By Gilly Carr
John Henry Ingrouille was born on 3 April 1920 in Guernsey. At the time that his registration card was made, he was working for the Germans as a cook at the Vale Mill, and also as a stoker. Also working in the Vale Mill were the two women who were to denounce him. The story of John Ingrouille is one of the better known in Guernsey because of his status as one of the Guernsey Eight, people who died as a result of Nazi persecution. His story can be pieced together using a variety of different sources.
According to Ingrouille’s parents, who wrote his compensation testimony in 1964:
The Nazis accused him of ‘organising armed resistance of 800 men to oppose the Third Reich’ (They had searched our home for arms). This information was given to the Germans first by the late Frances Louise Brewster … She was 15 years old at the time and the Germans said they could not take her evidence, so they relied on the evidence of her mother, Mrs Nellie Brewster. But both appeared in the Jersey court at our son’s trial and both mother and daughter corroborated their earlier false evidence when John was tried in Berlin … The alleged and threatened uprising which our son was supposed to have organised was a pure figment of the evil imagination of the Brewsters (allied with the Germans) and was based on the fact that John was supposed to have spread news that Mrs Brewster and her daughter were not only working for the Germans, but cohabiting with them. That they did these things was fact …
We can add a few more details to this from a post-war affidavit. On 20 July 1945, John Ingrouille’s mother dictated an affidavit to the British liberating soldiers, presented on this webpage, which stated that her son had been taken away on 31 December 1940 and two Germans had searched her house for weapons. Two days later the Germans arrived with Nellie Brewster; they told Mrs Ingrouille that Nellie had told them that John had ‘800 men ready to shoot us’. Three weeks later a policeman visited the house to ask for John’s ration book and to tell his parents that John was in prison. Soon after that, they were informed that he had been taken to Jersey for trial. They had received a letter from him while in Jersey jail to say that he would sue the Brewsters for the ‘lies they told about him.’ Mrs Ingrouille was of the opinion that the Brewsters were motivated to act against him because John had witnessed Nellie Brewster emerging from a German soldier’s bedroom – a soldier with whom John had become good friends. It seems likely that Mrs Brewster was worried lest John destroy her reputation.
On 5 February 1941 John Ingrouille was sent to Jersey where, on 11 February, he was tried by Field Military Tribunal for treason and theft, for which he was given a sentence of five years hard labour. Perhaps because of the severity of the accusation, the copy of his charge sheet given to the Guernsey authorities stated that ‘the judgement has not yet acquired force of law. It is being submitted to the Military Commander in France for confirmation.’ Five years was the longest sentence given to any deported islander, a length shared only with Emma Constance Marshall, deported from Jersey in December 1943.
Although Ingrouille was deported on 7 March 1941, before he left letters were exchanged between the Solicitor General (presumably querying the charge) and the Feldkommandantur, which give us a little more insight. Here we learn that Ingrouille had ‘challenged another to cut a cable belonging to the German Army … such a cable has actually been cut … A strong punishment had therefore to be pronounced against Ingrouille.’ This was clearly taken as ‘evidence’ that Ingrouille indeed had a resistance army at his disposal.
Ingrouille was deported first to Caen Prison, where he stayed for almost two years. In an early letter, dated 23 March 1941, he wrote that he was in a cell with two Frenchmen and learning French very well. ‘I still read my little Testament every day and it is the best comfort I have. I thank you over and over again for sending it. This prison is terrible for fleas. There are dozens of them. In the night when we go to bed, they bite like horses and we can’t sleep till late.’ Speaking of the prison regime, he wrote ‘… They wake us up with our coffee … I get a little fed up with the food because we get soup every day. Still, we get meat twice a week so that ain’t too bad. We are allowed to go outside for about half an hour every day. It is a big prison and there is a little lawn for every batch of prisoners where we sit down and chat. We share our things in the cell and get on very well together.’
In a letter to his parents written on 20 April 1942, when he was in hospital with typhoid fever (which kept him hospitalised for at least 6 weeks), he wrote that he had received a few Red Cross parcels since being in custody. ‘I have had several from my new friends and they are going to send me some more, so you must not worry about me … I have had an Easter egg from one of the nurses and a nice little flower vase which I hope to bring back with me when I return … the nuns bring me little presents of food, soap, and tooth-paste from time to time so you can see that I am not badly off,’ Ingrouille wrote that he was pleased to stay in hospital as long as possible because ‘it’s better here than in the Centrale’ (i.e. the prison). He also made reference in his letter to Winifred Green and Xavier de Guillebon, indicating that Channel Islanders in Caen prison were able to gain knowledge of each other’s presence there.
Although Ingrouille was not required to work in Caen prison, he requested it. A letter to his parents of 24 May 1941 noted that ‘I have asked for some work and am now making little handles for baskets. I have also learned to make fishing nets and I earn about 4 Francs a day. Half goes to the prison, a quarter for my vegetables, and a quarter for when I come out.’
The Bailiff, Victor Carey, intervened in Ingrouille’s case on 26 February 1942 to ask for a reduction in the sentence. He wrote that ‘I understand that he was charged with making statements implying that he was ready to act in a way detrimental to the safety of the Occupying Troops. My information is that Ingrouille … is of below average intelligence … it seems clear, at any rate, that he does not possess the mental capacity to make any serious trouble in the Island … He has already served more than a year of his sentence, and I suggest that he has received punishment sufficient to teach him not to repeat any foolish or irresponsible statements which he may have uttered in the past …’ This request was submitted to the Military Commander in France and was rejected on 13 April 1942. However, the Solicitor General of Guernsey later received a letter on 6 August 1942 from Berlin to say that the sentence had been revoked after he was tried again there. Ingrouille was not, however, released from custody.
