By Gilly Carr
Vivienne Gower Mylne was born on 19 October 1922 in Zhaotong, Yunnan Province, China. Her father, Clement Mylne, a Methodist minister, worked as a missionary in China after his ordination. He retired from missionary work due to ill health in 1927, when all of the foreign nationals were ordered to leave China. The family moved to Jersey after Clement Mylne was appointed as a minister in the island, and they arrived in September 1939, the day before war was declared. They left again in 1946.
At the time of registration of islanders in January 1941, Vivienne was living with her parents at 9 Roseville Street in St Helier, Jersey. She was 18 years old and a student at Jersey College for Girls. She decided that she wanted to become a classicist and so studied Latin and Greek, After she finished school, she became an uncertified teacher at Halkett Place in St Helier, and then a pupil teacher at the Girls’ College.
Vivienne comes to our attention because, on 26 February 1943, she and her parents were convicted by the Court of Field Command 515 for radio offences. Vivienne was sentenced to ten months’ imprisonment for ‘failing to surrender a camera and for dissemination of information hostile to Germany’ (i.e. spreading the news). Clement Mylne was given a one year sentence and a fine of 300 RM for ‘failing to surrender a wireless set’ and Winifred Mylne was given the same punishment for the same offence.
Clement Mylne was later to write his own account of the family’s travails, reproduced here on this website. He hinted that the family had been informed upon because in January 1943, Vivienne had been moved from her post as an elementary school teacher to the staff of Jersey College for Girls, which gave offence to ‘certain local people who thought that the post should have been given to one who was Jersey born’. The family had two radios. One, in working order, was used to listen to the news. This was hidden. The other was broken. Soon after Vivienne’s promotion, the Geheime Feldpolizei came to search the house, saying that Vivienne had been ‘distributing the news in writing’, saying that they ‘had her writing’. This was false. The house was searched and an old camera of Vivienne’s was found – without a film. Vivienne was taken away to prison and repeatedly interrogated over the next few days but refused to implicate anyone. After she returned home, Clement and Winifred were taken away for questioning. Clement was presented with a list of many Methodist preachers and was bullied into providing information against them, which he refused to do. He was threatened with the death penalty ‘and worse things for wife and daughter’ if he did not reveal the whereabouts of wireless sets. Eventually the Germans allowed Clement and Winifred to go home. They promptly warned their friends of the danger, allowing them to get rid of their radios.
Two weeks later, the three family members were summoned to a twenty minute court martial, during which Vivienne was given a three year sentence and her parents, two years each and a fine. After they protested, this was reduced to ten months’ imprisonment in France for Vivienne and one month in Jersey Prison for her parents.
Vivienne Mylne was placed in Jersey Prison on 11 March 1943 and deported on 5 May 1943, aged just 20 years old. She later wrote that her parents were not deported ‘because of their age’.
No French prison records have been found for Vivienne, so our knowledge of where she was sent comes from written testimony. In an undated letter to his wife, Elaine, Joseph Tierney, who was imprisoned with Clement Mylne, wrote that ‘Miss Mylne is in St Lo, so they reached France alright.’ This dates the letter to early May 1943.
In a magazine interview with Vivienne Mylne in 1981, she was able to testify that she was then sent to Troyes Haut-Clos Prison, where she contracted TB, which led to the collapse of a lung in 1963. About Troyes, Vivienne said that:
There were three hundred women prisoners and I landed up in a cell for six. They were political prisoners … There were the usual sort of prison duties and the normal sort of prison routine with the exercise time in the exercise yard. I escaped from the more unpleasant job of emptying latrines. One was, in fact, paid for that task but I got the unpaid job of playing the prison harmonium. I played for all the church services. I had learned to play the organ as a Methodist minister’s daughter, which was fortunate. Not only had I played for the church services in Jersey but I was the prison organist in Newgate Street [Jersey Prison] and at Troyes …
I was very fortunate, for the efforts of those who were at the Girls College [in St Helier] to get me released never ceased … in the end I did get out on the grounds that I was needed as a teacher. I spent eight months at Troyes and I was kept going by food parcels which somehow they kept sending to me from College …
Vivienne Mylne interviewed in The Islander magazine, 1981.
On 22 September 1943, the Court of the Field Command decreed that the sentences of all three members of the family would be remitted. Winifred was to be released with immediate effect ‘in view of her state of health’; Clement Mylne was to be released on 10 December 1943, and Vivienne was to be released from 10 November 1943 ‘in order to enable her to resume her teaching activities’. All three were given remission on the condition of good behaviour ‘in particular towards the Army of Occupation’.
Vivienne returned to teaching and began to obtain qualifications in French. She also began work on an unpublished manuscript of a fictional account of imprisonment in France. She gave it the title of ‘Cell 248’, and a copy is kept by Jersey Archives. Although the events in the manuscript are – we presume – fictional, the account is likely to be closely autobiographical. Descriptions of the prison routine and regime are likely to be accurate descriptions of life in Troyes Haut-Clos Prison.
After the war, Vivienne Mylne studied at Oxford University. Her period in France influenced her to study French instead of classics, and she graduated in 1948. She moved to University College London, where she completed her PhD in 1952. She embarked upon an academic career, teaching at University College, Swansea, for 11 years, then the University of Kent for the rest of her professional life. She was promoted to professor in 1976 and retired in 1985. During her career, Vivienne Mylne became an international authority on 18th century French studies and published many books. She died in 1992 and described by those who knew her as a ‘wonderful life-enricher’.
Obituary: Professor Vivienne Mylne, The Independent, 5 July 1992. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/obituary-professor-vivienne-mylne-1531502.html, accessed 26 May 2018.
Online biography of Clement Mylne, Mundus. http://www.mundus.ac.uk/cats/4/1306.htm, accessed 26 May 2018.
Vivienne Mylne’s Occupation registration card, Jersey Archives ref. St/H/6610.
Vivienne Mylne’s Occupation registration form, Jersey Archives ref. St/H/6/6611.
Vivienne Mylne’s court records, Jersey Archives ref. D/Z/H6/5/33.
Vivienne Mylne’s entry in the Political Prisoner logbook, Jersey Archives ref. D/AG/B7/7
‘Arrested by the Nazis’, an interview with Vivienne Mylne in The Islander, June 1981. Jersey Archives ref. L/C/20/H/4.
‘A Travesty of Justice’ by Clement Mylne, Methodist Recorder (undated). Jersey Archives ref. L/C/20/D/5/1&2.