 and 500 W/9 (Delauney).