Channel Islanders Imprisoned in Jacques-Cartier Prison:
By Roderick Miller
At least four Channel Islanders were incarcerated in Jacques-Cartier Prison (Prison Jacques-Cartier) in the city of Rennes in the Ille-et-Vilaine department of France. The prison, designed to hold 150 prisoners, was opened in the sub-district of Villeneuve, at that time just outside of Rennes, but since incorporated into it. The prison was used for two public executions by guillotine, once in 1922 and the last time in February 1939.
After the Nazi invasion of France in 1940, the prison was run, as were most prisons in occupied France, by the French Gestapo with the aid of the German military and was used to incarcerate a large number of suspected members of the Résistance. As of 1941 a wing of the prison was used specifically for women political prisoners of the Nazis. After the D-Day allied landings in June 1944, some prisoners were taken to Fort Hatry in Belfort, and others taken to Butte de la Maltière or the Caserne du Columbier to be shot. At least 245 women prisoners from Jacques Cartier Prison and the Central Rennes Prison for Women (Centre pénitentiare pour femmes de Rennes) were deported to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, from whence very few returned.
Julia Barry arrived in Jacques-Cartier Prison from L’Esperance Prison in St. Malo in 1943, and was technically freed on 2 May 1944, only to be handed over the Gestapo for deportation via Fort de Romainville Internment and Transit Camp to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp as part of Vichy hostage exchange with the Nazis.
Berthe Pitolet, Louisa Gould, and her brother Harold Le Druillenec were taken from L’Esperance Prison in St. Malo to Jacques-Cartier Prison on 9 July 1944. Le Druillenec was sent soon thereafter to Fort Hatry in Belfort and later to Neuengamme Concentration Camp. The prison was damaged in an allied bombing raid and Pitolet managed to escape, but Gould refused to join her. Pitolet survived the war in hiding and was liberated soon thereafter, but Gould was sent to Fort Hatry and then deported to Ravensbrück Concentration Camp.
Julia Barry described Jacques-Cartier Prison in a Guernsey newspaper article published on 18 July 1945 as ‘a nice place with plenty of food but no air. The French Red Cross fed us: every day meat, butter, cheese and weekly one parcel. The first week I ate more there than in Guernsey for six months’. Two days later, she amended that description with ‘At Rennes, where I was questioned, all the men were taken in the “Black Maria” to the Gestapo HQ, then back to the prison. They were beaten half dead…’ It should be remembered that the description as ‘nice’ was made shortly after Barry’s liberation from Ravensbrück Concentration Camp, which doubtless put Rennes in a more positive light by contrast.
French prisoner Henry Mainguy wrote a detailed testimonial about his time in Jacques-Cartier Prison:
My cell was just five square meters square, the walls whitewashed, and relatively clean. Lit by a small light bulb hanging from the ceiling, there is an iron bed, a table on the wall, a stool, and a small sink with running water. The door with a peephole separates us from the world. Behind solid bars, a wide transom opens two meters from the ground. Climbing on the bed, I can cast a furtive glance at the court, but I have to be very careful not to be noticed, because it is forbidden. We have three mattresses on average for five men, and one or two blankets per man. There is half loaf of bread, a kilo, that we share during the day with 250 grams for each, and always the same soup. Sometimes very clear, on better days, it consists of water with a few leaves of cabbage, or carrots, or beans; sometimes we get two or three potatoes, a piece of cold meat or cheese. Sometimes the National Relief and the Red Cross manage to get us an egg or a piece of gingerbread, and it is a treat.
Mainguy later witnessed a prisoner returning from a Nazi interrogation with the not so nice observation: ‘… his face was swollen, with an extremely damaged eye, and his back and buttocks covered with wounds which still bore the marks several months later.’
The last deportations of prisoners out of Jacques-Cartier Prison took place on 2 and 3 August 1944. Then next day the city was liberated by American troops.
Louisa Gould died in Ravensbrück. Her brother Harold Le Druillenec, Berthe Pitolet and Julia Barry would survive the war, but like many of the Channel Islanders who survived, would suffer from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of their lives.
There are a number of memorials in Rennes dedicated to the Résistance and those who died in the Second World War, but none specifically for those who suffered in Jacques-Cartier Prison. The prison closed in 2010, and as of September 2016 it was still for sale and may be converted into a cinema. The prison will be open for guided public tours by 2016 but its future intended use is still unknown.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
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.
Barry, Julia: I Was Condemned to Death But I am Alive and Back in Guernsey, in: Guernsey Evening Post, 18 July 1945.
Barry, Julia: Holding a Pink Ticket Might Mean Death, in: Guernsey Evening Post, 20 July 1945.
Boivin, Yves: Les condamnées des Sections Spéciales incarcérées à la Maison Centrale de Rennes, Déportées les 5 avril, 2 mai et 16 mai 1944. Self-published, January 2004. Includes a full list of deportees from Rennes (in French). Online as a PDF. Link
Gicquel, Jérôme: L’ancienne prison Jacques Cartier reprend du service, in 20 Minutes (online newspaper), 14 September 2016 (in French). Link.
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO):
TNA FO 950/999 (Brichta, later Barry/Chapman)
TNA 950/2700 (Gould)
TNA FO 950/1100 (Le Druillenec)