By Gilly Carr
WARNING: CONTAINS EXPLICIT DETAILS OF NAZI BRUTALITY
Jack Harper was born in Plymouth, England, on 16 January 1900. In 1922 he married Claris Falla Pinchmain with whom he had two sons, Leslie and Morris. In 1930, Claris and the children moved to Canada and Harper stayed in Guernsey. It would be 17 years before Claris and Harper would be reunited.
Harper was a police sergeant at the time of the occupation of the island. He joined the Navy very briefly before moving to the RAF during the First World War, working as an Aircraftsman 1st class. He retired from the RAF on 22 March 1921 after 5 years’ service, with ‘papers marked very good’, as he recorded later. During his period of active service, he was wounded in the left hand by a bullet, although the circumstances of this injury are unknown. After the RAF he joined the Guernsey police and, at the time of his arrest, had served in the force for 20 years with 15 commendations to his name.
Harper, 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 (or who, like Harper, had already taken part in an earlier conflict) 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 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.
Information about what happened to Jack Harper during the war comes from a number of sources. First, we have the 1979 edition of the 1958 memoirs of his police colleague Kingston George Bailey, in which Bailey and another colleague, Frank Tuck, narrated the story; as Jack Harper was with Tuck for some of the time of his incarceration, we can learn about one man’s experience from the other. We also have the 1974 38-page booklet entitled Bread Between the Rails by Louis Dutot about Neuoffingen Labour Camp, to which Tuck and Charles Friend contributed. Harper also wrote a lengthy account of his experiences in his mid-1960s compensation claim. In addition to these narrative testimonies, we also have prison and camp records from the International Tracing Service and various archives. Taken all together, we can piece together the following account:
Kingston Bailey described how he and Frank Tuck decided, in the first winter of 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. After interrogation which involved ‘threats of the firing squad and other tortures’, they and most of the other police, including Jack Harper, were taken to Guernsey prison and their houses were searched. The men were then 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. Of this period, Jack Harper later recalled:
All of the officers detained were taken separately to Nazi headquarters and were questioned by 6 members of the Gestapo and each officer was treated with the utmost brutality. I was the last officer to be interviewed and interrogated by the Gestapo and during this time I was knocked to the floor, kicked in the stomach by the jackboot and my face was spit on and I was called a bloody liar by the Gestapo chief in broken English. They accused me of sabotage, and holding meetings with other officers in my home with a view of wrecking the efforts of Hitler’s armies of the People’s Third Reich, all of which I denied.
(quoted in Nazi persecution compensation claim)
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.
18 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 1943 they were tried by military tribunal. Harper was convicted ‘for incitement to serious theft, as well as for theft and receiving stolen goods’ to ‘four years 6 months’.
On 1 June 1943 the men were tried – controversially – by the local authorities in the Royal Court, on account of the civilian stores that had also been entered. Harper was given a sentence of 15 months hard labour, to run concurrently with his German sentence. It was a show trial which Bailey later described as a ‘farce’. 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 (accompanied by other political prisoners from Jersey) on to a prison in Granville for a few hours, and then Caen Prison, all the while still in handcuffs.
They 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. Although Jack Harper did not write about this prison, in his memoirs Kingston 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 Harper was imprisoned from 16 July to 7 August 1942. This prison was managed by French warders but inspected daily by the German officer in charge. The men were split up and put in a room for sixty, but the beds were full of fleas and lice, according to Bailey’s memoirs. Bailey recorded that he found the monotony ‘unbearable’; they spent each day locked in their dormitory, allowed only thirty minutes exercise a day. While the French prisoners in their dormitory were allowed food parcels from relatives, the Guernsey policemen found the prison food insufficient. Bailey recorded that a ‘black market flourished in the prison … with the help of the warders.’ Even stamps for letters and Red Cross parcels were available. Otherwise prisoners were issued them once a month. Bailey was helped in the prison by two French ladies, Marie and Suzanne Hubert, who wished to help him and his ‘English comrades’, which would have included Jack Harper. These women brought food parcels and clothes to the men. They operated through one of the French warders, who was pro-British and a former policeman.
On 7 August 1942, three of the policemen, who Jack Harper named as Frank Tuck, Charles Friend and himself, but who Friend named as himself, Tuck, and Herbert Smith, were taken, with French political prisoners, to Germany. Records from the French archives suggest that Friend travelled on 5 August whereas the other three men were deported two days later, on 7 August, although it is possible that this was a mistake and they actually travelled together. Harper stated in his testimony that they were taken directly to Landsberg Prison in southern Bavaria and from there to Augsburg Prison. Frank Tuck, however, is clear that the men arrived in Landsberg, where they spent three days, via a ‘few days’ in Karlsruhe Prison.
