By Gilly Carr
Vyvyan Macleod Ferrers was born in Cambridge, England, on 20 January 1877. He went to Bath School and then to Trinity College, Cambridge. He later went to India as a civil servant, holding the role of Second Assistant to the Under-Secretary to the Government of India, Home Department, from 1900. By 1918 he had served in Sindh Province as Assistant Collector and Magistrate and Assistant Judge; and as District and Sessions Judge. After this he became Judicial Commissioner of Sindh in December 1931 and retired in December 1935. It seems likely that at this point he moved to France as British Consul in St Malo.
A small photo of Ferrers when he was a colonial officer in India in 1928 is shown on this page. The main photo is of Ferrers in his Indian civil servant uniform.
Interestingly, Ferrers gives a different history in his Occupation Registration card in Jersey. Here he says that he was in the University of Cambridge Officer Training Corps and later served in India, in the Karachi Artillery and the Southern Maratha Rifles, retiring from the military with the rank of Sergeant in January 1927 aged 50. As this is at odds with established and published records of his career as a judge, we can only imagine that his military history was a fiction, unless he interrupted his civil service to serve in the military.
He first came to Jersey with wife Helen in June 1940, fleeing the evacuation of St Malo as serving British Consul, just as British troops were blowing up the harbour to stop the Germans gaining possession of it. At the time that he comes to our attention during the German occupation, he was 64 years old, and was living in the Ommaroo Hotel in St Helier.
Ferrers’ story has the distinction of featuring in most books on the occupation of the Channel Islands and has passed into folk legend. His actions, like those of people like Winifred Green, Kathleen Norman and Lilian Kinnard, was a small act of stubborn defiance in the early years of the occupation which led to deportation. It was thought that Ferrers did not write his own account of what happened, yet his story had been repeated by numerous occupation diarists who heard rumours about it, and by a number of historians who have perhaps made additions to the original story as they sought to examine it. However, in May 2023, Ferrers’ diaries and papers came to light in the possession of distant family members of Helen Ferrers. Vyvyan wrote his story in a letter to a son in October 1943 as follows:
What happened to me was this. Madame [his nickname for Helen] used to wear a small brooch with the letters RAF on it. The thing was very inconspicuous and she never goes out but the gestapo is lynx-eyed. One day 3 armed men strode abruptly into our room. They tried to seize the offending badge by force. I interposed. I was overpowered; that night I lay in the black hole and early in the morning I was placed before a drumhead court martial. The charge was ‘Gewalltat gegen Wehrmachtsaugehorige’ – I believe it means obstructing the Wehrmacht or words to that effect – and the penalty is death. The gericht [court] however quite rightly supposed that I would rather be shot than do hard labour in a French jail, and sentence was passed accordingly. As things turned out I came through in good shape, and being still regarded as too dangerous to run loose I was sent first to Compiegne and then here [Biberach civilian internment camp] …
Later, in his 1944 diary kept at Biberach, he noted the arrival in camp of an islander called Lingshaw, who had been working in Berlin for the German Propaganda Ministry. ‘In the Islands’, wrote Ferrers, ‘he was known to be a spy. He was employed in the Ommeroo Hotel [the same hotel where Ferrers lived with his wife], and it may have been he who betrayed to the Gestapo the fact that my wife was wearing a brooch with the letters RAF on it. She never went out: the thing was very inconspicuous: without an informant on the hotel staff, Steinberger could never have known anything about it.’
Until Ferrers’ papers came to light, historians had to make do with second hand accounts. The earliest of these were recorded by Alan and Mary Wood in their 1955 book, Islands in Danger. While the Woods were, in the most part, able to interview the original protagonists for their book, it seems unlikely that they were able to do so in this case. Ferrers is referred to as ‘Ferris’, and in any case no longer lived in Jersey and died that year. The story that the Woods tell is as follows:
Mrs Ferris, the invalid wife of a retired Indian judge, lived quietly with her husband in the Ommaroo Hotel. She greatly prized a jewelled RAF badge given to her by her airman son, and always wore it on her dress. One day a Jersey woman, who was friendly with Germans who lunched in the hotel, pointed out this brooch to one of them. He sent a waiter across to ask Mrs Ferris to remove it.
