Coutances Prison

Country France
GPS 49° 3' 2.5776" N, -1° 26' 28.716" W
Address 3 Rue de la Verjusière, 50200 Coutances, France
Dates Active 1804 – current

Channel Islanders Imprisoned in Coutances Prison: 

Thomas Edwin de la Mare, George Ernest Du Pré, Josette Janine Falle née Rouard, George Gallichan, Alfred Désiré Victor Le Calvez, John Henry Le Maistre, Theodore Lawrence Lowe, Henry Lawrence Palmer, Henry Yves Rabet, Albert Reginald Marie, John Whitley Nicolle, Annie Muir Henderson Ross née Gilmour, Edward Oliver Ross

By Roderick Miller

At least 13 Channel Islanders were incarcerated in 1943 in Coutances Prison (La maison d’arrêt de Coutances), located in the town of Coutances, department Manche, in the Normandy region of France. The prison was constructed starting in 1821 and was opened in 1828. A French government report from 1848 stated that the prison was, even at this early date, ‘neither safe nor healthy’ [1].

The first Islanders to arrive in Coutances were probably Alfred Le Calvez, George Du Pré, Albert Marie, and Henry Rabet, deported directly from Jersey on 19 November 1942. A document from the head military administration of France lists George Gallichan, Edward Ross and his wife Annie Ross, Georg Du Pré, and John Le Maistre as being in the prison on 23 January 1943. Josette Falle was there by the same date, and Thomas de la Mare and Theodore Lowe were there by 22 March 1943. Falle was transferred to Lisieux Prison on 2 May 1943, and the most of the rest of the prisoners—excepting Henry Palmer who was released back to Jersey in May 1943—to Fort d’Hauteville Prison on 7 May 1943. John Nicolle could not have been in Coutances long, as he was deported from Jersey on 5 May 1943 and was in Saint-Lô Prison before arriving in Coutances Prison, which he left already on 12 May 1943 for Fort d’Hauteville Prison near Dijon.

The north wing of Coutances Prison was entirely destroyed by allied bombing in June 1944. It is unknown if any prisoners were killed in the attack, but eyewitness accounts mention surviving prisoners having been pulled from the rubble of Coutances Prison. [2] The capacity of the prison was reduced by one-third from the bombing, but did not force the prison to cease operation. Coutances was liberated by the US Army on 28 July 1944.

Coutances Prison continues to operate today with a theoretical capacity of 48 prisoners, and although the prison has been extended to accommodate 71 prisoners, as of 2015 it was seriously overcrowded with 84 inmates. The prison has been scheduled to be closed since 2014, as the poor conditions there are in violation of European Union prison regulations, but as of date (August 2017) is still in operation. In recent years, several prisoners have successfully sued the prison for monetary damages in compensation for the poor and overcrowded conditions of their incarceration there. There is no known memorial at the prison for those who suffered persecution there under the Nazi Regime.

All of the islanders imprisoned in Coutances survived the war, but like many of those who survived, would probably suffer from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of their lives.

[1] Annuaire du département de la Manche, vol. 21, 1849, pp. 242- 245, referenced via Link

[2] See Roberts in Sources (below).

Further Reading

Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.



Archives de Paris, Paris, France:
Letter from Le chef de l’administration militaire in France (Kommandostab abt. Ib, Gruppe 3) to Ministère de la Justice in Paris, dated 11 March 1943, on the subject of British prisoners under the control of the French penal administration.

Archives départementales de la Manche, Saint-Lô, France:
2 Y 3 établissement pénitentiaire de Coutances
2 Y 3/3 Maison d’arrêt — Registre d’écrou pour les passagers.

Caen Service Historique de la Defense, Caen, France:
Undated Lisieux Prison record showing transfer of Josette Falle under maiden name Rouard from Lisieux Prison to Countances (SHD 27P4)

Jersey War Tunnels: Joe Mière Collection

Roberts, Mary Louise: D-Day through French Eyes, University of Chicago Press, 2014, p. 187.