By Roderick Miller
At least six Channel Islanders were incarcerated in Compiègne-Royallieu Internment and Transit Camp (Frontstalag 122, Frontstalag 170, Compiègne Internment Camp) during the war. Royallieu Camp was originally built in 1913 as a military barracks, with 24 main buildings made of brick, and communal kitchens, dining halls, latrines and clothes washing facilities. It was taken over by the Germans after they entered Compiègne on 9 June 1940 and was re-named Frontstalag 170, then used to house 6000 British and French prisoners of war until 8 December 1940. By June 1941, Compiègne was re-designated Frontstalag 122 (formerly the designation of Fort de Romainville) and used to imprison foreign internees, political prisoners and Jews until they could be deported to Germany and points further east.
The camp was sectioned off by categories of prisoner: A number of Americans left behind in France at the entry of the US into the war were interned here in relatively good conditions, and some other prisoners were ‘lucky’ enough to wind up in this relatively mild internment section of the camp. Political prisoners, however, often wound up in sections of the camp whose appalling living conditions more resembled a concentration camp. A number of French communists in this camp section were shot in reprisals on several occasions.
Channel Islanders Leonce Ogier and Archibald Tardif were most likely in the milder internment section of the camp as they were sent on to the milder Biberach and Saint-Denis Internment Camps respectively. Islanders Anthony Faramus, James Houillebecq, and William Symes, however, were likely in the section of the camp more resembling a concentration camp, as they were deported on to some of the most notorious Nazi concentration camps of all.
The conditions here were terrible and I was placed in solitary confinement after the camp had been bombed. —William Symes, October 1964
… a smell of utter repugnance wafted up my nostrils as I marched into the camp’s vast quadrangle, the size of three football pitches. I was horror-stricken, caught off guard like everyone else. I stepped over a dragging gully of mucus, bladder fluid, vomit and blood. Prisoners were hanging about, friendless, in twos and in groups; many were thin, sick-looking, ready to drop. At one point, corpses were stockpiled awaiting collection. —Anthony Faramus, from his 1990 memoir ‘Journey into Darkness’
The camp was second only to Drancy Transit Camp as the largest camp for Jews interned prior to deportation to the extermination camps of Eastern Europe. Of the 50,000 Jewish people deported through Compiègne, only 4,000 would survive the war.
Islanders Ogier and Tardif would survive the war in relatively mild internment camps, but Faramus and Symes had to endure Buchenwald Concentration Camp. James Houillebecq died in Neuengamme Concentration Camp in January 1945. He was 17 years old. The Channel Islanders who survived would suffer from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of their lives.
The last deportation took place on 17 August 1944 to Buchenwald, and the camp was liberated on 26 August. After the war, Compiègne reverted to the French military and was used to train recruits for the Air Force. In 2008 a memorial was inaugurated in the three remaining buildings of Compiègne-Royallieu Internment and Transit Camp.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
Faramus, Anthony: Journey into Darkness. Grafton, 1990.
Poznanski, Renée: Jews in France During World War II, Brandeis, 2001, pp. 222-227.
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO):
TNA FO HNP/1381, HNP/1901 (Faramus)
TNA FO HNP/802 (Houillebecq)
TNA FO HNP/1193 (Symes)
TNA FO HNP/2165 (Tardif)