By Gilly Carr
William George Quin was born in Guernsey on 8 June 1896. He had previously served in the cavalry during the First World War. He retired from the cavalry on 3 March 1921 with the rank of sergeant. According to his son, he had had trench foot and been gassed in the war. He had also been injured, leaving a hole in his calf muscle where a bullet had passed through his leg.
Quin was a police constable at the time of the occupation of the Island, was married to wife Wilhelmina, and had three children. Two of his children (a son and daughter) evacuated to the UK before the occupation began, but his youngest son Francis stayed with the family.
Quin, along with many of his fellow policemen, was to get involved in a case which would cause ripples for decades to come. From the earliest post-war days, these men of military age consistently argued that their actions were inspired by the BBC broadcasts of ‘Colonel Britton’, otherwise known as Douglas Ritchie. These broadcasts were transmitted on the European service to the occupied peoples of Europe but were not aimed at the Channel Islanders because of the precariousness of their situation as sitting ducks in small islands. These broadcasts gave instructions to civilians to sabotage and harass the occupiers in numerous non-military ways. For these young men denied the opportunity of fighting in the armed services, or the older men who had previously served in WWI, such broadcasts appealed greatly. Their role as policemen gave them opportunities for action denied to most other civilians, such as being out after curfew. However, their position was a double-edged sword. Policemen were also required to salute passing German officers, which they found hard to stomach.
We have five main sources of information from which to draw to learn more of Quin’s story: Bill Bell’s interviews with the policemen later in their lives; Quin’s son Francis’ memories; Quin’s 1965 compensation testimony, although much rich detail is sadly lacking from this given that Quin had lost much of his memory of his experience through the ill-treatment he received. There are also International Tracing Service documents, which record Quin’s sojourns in various German prisons; and the memoirs of his police colleague, Kingston George Bailey, from which we can learn much about the experiences of the other policemen. Bailey described how he and fellow ringleader, police constable Frank Tuck, decided, in the first winter of the occupation, to do all they could to annoy the Germans. From March 1941 they compiled a dossier on their activities, cut telephone wires, put sand in the petrol tanks of German cars, and painted V for victory signs around the island.
By the following winter, the civilian population was suffering from food shortages while, at the same time, the Germans stockpiled food in stores throughout St Peter Port. Bailey and Tuck broke into these stores by night and took tinned food to redistribute to those in need. They brought a number of other policemen into their group such that, by February 1942, ‘the operation was … getting out of hand … practically the whole police force was now taking part and, as we were on different shifts, it was impossible to know what each man was doing.’ Civilian stores run by people trading with the Germans were also entered.
On 3 March 1942, Bailey and Tuck were caught red-handed by German soldiers lying in wait for them at one of the food stores. They and most of the other police were taken to Guernsey prison and their houses were searched. The men were taken to Grange Lodge in St Peter Port, the HQ of the Secret Field Police (Geheime Feldpolizei) for questioning. They were beaten and given decreasing rations over the period of interrogation. Back in the prison they were kept in solitary confinement and not allowed to wash or change their clothes. Lack of sleep also took its toll. They were also presented with forged confessions during this period.
Sixteen policemen were then taken to Fort George in St Peter Port for four weeks, where they were able to recover from their beatings and receive food from family and friends so that they looked well for their trial.
On 24 April 1942 the men were tried by the Germans and, controversially, also by the local authorities in the Royal Court on 1 June 1942, on account of the civilian stores that had also been entered. This was to be a show trial. In total, Quin was sentenced to four years hard labour for ‘serious theft in three cases and theft in two cases’, and to 16 months hard labour by the Royal Court, a sentence to run concurrently. After sentencing, the men were taken back to Fort George until their deportation on 13 June 1942, during which they were handcuffed to each other in pairs. They were taken first to Jersey Prison for the night, then on to a prison in Granville for a few hours, and then Caen Prison, all the while still in handcuffs.
They were in Caen from 16 June to 16 July 1942. For the first night they were put in dungeon cells in which straw mattresses, complete with wet blankets, were placed on the floor, in two inches of ‘what smelt like a cesspool’. After that they were placed in a room filled with 100 cubicles, each locked up at night, and each containing a bed. In his memoirs, Bailey wrote that ‘the cubicles and bed frames were full of bugs which were, indeed, as hungry as ourselves … The food was terrible, consisting mainly of cabbage soup, with about 3/4 of a pound of bread each day … Many of the prisoners suffered from a mild form of dysentery, probably caused by too much cabbage water.’
The next stage of their journey, also spent handcuffed in pairs during the night, took them to Fort de Villeneuve-Saint-Georges in Paris, where Quin was imprisoned on 16 July 1942.