The next day, when the same German came in again, he noticed that the brooch was still in its place. He summoned both the hotel proprietor and Mr Ferris. Both refused to ask Mrs Ferris to remove the brooch; and Ferris himself, who could speak fluent German, became exceedingly angry. He was collected the next day by the German military police, and taken up to the Feldkommandantur in College House. Here, with perhaps imprudent forthrightness, he still refused to stop his wife wearing the brooch. He was imprisoned in the local gaol, and later sent to France.
After some months he returned to find that his wife’s health had been made worse by her anxiety, and that she was now bedridden. Subsequently, he was again deported as a British-born ‘undesirable’. Mrs Ferris failed to survive this second parting, and died in a nursing home while he was away.
It is unknown the degree to which the extra details provided in this account were accurate. An alternative (and seemingly embelished) but similar version to this story is given by Jerseyman Leo Harris in his memoirs, A Boy Remembers (2000). His parents were friendly with the Ferrers. He writes of Ferrers:
He was very tall indeed and well-built. His hair was his outstanding feature; it was as white as it could be and it grew in barely controlled confusion above a rather proud, arrogant face. As though aware that his head was a living bust to a man of greatness, he habitually wore a long, black cloak, which concentrated attention on the upper part of his fine figure. I was twelve and very impressed …
… We soon learned that Mr Ferris had come to Jersey in the 1930s to acclimatise himself after years of service in India as a High Court judge. He was living with his wife at the Ommaroo Hotel, where they had a suite … His wife was in poor health, suffering from an illness she had contracted while in India …
It was a lovely summer afternoon and Mrs Ferris had decided to sit in the main entrance of their hotel to enjoy the sunlight and the view. She never gave a thought to the diamond, sapphire and ruby brooch shaped in the form of an RAF pilot’s wings when she pinned it onto her blouse. Her son, who was serving in the RAF, had given it to her when he had flown solo for the first time …
The young Luftwaffe pilot had only recently been posted to Jersey and had been allocated a room in the hotel. He had been out and on returning cut quite a dash in his tailored uniform, riding boots and peaked cap. Among the German officers, the Luftwaffe were nearly always the most elegant. He passed Mrs Ferris where she sat in the sunlight, but turned back at once and stood directly in front of her. His face worked with emotion. He bowed curtly and said, ‘Madam, would you please remove that badge. It is offensive to German forces.’
At first Mrs Ferris could not understand what he meant. She was quite frail and not used to being addressed like this by a stranger, but she soon gathered herself together and told the young German that she would not do as he requested … As far as she was concerned, that was the end of the matter, but I am afraid this foolish little man was not prepared to let it rest there. Mr Ferris came upon the scene and an altercation followed that he could not win. The Feldgendarmerie was called and he was taken for questioning to their headquarters. As a result of this he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment, in France I believe, and was given time to gather his clothing before reporting to the harbour.
One last account of the altercation survives, and this comes from the Germans themselves. In a little known but extremely important document in the Imperial War Museum, within the papers of Captain Dening, there is an account of the Ferrers case. It is described as follows:
In the latter part of 1941 there was a case against the former British Consul of ST MALO – MR FERRERS – who resided in JERSEY. Mrs F. was wearing an RAF badge on her evening gown in the dining room of the OMMAROO HOTEL. The hotel was partialy billeted by German officers, civilians were staying there as well. Mr STEINBERGER (then head of GFP branch) was asked by another officer present to induce Consul FERRERS and see that Mrs F. should retain from provoking the German Forces in such a way. There followed some argument in the hall between Mr STEINBERGER and Consul F. F. was then arrested and both Mr. and Mrs FERRERS sentenced and imprisoned in FRANCE.
This is the only record that suggests that Mrs Ferrers was also deported, which was not the case. She stayed behind and, penniless and starving, was cared for by nuns in a Catholic nursing home. She died on 13 December 1943 and is buried in the Mont a L’Abbe cemetery in St Helier.
