By Gilly Carr
Thomas de la Mare was born in Guernsey and, at the time that he comes to our attention, appears to have had an unsettled existence, having changed his address five times in two years since the beginning of the Occupation. He grew up in a boys’ home, which would undoubtedly have contributed to the lack of stability in his life.
Aged 16, he went to work for Arrowsmith dry cleaners. When German uniforms came in for cleaning, he and his best friend Bill Arrowsmith would collect and keep the money that fell out of the uniform pockets and into the dry cleaning vats.
In October 1940, at the time of his initial registration, de la Mare was listed as an ‘inmate’ in the Castel Hospital. The boys’ home in which he grew up was in the same grounds as the hospital and, if he was not working at this period, he could well have continued to lodge in the boys’ home and thus be classed an ‘inmate’. However, the Castel Hospital had (among other things) a workhouse function at this time and was in a state of change because of the arrival of the Germans. We can thus deduce, either way, that at the precise date of the form, de la Mare had fallen on hard times. By December 1942, however, additional registration documents indicate that he was then working for the Organisation Todt as a labourer. As the OT paid well, and food shortages meant that many people were often compelled to buy on the black market to have enough to eat, working for the Germans was often a tempting prospect regardless of how the employees felt about ‘working for the enemy’.
De la Mare comes to our attention because, on 27 February 1943, he was convicted by a tribunal of the Feldkommandantur of Jersey to five months imprisonment for theft. He was 22 years old at the time. That he was tried by a German court indicates that his theft was a military one, and – given his job at the OT – may have involved the theft of building materials with the aim of selling them on the black market. Rather than theft, he later told his family that he and his friend Bill Arrowsmith were deported for trying to contact England by radio. No court records have yet been found for Arrowsmith, who was deported to Laufen civilian internment camp in February 1943. The prison admission register for Guernsey records the information that De la Mare was imprisoned and deported with Theodore Lowe, whose offence was listening to the radio; Lowe was deported on 21 March. We can therefore assume that this was also the date of de la Mare’s deportation.
De la Mare arrived first at Coutances Prison on 22 March, and was transferred to Fort d’Hautville Prison in Dijon on 7 May 1943, arriving via La Sante Prison in Paris where he may have spent a night. Although his prison sentence was due to end of 1 August 1943, he instead left the prison on 23 August. His prison record states that he was then ‘transferred to the German prison of Dijon on the request of the Feldwebel’.
After this, our trail runs cold. However, his daughter confirms that he was sent to Laufen civilian internment camp, a camp for men, where many other Channel Islanders were interned. We can only assume that he was sent there after Dijon.
After the war, Thomas de la Mare married Edna Violet Baker on 31 March 1951 in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, where they lived for most of their married life. They had four children: Elaine (born 1954), David (1956), Michele (1959) and Andrew (1962).
Thomas de la Mare died on 10 March 2014 at the age of 92, after almost 63 years of marriage. Because of the deprivation of his early years, he worked hard to provide for his family and took them to Guernsey on holiday many times so that his children would get to know their heritage. Despite his difficult start in life, he was a loving and generous father to his children.
The author would like to thank the daughter of Thomas de la Mare for additional information about her father.
Thomas E. de la Mare, occupation registration form, Guernsey Island Archives.
Thomas E. de la Mare, charge sheet, Guernsey Island Archives.
Thomas E. de la Mare, prison record for Fort d’Hautville prison, Archives départementales de la Côte-d’Or: 1409 W 1-13, Régistre d’écrou Prison d’Hauteville.