Lest there be any misapprehension that life in a French prison was easy, the following description by Quin’s colleague Fred Short of Villeneuve-Saint-Georges was as follows:
‘We slept 50 to a room on beds of straw. Vermin was at its height (lice, bugs, fleas) and the sanitation and washing facilities were practically nil. A galvanised dustbin with a wooden plank for use as a WC was issued to each room for sanitation purposes and was emptied twice daily (morning and night) so the smell in the room as you can imagine was terrible. Washing facilities consisted of four small taps running out of a wall where one had to cup one’s hands in order to gather enough water to swill your face. No baths or showers, so being impossible to wash one’s body. Razors were forbidden, there being no facilities whatsoever for haircutting and shaving so you can imagine what a sorry mess we all looked when we left this Prison Fort for Germany. Food consisted of a semi-starvation diet, with two small cups of watery soup daily with two slices of dry bread and one thin slice of meat or cheese fortnightly and finally for good measure the Nazi guards would raid and search the rooms on an average twice weekly (day or night) and each of us in turn would get a beating up by getting struck with their rifles and kicked.’ – Frederick Short, compensation testimony, TNA FO 950/1224
On 6 August 1942, three weeks after his arrival, 46 year-old Quin was transferred to Fresnes Prison hospital. In a letter written to his family back in Guernsey from his next prison, he notes that he is feeling much better after an operation (which took place on 11 August), and that he wishes he had been operated on before to save him ‘all that misery’. We do not know what his condition was, but he found the hospital a blessed relief after the prison. In a letter to his family written on 26 August, he wrote that he expected to be ‘here [the hospital] for another 2-3 weeks – wish it was longer. Six months would do me well, I have done fairly well here, so will find it a bit harder when I go back to the old place.’ Quin had been given a three-room ward in Fresnes hospital prison with his colleagues Frederick Duquemin and Frank Whare, the latter of whom had a ruptured appendix. They were treated well, given enough food to eat, and even received a Red Cross parcel.
We cannot say for sure when he returned to Villeneuve, but a note in the Villeneuve entry book indicates that he was finally transferred away from the prison on 29 August 1942. His next place of incarceration is unclear because of contradictory records, although French online records indicate that he was deported briefly to Karlsruhe Prison. After this he was moved to Rheinbach Prison on 14 September 1942, where he stayed until at least 27 September 1942. Of Rheinbach, Quin later recalled that he ‘worked in a Prison Factory on munitions.’ However, in a letter written to his family on 27 September 1942 from Rheinbach, he wrote (truthfully or not) that ‘I am very comfortable and food is good and fairly plentiful, so we are alright. I do not know where the others are; perhaps you have heard from Duquemin or Frank Whare. They were both in hospital when I left … I have everything I need for now. My clothing and effects are being sent back home through the Red Cross … I have lost my watch and two 10/- notes, the French warders had that, I made enquiries about it …’
After this, post-war records from Bernau Prison and Labour Camp indicate that he arrived here on 24 September 1942. There are reasons to be skeptical about this particular record. In the first place, contemporary Bernau Prison records show that his dates in Bernau were 3 October 1944 to 6 May 1945, a destination preceded by Hamelin Prison, where Quin arrived on 16 September 1944. Second, other Islanders (including Quin’s fellow policemen) were in Bernau at the earlier date and none testified to his presence then. We cannot say, due to lack of archival evidence, whether or not Quin was in any other prison between Rheinbach and Hamelin.
There is good reason to seek illumination from the trajectory of William Stanley Cordrey in trying to work out what happened to Quin after his arrival in Bernau. Rather than taking it as read that Quin stayed in Bernau until the end of the war, as the records indicate, Quin’s own recollection of what happened to him does not match any description of Bernau. Instead, it resonates with that of Cordrey. Cordrey was sent (like Quin) to Hamelin Prison, arriving in Bernau at the same date as Quin – 3 October 1944. We might assume that they arrived in the same transport. Cordrey’s prisoner number was 6660; Quin’s (lower down the alphabet) was 6759. Cordrey was, at a later unknown date, sent from Bernau to Kematen Forced Labour Camp, near Innsbruck in Austria, where he worked on the Messerschmitt Tunnels. This transfer happened despite the records in Bernau prison noting that (like Quin) he is supposed to have stayed in Bernau until the end of the war. It seems possible, therefore, that Bernau loaned out its prisoners for forced labour elsewhere.
It seems highly probable that Kematen was also Quin’s destination. As no records from Kematen have been located, we cannot seek proof there. Quin himself wrote a vague compensation testimony in the mid-1960s because his ill-treatment during his captivity badly affected his memory. After his initial application was rejected by the Foreign Office, Frank Falla intervened and did his best to help Quin get compensation. He visited Quin on several occasions and interviewed him about his experiences in order to put together a comprehensive narrative or at least to help him recall enough snippets that together might help the Foreign Office decide to award compensation.
Falla extracted the following information about Quin’s experiences, which we can see match the description of working in tunnels in a mountainous location, even if there is no mention of Cordrey (indicating that either the two men did not come into contact with each other, or that Cordrey was soon moved on to another location). We might also note the piecemeal nature of the information that Falla extracted from Quin, reflecting the poor state of Quin’s memory, most likely because of PTSD.
‘He did in fact suffer all the iniquities inflicted by the Nazis: including starvation, malnutrition and occasional beatings with shovels, and particularly was he a victim of the latter as he was the solitary Englishman in a horde of foreign labourers.’
‘Quin did all his time in prisons and the camp at a place in the mountains he cannot name but near a village’ Falla had earlier established from Quin that this place was a ‘small camp of 100 prisoners’ and that ‘they had to walk long distances each day to their work in the mountainside.’
