By Gilly Carr
Ronald Beer was born in Jersey on 4 August 1913. At the start of the Occupation he lived at the Swan Hotel in Hope Street, St Helier, and worked as a shop assistant. He was married but no record of a woman with his surname can be found at the address where he lived. This leads us to think that she might have evacuated to the UK before the Occupation began.
Beer comes to our attention because, on 23 October 1942 he was sentenced by the Court of the Field Command 515 to two years’ imprisonment for ‘concealing stolen articles’. He was convicted alongside Alfred Le Calvez, George Du Pre and Albert Marie, all of whom feature on this website, and all of whom were brought to Jersey Prison on 26 September 1942. Their conviction at the same tribunal indicates that the four men were working together. While Le Calvez was charged with larceny, the other two men were charged with embezzlement. Beer was given the longest sentence. The absence of Beer’s name coupled with the presence of the names of his colleagues from Jersey’s prison records immediately raises our suspicions about the separate conditions under which Beer was held from the start.
The other three men were deported on 18 November 1942, on the same date as Jerseyman Henry Rabet, but also James Quick and Thomas Le Prevost, who had been deported from Guernsey to Jersey before their deportation to France with the others. We can assume that Ronald Beer was deported with the men with whom he was sentenced.
While the two Guernseymen were sent to Saint-Lô Prison as their first place of incarceration, the other Jerseymen were deported to Coutances Prison. As for Beer, his compensation testimony written in 1965 is the most useful document available to us for tracing his entire journey, for it shows us that his trajectory was not the same as the other Jerseymen.
In this statement, he declared that he had been kept in the German wing of Jersey Prison, which explains why his name was not in the prison register (which was not a German record). He stated that he was kept in solitary confinement for seven weeks. A Geheime Feldpolizei officer, the notorious Wolfle, ‘would come into my cell, by day and at different times in the night to try and break me down, and name other people who were in our circle; at times it was not all honey as you can guess.’ We can also only guess at the kinds of treatment that Beer received during this period of questioning; he later referred to the ‘beatings’ which took place in the prison.
Beer then stated that:
After my sentence, I was put in another cell and through the bars I was able to see other people who I know. I shall always remember a dentist who was in practice in Bath Street, St Helier [this was Edward Ross, whose story can be read on this website]. He was inside with his wife [Annie Ross] and they were both delighted to see me because they had already been told that I had been shot.
A few days later I was taken with others by night to France, landed at Granville, were then split up, myself and two chaps from Guernsey to St Lo. After three weeks I was then taken by four armed guards to Dijon, where I stayed until May 1943. About six weeks before being leaving I was joined by a person from Jersey, Emile Barbier by name, and it was with him I was sent to Germany in cattle trucks with French civilians. After quite a few days we got to Nieder-Roden.
We cannot say why Beer was separated from the other Jerseymen – and then, after St Lô Prison, from the other Guernseymen, only to later join another Jerseyman. If there was a logic to the Nazi system of transferring British prisoners at this particular stage in the war, it is opaque, and perhaps involved separating members of perceived ‘resistance groups’. Prison records show that after St Lô Prison, Beer was sent first to Dijon Prison from 11 December 1942 from 14 December 1942, and then to Fort d’Hauteville Prison in Dijon from 14 December 1942 to 11 May 1943, before he was deported to Germany.
Beer had this to say about Nieder-Roden camp (also known as Rollwald Penal Camp):
The conditions were very strict and mentally cruel with great suffering among the prisoners. Men died with boils because the body was so undernourished. Even the Polish doctor who was in charge of the first aid had no medical supplies though he did try and comfort everybody he looked after. Everybody had to get up and be out in the compound very early in the morning. Of course, we had no idea of time, but it must have been four o’clock, because after being split up in groups we were marched out through the villages to work under armed guard, summer and winter alike. Some were taken to factories, others to fields and forest to fell trees and work the ground. On our return at night we were searched and locked in the huts for the night.
Elsewhere in his testimony, Beer wrote that he and Emile Barbier ‘tried to get on the transfer parties of men being sent away, mostly Poles and Czechs and Slavs, but as we were the only two British subjects in the camp they would not let us go’. Beer later discovered that this was ultimately a very good thing as the other men were being sent to concentration camps. This is interesting because it suggests that the Nazis were keeping an eye on the British men in the camp system, although this did not prevent other Islanders from being sent to concentration camps. Ultimately we do not know the final destination of these particular Poles, Czechs and Slavs, so we cannot say why Barbier and Beer were not allowed to join them.
Beer was ultimately liberated by the Americans from his camp. He was taken to Luxembourg for interrogation, which Beer described as ‘hell’. Unfortunately for him, he started talking in his sleep and some of his words were in German, so he was immediately suspected as lying about his British identity. He overheard the Americans saying that his papers should be removed from him, and then his body should be ‘found on a roadside’, indicating that they suggested killing him and dumping his body. Such continued violence after the liberation of the camps was unfortunately not unusual in Europe at that time.
Ronald Beer decided to make a run for it. He sought out two British majors who he had found in Luxembourg and one of them, a man named Cartwright, hid him and then put him in a car heading for Brussels. After his arrival there, he eventually saw the British consul who arranged for him to fly to Croydon in Surrey; he arrived on 5 April 1945 and was taken away for more interrogation with an intelligence officer.
By this time, Beer described himself as a ‘nervous wreck’. However, he was told that because the Channel Islands were still occupied, and because ‘we Islanders speak a different English’, they had to be sure of his identity. Fortunately for Beer, the intelligence officer and Beer knew people in common in Jersey, and once Beer was able to provide this information, he was cleared.
Unfortunately for Ronald Beer, this was not the end of his travails. Unsurprisingly, he suffered from symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder. In his testimony he wrote:
Ever since my imprisonment I have suffered with nerves and still get severe nightmares. So much so that on my return to Jersey after the war was over I tried to settle down, but it was impossible. The employment I had been in since a boy in July 1927 I had to give up. In September 1947 I came over to England to find a new life. Even now, after 20 years, I have been taking tablets from my doctor for nerves, and the effort to write the details you require of my days in the prison camps, I think is all wrong. We should have been able to have had an interview, so that the details could be said which one cannot write about.
In his claim for compensation for a disability, Beer, one of the very few (if not the only) Islander to be claiming purely for his ‘nerves’, wrote that ‘My nerves one must try to control themselves [sic]. I have not had a lot of treatment from the doctor, mostly goods bought from chemists, and was only getting spells at times [of PTSD] until these forms for compensation started, and having had to write my story about events from 1942 till 45, which brought back everything.’
Emile Barbier, too, suffered the same condition. He was, in the words of Ronald Beer, ‘in a mental home now … I can understand why he may have become unbalanced, like myself, now in the early fifties, the time, these years can take effect on one’s mind and health.’
The Frank Falla Archive would like to invite members of Ronald Beer’s family to get in contact if they have further stories, documents or photos to share.
Ronald Beer’s registration card, Jersey Archives ref. St.H/3/529.
Ronald Beer’s registration form, Jersey Archives ref. St. H/3/530 & 531.
Ronald Beer’s charge sheets, Jersey Archives ref. D/Z/H6/4/64.
Ronald Beer’s prison record, Archives départementales de la Côte-d’Or, 1409 W, Régistre d’écrou Prison d’Hauteville.
Ronald Beer’s prison record, Archives départementales de la Côte-d’Or, 1568 W, Répertoires de la prison de Dijon.
Ronald Beer compensation claim for Nazi Persecution, TNA ref. FO 950/1767.
ITS records relating to Ronald Beer, copyright International Tracing Service, Wiener Library, ref. 87167494 and 92822942.