By Roderick Miller
The length of time that the Channel Islanders spent incarcerated in Caen varied from a few days (Kingston Bailey) to eleven months (William Damarell). The first islanders to be imprisoned in Caen were William Allen, Tom Mansell,and Linda Marriette, Henry Marquand, Elsie Nicolle and Hilda Nicolle. These seven islanders had been involved in the ‘Nicole/Symes affair’ and arrived in Caen on 14 November 1940. Linda Marriette and Hilda Nicolle were released from Caen Prison on 29 December 1940. The remaining five were transferred to Cherche-Midi Prison on 20 November 1940. Sidney Ashcroft, Harry Featherstone, and Philip Ozard were deported to Caen together on 1 June 1942. Seven islanders, among them Baker, Brehaut, Featherstone, Howlett, McCallen, Staples and Tardif, were transferred together out of Caen on 16 July 1942 to Troyes Hauts-Clos Prison.
French priest Abbé Raymond David described his entrance into Caen Prison in 1941 in his book ‘In French and Nazi Prisons, 1941-1945’:
In this prison there were only French guards… There were guards in every room, there must have been 200 of them altogether. We entered the so-called Quartier, the center of the prison. This was a large building with 300 cells on three floors, surrounded by a running balcony… The prison was surrounded by four large towers.
The impression Caen Prison left on the Channel Islanders was uniformly one of hunger and filth:
The room was a large, stone, dirty, whitewashed affair with three wooden tables and forms. The prisoners could, if they wished, walk in the court-yard adjoining the room. There was one lavatory and a long galvanised bin for washing… the cubicles and bed frame were full of bugs which were, indeed, as hungry as ourselves. Sleep was practically impossible and many of the prisoners were covered from head to foot with lumps, caused by bites… The food was terrible, consisting mainly of cabbage soup, with about three- quarters of a pound of bread each day. For those who had money in the canteen fund, there were dishes of cabbage and sour milk for sale. Many of the prisoners suffered from a mild form of dysentery, probably caused by too much cabbage water. — K. G. Bailey, from his book ‘Dachau’, originally published in February 1958.
We were 19 men in one room of approximately 16 x 12 in that prison, the food consisted of 359 grammes of black bread daily & one small tin of watery cabbage at midday, no other food was available. The facilities for toilet consisted of a wooden tub in the corner of the room, this was emptied by ourselves once every Sat., many times this receptacle was brimming over days before it was due for emptying. The washing facilities were also non-existent, very little water, no soap & no towel of any description for drying. I remember early spring of 1942 when the British bombers visited the town & the Germans nailed all the windows of our room from the outside so as we could not peek out. — Edgar Guille, 20 March 1966
In Caen like the others I was ill-treated by the Nazis and suffered malnutrition and starvation. Medical attention of a sort was obtainable from a French doctor, but only if you could pay for it. The conditions in the cells were degrading and unsanitary, a tin bucket being the only communal means of sanitation. We were locked up in our cells for as long as 23 ½ hours a day, practically every day. I learned from [redacted] that while at Caen the Germans had designated me as a hostage, along with seven others,so that had the people of Guernsey given any great trouble to the Germans, I could have been taken out and shot, as were some people of other nationalities. — William Damarell, 16 February 1965
Damarell was not exaggerating about people being ‘taken out and shot’ during his incarceration in Caen. On 15 December 1941 the communist journalist Lucien Sampaix and 12 others were shot, and on 18 April 1942, the Frenchmen Maurice Levausseur and Marcel Karelo, serving short sentences in Caen Prison for alleged communist activities, were shot by the Gestapo as part of a retaliation action.
