Channel Islanders imprisoned in Bamberg Military Riding School:
Sidney Ashcroft, Norman Leslie Dexter, Gerald Charles Domaille, Walter Henry Lainé
By Roderick Miller
By March 1945, Channel Islander Gerald Domaille had been already been incarcerated for ten months in Preungesheim Prison in Frankfurt am Main. As the US Army approached Frankfurt, many political prisoners were transported deeper into the Reich, and on 21 March Domaille and fellow Frankfurt prisoner Norman Dexter were placed on a train to Bamberg.
The journey from Frankfurt to Bamberg, which was in sealed cattle trucks, took four days. At the outset of the journey, we were given a piece of bread the size of the usual square loaf, and a small piece of sausage. The trucks were well sealed, no light, no air, no water and no sanitation. We were crammed about sixty prisoners to a truck.
Stage two was from where we left the truck to be herded along like cattle and treated like cattle, rifle butts and sticks were used to urge us on. We eventually arrived at Bamberg prison in the early hours of the morning.
We were lodged in an old prison in Bamberg, Bavaria, the name and address I never knew. Conditions here were extremely bad, sanitation terrible, food very little, mainly potato peelings in hot water. To my knowledge the administration was the same as at Frankfurt. No work was done by me at this prison. Sometime afterwards we were marched to the riding school building…
We were lodged for nine days in a building in Bamberg. This building was used by the military as a riding school. Conditions here were really terrible. The ground floor on which we were congregated was compiled of rubble, dust etc. There were no arrangements for sanitation. The floor was covered with human excreta, prisoners who died were left where they dropped. The stench was horrible. The food was potato peels in water once a day. — Gerald Domaille, 2 December 1963
Domaille noted being incarcerated with fellow Islanders Sidney Ashcroft and Walter Lainé in both prisons in Bamberg.
As of the date of writing (2016), there has not yet been any independent documentary evidence found of the exact location in which they incarcerated, but one place accurately fits the description of a ‘military riding school’ or Reitschule.
The Cavalry Caserne between Pödeldorfer Strasse and Zollnerstrasse was a military base for the 17th Bavarian Cavalry Regiment, one of the last of the German Army’s horse regiments, and consisted of buildings built in the 1890s and expanded between 1934 and 1938 into a tank and artillery caserne as part of the German re-armament program conducted in violation of the Treaty of Versailles. According to the 2014 lecture series from architecture historian Dr. Gabriele Wiesemann, ‘A gigantic horse-riding caserne was built in the Third Reich on the site between Podeldörfer Strasse and Zollnerstrasse, with stalls, riding halls, blacksmith workshops and riding grounds.’ The main riding hall on the caserne could fit the Domaille’s description and the building fits the description left by Dexter: ‘On one occasion when fear among the Nazis was at its height, we were taken into a large low building which looked like a disused soldiers’ training camp and all of us were ordered to kneel down facing the wall with the SS parading in the centre flourishing their rifles.‘
The Islanders only stayed in riding school building for around nine days. With the US Army approaching Bamberg, they were transported deeper into Bavaria on 2 April to Straubing Prison, always kept just a few days ahead of the American troops and liberation.
Dexter, Domaille and Lainé were finally liberated during a forced march to Dachau Concentration camp on 30 April 1945, but Ashcroft died in May in Straubing Prison hospital. Many of those who survived would suffer from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of their lives.
The Cavalry Caserne and the neighbouring tank and artillery casernes were renamed Warner Barracks by the US military in 1945 and continued to operate under US jurisdiction until 15 September 2014. The city of Bamberg is currently (2017) making plans to convert the site into a police and health services academy.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO):
TNA FO 950/2064 (Dexter)
TNA FO HNP/1238 (Domaille)
TNA FO HNP/1195 (Lainé)
Hessisches Hauptarchiv, Wiesbaden: