By Gilly Carr
William Stanley Canute Cordrey was born, according to his Occupation registration papers, on 20 July 1893 in Dalhousie, Scotland. However, according to his birth certificate and other archival documents, he was born on 20 July 1901 in Sydenham, Kent. There is also no place in Scotland (although there is a castle) with the name ‘Dalhousie’. Why he chose to misrepresent himself on his occupation-period papers is unknown.
Cordrey had been, at an earlier point in his life, a captain in the army, but was invalided out in April 1920. His cap badge in his WWI photo (shown on this webpage) indicates that his regiment was The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment). The First World War was not Cordrey’s only conflict experience; Cordrey’s second wife told his son that Cordrey had later taken part in the Spanish Civil War, where he apparently fought on both sides.
At the time of the registration period of the Occupation (in early 1941), Cordrey was working as a master stevedore, was married to Edith MacIntosh, and living in Longueville in St Saviour. It seems likely that this relationship broke down in early 1941, because in March 1941 Edith moved to St Saviour’s Road in St Helier, whereas Cordrey moved from Longueville to Duhamel Place in St Helier in September 1941. Thereafter the couple appear not to have lived at the same address.
Cordrey’s son was told by his mother that Cordrey ‘spent the majority of the war in France, travelling backwards and forwards to the Channel Islands and the UK, and was working with the French Resistance‘. This seems extremely unlikely, although it was possible that he unloaded the cargo of ships that moved between Jersey and France, perhaps travelling with the ships to load them up in France. It is also possible that he was in touch with the French Resistance through this work. However, contacts with the UK were not possible, except through the Resistance. We have no way of checking whether any of this part of Cordrey’s story was true, especially as it comes to us now via two people, his wife and son, and and not from anything written by him.
In his compensation testimony written in 1965, he wrote somewhat cryptically that, ‘when the war broke out I was resident in Jersey. As a result of certain conversations I remained there instead of returning to the mainland in June 1940.’ Cordrey’s son was told by his mother that Cordrey was sent to Jersey in the first place at the direction of an un-named person in Whitehall, although this cannot be substantiated and nor could people in Whitehall know far in advance that the Channel Islands would be occupied. However, as we do not know when Cordrey went to Jersey, it is possible that he arrived in the early spring of 1940 when the Blitzkrieg had already begun. If his later hints to his family about connections in Whitehall were true, it is just possible that he came to Jersey with hopes of finding his moment to get to France to act as an agent, but this remains pure conjecture.
By his own admission in his later compensation testimony, he fell foul of the authorities several times before he was eventually jailed. He was ‘warned’ on September 1942 and January 1943 (the reason for which was not stated, but were very likely related to the deportations of the English-born Islanders at that time); held for 36 hours in June 1943; and, in January 1944, arrested on ‘various charges’. In the same testimony he wrote the following, which appears (by the dates quoted) to suggest additional events. ‘I was arrested for the first time on 19 July 1940 by the German naval police because of refusal to unload war materiel – released after three days. Next, in or about August 1941, for suggesting in reply to a question from a Badge or Party type, that they must know that they’d already bitten off more than they could chew, etc. Released after 30 hours.’ From these events we can begin to get an idea of the kind of man that Cordrey was: disrespectful and disdainful to the occupiers; a man who spoke his mind; and a foolhardy man – with more than a pinch of bravery. This may give us an insight into the reason for the length of his sentence when he was later court-martialled. Reminiscent of Frederick Page in Jersey, Cordrey may not have kept silent when it was prudent for him to do so during his trial.
Cordrey comes to our attention because, on 17 March 1944, he was court martialled for the offence of ‘abetting breaking-in and larceny and attempted breaking-in and larceny’, for which he was given a sentence of three years and six months with hard labour. The fact that he was tried by a German court, and by this point working as a store or warehouse worker, indicates that he is likely to have stolen from German stores or warehouses.
We know that the later in the war an Islander was deported, and the more severe the sentence, the less chance they had of survival. Cordrey was about to face one of the toughest periods of his life. We do not know when he was deported because this is not registered in the Island’s political prisoner log book. This means that he was probably removed from Jersey jail and put on a departing vessel without notifying the local Jersey authorities, quite possibly immediately after his court martial. One record indicated that he ‘arrived in Germany on 5 March 1944’, but as this not only predates his court-martial, and neglects to allow for a period in Fresnes Prison in Paris before he was transferred to Neue Bremm Gestapo Camp in Germany, it cannot be correct.
