By Gilly Carr
William Howard Marsh was born in St Helier, Jersey, on 28 November 1920. His name is better known to us today as one of the ‘Jersey 21’, whose names are inscribed on the Lighthouse Memorial in St Helier.
At the time he comes to our attention, he was unmarried and working as a motor mechanic for the Inselwaffenmeisterei, the German armouries. According to historian Paul Sanders, William Marsh previously had a number of employments from which he had been sacked for his rebelliousness and ‘go-slow’ work ethic. Sanders reveals that, while working at the Inselwaffenmeisterei, where he started work in November 1943, he spread the BBC news every morning among his friends. During the morning break he discussed politics and the war and got into arguments with the Germans. He was reported for misconduct in February 1944.
On 19 February 1944 he was sentenced by the troop court in King’s Cliff, St Helier, in a house which still stands, to one year and three months imprisonment for ‘insulting the German forces, disturbing the working peace and disseminating anti-German information.’
At his trial he was left to defend himself but, as Sanders observed, he was a little too assertive – and perhaps not quite apologetic enough. ‘Despite his pleas, the court remained sceptical, as their belief in his subversive and dangerous role was reinforced by his occasional outbursts during proceedings’. Marsh also commented on the absence of fair trial procedures, which sealed his fate; ‘the court deemed it a grave insult to the German forces which exposed Marsh’s dangerous attitude’ His actions had become those of ‘a fanatical enemy … who had to be eliminated for a longer period of time’ (Sanders 2004, 30).
The date of Marsh’s deportation is not known, but Jersey’s political prisoner logbook reveals 29 and 31 March 1944 as the next recorded deportation dates after his trial. Records from the International Tracing Service indicate that William Marsh was sent to Karlsruhe Prison (with no indication as to whether or not this was his first destination), then on 18 April 1944 sent to Frankfurt am Main-Preungesheim Prison. On 3 July 1944 he moved to Naumburg Prison. He would have met and known the other Channel Islanders in Frankfurt and Naumburg Prisons; Frank Falla mentions him in the newspaper articles he wrote for the Guernsey Evening Press and Jersey Evening Post in July 1945 after his repatriation to England, in which he stated that Marsh died at ‘Gleina near Zeitz’, just 8 miles from Naumburg. Quite where Falla acquired this information can only be guessed, although it is possible that Marsh was able to tell other Islanders that he was being sent to Gleina before he left Naumburg. Perhaps prisoners moving in the other direction could have told Falla of Marsh’s death.
Recent research reveals that, until late December 1944, Gleina had been a camp ‘hospital’, but since there were no medical supplies available, it was essentially just a place for severely ill prisoners to die. By early 1945, the Gleina camp became a barracks for British prisoners of war called Arbeitskommando G123. It is possible that Marsh was in Gleina as part of a forced labour detail, simply because he was British or because he had become severely ill.
Wille Concentration Camp, a subcamp of Buchenwald Concentration Camp for processing synthetic fuels, located about 20 miles southeast of Naumburg in the town of Elsteraue (Rehmsdorf), is likely to have been William Marsh’s final destination. He died here on 9 March 1945 at 1.30pm. His death certificate indicates his cause of death as ‘cardiac and circulatory insufficiency and acute intestinal mucosal inflammation’, although if his health was anything like that of the other Channel Islanders at this period in time who had passed through Frankfurt and Naumburg prisons, he would also have been suffering from dysentery, dropsy, severe malnutrition and, quite possibly, tuberculosis.
William Marsh was buried in a mass grave in the Alt-Tröglitz cemetery, two miles from Gleina. He lies there still in a mass grave with many other foreign workers, in a separate part of the commune’s cemetery.
The author is indebted to Michael Viebig of the Gedenkstätte Roter Ochse Halle (Saale) for compiling information on William Marsh and other Channel Islanders, and to the Gemeinde Elsteraue for providing information to Michael Viebig. The author would also like to thank Ina Herge of the Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv for giving permission for William Marsh’s records from Frankfurt am Main-Preungesheim Prison to be shown here.
Court records for William Marsh, Jersey Archives ref. D/Z/H6/7/42.
Occupation registration card and forms, Jersey Archives ref. D/S/A/11/A2131 and B2131.
Nazi persecution compensation claim, William Marsh, TNA ref. FO 950/2362.
Prisoner record for William Marsh, Frankfurt am Main-Preungesheim, copyright Hauptstaatsarchiv Wiesbaden (abgeküzt HHStAW).
Sanders, P. 2004. The Ultimate Sacrifice. Jersey: Jersey Heritage Trust.