Channel Islanders imprisoned in Cherche-Midi Prison:
William James Allen, Mary Bird (later Bichard), Walter Arthur Bird, Wilfred John Bird, Emile ‘Harry’ Aristide Du Bois, Tom Mansell, Henry Edward Marquand, Albert Orchard Marriette, Jessie Linda Marriette, Elsie May Nicolle née Hubert, Emile William Nicolle, Frank Nicolle, Clarence Claude Painter, Peter Edward Painter, Ambrose James Sherwill, June Mary Sinclair, Louis Morin Symes, Rachel Symes née Tostevin, William Henry Symes
By Roderick Miller
At least 19 Channel Islanders were incarcerated between 1940 and 1943 in Cherche-Midi Prison (La Prison du Cherche-Midi) in the 6th arrondissement of Paris, France. The prison was built between 1847 and 1851 as a military prison. In the early 1930s, the French military authorities requisitioned Cherche-Midi Prison to incarcerate detained French military personnel. Military prisoners were evacuated from Cherche-Midi on 10 June 1940, just four days before Wehrmacht troops entered Paris. After the German invasion of France in 1940, Cherche-Midi was the only prison in Nazi-occupied France that was completely run and staffed by German personnel — primarily the Gestapo.
14 of the inmates of Cherche-Midi were among the first islanders to be deported by the Germans. They were convicted in October/November 1940 in the ‘Nicolle and Symes affair’, in which two British commandos were sheltered by friends and relatives in Guernsey. 16 islanders were deported in this operation: the President of the Controlling Committee (and later Bailiff) Ambrose Sherwill spent a week in Versailles Prison before arriving in Cherche-Midi; eight others were deported directly from Guernsey to Cherche-Midi; five islanders spent a week in Caen Prison before being sent on to Cherche-Midi; and two, Linda Marriette and Hilda Nicolle, served the entire six weeks’ imprisonment in Caen. Several islanders left testimonials about their incarceration in Cherche-Midi:
On Nov. 8th  I was taken to Paris & put in solitary confinement in the notorious Cherche-Midi Prison. The cell was 10 ft. x 5 ft. with a small window high up in the wall, the door had a small peephole (cell number 16, I think). Food was always the same, a mug of tea or coffee with a chunk of black bread for breakfast, very watery soup at mid-day, a mug of tea, with bread & butter or jam in the evening. No exercise apart from emptying our bucket down in the courtyard. Each day the same questions were asked, & I was told that I would be shot for espionage. Much to my surprise… I arrived in Guernsey in late evening on Jan. 1st, 1941. —Walter Bird, 9 February 1965
… a very grim experience. Semi-starvation and solitary confinement and the intense cold of the last months of 1940 brought us very low… —Ambrose Sherwill, from his memoirs ‘A Fair and Honest Book’, published in 2007.
They [the people who returned from Cherche-Midi Prison] have terrible tales to tell… half starved and confined in cells 8 x 6… One of them lost 49 lbs. in six weeks and looks like a walking skeleton. —Edward Le Quesne, diary entry 31 December 1940
Louis Symes, whose son James Symes was one of the British commando officers, was found dead in his Cherches-Midi solitary confinement cell on the morning of 22 December 1940, having supposedly cut his wrists. According to his wife Rachel, however, her nephew William Symes told her ‘that a man named Lotze or Losh who had been at Cherche-Midi at the time we were there claimed that my husband did NOT commit suicide, but was murdered by the Nazis. No direct evidence can be obtained to substantiate or deny this…
On New Year’s Day 1941 the remaining 15 islanders involved in the Nicolle / Symes affair returned home to Guernsey.
Other islanders were later imprisoned in Cherche-Midi and were there for very short time periods, presumably for Gestapo interrogation, before being sent on to camps in Germany: William Symes arrived in Cherche-Midi in late 1941, Clarence and Peter Painter on 23 December 1943, and Harry Du Bois in March 1944. Symes and Du Bois would go on to survive Buchenwald Concentration Camp, and Clarence Painter and his son Peter would die after a series of Nazi camps ending in Gross Rosen Concentration Camp.
Little is known about June Sinclair’s deportation from Jersey to Cherche-Midi, and even her date of birth is only known to be approximately 1917 to 1920. According to contemporary testimonials of Joe Mière, she was born in London and had a Jewish parent, but beyond that all that is known is that she perished in Ravensbrück Concentration Camp in 1942 or 1943. The only documentary evidence we have of her today is an entry in the Ravensbrück Memorial Book, her name on the Cherche-Midi Memorial in Créteil Cemetery, and a single photograph of her taken on a Jersey Beach by Joe Mière or his mother.
Soon after the liberation of Paris in August 1944, Cherche-Midi Prison was used to incarcerate German prisoners of war and war criminals. SS officer Kurt Gerstein, who during the war had given information to Swedish diplomats and the Roman Catholic Church in an effort to make the Holocaust publicly known, was found dead in his cell in Cherche-Midi on 25 July 1945. From 1947 to 1950, the prison continued as a simple jail, and from 1950 was closed. Cherche-Midi Prison was razed in the early 1960s, and in 1970 the building that currently occupies the site was built by the Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme. A memorial for the prison was dedicated in 1982 in Créteil Cemetery in the southeast suburbs of Paris and includes the original oak prison doors.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
Sanders, Paul: The Ultimate Sacrifice: The Jersey islanders who died in German prisons and concentration camps during the Occupation 1940-1945, Jersey Heritage Trust, Jersey, 2004.
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO):
TNA FO HNP/1688 (Bird, Walter)
TNA FO 950/1777 (Du Bois)
TNA FO 950/1073 (Painter, Clarence and Peter)
TNA FO HNP/1239 (Symes, Louis)
TNA FO HNP/1193 (Symes, William)
Location of Memorial: 74, avenue du Maréchal de Lattre de Tassigny, 94000 Créteil, France