This account of Kingston Bailey’s wartime experience comes predominantly from his own memoirs, ‘Dachau’, supplemented by his compensation testimony written in the mid-1960s.
Kingston Bailey was born in 1916 in Norfolk. He was a policeman in Guernsey at the time of the occupation of the island. His wife and daughter evacuated to England before the Germans arrived. Bailey felt that his duty lay with the people of Guernsey until he was given permission to leave and join the armed forces, but such orders were never received.
Bailey, along with many of his fellow policemen, was to get involved in a case which would cause ripples for decades to come. From the earliest post-war days, these men of military age consistently argued that their actions were inspired by the BBC broadcasts of ‘Colonel Britton’, otherwise known as Douglas Ritchie. These broadcasts were transmitted on the European service to the occupied peoples of Europe but were not aimed at the Channel Islanders because of the precariousness of their situation as sitting ducks in small islands. These broadcasts gave instructions to civilians to sabotage and harass the occupiers in numerous non-military ways. For these young men denied the opportunity of fighting in the armed services, such broadcasts appealed greatly. Their role as policemen gave them opportunities for action denied to most other civilians, such as being out after curfew. However, their position was a double-edged sword. Policemen were also required to salute passing German officers, which they found hard to stomach.
In the 1979 edition of his 1958 memoirs, Bailey described how he and his fellow policeman, Frank Tuck, decided, in the first winter of occupation, to do all they could to annoy the Germans. From March 1941 they compiled a dossier on their activities, cut telephone wires, put sand in the petrol tanks of German cars, and painted V for victory signs around the island.
By the following winter, the civilian population was suffering from food shortages while, at the same time, the Germans stockpiled food in stores throughout St Peter Port. Bailey and Tuck broke into these stores by night and took tinned food to redistribute to those in need. They brought a number of other policemen into their group such that, by February 1942, ‘the operation was … getting out of hand … practically the whole police force was now taking part and, as we were on different shifts, it was impossible to know what each man was doing.’ Civilian stores run by people trading with the Germans were also entered.
On 3 March 1942, Bailey and Tuck were caught red-handed by German soldiers lying in wait for them at one of the food stores. They and most of the other police were taken to Guernsey prison and their houses were searched. The men were taken to Grange Lodge in St Peter Port, the HQ of the Secret Field Police, for questioning. They were beaten and given decreasing rations over the period of interrogation. Back in the prison they were kept in solitary confinement and not allowed to wash or change their clothes. Lack of sleep also took its toll. They were also presented with forged confessions during this period.
Sixteen policemen were then taken to Fort George in St Peter Port for four weeks, where they were able to recover from their beatings and receive food from family and friends so that they looked well for their trial.
On 1 June 1943 the men were tried – by both the Germans and, controversially, the local authorities in the Royal Court, on account of the civilian stores that had also been entered. Bailey was sentenced by the Germans to two years and eight months hard labour, and to three months hard labour by the Royal Court, with both sentences to run concurrently. After sentencing, the men were taken back to Fort George until their deportation, handcuffed to each other in pairs, on 15 June 1942. They were taken first to Jersey Prison for the night, then on to a prison in Granville for a few hours, and then Caen Prison, all the while still in handcuffs.
They were in Caen from 16 June to 16 July 1942. For the first night they were put in dungeon cells in which straw mattresses, complete with wet blankets, were placed on the floor, in two inches of ‘what smelt like a cesspool’. After that they were placed in a room filled with 100 cubicles, each locked up at night, and each containing a bed. In his memoirs, Bailey wrote that ‘the cubicles and bed frames were full of bugs which were, indeed, as hungry as ourselves … The food was terrible, consisting mainly of cabbage soup, with about 3/4 of a pound of bread each day … Many of the prisoners suffered from a mild form of dysentery, probably caused by too much cabbage water.’
The next stage of their journey, also spent handcuffed in pairs during the night, took them to Fort de Villeneuve-Saint-Georges in Paris. This prison was managed by French wanders but inspected daily by the German officer in charge. The men were split up and put in a room for sixty, but the beds were full of fleas and lice, according to Bailey’s memoirs. Bailey recorded that he found the monotony ‘unbearable’; they spent each day locked in their dormitory, allowed only thirty minutes exercise a day. While the French prisoners in their dormitory were allowed food parcels from relatives, the Guernsey policemen found the prison food insufficient. Bailey recorded that a ‘black market flourished in the prison … with the help of the warders.’ Even stamps for letters and Red Cross parcels were available. Otherwise prisoners were issued them once a month. Bailey was helped in the prison by two French ladies, Marie and Suzanne Hubert, who wished to help him and his ‘English comrades’. These women brought food parcels and clothes to the men and promised to write to Bailey’s wife. They operated through one of the French warders, who was pro-British and a former policeman.
Bailey stayed at Villeneuve until 4 May 1943. He was then taken away in a group of 70 men, strongly guarded by many heavily armed guards. They were sent to Bernau by train in carriages of eight men. The prison there, a large red stone building, contained about 2,000 people. The men were interviewed individually by the prison commandant, their possessions removed, the hair removed, prison clothes issued, and taken to the attic at the top of the prison, to a ‘spotlessly clean’ room. Bailey discovered that he was the only Briton among the men in his group. After four days they were marched three miles to a large camp of thirty barrack huts, each sleeping 20 men. It was hear that Bailey bumped into Sidney Ashcroft from Guernsey, who had also just arrived from France. Bailey described him as ‘very argumentative and always ready to back his arguments with his fists if necessary. He was very patriotic and hated the Germans.’
