By Gilly Carr
Nelson Breton was born in the parish of Castel in Guernsey on 12 February 1910, making him 30 years old at the start of the occupation. He was married to Dorothy Breton and had four children. He appears to have been a colourful character – and perhaps one who lived on the poverty line – as he had a history of theft. His name comes to our attention in this regard even before the Occupation began. In June 1938 he was given a sentence of three months hard labour for stealing. On 17 June 1940, he was again in trouble, this time for larceny of tomatoes, for which he was given a choice of a ten shilling fine or fourteen days hard labour.
At the outbreak of the Occupation he was employed as a bus driver. His pre-Occupation ways didn’t change with the arrival of the Germans. He was brought to Guernsey Prison on 20 February 1941 and on 16 April was sentenced by court martial to two months imprisonment for ‘attempted crossing of the demarcation line.’ This was the third strike against his name that we have on record. He was deported on this occasion to Caen Prison, where records show he was incarcerated from 21 April to 21 June 1941.
On 7 August 1942, Breton was brought to Guernsey Prison again. On 29 August he was sentenced for the fourth time, this time to twelve months hard labour for ‘breaking and entering a dwelling house’. He was kept in Guernsey Prison until 29 June 1943, let out early for good conduct. Why he was not deported in February 1943 along with other ‘undesirables’ in the island who had a prison record is a puzzle. Breton was exceedingly fortunate in not being deported earlier, after sentencing; very few were not deported for sentences of this length, and we might begin to wonder at how he managed to avoid such a fate, especially as his job was not one with a protected status.
In December 1942, Breton filled in a new registration form in accordance with the Registration and Identification of Persons Order, 1942. His occupation had, by then, changed to that of lorry driver, employed by Paulas and Co., and based in the parish of St Martin’s. His address at that time, as expected given his twelve month sentence, was given as the island’s prison.
A note on his registration form noted that his employment changed in November 1943 (perhaps a new job found after the end of his sentence.) He is listed as now being employed to carry out ‘ground work’, employed by Mr Marquand in the Capelles. However, the very next month his name shows up on another charge sheet. On 20 December 1943, he was sentenced by the tribunal of Feldkommandantur 515 for ‘serious theft on two occasions’ to three years hard labour. The heavy sentence was no doubt a reflection of his status as a serial offender. This was the fifth sentence in five years (that we know about).
On this occasion, Breton was – unsurprisingly – deported, and for the second time. The only mystery is why this did not happen after his fourth sentence, given the rule of thumb that seemingly applied to almost everyone else, namely, that a sentence of over three months meant deportation.
Our knowledge of what happened next to Breton comes solely from German prison records. We have no records from French prisons, indicating that by this stage in the war, deported prisoners went straight to Germany, especially those with long sentences. It is possible he spent a short while in prison in France, but we don’t know which prisons.
Breton first appears in Germany at Karlsruhe Prison on 25 January 1944, a little over a month since he was sentenced. While this may indicate that he was deported a month after sentencing, it is also possible that the intervening month was spent elsewhere. Following this, he was transferred to Frankfurt Bockenheim Police Prison, which he entered on 8 February 1944 and left the following day, on 9 February. He arrived at his next destination, Rheinbach Prison, on 10 February 1944, where he was given prisoner number 1678/45. He was transferred to Siegburg Prison on 2 March 1944 and given prisoner number 1688/44. He remained in this prison until he was released by British forces in May 1945.
We know that Breton returned to Guernsey after the war. Sadly, his name continues to appear in the local prison records. Either Breton had not learnt his lesson or else was perceived as unemployable, reduced to poverty, and faced little choice but to steal to survive. Either way, he appears in one of Guernsey’s prison books, which contains details of remission of sentences. This indicates that on 14 February 1946 he was given a sentence of six months hard labour. His offence is not listed, but he was discharged on 14 June 1946; one-third of his sentence was remitted for good conduct.
After this period, we know nothing of Nelson Breton’s life. It is hoped that members of his family will contact the Frank Falla Archive with more information.
Nelson Breton’s occupation registration form, Guernsey Archives.
Nelson Breton’s charge sheet, copyright Guernsey Archives, ref. CC14-05/77/34 and 291.
Register of Admissions (Guernsey Prison), Guernsey Archives ref. HA/P/08-03.
List of Admissions (Guernsey Prison), Guernsey Archives ref. HA/P/19-01.
Register of remissions of sentence (Guernsey Prison), Guernsey Archives ref. HA/P/5/1.
Nelson Breton’s records at Caen Prison, Calvados Archive ref. 1664 w 33.
Records for Nelson Breton, International Tracing Service records, the Wiener Library for the study of the Holocaust and Genocide, refs: 16625251, 1625252, 1625254, 11362550, 11362551, 11364201, 11364208, 11548830, 11548535, 16625262, 11468537, 11477656, 1662567, 16625250, 16625268, 11361668, 11608911, 11362413, 11478833.