By Gilly Carr
Victor Alexandre Emmanuel Gontier was born on 3 December 1924 in the Vale parish, Guernsey. He was one of ten children. Victor had left school aged 13 to work as a farm hand on a dairy farm but, in October 1940 at the time of registration of Islanders and by now aged 15, he was additionally employed by the German authorities, supplementing his wages in a cookhouse at La Villiaze Road in the parish of St Andrews.
Victor comes to our attention because, according to a letter from John Leale to the Feldkommandantur dated 2 May 1944, Victor and his brother Hilary had been sentenced by the German military court to 6 months’ imprisonment on 17 September 1943. On 10 November 1943 they were deported. This letter is important, because no record survives in Guernsey of their conviction, and neither were their names inscribed into the police register, as was the normal procedure for Islanders convicted by the German authorities. Why the local authorities had not been notified of this conviction in the normal manner is unknown. The brothers’ names were not in the prison records either, indicating that they were kept in a part of the prison controlled only by the German authorities.
The Gontier brothers’ conviction was for theft; Hilary Gontier had stolen a cash tin from the Luftwaffe flak paymaster who lived in a commandeered house nearby. They were both arrested, interrogated and imprisoned together in Guernsey Prison, and both found guilty.
The boys were transported straight to Germany, to Saarbrücken Prison. Records found at the International Tracing Service confirm that the boys arrived in Saarbrücken the following day, on 11 November 1943. At this point in the story, the family of the Gontier brothers are able to tell us what happened next. They were separated in prison in Germany; Victor shared a room with French prisoners who did not speak English and so communication was limited. Hilary worked outside the prison and Victor worked inside. His job was to distribute supplies which were used in the production and repair of wicker ammunition baskets. The production was completed by prisoners in their cells and so Victor visited the cells around the prison to deliver supplies and collect completed baskets. Both brothers described the prison as a horrible place where conditions were poor. On one occasion Victor did not give his name to a German guard who asked, and so was beaten on the shoulder with a rubber truncheon, causing an injury which caused him problems for the rest of his life. The guard had apparently lost his wife and children in an air raid and so was looking for an excuse to inflict injury on anyone from Britain.
On 17 April 1944 the brothers were transported from Saarbrücken to Laufen internment camp. It is here we must refer back to Leale’s letter; in fact, Leale was complaining on behalf of Victor and Hilary’s father. He had not heard from his sons since their deportation and they should have been released on 17 March 1944. At the time that Leale wrote his letter, the boys were already in Laufen.
The two brothers arrived in Laufen around 22 April 1944 and were given internee numbers 1137 (Victor) and 1138 (Hilary); they were put in different rooms but met up for football matches and could visit each other.
On 4 May 1945 Laufen was liberated by American forces. Victor volunteered to work for them and performed guard duty at the gate of the German compound. In June 1945 the brothers were repatriated to the UK and stayed near Manchester until their return to Guernsey on 11 April 1946.
Gilly Carr would like to thank Matt Tostevin, grandson of Victor Gontier, for allowing her to use family photos.
Occupation registration card, Guernsey Island Archives.
Copy of Guernsey police records of German army tribunal records, Island Archives, reference CC / EC / 6-2 / 340.
Tostevin, M. 2016. ‘The Gontier Boys’, Channel Islands Occupation Review 44, 143-154.
Records for Victor and Hilary Gontier, International Tracing Service, Wiener Library, refs. 11298415, 11298416, 11296831, 21978656, 21978659.