Channel Islanders Imprisoned in Giromagny Internment Camp:
By Roderick Miller
Four Channel Islanders are known to have been imprisoned in the internment camp in Giromagny (Internierungslager Giromagny, Ilag Giromagny, Ilag VIII H, Les casernes de Giromagny) in the Territoire de Belfort district of Eastern France, very near the Swiss and German borders. Barracks were built in 1913 in Giromagny to accommodate more soldiers, as the length of military service for French draftees had increased from two to three years. Ten buildings measuring 12 by 50 metres were constructed. A French infantry battalion was stationed there at the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, and by 1941 the barracks were occupied by the German Großdeutschland army regiment, who were complicit that same year in war crimes in Serbia. In 1943 the barracks were occupied by the Württemberg regiment, consisting of new German Army recruits.
The Ilag (a German syllabic abbreviation for Internierungslager or internment camp) given the designation ‘VII H’ opened June 1942 in Tost (then in the German district of Kattowitz in Upper Silesia, today called Toszek in the Silesian district of Poland). The camp was a civilian internment camp and most of the internees were British. In November 1943, the Tost camp’s internees were transported to the barracks at Giromagny, where the designation Ilag VII H was retained.
Channel Islander Cyril Hockey testified in his 1965 application for registration as a British victim of Nazi persecution that he was ‘… was taken to Dijon, from there … to Giromagny and thence into Germany.’ This chronology conflicts, however, with documentation from Fort d’Hauteville Prison, where Hockey was imprisoned near Dijon, which shows his release from there in October of 1944, in contrast with the common date given for Giromagny Internment Camp’s closure as March 1944. It is probable that the Girmogny indeed ceased to function as an official internment camp in March 1944 but was still used as a prisoner transfer camp as late as Hockey’s imprisonment there in October 1944, or that the camp did indeed continue to function after March 1944. Islander George Ferbrache testified too that he was in Giromagny in August 1944 for three weeks, and a photograph exists of Clifford Tostevin in Giromagny dated 9 September 1944. The Red Cross Journal Prisoner of War described the camp thus in its June 1944 issue:
This internment camp for men is situated in a French military barracks near Belfort, France, not far from the Swiss frontier. The internees were transferred from Ilag Tost in Upper Silesia, Germany.
On arrival at Giromagny, the internees found that the accommodation reserved for them in seven of the barrack buildings was extremely uncomfortable, cold, and badly lighted. The barracks, which have stone floors, have been insufficiently heated during the winter; this has been particularly trying, especially for the more elderly internees, who attribute numerous cases of illness to this cause. The rooms at the camp are large, each one accommodating 20 internees, who sleep in two-tier beds with palliasses, straw pillows and two blankets.
The lavatory accommodation is outside the building. The washing facilities are entirely inadequate, only cold water being available.
Recently, however the lighting has been improved and each internee can have a warm shower once a week. The food and medical attention are satisfactory and there is a good supply of Red Cross parcels. (Visited March ).
The length of time that Cyril Hockey spent in Giromagny internment camp is unknown, but he and George Ferbrache were both eventually transferred from there to Marlag & Milag Nord Camp in Northern Germany. By the time that Giromagny was liberated by North African troops of the French Free Forces in November 1944, the camp had been disbanded and its prisoners transferred further into what remained of the German Reich. After liberation, the barracks were first occupied by various French Army regiments, then by orphaned Parisian children, and later by workers from the nearby Peugeot automobile factory. The site was purchased by the city of Giromagny in 1949 and since then has housed small workshops and businesses. The camp barracks are still standing and may be toured virtually via Google street view (see Links below). There is a memorial to the Free French Forces at the military cemetery in Giromagny, but there are no known memorials at the barracks site to commemorate its former use as an internment camp for British civilians.
All three Channel Islanders imprisoned in Giromagny survived the war, but like most survivors, probably suffered from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of their lives.
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 départementales de la Côte-d’Or, Dijon:
1409 W 1-13, Régistre d’écrou Prison d’Hauteville
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO) and War Office (WO)
TNA FO 950/4889 (Hockey)
The Red Cross and St. John War Organisation (publishers): The Prisoner of War, a monthly journal for families of POWs and civilian internees, issues January 1944 (p. 16) and June 1944 (p. 6).
Statistischer Reichsamt (publisher): Amtliches Gemeindeverzeichnis für das Großdeutsche Reich auf Grund der Volkszählung 1939, improved 2nd edition, Berlin 1944.