By Gilly Carr
Réné Roger Bessin was born on 8 August 1904 in Guernsey to French parents. He completed his youth service in the French Navy. When war broke out he was called up to serve in the French army until the capitulation of France, after which he was demobilised and returned to Guernsey to find that his wife and children had evacuated to England.
At the start of the Occupation, Bessin worked as a farm hand. Later he worked as a grower (i.e. somebody who grew fruit in a greenhouse). He was married and lived in the Forest parish in Guernsey. In April 1944 he changed employers and worked for the Timmer growers in the Forest parish.
Bessin was denounced by an informant. On 1 September 1943 he was sentenced in the Royal Court building in St Peter Port by a tribunal of the Feldkommandantur for failing to deliver a wireless set and given nine months’ imprisonment. Records show that a successful application was submitted for the remission of the last two months of his sentence. On 28 January 1944, the chief of the tribunal granted him a suspended sentence from 8 March 1944 until the end of the war subject to his good behaviour. He was allowed to return to Guernsey after his release.
What happened to Bessin after his deportation is told in his claim for compensation. He wrote:
They shipped me to France in November 1943 and I served my sentence in the French prison at Troyes, which was administered by the Gestapo. The name of the prison was Centre Penitentaire des Hts Clos, Aube, France. While I was there I received not more than two Red Cross messages from my wife and family … Also while I was in prison I was denied any medical attention but when I had dental trouble the Germans did allow me to visit a dentist in Troyes and they made me pay for the treatment. I was never visited by anyone from a neutral country. The Germans returned me to Guernsey on May 9, 1944 [it is likely that he meant March] and I had only the clothes I stood up in for the remainder of my personal and family belongings had been confiscated …
During the time I was imprisoned, along with the other prisoners … we suffered starvation and malnutrition and the usual ill-treatment to which all occupied people were subjected.
Bessin was not given compensation.
Occupation registration card of Réné Bessin, Guernsey Island Archives.
Tribunal records relating to Réné Bessin, Guernsey Island Archives ref. C C15/05, 227; CC14/05, 302; CC14/05, 326
The National Archives Nazi compensation claim for Réné Bessin, TNA ref. FO 950/2065.