It was presumably still only mid-August 1942 – only two months after their departure from Guernsey – when the Guernsey men were sent to Neuoffingen Labour Camp, four miles outside the nearby small town of Gundelfingen, a camp that comprised only two barrack blocks on the edge of a forest. Between 80-100 men of various nationalities, most of whom were French, were interned there, included a total of four Guernseymen (Tuck, Harper, Friend and Smith) and two Jerseymen (probably Philip Ozard and Paul Gourdan).
The men’s jobs were to repair and build German railroads. This involved carrying railway sleepers, digging cable trenches, and unloading trucks full of stones. Jack Harper wrote extensively about the conditions in Neuoffingen in his compensation testimony:
We were all put to work with pitchforks and shovels on German railroad tracks … [at Augsburg] I was given a thin and ragged jacket, a shirt and trousers and a pair of wooden shoes. I had never used a pick axe in my life before and did not know how to do so. The Nazi labour master … was in charge of the working gang and was one of Satan’s best. For some reason or other he picked on me from the beginning of my incarceration. I would be doing my best to use the pick-axe and he would take it away from me, shout in German, show me how to use it, and beat me across the back with the flat side of the axe. He also, from time to time, beat me with a six-pronged fork with the flat side across my back, On another occasion he hit me on the head with the flat part of a shovel, When the labour gang was served at noon time with soup and a piece of black bread the labour master would deny me a ration and I had to stand up while the others sat down and ate their rations. This kind of treatment to me occurred many times. When we would return to the camp at Neuoffingen after work, the labour master would inform the camp commandant that I did not work and for that I was denied my supper and chained to a post in a standing position all through the night. In the morning I was released and sent to work without food. As a result of this treatment I became weak and lost weight rapidly – weighing only 84 pounds [6 stone].
At one time when I was working on the railroad there had been a severe frost during the night and early in the morning. I had to pick up a metal plaque and this stuck to my fingers and tore away the skin from my finger-tips on my right hand. I was in severe pain and I showed my fingers to the labour master and he simply beat them with a pronged stick which he was carrying and ordered me back to work. The fingers healed without treatment but the little finger was split open and itchy. I showed it to the camp commandant on Sunday morning at the camp and he picked up a pair of scissors and cut the top of my little finger off … I collapsed on the floor and he kicked me in the stomach and called me an English swinehund.
On another occasion I was carrying some metal plaques down the track with my both hands. I had to pass the labour master who was peeling an apple with his bayonet and, as I passed him, for his own sadistic pleasure he jabbed the bayonet about an inch deep into my left buttock and I lost a considerable amount of blood by his action.
(Quoted in Nazi persecution compensation claim)
After two years, Jack Harper was taken out of Neuoffingen and was transferred with two French prisoners to Kaisheim Prison in 1944. By this point, Harper stated that ‘my mentality became impaired and my health was broken’. He arrived on 9 May 1944. We do not know why Harper was selected to leave Neuoffingen. It is possible that it was recognised that his health was failing dangerously and they did not want to have another dead British prisoner following the death of Herbert Smith the year before. It is worth stating that while post-war records indicate that Tuck and Friend were also in Kaisheim, neither man mentioned it in their compensation testimony. Conversely, those same records do not list Harper, who described the prison in detail in his testimony. We can thus suggest that this particular record is unlikely to have been accurate.
After arriving in Kaisheim, Harper was:
… taken to a labour camp with other prisoners and worked in a shell case factory near Kaisheim. I remained there until February 1945 and as the war was nearing its end all prisoners in the camp were ordered to march back to Kaisheim prison – a distance of about 60 miles. When back in Kaisheim one morning the labour master who was in charge of the shell factory ordered all prisoners in my room to parade outside to receive leather shoes, replacing wooden shoes. I was in the toilet at the time of the order and when I entered the room all the other prisoners had left the room … When they returned the labour master began to scream at me, dragged me out of the hallway and knocked me down on the flagstone. As a result of this I injured my left leg temporarily and this left me with a permanent limp. I was dragged to the sick bay – being unable to walk – where I remained without any medical treatment by a Nazi doctor …’
The labour camp mentioned above by Harper was most likely a munitions factory in the town of Löpsingen, mentioned in Weinmann (see Sources below) as being a work commando of Kaisheim Prison. Löpsingen is actually only about 18 miles by road from Kaisheim, but it doubtless seemed like much more given Harper’s poor physical condition.
