Channel Islanders Imprisoned in Granville Prison:
Kingston George Bailey, William John Burton, John Charles Coutanche, Geoffrey Ernest Delauney, Frederick Peter Duquemin, Francis William Ferrand, Charles Albert Friend, Thomas John Gaudion, Winifred Elizabeth Green née Green, Jack Harper, Alfred William Howlett, Alfred Thomas Hilary Le Gallez, Eugene Henri Le Lievre, Stanley Du Frocq Lihou, Michael McGrath, Harold Edward Piesing, William George Quin, Frederick Winzer Short, Herbert Percival Smith, Archibald Lloyd Tardif, Frank Hubert Tuck, Frank William Whare
By Roderick Miller
At least 22 Channel Islanders were imprisoned in Granville Police Prison (gendarmerie) in Granville, which is in the Manche district of France, in the Normandy region. For many Islanders, this was the first stop on the continent after deportation from the Islands, and the first prison in what, for many, would be a long odyssey in the Nazi prison system. For the lucky ones who managed to serve out their sentences prior to the allied D-day invasion of June 1944 and be returned to the Islands, Granville was often the last stop on their way home.
Winifred Elisabeth Green is the first Islander known to have been imprisoned in Granville, in late September 1941. According to the 1955 book Islands in Danger by Alan and Mary Wood, Winifred Green spent five days in a cell with French prostitutes, who were very kind to her and shared their biscuits with her. They also showed her the knack of making a straw palliasse (mattress) comfortable.
It is likely than many, many more Islanders spent at least some hours in Granville Prison, but as this was a brief stopover, it was rarely mentioned in post-war compensation applications. In his biography Dachau, George Bailey wrote a detailed first-hand account of Granville Prison, where he arrived on 16 June 1942:
…we arrived eventually at Granville. We disembarked, were handcuffed, and marched through the town until we reached the French prison. This was too full to take us all on, so six of us were led to a stable at the side of the prison, where we had to stay until the guards had had their dinner. We were handed over to a French gendarme, who was instructed to watch us carefully and told that, if any escaped, he would be arrested with serious consequences.
When the German had left, our French gaoler asked us who we were; he was amazed to hear that we were English and replied, ‘The English are our friends’. We asked him if we could have some food, and he said that he would try to get some.
He had been gone only a few minutes when our wooden door was reopened; it was the same gendarme, but this time accompanied by what must have been his entire family. There was his wife, his daughter of sixteen, two small girls and three small boys. He told us that he had eight children. His wife gave us bread and cheese, and the daughter several bottles of cider. All the time they were talking excitedly. ‘When are the English coming? We are tired of waiting. We hate the Germans. They steal our food and insult our people. Eat plenty, my friends, we will fetch some more.’ These words they repeated many times, and I am sure they must have collected food from the village to give us so much on their small rations. After what must have been about an hour, a small boy cam running into the stable.
‘They’re coming,’ he cried. He evidently meant the German police and had been watching, to warn his parents of their approach. So, with handshakes and many au revoirs, those kind people bade us God-speed back to England. ‘Pray God that the English will come soon,’ were their parting words.
Our door was quickly locked, only to be opened in a very short time by the German police. We were handcuffed and marched to the station, where a train was waiting to take us to Caen, our destination. There were many French people at the station, and they had obviously heard that we were English. ‘V’ signs were prominent, being made by the fingers of the hand, and many drew their hands across their throats to show what they would do to the Nazis if they had the chance. So we left this quaint little French town… —from Dachau, by K. G. Bailey
The above experience was shared by his fellow policeman prisoners William Burton, Frederick Duquemin, Charles Friend, Thomas Gaudion, Alfred Howlett, Alfred Le Gallez, Eugene Le Lievre, Harold Piesing, William Quin, Frederick Short, Herbert Smith, Archibald Tardif, Frank Tuck, and William Whare. It’s likely that Bailey misunderstood the gesture that some French civilians made mimicking a throat being cut: many Holocaust survivors have similar stories of civilian passersby making this gesture, but in these cases they were warning them that imprisonment by the Nazis meant certain death.
In another much later version of the above story published by William Bell, he quotes Frederick Short’s version of the same events:
On their way to Caen Prison they stopped at Granville prison for about an hour while their escorts had lunch. They were left in the charge of the French gaoler, who with the help of his family supplied Fred and his fellow prisoners with food and cider. He was allowed to go to the toilet, which was across a yard. When he came out, he saw that the main gate of the prison was open and could see people walking up and down the main street.
Fred walked down past the prison warders’ office window, he was sure they saw him and said nothing, out of the prison gate and into the street. Walking along the pavement approaching him was none other than Raymond Falla, a member of Guernsey’s Controlling Committee, who made many trips to Granville during the Occupation buying supplies for the Island. He greeted Fred and asked: ‘What are you doing here?’ Fred explained that he had just walked out of prison and asked: ‘Can you give me some German money? I have friends in St Malo and other places that I can get to. If you give me some money I can make good my escape.’ Raymond Falla refused, saying: ‘I am not giving you any German money. The trouble I would get into if it was found I had given Fred Short money. All the good work I am doing getting supplies for Guernsey would go out the window.’
It wasn’t very long before the French warders came out looking for Fred and asked: ‘What are you doing here?’ Fred Short, then and ever since, interpreted the question as ‘Why have you not run away?’ The French warders seemed rather surprised and disappointed that he had not escaped when he had the chance. —from I beg to report, by William Bell
The last known Islander to be imprisoned in Granville, on 29 March 1944, was Geoffrey Delauney, who simply wrote: ‘We were put on a barge and taken to Granville before moving on to the prison at St-Lô in Normandy. At first it wasn’t too bad; we were locked up all day but didn’t have to work.’
It should be noted that as of the date of writing, there has been no archival evidence found for the location of Granville Police Prison, despite extensive searches in the Archives départementales de la Manch in Saint-Lô and questions directed to the city government in Granville. The only evidence found is that of a single postcard from circa 1900 showing the Gendarmerie (police station), and the logical conclusion that the prison could only have been the stone Gothic building with the iron gate and iron bars on its basement windows, as well what appears to be a former guardhouse and rear courtyard which would have had stables as mentioned in survivor accounts. The Frank Falla Archive would greatly appreciate any further documentation or eyewitness accounts of Granville Police Prison.
A number of the at least 22 Islanders who passed through Granville Prison would not survive the conditions of their imprisonment by the Nazis, and many of those who survived would suffer the rest of their lives from physical health problems and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Bailey, G. K.: Dachau: All the Horrors of Nazi Oppression, C.I. Marine Ltd., Mont Arrive, Guernsey, 3rd edition, 1979, pp. 33-34.
Bell, W.M.: I Beg to Report. Guernsey: Guernsey Press Co. Ltd., 1995
Wood, A. and M.: Islands in Danger, New York, The Macmillan Company, 1955.