By Gilly Carr
Gerald Domaille’s story begins in 1944, when he was single, 29 years old, and working as a cycle mechanic in his father’s business, Domaille and Sons, located in Bordage Street in St Peter Port, Guernsey.
In February 1944, two French Algerians – probably Organisation Todt labourers – approached Domaille in the shop and asked him if he would like some butter. As food was scarce, he agreed and they arranged a rendezvous but the two men failed to show up. A second rendezvous was arranged and the men instead arrived with two sacks of coffee, which Domaille did not want, but let the men store in his greenhouse.
A German soldier with whom Domaille was friendly, and who sometimes gave Domaille bread or cigarettes, asked him if he had any coffee beans for his superior officer, a colonel, who wanted to post some to his wife back in Germany. Domaille was pleased to be able to return the previous kindnesses that he had been shown with a small amount of coffee. The colonel’s package was intercepted and traced back to Domaille, who was arrested and interrogated. The interrogation involved violence. When the Algerians were tracked down, it transpired that they had stolen the coffee from German food stores.
According to his charge sheet, on 14 April 1944 Domaille was convicted by Army Tribunal for ‘receiving stolen goods’, and given a one year sentence. About this offence, Domaille later wrote that he was ‘wrongly convicted of being a leader of a Black Market ring in Guernsey. This was entirely false in every respect and was denied by me at my trial ….’
We are fortunate in having two key sources which give us an insight into Domaille’s experience, both of which he authored. The first is his compensation claim testimony and the second is his memoirs. Both have been drawn upon below to recount his story.
Domaille was first placed in the Organisation Todt Prison in Guernsey from 17 March to 17 April 1944. This prison was ‘an old building on the South Esplanade and it was used solely for the incarceration of all slave workers.’ He was then moved to the military prison in Guernsey from 18 to 30 April. While here he had to carry out forced labour of various types, including building an air raid shelter.
Domaille was then deported to St Malo, where he spent the night at St Malo Prison. His subsequent train journey was almost enjoyable compared to others he was soon to endure: he was given food, he was not handcuffed, and he even looked after the guards’ bags in Paris while they did some shopping.
On arriving in Frankfurt on 9 May 1944, he was placed in Frankfurt am Main Military Prison for a night. The sudden change in treatment came as a shock as he was tightly hand-cuffed with his hands behind his back and put into a cell with no sanitation and just a wooden bench for a bed, with no blanket.
The following day he was sent to Frankfurt am Main-Preungesheim Prison by bus, where he stayed until 21 March 1945. Channel Islanders in this prison were able to be in contact in a variety of ways. Frank Falla, who was also in the same prison, described contact as possible only when taking their daily 15-minute exercise in the prison yard. ‘If we could not slyly whisper a few words to each other, we exchanged V – or thumbs up – signs’. Domaille was able to make contact with two men from Guernsey on his first day in the prison. When he assembled with the other prisoners on his floor, ‘… there were whispers of Français? Français? As soon as I said ‘Non, Anglais from Guernsey’, two voices came across to me saying ‘we are English also, from Guernsey.’ They were called Walter [Lainé] and Norman [Dexter] and they proved to be wonderful friends the whole of the time in Germany.’
Domaille later described conditions at Frankfurt:
The prison was administered by the military and SS. We were forced to work in an outbuilding in the prison courtyard, working on certain engine parts, such as carburettor needles and very small nuts and bolts, cutting the castellations in the nuts, these we understood to be for fighter aircraft … The prison itself was reasonably clean, but quite a few beatings took place. The food was reasonable sometimes, but it really was a starvation diet. Some guards were reasonable, others were brutal.
On 21 March 1945, Domaille was transported to Bamberg Prison in Bavaria in sealed cattle trucks, a journey which lasted for four days.
At the outset of the journey we were given a piece of bread … and a small piece of sausage. The trucks were well sealed, no light, no air, no water and no sanitation. We were crammed about sixty prisoners to a truck.
Upon arrival, the ill-treatment continued and the men were herded from the cattle truck to the prison in the early hours of the morning by guards using rifle butts and sticks on the prisoners. Dexter and Domaille were together at this point, and they also bumped into Sidney Ashcroft. This sighting of Ashcroft constitutes the only source of information that he was in Bamberg Prison. While Domaille records in his memoirs that Lainé was with him here, this was not mentioned by Lainé in his testimony and so is likely to be inaccurate.
We were lodged in an old prison in Bamberg, Bavaria, the name and address I never knew. Conditions here were extremely bad, sanitation terrible, food very little, mainly potato peelings in hot water. To my knowledge the administration was the same as at Frankfurt. No work [i.e. forced labour] was done by me at this prison.
Things were only going to get worse for Domaille. He and his Guernsey friends were then taken to Bamburg Military Riding School for nine days.
Conditions here were really terrible. The ground floor on which we were congregated was compiled of rubble, dust, etc. There were no arrangements for sanitation. The floor was covered with human excreta, prisoners who died were left where they dropped. The stench was horrible, The food was potato peels in water once a day.
