By Gilly Carr
Winifred Green née Green is possibly one of the best-known of all female Guernsey resisters; her nickname was ‘Mrs Churchill’ and most books on the occupation of the Channel Islands feature her story.
Winifred was married to Frank Archibald Green and she was a hotel employee at the time of the occupation. She comes to our notice because of her small contribution to the V-sign campaign.
The V-sign campaign was propagated by the BBC in 1941, encouraging the occupied peoples of Europe to make the sign of V-for-victory to make the occupiers feel that they were surrounded by a hostile resistance army. The BBC intended it to be a ‘war of nerves’. As well as making the V-sign with fingers spread and palm out, people drew up Vs on walls, roads, road-signs, windows and doorways. They made the V-sound using Morse code (dot-dot-dot-dash) and by playing Beethoven’s Fifth (or V) symphony, and through various other ingenious means. The Channel Islanders were willing players in this campaign.
Although Winifred did not write her own account of what happened to her, our most reliable source is an article published in the early 1950s by her Canadian cousin, Poppy Thompson. That account is as follows:
‘Just before the Germans took over, Winnie’s children were evacuated to Scotland. To fill the void, Winnie got a job as a waitress in the Royal Hotel, where one of the foreign employees was an ardent admirer of Hitler. Winnie was an equally fervent admirer of Winston Churchill. Each day this staff member would greet her with “Good morning, Mrs Green. Heil Hitler!” To which she would retort, “Good morning. Heil Churchill!”
Staff lunches became a regular battleground. “Have you heard the news, Mrs Green?” her opponent would say, “Germany has taken Yugoslavia – or Greece – or Crete –“ or “We’ve got the battleship Hood”, to which last remark Winnie retorted triumphantly a few days later, “Have you heard the news? We’ve got the Bismark!”
This sort of thing went on for months, with increasing bitterness, until one day the drama reached its climax. “Would you like some rice pudding, Mrs Green?” asked her adversary. “Yes please,” she replied. “Only if you say “Heil Hitler!” he goaded. There was a moment’s breathless silence and Mrs Green exploded. “To hell with Hitler for a rice pudding – and one made of skim milk at that!”
That did it, of course, and Mrs Green was court-martialled. All the court proceedings were in German and she had no one to defend her. She admitted her statement defiantly and was sentenced to six months in a prison at Caen. Willie found her greatest hardship was the utter lack of anything to do. So she borrowed a needle and thread from another prisoner, tore a piece off her sheet and embroidered on it, “Heil Churchill; RAF; Caen Prison 1941”, adding underneath a triumphant “V” sign.
When eventually Winnie was released and returned to Guernsey she was hailed as a heroine and ever after referred to by the islanders as “Mrs Churchill”. Winnie Green and her husband are now the owners of a guest house in St Peter Port, Guernsey, where they proudly display Winnie’s framed souvenir, the piece of sheet she embroidered in Caen prison.’
A few additional details were recorded by Alan and Mary Wood in their 1955 volume, Islands in Danger. They would almost certainly have spoken to Winifred Green about her experience. From them we can glean that the German Military Police called at the Royal Hotel [on 13 September 1941] and came to collect Winifred for her trial, which took place just 20 minutes later. This makes it clear that Winifred was not in prison before hand. They wrote that all of the court proceedings were in German but translated for her, and no advocate or person defended her. She was asked if she admitted to saying what she did about Hitler and the rice pudding and she said that she most certainly did. We know from other such defiant Islanders that this attitude in court would not have helped her.
Winifred was, according to the Woods’ account, in Guernsey prison for two weeks and the two Germans who escorted her to prison went to her house to inform her husband of what had happened to her. On the day of her deportation she was marched through the streets to the harbour. She was the only woman on board her boat to France; the others on board were German soldiers, who asked her what she had done.
Winifred’s first stop, according to the Woods, was Granville Prison, where she spent five days in a cell with French prostitutes, who were very kind to her and shared their biscuits with her. They also showed her the knack of making a straw palliasse (mattress) comfortable.
In terms of official archival records, we know that Winifred was imprisoned and charged with ‘anti-German information’ and that she was sentenced to six months imprisonment on 13 September 1941 by a military tribunal of Feldkommandatur 515. Information in the list of admissions book of Guernsey Prison states that Winifred was in prison from 13 to 21 September and deported a few days later. She arrived in Caen Prison on 1 October 1941.
