Channel Islanders imprisoned in Fort Hatry Prison:
By Roderick Miller
At least three Channel Islanders were incarcerated in Fort Hatry Prison (Casernes du Fort Hatry, Fort Hatry à Belfort) in the city of Belfort in the Franche-Comté region of France. The fort, also known as ‘Fort de Barres’, was built between 1836 and 1870 as part of a massive fortification of the French borders begun in the early 19th century. In 1893, several large barracks buildings were built on the fort site. By late summer 1944, the former transit points of Paris and Compiegne were no longer available due to the allied advances, so the Fort Hatry barracks were used by the Gestapo as a transit prison for political prisoners being deported to camps in Germany, primarily Neuengamme Concentration Camp (for men) and Ravensbrück Concentration Camp (for women).
Frank Le Villio was transferred from Fresnes Prison to Fort Hatry sometime prior to the occupation of Paris, and was thereafter deported on to Neuengamme. Harold Le Druillenec arrived in Fort Hatry from Jacques-Cartier Prison in Rennes in July 1944, and soon thereafter deported to Neuengamme as well. His sister Louisa Gould was in Fort Hatry from 17 to 31 August and then deported to Ravensbrück. By chance Harold Le Druillenec and his sister chanced to meet on the train platform in Belfort and were able to exchange a few words. It would be the last time he saw his sister.
French prisoner Jean-Raymond Brabant wrote about his experiences in Fort Hatry:
Up to four days and three consecutive nights without food or drink and almost without sleep. We managed to sleep curled up on the carriage floor among those who were standing. We could only stay there a few minutes because of shocks, brake blows, acceleration, starts and stops, night and day. It was terrible, the pain in the shoulders, elbows, knees, hips and ankles, trying to force ourselves to sleep. Our guards were on a bench between the doors and took turns resting in cars reserved for them at the front and rear of the train.
In Belfort, we were locked up in the Hatry barracks, west of the city. And then, surprise! We had meals that were almost normal. We were actually served during our detention in the barracks! But I remember, the day we arrived we were given tins of plum jam, and I assure you that without bread, despite the hunger gnawing our bellies, it was not possible for us eat more one or two spoonfuls at a time.
The day after our arrival, a man named Fortuné from Saint-Pierre-Quiberon had an epileptic seizure and the Germans sent him to the city hospital. Feigned or real? I cannot say, but when I returned in 1945, I learned that he had escaped from Belfort.
Ten days later, on 25 August , a priest, who was in the room next to the one where I was with 30 other prisoners, came to tell us we would be again sent elsewhere and that if we wanted to, he would celebrate Mass in the evening before our departure.
Indeed, on the stroke of two o’clock in the afternoon we were gathered in the courtyard of the barracks in five columns. Our guards also went in columns of five, presented arms to the SS waiting to take us over, and left. So here we were, the new guards took us to a railway track outside the city in the countryside, where once again we were put into cattle cars. This happened in the late afternoon and, without waiting for the evening, the train started as soon as everyone was fitted into the cars, which were locked from the outside.
According to testimonials given by other Fort Hatry prisoners, as the US Army was approaching Fort Hatry, a German non-commissioned officer from Alsace named Charles Schlagdenhaufen convinced the commanding officer that they could get all of the remaining prisoners on the transports if they let some of them go, and the commandant, a veteran of the First World War who was opposed to using trains for non-military transports and who realised his only other option would be to shoot the prisoners, agreed. Thus 207 prisoners were let go, albeit without official release papers.
Despite the apparent effort of the German military to free some of the prisoners, the SS and Gestapo shot 25 members of the French Forces of the Interior (FFI) resistance organisation in Fort Hatry, and shot a further 38 political prisoners in the vicinity. Belfort was liberated on 20-22 November by American troops.
Harold Le Druillenec survived a series of camps after Neuengamme, including Alter Banter Weg and Bergen-Belsen. His sister Louise Gould perished in Ravensbrück. Frank Le Villio survived Neuengamme and Sandbostel Transit Camp but died on 26 September 1946, having never fully recovered from the devastating effects on his health from his time in the camps. The sole survivor of Fort Hatry Prison from the Channel Islands, Le Druillenec went on to play a key role as a witness in a number of post-war trials of Nazis for crimes against humanity and was awarded the Ordre de la Libération medal, instituted by General De Gaulle.
The large Fort Hatry barracks used by the Gestapo as a prison are no longer standing, and only the bunkers remain as a memorial to those imprisoned and killed there. After the war, the fort was demilitarised for civilian use and is occasionally used by the city of Belfort to host fairs and circuses.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
Brabant, Jean-Raymond: La rafle de Sainte-Anne-des-Bois. Editions Libre Expression, 1995, p. 36 (in French)
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, revised and updated edition, 2004, pp. 83-85,,
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO):
TNA 950/2700 (Gould)
TNA FO 950/1100 (Le Druillenec)
The Wiener Archive, documents on Frank Le Villio:
Reference Nos. 31818654, 31818655, and 31818656
Reference No. 108322154