Three of the Channel Islanders imprisoned in Caen were women. Sisters Lilian Kinnard and Kathleen Norman had been convicted in July 1941 of producing ‘V-sign propaganda’, part of a BBC Radio effort to bolster morale in occupied Europe. They were soon joined in the women’s quarters of Caen Prison by Winifred Green, who was sentenced to 6 months’ imprisonment for shouting ‘Heil, Churchill!’ and making the V-sign at a pro-Nazi Swiss chef. Mrs. Green kept a diary where she recalls being next to a punishment cell and getting exceptional treatment from some Nazi officers:
26 December 1941: …have decided must behave ourselves as we are next door to the “black hole”.’ 1 January 1942: ‘Girl in “black hole” crying night and day, awful to hear.
20 January 1942: 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.
27 January 1942: ..water in water bottles frozen. Bottles burst.
However bad the conditions at Caen may have been, for many of the Channel Islanders things would get much worse as they were transferred to German prisons and concentration camps. Some of the luckier ones were able, after serving their sentences, to be reunited with their families in internment camps in Germany, where they received relatively good treatment. The last islanders to remain incarcerated in Caen, William Damarell and Walter Nicolle, left the prison in July 1942.
On 6 June 1944, as the allies were landing in France, the Gestapo Chief, SS-Oberscharführer Dr. Harald Heyns, aka ‘Bernard’, ordered the shooting of around 90 French prisoners in Caen Prison. A British Military Tribunal sentenced him to death by hanging in 1948 for killing two RAF airmen, but Heyns escaped before the sentence could be carried out. In 1952, a French Military Tribunal sentenced him to death in absentia for his role in the Caen massacre. Heyns’ crimes, convictions, identity, and whereabouts were known to the authorities Germany before and after German reunification — Heyns was still listed in public telephone books until the mid-2000s — but he was never brought to justice. He died in Berlin in 2004 at the age of 90.
Caen Prison is scheduled to be closed and demolished in 2017 due to ongoing problems with overcrowding and sanitation. There is no indication in the forthcoming plans for the new prison that the present memorials will be maintained. No memorial exists at the site for the many non-French political prisoners who were unjustly imprisoned there.
Most of the Channel Islanders known to have been incarcerated in Caen survived the war, but Herbert Smith died in an Augsburg Gestapo prison in April 1943, Sydney Ashcroft died in Straubing Prison on 15 May 1945, and John Ingrouille died in a British-run hospital in Belgium in June 1945, both men having died as a direct result of maltreatment in Nazi prisons. 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.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945 , Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
David, Abbé Raimund (Raymond): In französischer und Nazi Haft 1941-1945, durch Leiden zur Versöhnung!, Verlage Andreas Thoma, 1989 (in German).
David, Raymond (Abbé David): Du bagne français au bagne Nazi (1941- 1945), 3e éd., Montsurs, Résiac, 1974 (in French).
Leide, Henry: NS –Verbrecher und Staatssicherheit: Die geheime Vergangenheitspolitik der DDR (‘Nazi Criminals and State Security: TheCultural Politics of the GDR’), Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen
Archives départementales du Calvados, Caen, France: ref. 1664 w 35.
Bailey, K. G.: Dachau: All the Horrors of Nazi Occupation, 1958. Reprinted May, 1979. C. I. Marine Ltd., Guernsey, C. I. Chapter 5 , Caen, pp. 37 –40.
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO), Kews, UK
TNA FO 950/1353 (Bailey)
TNA FO HNP/1099 (Coutanche)
TNA FO HNP/1722 (Damarell)
TNA FO 950/1748 (Friend)
TNA FO 950/1373 (Gaudion)
TNA FO 950/1186 (Green)
TNA FO HNP/423 (Guille)
TNA FO HNP/1358 (Harper)
TNA FO HNP/1194 (Ingrouille)
TNA FO HNP/3156 (Le Gallez)
TNA FO HNP/2163 (Le Lievre)
TNA FO HNP/4324 (Lihou)
TNA FO HNP/3608 (Quin)
TNA FO HNP/2165 (Tardif)
TNA FO 950/962 (Tuck)
TNA FO HNP/2342* (Whare)