By Gilly Carr
Vyvyan Macleod Ferrers was born in Cambridge, England, on 20 January 1877. We can glean from his occupation registration form that he had, earlier in his life, been a military man. He was in the University of Cambridge Officer Training Corps (which tells us that he attended that university), and later served in India, in the Karachi Artillery and the Southern Maratha Rifles. He retired from the military with the rank of Sergeant in January 1927 aged 50.
He first came to Jersey some time in the 1930s. At the time that he comes to our attention during the German occupation, he was 64 years old and was a retired HM Consul. He was also living with his wife, Helen Ferrers, 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. Ferrers did not write his own account of what happened, yet his story has 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. Because of these potential errors, we must go back to the earliest account of Ferrers’ actions. These are 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 he would have been 78 years old, if he was still alive, and may no longer have lived in Jersey – his post-war life is unknown. 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.
An alternative but similar version to this story is given by Jerseyman Leo Harris in his memoirs, A Boy Remembers (2000). His parents were friendly with Grant and Vyvyan 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.
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, Ferrers served seven months of his twelve month sentence.
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.
After the war, in 1946, Vyvyan Ferrers remarried. He died on 6 March 1955 in Brighton.
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.