The document then goes on to record a visit to Jersey by a General Viebahn in November 1941. He ‘criticised the FERRERS case and stated that this should have been handled with more delicacy. “It is the Fuehrer’s express wish to deal with the Channel Islands population with the utmost tact and leniency and a distinct differentiation should be observed with regard to people of NORTHERN FRANCE and CHANNEL ISLANDS.” [capitals in original document preserved].
This document is astonishing as it provides the only known documentation suggesting that the German forces had received explicit instructions to treat Channel Islanders leniently.
Returning to the primary archival record, Vyvyan Ferrers was sentenced by the court martial of the Field Command 515 on 25 September 1941 to one year’s imprisonment for ‘uttering statements hostile to the German State.’ On 17 October 1941 he was deported to Caen Prison; he was released on 25 April 1942.
On 13 April 1942, the Court of the Field Command 515 ordered that Ferrers’ sentence had been deferred with effect from 25 April 1942 ‘until the end of hostilities, upon condition that he conducts himself in future in a manner calculated not to involve him in any disciplinary proceedings instituted by the forces of occupation.’ In total, the archives tell us that Ferrers served seven months of his twelve month sentence, although he later wrote in his diary that he ‘served a sentence of twelve months imprisonment.’
On 13 February 1943, Vyvyan Ferrers was deported once again; those who had been convicted of an offence were rounded up for the second wave of mass deportations from the Channel Islands that month. He was sent first to Compiegne Transit and Internment Camp, and then to Biberach Civilian Internment Camp. In Biberach, he stood out as a ‘camp personality’, and his caricature was drawn by ASH Dickinson. He is depicted as ‘the student’, sitting on a camp stool with his nose in a book. In a second cartoon by the same artist, drawn in September 1944, Ferrers is shown as a tall and formidable figure, striding around the camp grounds and wearing his trademark cloak. A fellow internee, M Roche, provided the following rhyme to go with the image:
There’s a polyglot called Consul Ferrers
For whom erudite things hold no terrors.
Swathed in silence and cloak
He sees less gifted folk
As rather regrettable errors.
A note in a Biberach camp register shows that on 12 September 1944, Vyvyan Ferrers was ‘transferred to Bad Neuradth’. This was not quite accurate; he was transferred to a camp in the Rhineland at Bad Neuenahr – actually, the hotel Westend, a historic postcard of which is shown on this page – a hotel otherwise used for injured soldiers. Twenty-nine captured British Consuls from various posts in occupied territories were held there pending an exchange with German consular officials held on the Isle of Man. On 25 September 1944, Ferrers and the other officials were sent to a small hotel called the Kurhaus in Bad Schwarzbach in Upper Silesia, a historic postcard of which is shown on this page. Whether or when they were exchanged is unknown.
Ferrers survived the war. In 1946, he married again; his second wife was Julia Sutterby Holmes, who lived until April 1971. Ferrers himself died on 6 March 1955 in Brighton. His 1940 diary of his escape from St Malo and his 1944 Biberach diary was left to his cousin. No further writings other than his book The Brigadier, written while in Caen Prison, are known. A letter about his Jersey prison experience can be found in the British Library.
I would like to thank the Grimaldi family for the loan of Vyvyan Ferrers’ 1940 and 1944 diary and letters. The Frank Falla Archive would like to ask any of Ferrers’ grandchildren to get in touch.
Carr, G., Sanders, P. and Willmot, L. 2014. Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation 1940-45. Bloomsbury Academic: London.
Harris, L. 2004 . A Boy Remembers. Jersey: Channel Island Publishing.
Wood, A. and Wood, M. 1955. Islands in Danger. New York: The Macmillan company.
Captain JR Dening files, Imperial War Museum, ref. 13409.
1943 deportation list, Jersey Archives ref. B/A/W80/1.
Vyvyan Ferrers’ occupation registration card and forms, Jersey Archives ref. D/S/A/13/A323 & B323.
Vyvyan Ferrers’ court records, Jersey Archives ref. D/Z/H6/2/38.
Vyvan Ferrers’ entry in the logbook for Jersey Political Prisoners, Jersey Archives ref. D/AG/B7/7.
Cartoons of Vyvyan Ferrers by ASM Dickinson, Jersey Archives ref. L/C/177/A1/53 and L/C/177/A4/13.