By Gilly Carr
John Birkmyre Neilson was born on 5 July 1899 in Helensburgh, Scotland. He was married to Violet May Neilson née Chant and living in St Brelade, where he worked originally as a contractor, and then as a farmer from April 1943.
Neilson fought in the First World War; his Occupation registration card notes that he was in the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Engineers. He reached the rank of corporal and was demobilised in 1919.
We don’t know when or why Neilson came to Jersey. Although his wife was born in London, he married her only after his arrival in the Island as her registration card states that the couple were married on 30 September 1942.
John Neilson comes to our attention because, on 7 April 1943, he was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment by the court of the Field Command 515 for ‘causing dangerous physical injury’. We know no more about this offence. However, as he was tried by a German court, we might suggest that this assault was against an overseer of the Organisation Todt or possibly even a German soldier, although the sentence was likely to be much more severe in the latter case.
On 14 May 1943, he was deported to France under German military escort.
Records show that Neilson was sent first – and briefly – to Saint-Lô Prison, and then arrived at Troyes Haut-Clos Prison on 15 May. As this was only the day after he was deported, it seems possible that the listed date of his deportation may not be entirely accurate. Although these usually were accurate, people normally spent at least a week in Saint-Lô before being moved on. However, the records can only be taken at face value.
While at Troyes, his prison records state that he was removed from the prison on 26 May 1943 and reintegrated on 22 July to be taken to the Hôtel Dieu-Le-Comte Hospital. We do not know why he was taken to hospital, but violence, disease and malnutrition was sadly not uncommon in French prisons during the German occupation.
While John Neilson was supposed to be liberated from prison on 18 October 1943, his Troyes prison record states that he was instead transferred to Châlons-sur-Marne Prison on 15 November 1943. His record additionally states that he was ‘not freed’. We cannot say for sure what happened next to Neilson, nor for how long he was held. However, author Roger Harris notes in Islanders Deported that on 20 February 1945, Neilson was moved from Laufen Internment Camp to Spittal Drau Internment Camp. This indicates that Neilson was probably moved to Laufen after he left Châlons-sur-Marne Prison.
There are records of a John B Neilson born in 1899 who died in 1961 in Lothingland, Suffolk. It is possible that this was the man discussed here.
The family of John Neilson are invited to get in touch with the Frank Falla Archive if they wish to share additional information about his story.
John Neilson’s Occupation registration card, Jersey Archives ref. St/B/3/597.
John Neilson’s Occupation registration form, Jersey Archives ref. St/B/3/598.
John Neilson’s court records, Jersey Archives ref. D/Z/H6/5/39.
John Neilson’s record in Jersey’s political prisoner log book, Jersey Archives ref. D/AG/B7/7
John Neilson’s records from Troyes Haut-Clos Prison, Archives Départementales de l’Aube, Troyes, France, ref. 1039 W 16.