In his memoirs, Domaille added to this description, stating that:
The floor was filthy dirty with rubble and horse manure. We were given a so-called meal of dried bits of boiled parsnips, which was thrown on this filthy floor surface and we had to pick it out from the dirt. Our warders just looked at us and laughed, comparing us to animals. After this we were told to face the sidewall and sit on our haunches. They were standing behind us warning us that if anyone moved they would be shot.
Domaille and his friends were in Bamberg until approximately 2 April 1945. The journey from Bamberg to Straubing Prison, his next destination, was by open truck.
Those who tried to escape from the truck were shot at and wounded or killed. I would estimate that there were about two thousand prisoners in our contingent, but numbers decreasing as the journey progressed. Near the Austrian border we were herded into sealed trucks once more. This time we could only stand up we were so crowded. Anybody that fell could not get up and were trampled underfoot. When we were let out we found ourselves inside the prison courtyard.
In Straubing Prison, where he arrived with Ashcroft, Lainé and Dexter, he was confined in his cell for the duration with Norman Dexter and three other men, and within a short period all were crawling with lice. This period was approximately 3 April to 23 April 1945.
This prison was administered by the military and SS. Upon arrival we were herded into the prison shower aided by beatings with pieces of wood, the target being the kidneys. Food was very short here.
On 23 April, Domaille and the other prisoners were put on a forced march of about a week in duration in the direction of Dachau concentration camp. Sidney Ashcroft was taken away to Straubing Prison hospital and not seen again by the others.
We slept out in fields in the pouring rain. … Food was one meal per day, dry bread with a well watered down apology for jam. Villagers put out baths of fresh water for us to drink, some even gave us food but to be caught by the guards meant that anything could happen to one. If caught, the result was to be knocked senseless or killed with a rifle butt. We were told that stragglers would be shot; quite a number were.
In his memoirs, Domaille gave an insight into the value of his friends, Dexter and Lainé, on the march:
… if we had not kept together, none of us would have survived. When I was hit on the right ankle by a soldier with the butt of his rifle, Walter and Norman were a great help to me. My ankle was swollen to such a degree that I could only just walk. During that period we were issued with a bowl of so-called soup, neither Norman nor Walter could get it for me, I had to get it myself so with one of them each side of me I managed.
The three Guernsey men managed to escape from the forced march near Freising, but they were still behind enemy lines. While hiding in a farmer’s hayloft, American soldiers walked in – the advancing American army meant that they were effectively freed. They were sent to the town hall to see the new American-appointed mayor, who gave Domaille a kit bag containing rations (shown on this web page).
The three Guernseymen were soon put on an American military truck, and then a train to Rheims in France. They were then flown from Rheims to London, where Domaille went to Manchester to stay with his sister who had evacuated from Guernsey in 1940. They stayed together in the city until it was possible to travel back to Guernsey later that year.
In 1965, Domaille applied for compensation for Nazi persecution, and for disability acquired as a consequence of his persecution.
… I was ill for a period of four years [after imprisonment in Germany]. I contracted tuberculosis of both lungs. In 1950 I had a thoracoplasty performed on my left lung. This operation rendered it useless, but saved my life. My right lung has a number of scars. In 1956 I had further trouble with my right lung. I was in hospital for a period of nine months … I also get trouble with my right ankle during cold weather, this being due to repeated hits with a rifle butt by a military escort.
In 2003, with the help of his sons, Gerald Domaille applied for compensation for his period of forced labour through the IOM – the International Organisation for Migration who organised compensation claims under the German Forced Labour Compensation Programme. The scheme was not advertised in the Channel Islands – only the UK – as nobody imaged that Islanders had once been forced labourers. He wrote a brief testimony that was much shorter than his memoirs. It is reproduced here.
Gerald Domaille received his first payment from the scheme just before he passed away on 4 June 2004. As one of his sons wrote to the IOM when notifying them of Gerald’s death, his father was ‘pleased to know that his suffering, along with that of many others, was being recognised.’
The author would like to thank Ina Herge of the Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv for giving permission for Gerald Domaille’s records from Frankfurt am Main-Preungesheim Prison to be shown here. She would also like to thank the sons of Gerald Domaille for permission to share his memoirs and the results of his compensation claim of 2003 on this website.
Gerald Domaille, compensation claim for Nazi persecution, TNA FO 950/2067.
Gerald Domaille’s memoirs, in private ownership.
Gerald Domaille records, International Tracing Service, Wiener Library for the study of the Holocaust and Genocide refs: 11554117/0/1, 19266042/0/1, 108906551/0/1, 108906552/0/1, 108906553/0/1, 108906556/0/2.
Gerald Domaille’s prisoner record from Frankfurt am Main-Preungesheim, copyright Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden (abgeküzt HHStAW), ref. 409/4/012 and refs. 461/18524/001 to 461/18524/010.
Falla, F. 1967. The Ultimate Sacrifice. Leslie Frewin.
Falla, F. 1945. ‘Channel Islanders in Nazi Camp’, Jersey Evening Post, 4 July 1945.