By Gilly Carr
WARNING: CONTAINS DISTURBING DETAILS OF THE DEATH OF JOSEPH TIERNEY
Joseph Tierney was born on 23 October 1912. At the time of the German occupation he was married to Eileen, his wife, and working as a sexton at St Saviour parish church. 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 subsequently died and whose names are engraved on the Lighthouse Memorial as four of the ‘Jersey 21’.
Joseph Tierney wrote out the news he received every morning from John Whitley Nicolle and Nicolle’s 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 Henry Coutanche, secretary at St Saviour’s Parish Hall, and 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 Tierney on 3 March 1943. While 18 people were eventually put on trial for receiving and disseminating the BBC news or assisting the endeavour, an even larger number were 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. Joseph Tierney was, like the others, convicted by military court martial. He received a sentence of two years for ‘manufacturing and distributing leaflets.’
Tierney was put in Jersey prison and was deported later that the other men in the group. His wife was pregnant at the time and he was allowed out to attend the christening of his daughter, Patricia, on 29 August 1943 before he was deported on 18 September 1943. While he was still in Jersey prison, his wife later testified that:
The Gestapo placed him in solitary confinement in the Nazi prison in St Helier, Jersey, where he went through many nights of mental torture. The Germans then took me to the prison where they used me as the final weapon in their foul endeavours to make my husband talk and confess to what they already knew. They threatened me, pregnant at the time, with a concentration camp in front of my husband. After a whole day’s questioning they allowed me to go home … Before he was questioned my husband told me that the Gestapo had said ‘You know you can be shot for what you’ve done.’
Joseph Tierney arrived at St Malo and was first sent to a prison in St Servan (now part of St Malo) for two days, from 18-20 September. He then arrived at Fort d’Hautville Prison near Dijon on 21 September 1943, having possibly been processed through Dijon Prison. He stayed in Hauteville until 19 December 1943, at which point he was transferred to Saarbrücken Prison in Germany by the Feldgendarmerie. On 5 January 1944 he was transferred from Saarbrucken Prison to Frankfurt am Main-Preungesheim Prison with a number of other Channel Islanders, including Georges Fox, Walter Lainé, Percy Miller, Frederick Page, and Clifford Querée, arriving on 6 January 1944. On 3 July 1944 he was transferred once again to Naumburg Prison, where he found himself in the company of other islanders, including Frank Falla. Falla later recorded his experiences in his memoir The Silent War:
Joe Tierney was a thoughtful and helpful man with some knowledge of German. In this way he was able to help those of us who didn’t know the language. He had a greater weight on his mind than most of us because back home in Jersey he had a wife and young baby and all the time he was worrying about them and counting the hours until he would rejoin them …
All I live for is the day when I can see her again and our baby, Patricia. My wife had as worrying a time of it as I did. But she was very brave about it.’ Those were Joe’s thoughts expressed to me as he left Naumburg Prison to go to the internment camp at Laufen. Instead, the Germans took him to a concentration camp …
Joseph Tierney left Naumburg Prison on 25 March 1945. Eileen Tierney later wrote that
Mr Falla … told me that when my husband left Naumburg for the freedom he was denied after doing his full sentence; he was suffering from dysentery and dropsy, his legs starting to fill with water which had reached his knees and which, as with so many other prisoners, proved fatal.
Rather than being released to Laufen, records from the archives in Merseberg, Germany, show that Tierney was sent to Halle Prison from 31 March to 7 April 1945 (probably Halle Police Prison, the same destination as Joseph Gillingham after his release from Naumburg the month before). We cannot be sure what happened to Tierney in the week between leaving Naumburg and arriving at Halle. Either he stayed, confined, in the prisoner transport, or he was sent to Zöschen Forced Labour Camp. An eye witness testified to having been in this camp with him, and mentioned that he and they left Zöschen on 9 or 10 April 1945, which would then place Zöschen after Halle if the eye-witness’ recollection is correct.
The records in Merseberg state that Tierney sent towards KL Flossenbürg Concentration Camp on 7 April. Either Tierney went to Zöschen at this point, or he went to a sub-camp of Flossenbürg, namely, Johanngeorgenstadt Concentration Camp. This assumption is based on the research of Dr Pavel Vareka of the University of West Bohemia in Pilsen in the Czech Republic, who helped the author locate the body of Joseph Tierney in 2016. It is worth stating, however, that neither of two main eyewitnesses mention this camp or name another camp between Zöschen and Tierney’s death.
The prisoners at Johanngeorgenstadt were evacuated from the camp in mid-April 1945 and sent on a death march into the Sudetenland (Bohemia) towards Theresienstadt Ghetto. This death march was a mixture of rail transport and walking on foot where the line was damaged. 822 prisoners set out from Johanngeorgenstadt but hundreds died or were murdered by the SS at various towns and villages on the way and were buried in mass graves.
