By Gilly Carr
Xavier Louis Antoine de Guillebon was born in Vire, in the Calvados region of France, on 30 January 1884. At the start of the occupation he was living in Guernsey with his wife Henriette de Guillebon, née du Boisguehenneuc. Henriette was from the commune of St Mars du Désert in the Loire Inférieure region of France. The de Guillebons moved to Guernsey in April 1907, when Xavier was aged 23 and Henriette was 19. Xavier did not fight in the First World War because of a disabled left leg. The de Guillebons had two children who, at the time of the occupation, were in France: a son, who was in a mental institution, and a daughter in a convent.
De Guillebon has the distinction of being the first Channel Islander to be deported for their part in 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. Needless to say, the Germans soon cracked down on the V-sign campaign, threatening reprisals against anyone caught. Bailiff Victor Cary also published a notice in the local press which informed the population that they may be ‘penalised in the same way as in the case of acts of sabotage’. Soon afterwards, on 8 July, Carey published another notice offering £25 reward for anyone informing upon a person later convicted of V-sign offences. This notice was controversial and Carey was questioned about it after the war as an act of collaboration. The archival evidence is not entirely clear on the extent to which Carey put up this notice of his own volition or whether he was asked to do it by the German forces.
Because de Guillebon did not write his own account of his offence against the Germans, our only source is the police report of 5 July 1941 written by Deputy Inspector Langmead and handed to Inspector Sculpher. This document was then handed on to the President of the States Controlling Committee, John Leale, and to the Bailiff, Victor Carey. It was also handed to the Germans, but by which of these men we cannot say.
This police record noted the names of two of de Guillebon’s neighbours who were interviewed about him. We cannot say for sure whether these neighbours informed upon him of their own free will or whether the police sought them out as neighbours of de Guillbon and useful people to interview.
Upon being interviewed, Mrs Mabel Guille remarked to Langmead:
‘On Thursday 26 June, I was sitting on the wall in front of my house, facing the Coast Road, Cobo; my sister, Mrs Underdown … was with me. Mr de Guillebon, whom I know well as he lives next door, came along the front of my house and marked a ‘V’ on my wall with a blue crayon. It was on the wall on both sides of the gateway. I at once rubbed it out but did not say anything to him.’
PC Short interviewed another neighbour, Mr Wilfred Le Page:
‘… about a week ago I was riding my bicycle along Cobo Coast Road [and] as I passed Mr de Guillebon’s house he stood in the gateway and called to me. He asked if I had caught any more fish. He took from his pocket a blue pencil and marked a ‘V’ on the right sleeve of my jacket and also marked a ‘V’ on the saddle of my bicycle. At the time I did not think anything of it; I have since heard that people in France are using the ‘V’ as a sign and I read about it in the papers today’.
When questioned by Langmead, de Guillebon is reported to have said:
‘I have not done anything of the sort; I have not marked ‘V’s anywhere, but I have seen some about the district.’
[Extracts from police report dated 5 July 1941, Guernsey Archives ref. CC14-05/44]
We cannot say for sure whether de Guillebon was scapegoated by a scared population (perhaps because, as a Frenchman, he was not considered ‘local’, or because he was partially disabled), or whether he was genuinely guilty of V-sign offences. Neither can we be sure the extent to which information about him was volunteered willingly, although one document quotes his neighbour as saying that ‘he deserves to be punished otherwise all the island will suffer’. In any case, the German forces decided to make a public example of him.
De Guillebon was arrested on 8 July and placed in Guernsey Prison. On 17 July he was convicted by the tribunal of Feldkommandantur 515 of ‘anti-German demonstration’ and given a sentence of 12 months imprisonment. Guernsey’s prison records show that he was held from 8-24 July, meaning that he was kept in prison for a week after his conviction. He was sent first to Jersey under military escort on 25 July 1941 and deported soon after, arriving at Caen Prison on 28 July 1941. We might observe that Jersey’s two infamous ‘V-sign artists’, sisters Kathleen Norman and Lilian Kinnard, were deported, like de Guillebon, on 27 July to Caen Prison, so it seems likely that de Guillebon was deported with them, a fact not recorded in Jersey’s political prisoner log book. Kathleen Norman’s story about her deportation with her sister, passed down to her children, does not, however, mention the presence of de Guillebon. On 28 July 1941, a notice was printed in the local paper to announce the deportations of the three convicted islanders to Caen.
The next archival document which mentions de Guillebon states that, by decision of the Chief of Tribunal dated 7 March 1942, the balance of de Guillebon’s sentence ‘has been suspended under the provision that he shall not make himself liable to punishment for actions against the German Occupation Forces’. The same document states that de Guillebon was released from Caen Prison on 17 March 1942. He therefore served eight months of his twelve month sentence at this French institution. Records show that de Guillebon’s wife successfully pleaded for the remission of his sentence.
In early February 1943, de Guillebon was handed deportation orders. As a formerly convicted person, he was on the list of the various categories of islanders to be sent to the internment camp of Biberach in Germany via Compiegne Transit and Internment Camp outside Paris. On 4 February 1943, de Guillebon threw himself on the mercy of the German occupiers, asking to be exempted on the grounds of his disability, his French nationality, and the fact that he did not fight (i.e. against the Germans) in the First World War. On 5 February, Henry de Coudenhove, a former French consul for the island, wrote a character reference for de Guillebon and his wife to get them exempted. The letters were successful. Xavier and Henriette de Guillebon stayed in the island for the rest of the occupation.
Bell, W.M. 1995. I Beg to Report. Guernsey: Guernsey Press Co. Ltd.
Bunting, M. 1995. The Model Occupation. London: BCA.
Wood, A. and Wood, M. 1955. Islands in Danger. New York: The Macmillan Company.
Deportation exemption requests from M. Le Guillebon dated 4 February 1943 and H de Coudenhove dated 6 February 1943, Guernsey Island Archives ref. FK 13-01.
Letter to Bailiff from police regarding V-signs, 5 July 1941. Guernsey Island Archives ref. CC 09-02.
List of Admissions (Guernsey Prison), Guernsey Island Archives ref. HA/P/08-03.
List of prison sentences, Guernsey Island Archives ref. FK 04-09.
Police report dated 4 July 1941, Guernsey Island Archives ref. PC 175-04.
Xavier de Guillebon’s occupation registration card, Guernsey Archives.