By Gilly Carr
John (or ‘Jack’) Soyer was born on 9 February 1901 and is best known as one of the Jersey 21, the 21 islanders who were deported and died in Nazi prisons and camps as a result of Nazi persecution. Soyer was married to Margaret, with whom he had two sons, Bernard and Albert. He worked as a plasterer and building contractor. He had previously been a Private in the Army, and left service in November 1922.
On 18 August 1943 he was sentenced by the court of the Field Command to one year’s imprisonment for ‘failing to surrender a wireless receiving set’. The Attorney General’s office was notified that he was to serve the first three months in Jersey jail, after which he should be transferred to France for the rest of his sentence. The reason for the delay in deportation is unknown.
John Soyer was deported on 2 December 1943. Records from Fort de Villeneuve-Saint-Georges Prison show that he arrived there on 1 March 1944 from Clairvaux Prison, the same trajectory and the same dates as both Patrick McCloskey and Philip Potier who were deported with him.
His presence at Villeneuve is also testified by Stanley Green, who in his prison correspondence refers to Soyer being sent out of the prison to work (presumably on a forced labour detail, digging up unexploded bombs judging by the testimony of Geoffrey Delauney). In 1954, Stanley Green was contacted by the Association des Anciens Résistants, a Resistance veterans association from the Côtes-du-Nord region of France. They were trying to discover whether Soyer’s family should receive a pension for their loss and wanted to know information about his experience of imprisonment. Stanley Green was able to reply that they had overlapped at Fort de Villeneuve-Saint-Georges Prison for four months, and that:
On the 14-15 May  there was a 1,000 Bomber raid on the marshalling yard of Villeneuve-St-George, and the day it was over people were taken from the prison to work on the unexploded bombs, and Soyer volunteered for this work for the sole reason of trying to escape but it took a week of this dangerous work in order to arrange his escape, as he talked French like a native it helped a little, the day he had arranged for escape he sat on my bed early in the morning and unfolded his plan to me. This was 21 May 1944. A truck has been shunted close by where they were working, and as Soyer had been working some time and had not tried to escape he thought that the guard would let him ‘Abort’ [go to the toilet] without following him, and hidden in the trunk was supposed [to be] a civilian suit, boots and a beret. The idea was to change and slip out the other side and away whilst some of the other chaps were drawing the attention of the guards to something in the other direction. I understand that two ladies working for the underground and dressed as Sisters of Mercy were to arrange for a lorry to pick him up, what actually happened I do not know but Soyer did escape and there was a hell of a row at the Prison and the guards were changed, and instead of the working party going out in 15, they went out in 10s …
Soyer’s prison record from Villeneuve indicates that he escaped on 9 June 1944 rather than 21 May 1944. The discrepancy between these two dates cannot be explained, unless the prison warders took a few weeks to notice his absence (which seems unlikely). The records also show that the location of this forced labour was in Juvisy, just a few miles from Villeneuve. He was helped in his escape by Frenchman Maurice Daniel, who sent him to the home of his brother, Julien Daniel in Bréhal, near Granville in Normandy.
In the period between Soyer’s escape near Paris and his death in Bréhal, he joined the Resistance, taking up the alias of Jean Marion. He worked alongside the Resistance against the Germans. On 29 July 1944 he saw and took an unguarded German bicycle of an easily recognised type; the Germans had previously taken away the bicycle of a friend of his in the village. As Soyer took the bike, he fell and the noise drew the attention of the Germans. He made his getaway but bumped into another group of Germans, who recognised the bicycle type as one of theirs. Seeing a local man in a hurry on a German bike, they drew their guns and shot him in the stomach and then finished him off at point-blank range. It was particularly poignant that the village was liberated the following day. Soyer’s funeral was held on 1 August 1944 and his grave was tended by local people. Soyer was hailed a ‘brave Norman’.
John Soyer is buried in the village cemetery in Bréhal and his name appears on the war memorial in St-Lô. In 2008, Soyer’s family were invited to Brehal as honoured guests for a ceremony in John Soyer’s honour. Images can be seen at the bottom of this page.
Photos of Soyer’s grave are shown on this page, and documents from Soyer’s grandson, which include images of Soyer’s fake French ID card, can be found at the bottom of the page.
Gilly Carr would like to thank Dave Soyer, John Soyer’s grandson, for sharing information and documents about his grandfather.
Sanders, P. 2004. The Ultimate Sacrifice. Jersey: Jersey Heritage.
Personal archive of Stanley Green, courtesy of his family.
Court documents relating to John Soyer, Jersey Archives, ref. D/Z/H6/3/128.
Occupation registration form of John Soyer, Jersey Archives ref. D/S/A/4/B11238.
Documents relating to John Soyer, Jersey Archives ref. L/C/24/C/22.
Documents relating to John Soyer, Jersey Archives ref. M.47/A/1.