Channel Islander imprisoned in Fort du Hâ Prison:
By Roderick Miller
Fort du Hâ Prison (La Prison du Hâ, La Prison Militaire du Fort du Hâ, Le Chateau du Hâ) was located in Bordeaux in the Gironde department of France. It was originally built in 1846 within remains of the 15th century Chateau du Hâ. The prison was taken over by German forces soon after the June 1940 occupation of France and used to incarcerate political prisoners.
Channel Islander William Symes spent a brief period imprisoned in Fort du Hâ in late 1941 or early 1942, prior to his military trial at Biarritz for passing German military secrets on to Britain. He left no description of the prison, however a prison official filed reports in May and June 1942:
The health conditions at Fort du Hâ in Bordeaux are scandalous. It is impossible to practice the most basic hygiene. Most of the prisoners sleep on the floor and the mattresses are infested with parasites. — French National Archives, F/1a4540
The official goes on to warn that the prison could pose a typhus and tuberculosis threat to the general population of Bordeaux. It is probable that Symes experienced similar conditions during his time there.
On 23 October 1941, 20 political prisoners were taken from Fort du Hâ to Camp de Souge and shot in retaliation for the killing of a German military advisor in Bordeaux. The prison continued to operate after the war and was finally closed in 1967 and demolished in 1969 to make way for the French National School for the Judiciary. All that remains of the old prison now are the two towers and parts of the wall from the 15th century chateau. A memorial plaque on the site is dedicated the memory of the ‘deported internees and resistants of Gironde who died in the Nazi concentration camps 1940–1945’.
William Symes survived Buchenwald Concentration Camp and wrote in 1965: ‘Happily today I suffer no apparent illness or disability as a result of my ill-treatment and neglect at the hands of the Nazis, but the mental suffering is still with me…’
Bordes, M. R.: Quartier Allemand: Le vie au fort du Hâ sous l’occupation. Éditions Bière, 1945 (in French, out of print).
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 HNP/1193 (Symes)