Channel Islanders Imprisoned in Fort Mahon Prison:
By Roderick Miller
Fort Mahon, usually called Fort d’Ambleteuse in French, is located in the town of Ambleteuse in the Pas-de-Calais district of France. The fort was built at the end of the 17th century as part of a military harbour program initiated by King Louis XIV. During the Second World War, the Germans installed an artillery battery in the fort.
Very little documentation has been found in regards to Fort Mahon during the war, but William Windebank’s testimonial is evidence that it was additionally used by the Germans to incarcerate forced labourers working on the German coastal defenses. He is the only Channel Islander is known to have been imprisoned in Fort Mahon:
At Fort Mahon I was placing antitank traps on coast… I should like to state that I was always under strict supervision, when being moved from one prison to another was handcuffed and chained by the legs. The general conditions were disgusting, food was nothing else but vegetables boiled, one sort a day, bread about 80 grammes a day — William Windebank, 3 April 1965.
Further details of William Windebank’s incarceration in Fort Mahon are unknown. He was fortunate enough to have been transferred later to the relatively benign Saint-Denis Internment Camp in Paris, where he was liberated in 1944. Like many who survived, he would suffer from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of his life.
Fort Mahon was severely damaged by sea mines near the end of the war. It was listed as an historical monument in 1965 and purchased in 1967 by the group Les Amis du Fort d’Ambleteuse for the symbolic price of one franc. Fort Mahon has been completely restored and is currently open to the public.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO):
TNA FO HNP/1833 (Windebank)