By Gilly Carr
Kathleen Violet Norman was born in St Helier on 29 December 1920. At the time that she comes to our attention, she was single and living with her sister, Lilian Kinnard, and her parents, George and Bessie Norman, at 97 Rouge Bouillon. Kathleen worked for Summerlands knitwear factory.
The names of Lilian Kinnard and Kathleen Norman enjoy a level of fame in Jersey history as the two young women deported from the Island for their role in the V-sign campaign.
The V-sign campaign was propagated by the BBC in 1941, encouraging the occupied peoples of Europe to make the sign of V-for-victory to make the occupiers feel that they were surrounded by a hostile resistance army. The BBC intended it to be a ‘war of nerves’. As well as making the V-sign with spread fingers and palm out, people drew up Vs on walls, roads, road-signs, windows and doorways. They made the V-sound using Morse code (dot-dot-dot-dash) and by playing Beethoven’s Fifth (or V) symphony, and through various other ingenious means. The Channel Islanders were willing players in this campaign.
The story of Lilian and Kathleen was told to Madeleine Bunting, who interviewed Kathleen later in life. Bunting quotes her as saying:
‘We found some ‘V’ signs cut out of newspaper on the ground down by the beach. I was with my sister and we were defiant. We stuck them up on the wooden fence beside some Germans sunbathing. They saw us and chased us. We were taken down to Jersey prison. Four days later we were court martialled and told that we had ‘insulted the German army’. I thought, how can two little women like us manage to do that?
We were in Caen prison for seven months; it was nerve-racking. You never knew whether someone would send you off to Germany, but the French were good to us and we had more food in prison that we had at home.
I never regretted putting the sign up; I always felt we’d done our little bit. There wasn’t much you could do here in the war by way of resistance. We didn’t do it out of patriotism, but out of defiance.’
According to the court records held at Jersey Archives, on 24 July 1941, Lilian and Kathleen were each charged with ‘spreading propaganda hostile to Germany’ and sentenced by the court of Feldkommandantur 515 to nine months’ imprisonment. They were deported three days later, arriving in Caen Prison on 28 July 1941. The same day, the Germans published a notice in the Jersey Evening Post announcing the women’s sentences and punishment. The Jersey artist, Edmund Blampied, was inspired to draw a sketch of Lilian and Kathleen’s act of resistance, taken from his imagination of what they had done. This image is reproduced here, courtesy of the copyright holders of the Blampied estate, and is taken from Wyatt and Blampied’s 1945 book, ‘Jersey in Jail’.
Kathleen’s children were able to add a few more anecdotes about their mother’s and aunt’s actions, such as the fact that Kathleen was nick-named ‘Glue Pot Kath’ because of her actions. This indicates a level of planning behind their defiance.
After their court-martial, the two women were taken on an open boat which was fixed with a machine gun, to St Malo. From here, they were put on a train and guarded by two soldiers as they travelled to Caen; one of those soldiers used the journey as an opportunity to try to flirt rather clumsily with Kathleen.
The train stopped on route and the guards and women stopped at a station café so that the women could use the toilet. However, they found that there was no toilet paper; instead, pages of a Bible were provided. The women had no choice but to use them. This particular anecdote was repeated by Kathleen as one of her stock stories when relating their experience and the sacrilege used to make her laugh, so shocking was it to have to use the Bible for such a purpose. In fact, Kathleen related the whole episode of deportation and imprisonment to her children as a series of funny anecdotes, which no doubt hid the more unpleasant and frightening reality of the event.
While not many anecdotes about Caen Prison survive within the family, Kathleen told her children that she was in the political prisoner section of the prison, and that the women were on one floor and the men were on the floor above them. The men used to pass messages down on strings to the women (something corroborated by Guernsey woman Winifred Green, who shared a cell with them and who learned of additions to the prison from the Channel Islands from the men).
The women were overseen by French wardresses, who were nice to them. Kathleen and Lilian did not have to carry out any forced labour. Kathleen testified that one of the senior staff from Summerland knitwear factory, where she worked, came to the prison with clothes for her. While this story seems incredible, it is quite possible that one of these men was in the Purchasing Commission and was in France to buy stocks for the Island; he could have made a detour to the prison to drop off a few clothes.
Further documents indicate that by decree of the magistrate dated 23 January 1942, the sentence of the women was to end on 8 February 1942. The prison records at Caen show that they were released on 9 February. Their sentence was ‘deferred until the end of the state of war … upon condition that the sentenced person conducts herself, in relation to the Army of Occupation, in a manner not calculated to cause friction and is not in future the author of any punishable action.’
On their return to Jersey, Kathleen and Lilian were let off at the harbour and left to carry their possessions all the way back home. In her excitement, Lilian apparently dropped her side of the packing case and ran home, leaving Kathleen to struggle with the luggage alone.
The two women achieved some notoriety upon their return home, and people would stare at them in town. ‘She was’, said Kathleen’s son, ‘important for a while’.
Gilly Carr wishes to thank Martin Whitley and Ann Le Brun, son and daughter of Kathleen Norman, for their interview of 24 September 2014. She would also like to thank the Edmund Blampied estate trustees for allowing reproduction of Blampied’s sketch.
Bunting, M. 1995. The Model Occupation. BCA: London.
Carr, G., Sanders, P. and Willmot, L. 2014. Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation 1940-45. Bloomsbury Academic: London.
Wyatt, H. and Blampied, E. 1985 (1945). Jersey in Jail 1940-1945. Jersey Heritage Editions.
Kathleen Norman, Occupation registration card and forms, Jersey Archives ref. D/S/A/4/A8891.
Kathleen Norman’s court records, Jersey Archives ref. D/Z/H6/2/20.
Kathleen Norman’s entry in the logbook for Jersey Political Prisoners, Jersey Archives ref. D/AG/B7/7.
Kathleen Norman’s entry in Caen Prison records, Calvados Archives ref. 1664 w 34.