Our sources of information regarding what happened next to Cordrey come from two sources: his own testimony written in 1965, asking for compensation for Nazi persecution, and the International Tracing Service documents that record his presence in various Nazi prisons and camps.
Cordrey’s compensation testimony is not especially detailed. He wrote about his experiences as follows:
‘Sent to Fresnes Prison, Paris. Beaten up, kicked, toes broken, all the usual treatment. Sent to Camp at Neues Bremm [sic – Neue Bremm Gestapo Camp] near Saarbrucken, onto Rheinbach bei Bonn, then to Quarry Mining Camp Kematen, Austria, finally an Arbeitscommando from Mauthausen.
I have two compressed fractures in spine, fracture in skull, damaged feet and no teeth.’
William Cordrey’s injuries and his reluctance to dwell in detail on his terrible experiences led him to omit naming all of his places of incarceration. While we have no information which confirms his date of deportation, the records of Rheinbach Prison indicate that he arrived there on 8 June 1944 as prisoner 317/44. We know from his testimony that before this date he had already spent time at Fresnes Prison and at Neue Bremm Gestapo Camp. He was transferred to Hamelin Prison on 16 September 1944, where he remained until 14 October 1944. As the records of Bernau Prison and Labour Camp indicate that he arrived there on 3 October 1944 as prisoner 6660, it seems that he was removed from Hamelin before the intended date. Records indicate that Cordrey finally left Bernau on 25 May 1945, but this is likely to be false given that we know that he was in both Kematen Forced Labour Camp and Suben Workhouse Prison before the end of the war.
William Cordrey’s name appears on a list of captives freed from imprisonment at Suben Workhouse Prison by American troops. He was clearly in a weak state by this stage of the war as his record card from the prison was marked ‘only suitable for light work’.
According to the Ministère des Anciens Combattants et Victimes de Guerre (Ministry of Veterans and Victims of War), Cordrey was repatriated on 29 July 1945 from Strasbourg. He survived the war.
After the war, according to Cordrey’s son, Cordrey met Muriel Catchpole (who was in the WAAF), and married her in Brighton on 6 August 1947; he gave his correct date of birth on his marriage certificate. The fate of Edith Cordrey, his first wife, is unknown. Cordrey represented himself as a ‘bachelor’ on his second wedding certificate. Unless his first wife had died, this was incorrect; divorce was not yet legal in Jersey and so this second marriage was probably bigamous unless they had initially married and subsequently divorced in the UK (no trace of which has yet been found). On his wedding certificate, he also describes himself as an ‘oil company’s representative’ (his father was on the board of a company that was trading in essential oils). Immediately before this time he worked in Brighton, in a post involving military salaries and pensions.
Muriel Catchpole told their son that she and Cordrey had met while she was working at Bletchley Park. Part of her work involved meeting people who had been assigned to work in enemy territory during the war. It is possible that Cordrey met her during his debriefing after his return to the UK; his experiences in Jersey and a number of Nazi prisons and camps may have made him of interest to British intelligence, even though the war had ended.
Muriel and Cordrey’s marriage was short-lived; they parted while their son, Colin, was still a baby. However, Muriel was able to tell Colin various things about his father, such as that he had been ‘captured, imprisoned and ill-treated by the Germans, but that he had escaped on various occasions’. Colin was also given a middle name of ‘Marius’ in remembrance of a French resistance fighter with whom Cordrey was close and who was apparently killed by his side. Colin was given his father’s hand-made ring, shown on this webpage, of a Croix de Lorraine, a symbol of Charles de Gaulle and the Free French, given to Cordrey by a member of the French resistance.
It is clear that there are many details of Cordrey’s wartime experience and of his life before and, indeed, after the war which are now beyond our reach. If accurate, the family stories add flesh to the character of William Cordrey and reveal a man who had an extremely adventurous – and dangerous – life and who played anything but an onlooker’s role in two and probably three of the most notorious wars of the twentieth century.
The author would like Colin Cordrey, the son of William Cordrey, for his help in providing information on the life of his father.
William Cordrey’s Occupation registration cards, Jersey Archives, ref. St. H /4/5151-5153.
William Cordrey’s court records, Jersey Archives, ref. D/Z/H6/7/58.
William Cordrey’s compensation claim for Nazi persecution, The National Archives ref FO 950/2292.
William Cordrey’s records at the International Tracing Service, refs. 8714162, 8714163, 87141865, 87141866, 87141867, 87141869, 87141870, 87141871, 87141872, 11539772, 11361677, 11362414, 1133826, 11383827, 11936707.