By Gilly Carr
Henry Edward Marquand was born on 11 January 1886 in Guernsey. At the time of the German occupation he lived in Guelles Road in St Peter Port and was a senior civil servant, working as States Supervisor for the States of Guernsey. He was married to Alice Maud Marquand née Upson and their daughter Nancy Florence, born in 1921, was living with them.
Henry Marquand was deported in the first autumn of the occupation because of his friendship with the families of the chief protagonists of the case, two British commandos, and his knowledge that they had arrived in the island and were in hiding.
In the autumn of 1940, the first group deportation of people from Guernsey took place. Those involved were deported for their role in sheltering two commandos, Lt Hubert Nicolle and Lt James (Jimmy) Symes – two Guernseymen in the armed forces who had come to the island to spy for the British government. The event has since become known in the island as ‘The ‘Nicolle-Symes Affair’.
On 4 September 1940, when the island had been under occupation for just over two months, Symes and Nicolle landed at Petit Port on the south coast of Guernsey, in civilian clothes, having been taken across the Channel in a Royal Navy Motor Torpedo Boat. They made their way to the homes of relatives and were sheltered by family and friends during their stay in the island. Attorney General and President of the Controlling Commission, Ambrose Sherwill, was alerted to their presence at an early stage; the men wanted to know if he had a message for the British government which they could take back. Nicolle and Symes intended to return to England three nights after they arrived, but no boat arrived to collect them so they were stuck in the island. Worried for the fate of their family and friends if their presence was detected, and for themselves, as spies, a plan was concocted by Ambrose Sherwill. Sherwill was also afraid that if it was discovered that he had known of their presence, especially given that Nicolle’s father was secretary to the Controlling Commission, then he and his civil servants would also be in trouble. The plan involved finding military uniforms for the two men and to pretend that they had been in the island since before the occupation and had missed the opportunity for evacuation and joining up, and had not yet given themselves up. Rather than being shot as spies, this plan would mean that the men would be taken away as POWs.
Meanwhile the Germans had got to hear that some members of the armed forces were in the island. They announced an amnesty for all servicemen who had remained behind when the occupation began. On 18 October 1940 they put a notice in the paper saying that members of the British armed forces in the island in hiding – and those sheltering them – must give themselves up within three days. If they did so, then the soldiers would be treated as POWs and no action would be taken against those who assisted them.
Uniforms were found for Symes and Nicolle and they handed themselves in. However, the Germans reneged on the agreement and the friends and family of the two men were picked up and put in prison. When Sherwill went to complain, he realised that he, too, was a suspect. With days, all involved were deported to France.
Those deported were Ambrose Sherwill; Jimmy Symes’ parents Louis Symes and Rachel Symes; Albert Marriette and Linda Marriette and their daughter Jessie Marriette (Hubert Nicolle’s girlfriend); Wilfred Bird and his adult children Mary Bird (Jimmy’s Symes’ girlfriend) and Walter ‘Dick’ Bird; Emile Nicolle and Elsie Nicolle (the parents of Hubert Nicolle); Hilda Nicolle and Frank Nicolle (Hubert Nicolle’s aunt and uncle); Henry E. Marquand; Bill Allen (the groundsman at the Elizabeth College sports field, who helped shelter the commandos when they were hiding in the pavilion), and farmer Tom Mansell (who was covering for his married brother, Dick Mansell, at whose farm Hubert Nicolle arrived as part of his gathering of intelligence as the Mansell’s farm bordered the airport). 16 people in total were deported.
Those deported were sent in two groups. First of all, Rachel and Louis Symes, the three members of the Bird family, Emile Nicolle, Frank Nicolle and Jessie Marriette were flown on 8 November 1940 to Dinard and then Paris, where propaganda photos were taken of them in front of the Eiffel Tower before they were taken to Cherche-Midi Prison. On 13 November, Albert and Linda Marriette, Henry Marquand, Hilda and Elsie Nicolle, Bill Allen and Tom Mansell were taken by sea, first to Jersey (where they spent the night in the local prison), then St Malo, then Caen Prison. Later, all but Linda Marriette and Hilda Nicolle were taken to Cherche-Midi on 20 November. While Sherwill wrote that they stayed in Caen, Marquand remarked that they arrived in Cherche-Midi around 14 December. On 7 November, Ambrose Sherwill was flown separately to Paris. On 8 November he was taken to Versailles Prison, and on 15 November 1940 he was taken to Cherche-Midi.