After Kaisheim, Harper was taken back to Landsberg Prison with many of his fellow prisoners. He was placed in the hospital section of the prison and remained there until the liberation of the prison by the American army in May 1945. By this point, the other Guernseymen would have arrived at the prison, having been force-marched there from Neuoffingen in March 1945. Harper later stated that, in May 1945, just before the Americans arrived, the men had been told that they were to be shot at 11am the next morning. The Americans arrived at 10am.
Upon arrival, the Americans said that they had not seen anyone in worse condition than Harper. In the words of Frank Tuck, who was a witness to Harper’s treatment at Neuoffingen:
The treatment meted out by the Germans to Sergeant Harper was extended over a long period. He was beaten with a pick and shovel, kicked and trampled on, deprived of food and clothes, even at umpteen degrees below zero. He was chained to a tree in the snow for six hours or longer with no food, chained to a post all night with no supper. He was stabbed in the buttocks till the blood trickled down his trousers, made to lift 2 cwt bags of cement and railway sleepers and beaten whilst doing so. Tripped and made to fall while carrying these sleepers, then they were thrown onto his chest. He was made to sit down in the mud and snow for several hours at a time and pronged with a fork. His clothes were then taken away when it was terribly cold and he was placed under cold showers and left to dry without a towel and was constantly tormented and jeered.
(Quoted in I Beg to Report by Bill Bell, 1995: 367).
After his liberation, and after he had regained some of his health, Harper stayed with the US Army in the role of an honorary staff sergeant in charge of food supplies. His job, as stated in his compensation testimony, was to take care of and feed around 10,000 displaced persons at the Kaiser Wilhelm Kaserne in Mannheim, Germany.
After the war, Harper returned to Guernsey via London. He was, he later reported, treated with coldness in Guernsey and could not find work, presumably because of his conviction. One of his sons, Morris Harper, who was serving in the US Army, invited him to come and live with him in America, so from 16 December 1946 he lived permanently in the States and eventually became an American citizen. His desire to move across the Atlantic was also fuelled by his desire to be reunited with Claris, still living in Hamilton, Canada. She had been informed in 1943 that Harper had died in Neuoffingen and she had eventually married again. However, on hearing from her husband that he was still alive, her second marriage was annulled and she and Harper were reunited.
Harper’s wartime experiences soon caught up with him. Fifteen months into his first job, working for General Motors in a Chevrolet plant, in Buffalo, New York, he had to resign after losing the use of his right arm. He had tuberculosis, which had entered his right shoulder. A bone graft operation was only partially successful and he regained partial use of his arm. He was hospitalised for three and a half years in a sanatorium in New York and his right arm and shoulder were kept in a cast for two and a half years. After this he was classed as partially disabled which affected his work prospects, although he eventually found work as a security guard for ten years.
In 1965, when Harper sought compensation for Nazi persecution, he was assessed for compensation for permanent disability. The doctor who examined Harper confirmed that he was still receiving treatment for tuberculosis, that he still showed residual malnutrition, and still had signs of frostbite on both feet and on his right hand which were still troubling him. He was classed as 80% disabled and given compensation for this as well as his long period of imprisonment. He was also, at the time of his application in 1965, awaiting the result of medical investigations into whether he was suffering from leukemia.
Jack Harper, like the other Guernsey policemen, never cleared his name and the judgements against him made by the Royal Court in Guernsey still stand to this day, long after his death in 1966.
Bell, B. 1995. I Beg to Report. Guernsey: The Guernsey Press Company.
Bailey, K.G.1979 . Dachau. Guernsey: CI Marine Ltd.
Dutot, L. 1974. Bread Between the Rails. Liverpool: FH Tuck.
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.
Weinmann, M. 1948-52. (ed.), Das nationalsozialistische Lagersystem, Zweitausendiens, Frankfurt am Main, 4th edition, 2004. A reprint of Catalogue of Camps and Prisons in Germany and German-Occupied Territories, published by the International Tracing Service (ITS) 1948-1952, p. 552.
Jack Harper Nazi persecution compensation claim, The National Archives ref: TNA FO 950/2187.
International Tracing Service records, Wiener Library refs. 11495013, 11748951, 86204238.
Jack Harper records from Villeneuve Saint-Georges prison, ref. 500W 8. Archives Départmentales du Val de Marne, Creteil.