By Gilly Carr
Peter Bruce Johnson, like June Sinclair, is a mystery. Our knowledge of him is based entirely on the oral testimony of former Jersey political prisoner Joe Mière, who knew him. Joe made it his life’s work to trace the story of all of Jersey’s political prisoners, which he displayed at Jersey’s Underground Hospital (now Jersey War Tunnels), where he was a curator.
Joe Mière wrote the following about Peter Bruce Johnson in his book Never to be Forgotten (2004, 137):
Peter Bruce Johnson, a deaf mute, was arrested by the German Secret Field Police for acts of sabotage. Deported to the prison at Saint-Lô, France, in 1944 and last seen at the Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp in the Harz Mountains … there has been no trace of him since … [Former political prisoner] Geoffrey Delauney … stated that Peter Bruce Johnson had been in Saint-Lô prison with him and other Jerseymen. Peter Johnson had no family in Jersey but he had lived in Pier Road in St Helier. I knew Peter when he worked at Le Sueur’s coal store in Hilgrove Street. One morning he came into our engineering works which was next door. He had caught his hand in the saw machine he was using to cut up logs. The saw blade took his left thumb right off …
Joe Mière also noted, in a separate file at Jersey Archives in which he listed information about the Channel Islands’ political prisoners, that Peter Bruce Johnson was 28 years old (presumably at the time of his deportation) and was also at Buchenwald concentration camp, but no evidence of this exists – nor of his presence in Dora-Mittelbau.
Historian Paul Sanders adds to this with the observation that, as a deaf-mute, there was a ‘high probability that he was subject to measures targeting people with a physical or mental impairment, including deportation as an undesirable’ (2004, 97). The Nazis enacted an official euthanasia program in 1940 called T4, named post-war after the address in Tiergartenstrasse 4 in Berlin where its headquarters were located, which sent thousands of mostly German men, women and children to the gas chambers for supposed physical and mental handicaps. If Johnson were sent to one of the many hospitals and institutions which partook of this program of mass murder, his chances of survival are virtually nil.
The records for the September 1942 and February 1943 mass deportations from the Channel Islands of those born outside the Islands and ‘undesirables’ show that no Australian citizen was deported at this time, nor anybody with a name resembling Peter Bruce Johnson. This strand of enquiry can thus be eliminated.
An extensive search of the records of the International Tracing Service revealed nothing for Peter Bruce Johnson. Most of the records for Saint-Lô prison were destroyed when the prison was bombed in 1944. It is worth mentioning that another Australian man, Thomas Patrick Nelson, was deported from Jersey in 1944 and sent to Saint-Lô Prison. He also entered and departed Villeneuve Saint-Georges Prison at precisely the same time as Geoffrey Delauney, indicating that they travelled together. Was this the man that Delauney actually remembered? Delauney was liberated from Villeneuve in August 1944, as Nelson must also have been.
If Johnson was indeed incarcerated in Dora-Mittelbau Concentration Camp, as some unsubstantiated reports claim, then the chances of having survived that deadly camp are slim indeed.
Mière, J. 2004. Never to be Forgotten. Jersey: Channel Island Publishing.
Sanders, P. 2004. The Ultimate Sacrifice. Jersey: Jersey Heritage Trust.
List of political prisoners compiled by Joe Mière, Jersey Archives ref. C/C/L/C7/2.