On 22 December, Louis Symes was found dead in his cell, his wrists apparently slashed with a razor blade, according to Ambrose Sherwill. There is considerable controversy over whether or not he committed suicide. On the one hand, Rachel Symes was told by another prisoner that he was killed by the Germans. On the other hand, Henry Marquand noted in his diary that the men’s razors were confiscated on 23 December because of the suicide. Both Marquand’s and Sherwill’s diary entries confirm how depressing the experience of being in prison was. Sherwill later recounted of the early days of his prison stay: ‘For the first – and last – time in my life … I understood the meaning of the phrase “the balance of his mind was disturbed”.’ Sherwill also recorded that Symes was temporarily moved to a punishment cell while his own cell was deloused, and the conditions there were grim, which would have lowered his morale still further. This all perhaps gives us an insight into Symes’ possible actions, but the case has never been definitively proved one way or the other.
Henry Marquand kept an occupation diary, which included his time prior to and in Caen and Cherche-Midi prisons. While the comments were at times brief, they give some insight into his experiences. From these we learn that he was put in prison in Guernsey before his deportation, and that his interrogation took place while he was in Cherche-Midi, and not in the island before his deportation. This is likely to have been typical of others in the group.
His description of Caen Prison was as follows:
Driven to Caen, arrived 11.15. Supper cold water. Lights for 10 mins. Bed so dirty [I] slept in overcoat. In morning found that others had done the same. Called 8 a.m. for wash in filthy room, where all night soils were being emptied. 10 a.m. presented half loaf of very dark bread. Very solid. Noon bowl vegetable soup. 5pm ditto. Cell large 18’ x 8’ large window open, 2 casements, fanlight above, therefore plenty fresh air and overlooking aerodrome. No lights after dark. Slept fairly well.
Some sample entries from Cherche-Midi include:
– 20 November 1940: all personal affects, watch, pencil, pen, smokes, etc, taken away. [I was] placed in a cell 8’6” by 5’, no daylight. Ventilation good. Very cold. Central heating not working in the cell. Evening meal served at 3.30pm. Bread, butter and jam. No light.
– 21 November: Called 8.30am. Empty slops and get water, wash and shave. Coffee 9am. 11am soup. 2pm coffee. 3.30pm bread, butter and cheese. Also apples.
– 2 December: My cell is just under the prison clock, which strikes the half hour as well as the hour. It seems to be about 10 minutes ahead of the surrounding churches, and there must be about a dozen of them, none keeping the same time. Some chime, some strike the quarters as well, so that in the quiet of the night it is an incessant jangle of bells.
Marquand quickly started to suffer from chronic insomnia during his time in prison. As well as being caused by church bells, the noise of guards and the cold, this was no doubt exacerbated by the stress and worry of his imprisonment and his fate, his increasing hunger (which he referred to as his ‘steak and onions complex’), and the suspense of waiting for his impending interrogation. It gives us an insight into what must have been a common problem among all prisoners.
– 6 December: Not a very good night. Went to sleep soon after 10 but was awakened at 12 by noise of the visiting guards. The night warder is very silent. Didn’t get to sleep again until 4. Was I hungry tho’. So much so I dreamed of food. About 10.30 was called downstairs. Not the interrogation I expected, but to take a statement similar to that in Guernsey before an interpreter. I don’t know what the next step will be. He could give me no idea how long we should be here or what the result will be …
The group were released on 29 December 1940 and allowed to go back to Guernsey. Ambrose Sherwill lost his job, and Wilfred Bird (a States official), and Emile Nicolle and Frank Nicolle (both civil servants) were excluded from holding public office, but Henry Marquand was allowed to keep his job. During his prison stay, Marquand lost 2 stone (28 pounds) in weight in just over 6 weeks.
Bell, W. 1998. The Commando who came Home to Spy. The Guernsey Press Co.: Guernsey
Marquand, H.E. Unpublished papers, courtesy of the Creasey family.
Sherwill, A. 2006. A Fair and Honest Book. Lulu.com.
Wood, M. and Wood, A. 1955. Islands in Danger. Macmillan: New York.