By Gilly Carr
John Draper was born on 16 January 1895 in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England. We know very little about his life before the Occupation. On his Occupation registration form he wrote that he was an ‘Objector in 1914 war’, presumably indicating the whole of the First World War, although in his later compensation testimony he indicated that he had been in the Navy during this period. In this same document he wrote that he came to Jersey in 1933 to work on the land with the potato harvest, but then set up his own large chicken farm.
At the time that Draper comes to our attention, he was living at 1 Ann Lane, Ann Street, St Helier and was single. His registration card indicated that he worked as a labourer, but later we learn that he also still ran the chicken farm, which housed 2,000 hens laying 1,000 eggs a day between them.
The reason for Draper’s deportation is something of a mystery. While his name is listed in Jersey’s political prisoner log book as having entered prison on 23 September 1943 for a ‘political’ crime, for which he was given a four month sentence, the paperwork connected to his court martial has vanished – if it ever existed. We do not know from any archival material in Jersey what his crime was, nor why he was deported from the Island.
We have two sources of information which might potentially provide us with an insight into Draper’s journey: his compensation claim testimony of 1965, and the journey of Lawrence; sometimes co-deportees with the same sentences had similar trajectories following their deportation.
Draper’s compensation testimony suffers from two problems. First, it is almost entirely illegible; even the Foreign Office found it so. Second, it is extremely confused and rambling, reflecting the mental state of the man who wrote it. Draper was 70 years old by this time. As he lived in Enfield in Middlesex, he was invited to visit the Foreign Office in person to discuss his case.
The notes of the Foreign Office in their internal memos suffice to give us an insight into Draper at this stage in his life. The Foreign Office officials describe him as ‘an old man with worries on his mind’, and ‘rambling and incoherent’. They note that Draper would not stop talking about Dachau, a camp which he himself had not experienced. These descriptions signal to us that he might have been affected by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder rather than age-related memory loss. These observations are compounded by a glance at his testimony: the words on the page are tightly cramped, each letter traced and re-traced multiple times. The narrative jumps between events and years and back again, and is interspersed with recollections of violent events, shootings and bombings.
The Foreign Office extracted various statements from him in person, namely, that he had been in Troyes Hauts-Clos Prison from mid-October 1943 to the end of January 1944, and Châlons-sur-Marne Prison until mid-June 1944, and then on to Saint-Denis Internment Camp. He also told the Foreign Office that his mother was Jewish. He gave his reason for deportation as being ‘suspected of anti-German activity’ and was not (so he thought) arrested for being Jewish. The Foreign Office observed that he was ‘too simple a soul to have been disingenuous about this’.
From his written testimony and multiple letters to the Foreign Office, one can extract legible phrases here and there, repeated across letters, to build up a picture. Draper wrote that he was ‘packed off from Jersey Channel Islands owing to refusing to supply them the Germans with roots and eggs, but no good, they come and take all, I did not voluntarily go to France or Germany to work, they gave me a paper I did not understand, so that’s why I knew were not interning me at Paris or rather St Denis 4 miles north, that they were packing me off by stages to German Concentration extermination camp …’ [text reproduced verbatim]. One gleans, from the various documents, that the Germans may have got rid of Draper to have free access to his eggs and chickens. Draper also wrote that he did indeed tell the Germans about his mother’s Jewish identity, two weeks after which he was taken to prison.
Draper indicated that he arrived in France via the port of St Malo and was in Saint-Lô Prison for two weeks, where the ‘Nazis were very violent’. He describes his second prison, in Troyes, as a ‘concentration death camp’. He then wrote that he left for Dachau (or so he was told) but got as far as a fort near Mulhouse on 28 January 1944. One might note here that Fort Hatry Prison, where three other Channel Islanders were imprisoned, fits this description. He was there for two weeks and then, because of bombings which blocked the road, was returned to Châlons-sur-Marne (which he called a ‘Death Military Prison Camp under Gestapo’). Finally, Draper stated that he was at Saint-Denis from 14 June 1944 for four months. On 14 October he ‘left hospital’ and lived at ‘3 Rue Doris, St Denis Hotel’ before leaving for England on a boat on 15 March 1945.
From the details in John Draper’s file, therefore, we learn that he was in Saint-Lo, Troyes, and Chalons-sur-Marne Prisons, and in Saint-Denis Internment Camp in France. While we might be tempted to remain uneasy about this list given the lack of archival and camp records, we might also observe that Edwin Lawrence, with whom Draper was deported, was in the very same list of places, and at more or less the same dates. Given that Lawrence was a younger man (with a better memory) who gave his dates of imprisonment to British officials in 1944, and Draper was an old and confused man in 1966 who relied on memory for his list of prisons, we might be inclined to place more reliance upon Lawrence’s list of dates.
However, two things will continue to intrigue us about Draper’s case: did the Germans deport him because his mother was Jewish? And did the Germans really try to send him to Dachau – or Fort Hatry Prison – in the middle of his sentence? We might be inclined to answer the first question in the affirmative, especially as no record of any court martial can be found, although only a four-month sentence argues against this. As for being sent to Dachau, we can but observe that islanders were normally sent to Saint-Denis after their sentences had expired if they were still in France and not Germany by that point. No other islander reported a detour to Germany and then back again because of bombings; however, Draper may have been the only person to experience this. His mother’s Jewish heritage gives us reason to pause before dismissing out of hand the intention to send him to a concentration camp.
John Draper, Occupation registration card and forms, Jersey Archives ref. St.H/5/242, 243, 244.
John Draper’s entry in the logbook for Jersey Political Prisoners, Jersey Archives ref. D/AG/B7/7.
John Draper’s compensation claim for Nazi persecution, The National Archives ref. FO 950/1732.