By Gilly Carr
John Whitley Nicolle was born in Jersey on 17 June 1918. At the time of the occupation he was married and working as a farm labourer. He comes to our attention because he was part of the locally well-known ‘St Saviour’s wireless case’ and one of four members of this group who later died and whose names were engraved on the Lighthouse Memorial as four of the ‘Jersey 21’.
This group of people in St Saviour’s who listened to and spread the BBC news had their main source of news from Joseph Tierney, who was the parish cemetery worker of St Saviour’s church. He wrote out the news he received every morning from Nicolle and his father, who retained a radio set. On the basis of this information, news-sheets were produced by Tierney and Arthur Wakeham, which were then taken to Canon Clifford Cohu, who spread the news in St Helier and in the general hospital. The members of the group were arrested over a period of a fortnight, beginning with Joseph Tierney on 3 March 1943. While 18 people were put on trial for receiving and disseminating BBC news or assisting the endeavour, a number of others were also interrogated.
The trial – which became a show-trial to dissuade the rest of the population from illegally listening to the radio and spreading the news – took place on 9 April 1943 and large crowds gathered outside the States building in Royal Square in St Helier, eagerly awaiting the result.
John Whitley Nicolle was branded as the chief ‘criminal’ by the German prosecution; he was believed to have demonstrated initiative, which meant a higher penalty. He was sentenced by court martial to three years imprisonment for ‘failing to surrender a wireless set and for manufacturing leaflets’. His wife, Rubina Nicolle, received an eight month sentence for the same charge, which she served only in Jersey prison.
Nicolle was deported on 5 May 1943 with Arthur Dimmery. They were both briefly in Saint-Lô Prison before they parted ways. Records show that Nicolle was next in Coutances Prison briefly before arriving a Fort d’Hauteville near Dijon on 12 May 1943, a prison he left on 19 December 1943, possibly having passed through Dijon Prison upon arrival and exit from Hauteville. While he was at Hauteville he spent a period in hospital, from 7 June to 19 July for an unknown ailment. After Dijon he went to Saarbrucken Prison until 12 April 1944, at which point he was transported with Alfred Connor, a Jerseyman arrested for possession of explosives, to Bochum Prison. They arrived on 17 April 1944 and Nicolle stayed here until he was sent to Dortmund Prison, his final destination, on 12 August 1944.
In the memoirs of J.H. L’Amy, who collected the stories of many deported islanders, the death of John Whitley Nicolle was recorded as follows:
The letter conveying news of his death was written to his wife by Monsieur Verbene Amart, a fellow prisoner who was with him at Bochum. Monsieur Amart ascertained that he had died at Dortmund from starvation and overwork. … Monsieur Amart … says [that] ‘Bochum was bad but it was a palace compared to Dortmund.
In 1964, Nicolle’s widow, now remarried and named Rubina Thorne, filed a claim for compensation for the loss of her husband. A letter from the Red Cross stated that John Whitley Nicolle died on 14 February 1945 and was buried in the Hauptfriedhof (main cemetery) in Dortmund, in grave 158 in field 12. The same letter stated that he was given hard labour duties despite the fact that a German doctor had certified him as being fit only for light duties. However, in her testimony, despite receiving the letter from Monsieur Amart, Rubina wrote that ‘my husband died from wounds in his legs received during RAF raid on Dortmund.’ It is not known where Rubina received this information. The testimony of an eyewitness, Verbene Amart, seems more likely to be correct.
Falla, Frank, 1967. The Silent War, Leslie Frewin.
L’Amy, J.H. The German Occupation of Jersey, unpublished memoirs, Société Jersiaise ref. OCC 942 L’AM.
Sanders, P. 2004. The Ultimate Sacrifice. Jersey: Jersey Heritage Trust.
Nazi persecution claim of Rubina Thorne for John Whitley Nicolle, The National Archives ref. FO 950/1220.
International Tracing Service records for John Whitley Nicolle, Wiener Library for the study of the Holocaust and Genocide, ref. 11298407 and 11298408.
Prison d’Hautville records, Archives departementales de la Cote-d’Or ref: 1409 W 1-13, Registre d’ecrou.