‘He was forced to work on some electrical connections which had something to do with German ammunition or explosives.
He was transported from prison to prison in cattle trucks so crowded with other prisoners that they couldn’t sit down and all had to stand for the journeys, in traditional Nazi style.
He was force-marched by the Germans when the Allies advanced and were threatening to over-run them. Those who were so weak and under-nourished that they fell by the wayside were just left.
While working on the tunnelling into the mountain-side they worked from 6 in the morning until darkness and the tunnels were being hewn out of the rock so that the Nazis could use them either for stores for arms and ammunitions or as a hide-out from the Allies.
On three occasions he escaped from the working party and walked through a forest to the un-named village … and begged and cadged morsels of bread and risked being shot for doing so. They wrote to him after the war sending him first a Christmas card and then a letter. He thanked them for what they tried to do for him but, in the present light, he foolishly destroyed the card and letters when clearing out a bureau drawer. So, bang went his evidence which would have established where he was in camp other than the very vague ‘near Innsbruck’
In the working party he was picked out and victimised by the Wachtmeister because he was an Englishman, but towards the end this eased. Before this when the Germans thought he was not working hard enough they used to lay into him with shovels they were all using – and this with little mercy shown. The blows were aimed mainly at the back, seat and legs …
… When he was liberated he hitch-hiked his way back to Cologne and then flew from Brussels as a returning British soldier, a POW, the Army authorities having advised this be done and accordingly, as he came from the Channel Islands, categorising him as belonging to the Second Hampshire Regiment. He doesn’t know exactly where he landed on the South Coast but believes it might have been an aerodrome at or near Chichester. He was examined by Intelligence and also medically and with his very distended body (unaccustomed to any good food he had rather gorged himself on American food) was found to be suffering from starvation, malnutrition and water in the body from which thousands of prisoners suffered, and died.’
Falla had earlier established from Quin that when he was released by American forces, he refused their offer to see him back to England. ‘Instead, he went off on his own and managed to get a lift to Cologne in an American truck and from there he went to Brussels.’
In a letter written one month earlier, Falla confided in the Foreign Office that he had tried to ‘grill’ Quin but ‘his memory has lapsed … The whole trouble with Quin is that the effect of his imprisonment has obviously caused serious loss of memory … The man completely lacks the memory which could substantiate his case …’. Fortunately, with Falla’s help, Quin was eventually awarded compensation. Quin’s son later expressed surprise at Falla’s assessment of his father’s memory, noting that it was in general fine, indicating that Quin’s amnesia was selective and targeted at blacking out his wartime experiences.
When Quin returned the UK from Austria, he was given money and a rail ticket to join his wife and family in Stockport, Cheshire, after they, too, had returned from internment in a civilian internment camp. After Quin and his police colleagues had been deported in June 1942, the wives and children of the men were deported in February 1943, with various other groups of Islanders, to civilian internment camps (unless they were among those evacuated to the UK in 1940).
Wilhelmina and their son Francis (aged 2) were deported on 16 February 1943, first to Compiègne Internment and Transit Camp, then, on 20 May 1943, to Biberach civilian internment camp, and, on 16 September 1944, to Liebenau civilian internment camp, where they were liberated on 29 April 1945.
William Quin worked in a bicycle shop after his return to Guernsey after the war. He was not allowed to return to his position in the police force. The family struggled financially until the compensation money arrived in late 1966. William Quin did not have long to enjoy it; he died of lung cancer on 21 December 1972.
William Quin, like the other Guernsey policemen, never cleared his name after the war, and the judgements against him and the other policemen made by the Royal Court in Guernsey still stand to this day, long after his death.
The author would like to thank Francis Quin for his interview on 14 December 2014, and for sharing his story and family archive.
Bailey, K.G.1979 . Dachau. Guernsey: CI Marine Ltd.
Bell, W.M. 1995. I Beg to Report. Guernsey: Guernsey Press Co. Ltd.
Francis Quin’s personal archive.
Sanders, P. 2014. ‘Economic resistance and sabotage’, pp. 277-306 in G. Carr, P. Sanders and L. Willmot, Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation 1940-1945. London: Bloomsbury Academic.
William Quin, Nazi persecution compensation claim for Frederick Duquemin, The National Archives ref: TNA FO 950/4437.
William Quin, International Tracing Service records, Wiener Library refs. 11506122/0/1, 33226150/0/1, 33226143/0/1, 33226143/0/1, 33226151/0/1, 11695038/0/1, 33226145/0/1, 33226141/0/1, 33226140/0/1, 11539797/0/1, 33226152/0/1, 33226148/0/1, 33226149/0/1, 33226147/0/1, 33226146/0/1.
William Quin, records from Villeneuve Saint-Georges prison, ref. 500W 8/1, 500W 8/2, 500W-3 & 2742W102. Archives Départmentales du Val de Marne, Creteil.
William Quin, entry in Fondation pour la memoire de la deportation, http://www.bddm.org/liv/details.php?id=I.54.#QUIN (accessed 14 January 2018).