On 3 May, the transport came to Kaschitz (modern Kaštice). In July and August 1945, 234 victims were exhumed from seven or eight mass graves here of people who died on the transport or were killed by the SS guards. Joseph Tierney was among this number, whether or not he had been in Johangeorgennstadt, as many prisoner transports were heading in the same direction at this time. Tierney and those in his mass grave were reburied in a Catholic cemetery in the nearly small village of Pšov. Of 822 prisoners, only 28 were still alive by 5 May, when the SS guards fled.
Of those 28, two knew Joseph Tierney and were able to write to his wife Eileen after the war. Their memory of dates conflicted – unsurprisingly, given what they had been through and especially as they would not have had watches or calendars – but they were able to tell her about Tierney’s time with them. The testimony of Albert Sauvage of Belgium was collected, and he wrote about their time in ‘Soechem’ (Zöschen) camp:
He says that they suffered very bad treatment there. Monsieur Sauvage cannot bring himself to discuss the details because he is still very much affected by the memory of those terrible days. On coming out of this camp they were crowded into a railway wagon with an almost complete lack of food which exhausted Tierney very quickly, who very soon felt himself became very weak and realised that his death was near. He remarked on this fairly often to his comrades. And in actual fact he died very peacefully on 2 May 1945 after having talked at length of his wife and child … Monsieur Tierney must have been buried at either Scheles [Žihle] or at Terezin in Czechoslovakia, most probably in a communal grave.
The testimony of Monsieur Albert Koch added some details:
Albert Koch can only confirm the very sad news that he has already made known to the family of his comrade in captivity. Tierney died during a railway journey between 30 April and 4 May 1945; he cannot be sure of the precise date. He was ill with dysentery and as there were no means of nursing him, he died between Scheles [Žihle] and Kaschitz [Kaštice] when the convoy was travelling towards Czechoslovakia … 20 men only out of the 60 who travelled in the railway wagon arrived at their destination.
One year later, Albert Koch wrote again to Eileen Tierney, telling her that he had –
… the pleasure of being with [Joseph] in the last, even more tragic hours of our captivity. A sincere and spontaneous friendship which grew during the atrocious agony which we had to endure which alas ended with the death of the person who died in my arms and will remain for me a model of courage, bravery and self-sacrifice. … Also let me know who informed you of the death of poor Joseph in Scheles. This information is incorrect, as the person for whom you cry in fact escaped with me in Scheles and after we were recaptured on 28.4.1945 Joseph and myself were once again imprisoned in cattle trucks and it was only several days later that your departed husband died in my arms in Kaschitz, precisely on 4 May 1945.
After the war, Eileen Tierney and Joseph’s mother did their best to find Joseph Tierney. It was only when Albert Koch and Albert Sauvage were able to contact them that they discovered his fate. However, the places of Scheles and Kaschitz soon meant nothing; the Germans who lived in the Sudentenland were kicked out by the Czechoslovaks and places with German names were given Czechoslovakian names instead. This made it extremely difficult to find out where Joseph Tierney had been and his family had to give up all hope of being able to locate his exact resting place.
In 2016, Tierney’s daughter Pat took part in filming Jersey’s Resistance trail. Soon afterwards, she was part of a BBC documentary which set out to find both her father and Joseph Gillingham from Guernsey. With the help of Pavel Vareka, Joseph Tierney was located in the cemetery of Pšov, and Pat was able to visit and lay flowers at the memorial which marked the communal grave where he and his friends were buried.
Compensation claim for Nazi persecution on behalf of Joseph Tierney, The National Archives ref. FO 950/1254.
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.
Occupation registration forms for Joseph Tierney, Jersey Archives ref. St.S/14/190 – 192.
Sanders, P. 2004. The Ultimate Sacrifice. Jersey: Jersey Heritage Trust.
International Tracing Service records for Joseph Tierney, Wiener Library for the study of the Holocaust and Genocide, refs. 86610277/1, 86610280/1, 86610281/1, 86610282/1, 86610283/1, 86610284/1, 86610285/1, 86610286/1, 11555862, 1129873/0/1.
Archives départementales de la Côte-d’Or, Régistre d’écrou Prison d’Hauteville. Records for Joseph Tierney, ref. 1490W.
Private archive belonging to the family of Joseph Tierney.
Czech National Archive, collection KT OVS, board / card 163.
Information regarding the presence of an Englishman in the Johanngeorgenstadt transport comes from the newspaper article from 28 June 1945, based on survivors’ testimonies: Lidová demokracie I/42, 28th June 1945.
Finding our Fathers: Lost Heroes of WWII
The daughters of Joseph Gillingham and Joseph Tierney go on a journey across Europe with Dr Gilly Carr to find their fathers' last resting places.