We are extremely lucky that a few pages from Winifred’s Caen prison diary have survived, written on small scraps of paper, for parts of December 1941 and January 1942. They read as follows:
‘26 December: Boxing Day. Parcel and letter. Few days quiet but for tellings off every evening, have decided to behave ourselves now as we are next door to black hole [likely to have been an unlit and small punishment cell]. New Year’s Eve weather still very mild, go out for promenade, come in and receive a Red Cross parcel.
Jan 1st: New Year’s Day. Coffee. Extra good things. Rice and pressed meat. Boys sang to us before bed. Glad new year started now longing for release. Girl in black hole crying night and day awful to hear. Snow fell heavily, went out and had lovely time.
Jan 11th: Letters from Frank.
Jan 18th: Snow fell very heavily again lovely time during recreation. Things very quiet for a few days.
Jan 20th: Arrival of 8 Jersey and Irish men. They write to us. Tell us four from Guernsey and four more from Jersey to arrive later. 3 German officers came to see us asked if we found it cold. Hour after they left huge pannier arrived containing Bread, Cheese, Butter, Bacon, Biscuits, Sugar, Tea. Ate bacon raw and had tea made for us.
Jan 26th: Went to German mass, very nice. In afternoon during tea called down to Bureau to fetch our appeals, the answer to the three is No.
Jan 27th: Water in our water bottles frozen, Bottles burst, had a cup of tea for dinner and supper made for us.
Jan 28th: Bo caught us with mirror out window.
Jan 29h: Wrote to German Bureau for Madame Bree.
Jan 30th: Called out of recreation yard to be sent to German Bureau at once. Very nervous, I meet Fritz a German soldier who brings our letters.’
We know from sisters Lilian Kinnard and Kathleen Norman from Jersey, who shared a cell in Caen with Winifred, and who were also imprisoned for V-sign offences, that Winifred was unwell in prison, and that she did not adapt to prison life. There was a bucket in the cell for the women’s sanitary arrangements and Winifred used to throw a blanket over herself when using it.
According to Alan and Mary Wood, the food in Caen was scanty, consisting of cabbage soup and potatoes. The three women tried to find ways to pass the time. As playing cards were not allowed, they made their own from scraps of cardboard. The most important possession in prison, Winifred found, was the calendar each prisoner made for herself from a scrounged bit of paper. Every morning each inmate would cross the day off, even though she still had to live through it.
Chiming with Kathleen Norman’s anecdotes passed down through the family, Winifred indeed hated the sanitary bucket in the cell, a most unsanitary item that was never scoured, and stank. The Woods reported that Winifred and her two cell mates combed each other’s hair when they got lice, and kept up their morale by putting make-up on every day. The lack of baths and shortage of water – they had one and a half pints a day for all purposes – was very difficult and apparently the women would sometimes strain the cabbage out of their soup and wash their feet in it.
Apparently, again according to the Woods’ version of events, Winifred’s husband wrote to the prison authorities to complain that Winifred had no defence at her court martial. This had the effect of cancelling the last few weeks of her sentence.
Winifred’s sentence was officially suspended on 23 January 1942; Caen prison records show that she was released on 1 February 1942; she served four and a half months of her six month sentence.
She sewed her embroidered piece of sheet in between the lining and cloth of her coat, and also smuggled out of the prison her prison mug, winding knitting wool around it, with a couple of knitting needles sticking out. While her embroidered piece of sheet survives in the German occupation museum in Guernsey, the whereabouts of her mug is unknown; it perhaps resides with her family still.
In 1965, Winifred Green applied for compensation for Nazi persecution for the period she had spent in Caen Prison. Of this period she wrote very little, except to say that at her trial, she was not allowed any advocate to defend her, and that she suffered greatly in prison, having neither visitors nor Red Cross parcels. She added that her husband also ‘suffered greatly’ and ‘was ill with worry and shock’ and that the German doctor allowed him a special ration of half a pint of milk a day. Winifred did not receive any compensation; nor did any other Islander deported to Caen Prison.
Bell, W.M. 1995. I Beg to Report. Guernsey: Guernsey Press Co. Ltd.
Bunting, M. 1995. The Model Occupation. London: BCA.
Wood, A. and M. 1955. Islands in Danger. New York: The Macmillan Company.
Article written by Poppy Thompson about Winifred Green, early 1950s, source unknown, on display in the German Occupation Museum, Guernsey.
List of Admissions (Guernsey Prison), Guernsey Archives ref. HA/P/08-03.
Winifred Green’s occupation registration card, Guernsey Archives.
Winifred Green’s compensation claim for Nazi persecution, TNA ref. FO 950/1186.
Winifred Green archive, courtesy of Gerald Mariner and Ron Brown of the Channel Islands Specialists Society.