By Gilly Carr
William John Windebank was born in Alderney in 1898 and, at the start of the German occupation, was 42 years old. He was a motor driver by profession and was married. On his occupation registration card, he wrote that he had served in the army between 1910 and 1921 in the York and Lancaster Regiment. Whether or not this early start date (when he was 12) was an error, or whether he joined up and lied about his age, is unknown. Later he was a driver in the Royal Army Service Corps from October 1939 to June 1940, indicating that he was caught in the island when the Germans arrived, having failed to evacuate in time with the Army.
Windebank comes to our attention during the occupation because, on 30 September 1943, he was sentenced to ten months imprisonment by decree of the tribunal of the German court of Feldkommandantur 515 for ‘failing to surrender a wireless receiving set’.
Fortunately for us, enough prison records survive at various archives across France to allow us to reconstruct his movements. These show that, on 4 October 1943, Windebank arrived at Troyes Hauts-Clos Prison. As this was just 4 days after his tribunal, and his name does not appear in the political prisoner log book of Jersey jail, it is likely that he was deported immediately.
His prison record shows that, while in Troyes, he was hospitalised from 12 December 1943 to 26 January 1944. He was then transferred on 15 March to Fort de Villeneuve-Saint-Georges Prison. He was later transferred to Fresnes Prison on 12 July 1944. Finally, he arrived in Saint-Denis Internment Camp from Fresnes Prison on 11 August 1944. He stayed here until his liberation. No records have yet been found from other prisons which record Windebank’s presence, but it is possible that he was taken as forced labour for a work party while registered at Villeneuve or Fresnes.
In 1965, Windebank filed a claim for compensation as a victim of Nazi persecution. In his testimony he wrote:
I was imprisoned at Troyes, Villeneuve St George, Fort Mahon, Fresnes Prison. The general conditions were disgusting, food was nothing else but vegetables boiled, one sort a day, bread about 80g a day just enough to exist on, beds bug infested and damp.
I was arrested at Jersey, CI, June 1943, and was liberated in Sept 1944 when the Germans left the camp. I am sorry I cannot remember dates as it was so far back now and have tried for forget most things …
The suffering I am still having is not being able to regain any weight, having lost 4 stone in about 18 months while in prisons. I nearly lost my life in Troyes with haemorrhage of the bowels, being left for two weeks without attention afterwards taken to hospital at Troyes for several weeks under guard all the time also left with chronic bronchitis.
I should like to state that I was always under strict supervision, when being moved from one prison to another was handcuffed and chained by the legs.
Was made to work digging out unexploded bombs at Villeneuve St George, at Fort Mahon was placing anti-tank traps on coast, at Fresnes was in solitary confinement for about five weeks before the removal to the internment camp at St Denis.
Uniquely for somebody deported only to French prisons, Windebank was awarded compensation and a disability payment. The Foreign Office justified this because his offence was listening to the radio set and other people in this category had been treated badly and given compensation (although they were sent to prisons and camps in Germany). Unfortunately, John Windebank died before his compensation money arrived, his health fatally compromised by his period of internment.
Jersey occupation registration documents, Jersey Archives ref St. S/15/246; St. S/15/247; St. S/15/248.
Court records relating to William Windebank, Jersey Archives ref. D/Z/H6/6/150.
Nazi Persecution Compensation Claim, William John Windebank, FO 950/1833
Prison records from Troyes Haut-Clos Prison (Archives départementales de l’Aube, Centre pénitentaire des Haut-Clos de Troyes, 1039W16/2/2), Villeneuve Saint-George Prison (Val de Marne archives, Registre d’ecrou 500W/3 and 500W/7/1-2).
French National Archives, FNA F-7-15150 (Windebank)