At the Bernau work camp, the men were put to work cutting peat for 5 weeks before being taken back to the prison for a bath, then on to another set of barracks by farm sheds about 2 miles from the prison from Easter until October 1943. Sidney Ashcroft worked with Bailey during this period. Bailey wrote that he had ‘three Englishmen with me’, one of whom he named as one of his fellow policemen, Thomas Gaudion. Bailey was very pleased to be with him, writing that ‘I was very pleased to be with him. I found that the company of someone you knew was as good as a meal’. As winter set in, the men’s work changed from digging potatoes to clearing and making land drainage canals of 16 feet deep by 20 feet wide.
On 19 January 1944, Bailey was removed from Bernau soon after collapsing at work, leaving behind Thomas Gaudion. He was taken to some barracks in Swabmünchen which were surrounded by barbed wire. This camp appeared to be under the control of Landsberg Prison. Here, the food was good and plentiful. After five days they were issued with prison clothes and sent to a warm factory to make prefabricated barracks in sections, to be dispatched to bombed areas of Germany. Bailey stayed in this camp until 22 November 1944. He had previously been asked to stay and work on the factory as a free labourer. He refused, not wanting to work for the enemy, and was shortly escorted to Landsberg Prison, where he stayed for two weeks, peeling potatoes in the camp kitchen.
On 3 December 1944, Bailey was taken first to Munich Prison (which had just been bombed) for the night, then the Gestapo prison which was next to the Gestapo HQ. Bailey described the prison as:
…the usual cold, bare and granite-built prison of Germany … The cells were much more comfortable than I had expected; they were warm and each had its own flush lavatory. The floor was covered with brown linoleum. They were built to hold two men; there were two beds which let down from the wall and also a small table with a seat on each side. We were four, so two had to sleep on the floor. I was one who slept on the floor and was supplied with a mattress and two blankets. … The food was much better at Munich … The quantity was very small but good … There was no work to do and we remained in the cell.
While Bailey was imprisoned, a major RAF raid took place and the Gestapo building was hit but his building was unharmed.
On 19 December 1944 he was taken by lorry with a group of other prisoners to Dachau concentration camp, despite being told that he would be taken to a British civilian internment camp. Bailey described the camp thus:
Dachau covered an area of about one square mile, the whole being surrounded by high-voltage electric wire, about six feet high. Machine-gun turrets were built at 20 yard intervals all around the camp … Between each machine-gun post were placed high-powered searchlights, which could flood the entire camp with light. A concrete-walled canal also surrounded the camp and, at various points, bloodhounds were stationed on its banks … The prisoners’ quarters consisted of blocks, each one being made up of four rooms; there were thirty in all, separated from the other by means of barbed-wire.
With his fellow men, Bailey was pushed into the showers, had his hair shaved off, given camp clothes and wooden sandals, and taken to Barrack 19 after being kept outside in heavy blizzard for half an hour.
There were three lines of wooden beds, one on each side of the room and one down the centre. The beds were … placed together and three beds high. As far as I could see into the room, I could see one continual line of half-starved glaring faces, each one with the head shaven bare, making the face seem even more terrible in its greenish hue. The air stank with the smell of dirty bodies and, everywhere, was filth such as I had never seen before. The noise of countless voices in various languages was terrific. The whole place seemed like an overcrowded lunatic asylum … Our room measured about thirty feet by twenty and, as we were 273 strong, we had to sleep five men to two beds, having two blankets for the five … The mattresses on the beds were in a shocking condition, most only having straw dust as filling, and swarming with lice and fleas. I cannot describe how I felt that first night in Dachau; sleep was impossible, I could not get warm, and in a very short time could feel the bites of the fleas and lice. I was glad when morning came, to be able to get away from the filthy bed.
Bailey was very fortunate to meet other Englishmen in Dachau, an RAF and an Artillery officer, who helped him with gifts of clothes and bread. Bailey also became friends with the kind Polish Blockältester, the camp interpreter, who ‘became my greatest friend’, and who wanted to perfect his English pronunciation. Through him, Bailey received double rations, although still lost two stone over three months. He helped Bailey get into a better block run by a kind Austrian Blockältester, and occupied mostly by German political prisoners. It seems that Bailey was free to remain in his barrack while in Dachau – he did not describe being sent on any work party. His nationality and the influence of friends probably helped in this regard.
However, each barrack was soon surrounded by barbed wire to stop the movement of prisoners and the spread of typhus. This meant that Bailey could no longer receive extra rations from his friend. He also contracted dysentery. However, he was fortunate to be snatched from the jaws of death, probably in around March 1945, but maybe as late as May 1945 as Bailey claimed in his compensation testimony (although Red Cross records suggest that he left Dachau on 31 January 1945), by being taken from the camp by the SS to be sent back to the hands of the Munich Gestapo. He was taken first to a building he referred to as the ‘Munich State Police Headquarters’ and ‘treated with overwhelming kindness by the Germans’. He was then taken by ordinary train to Laufen civilian internment camp. His weight was now 6 stone and he was put in the camp hospital for several weeks to regain his strength. On 4 May 1945 the camp was liberated by American troops.
23 years later, Kingston George Bailey joined the British party who returned to Dachau for the inauguration of the Monument International, to the memory of all those who died or were murdered in Dachau.
Bailey, K.G.1979 . Dachau. Guernsey: CI Marine Ltd.
Dutot, L. 1974. Bread Between the Rails. Liverpool: FH Tuck.
Sanders, P. 2014. ‘Economic resistance and sabotage’, pp. 277-306 in G. Carr, P. Sanders and L. Willmot, Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation 1940-1945. London: Bloomsbury Academic.