Although Ingrouille did not survive to write his own story, our knowledge of his experiences in prison come from the letters he wrote to his parents. Many of those which came from Caen were written in French, which sped up the censorship process; these show Ingrouille’s ease at expressing himself in French and English and do not reflect a man of ‘below average intelligence’.
In the letter following his non-release, he wrote that ‘I am sorry to say that I am not yet free as you have been made to understand, so that is why I do not come back home.’
Although no ITS records have been found to support this, the Channel Islands Specialist Society, who collect stamps and postmarks of wartime correspondence of Channel Islanders, have letters from Ingrouille which were written from Rheinbach Prison on 4 July 1942, indicating that he had recently arrived there via Paris; this was his first letter from this prison. His possessions from France were sent back to Guernsey at this point.
From 25 January 1943 he spent a week in Moabit Prison in Berlin. No additional charges had been brought against him and he had technically been pardoned, but his crime was altered to ‘aiding and abetting the enemy’ (Feindbegünstigung) by the time Ingrouille arrived in Brandenburg on 2 February 1943. He was assigned to perform forced labour in the tailor’s workshop, where around 250 prisoners were engaged in the production of uniforms for the German military.
After this, Ingrouille moved to Brandenburg-Görden Prison in Germany on 4 February 1943, where his prisoner number was 1765/42, and where he stayed until 31 March 1945. While here it seems that he had lost heart with the appeal system, writing to his parents that ‘It is useless to try to do anything. No good trying. The best is to wait and let events take their course, and when the time comes I shall be set free.‘ However, the prison was liberated by the Soviet Army on 27 April 1945.
The last letter that Ingrouille was able to write to his parents was dated 29 May 1945, sent from ‘somewhere in Germany’ – probably his displaced persons camp in Schönbeck. In the letter he wrote that ‘I have at last been set free and am now being taken care of by the British army. I think that I shall be home with you all once again soon. For the time being I am helping a little in the camp as interpreter. I am being well looked after and receive good food. I can assure you that it is a pleasure after all the suffering which I have been through in the last few years. No more ill-treatment, no more starvation, kicks, cuffs, and hitting about without the right to defend myself … thank the Lord it is all over now.’
Within a fortnight, Ingrouille was dead. He died of tuberculosis on 13 June 1945 in the 111th British General Hospital in Brussels. According to a doctor, Major Dr Beaugie, attached to the British Liberating Army, who communicated with Ingrouille’s parents, on 6 June he was described as having ‘a chill’ (at this point he was not Dr Beaugie’s patient). By 11 June, when he was being cared for by Beaugie, he was described as ‘very ill’ and as having ‘TB meningitis … there is no hope for him at all … he recognises nobody … he has no pain at all and won’t live very long now.’ His parents had sent Ingrouille a copy of the Guernsey Press, which he ‘read from cover to cover before he became delirious and seemed very happy to have had a breath of Guernsey again … everything possible is being done by us all … he’s a most tragic case, the saddest I’ve had over here and just on his way home after all these years. He was a charming fellow and all the Sisters fell for him … he never once complained and never really realised how ill he was’.
Writing of John’s death, Dr Beaugie told his parents that ‘He suffered no pain at all before he became unconscious (and) was perfectly content and had no realization of how ill he was. He spoke of you and of Guernsey which he loved … he is buried in a cemetery about 3 miles from Brussels.’ His place of burial was the Grand Cimetière de Bruxelles in Evere, in plot 10, row 21, grave 24.
On 4 October 1946, John Ingrouille was exhumed. On 21 October his remains were brought back to Guernsey for reburial in the Vale churchyard. His parents are quoted in the local paper as saying ‘At last our minds are at ease and we are happy to have our dear son restored to us for burial, only a short distance from the Vale School where he was taught that to live and die honourably was to be truly British.’
The Brewsters left Guernsey after the liberation; Nellie to Jersey and Frances to England. In 1947, Frances Brewster came back to Guernsey with her new Polish husband, Josef Laszczak, ironically a survivor of Auschwitz, but was warned by the police that she should, for her own safety, leave the island; her role in John Ingrouille’s death was well known. That year Frances gave birth to a baby but she died soon afterwards of tuberculosis.
Ingrouille’s parents received compensation for the death of their son. The money was used to pay for a stained glass window in the Vale Church in Guernsey in memory of their son, dedicated by the Dean of Guernsey on 13 March 1966.
Barber Files, courtesy of the Mark Lamerton Collection.
Prison correspondence of John Ingrouille, in private ownership, courtesy of Ron Brown and Paul Balshaw.
Cal McCrystal, ‘Youth betrayed by evidence of mother and her daughter’, The Independent, December 1992 (exact date unknown).
‘Vale victim of Nazis brought home for burial’, Guernsey Weekly Press, Wednesday 23 October 1946.
‘Couple without a home or country’, Guernsey Evening Press 29 May 1947,1.
‘Returned to scene of tragic memories’, Guernsey Evening Press 10 September 1948.
Controlling Committee and Police records, Guernsey Archives ref. CC14-05/28, CC14-05/95A, CC14-05 Ingrouille 5, CC14-05 122 Ingrouille, CC14-05 131 Ingrouille, CC14-05 141 Ingrouille, CC14-05 Ingrouille.
Nazi persecution compensation claim Ingrouille, ref. TNA FO 950/2023.
Political prisoner log book, Jersey Archives ref. D/AG/B7/1.
International Tracing Service records pertaining to John Ingrouille (consulted at the Wiener Library for the study of the Holocaust and Genocide) refs: 12029374, 52729021, 12115827, 61845009, 11941740, 26276124, 12115841, 108518065.
Channel Islands Specialist Society bulletin articles September 2013, vol 33(1), 6-7; 18-29; December 2013, vol 32(4), 7-15.