Channel Islanders Imprisoned in Lisieux Prison:
By Roderick Miller
At least three Channel Islanders were incarcerated in Lisieux Prison (Maison d’arrêt de Lisieux), located in the town of Lisieux, department Calvados, in the Normandy region of France. The prison was constructed in 1908–1909 and opened in 1910. From contemporary photographs of the prison, it appears to have been built according to common standards of the time and region: a four-storied brick structure with internal steel walkways surrounded by a 6-metre wall. Later figures published in 1962 show that the prison had a relatively small capacity, accommodating just 59 prisoners. Like most prisons in occupied France, it was administered by the German Gestapo but largely staffed by French guards. According to testimonials from a variety of wartime French prisons, it probably was lacking central heating and had poor hygienic facilities, leading many survivors to conclude later that transfers to German prisons in the Reich usually meant an improvement in living conditions. There were never any executions carried out in Lisieux Prison.
On 19 January 1943, Channel Islander Josette Falle was sentenced to four months’ imprisonment for ‘insulting the German Army’. She was deported to Coutances Prison soon thereafter and transferred later to Lisieux Prison for an unknown length of time. Falle left no known testimonial about her experiences in French prisons.
On 20 November 1943, Arthur Clarke was sentenced by the Court of the Field Command in Jersey to five months’ imprisonment for ‘receiving stolen articles, and black market activities’. He arrived at Lisieux on 23 December 1943 from Saint-Lô Prison and was sent on to Caen Prison on 15 February 1944.
Gerald Bird was sentenced in January 1944 for the crime of ‘failing to surrender an anti-German leaflet’ and was transferred from Saint-Lô Prison to Lisieux later the same year. According to his post-war testimonial about Lisieux:
On approximately 6 June 1944, a bomb was dropped near the prison which allowed several of the prisoners to escape, and myself, which I did. But later that evening I was caught by the Gestapo and that is where my troubles began. Although things were not so good during my sentence, they were much better than when I was picked up by the Gestapo. They questioned and beat me, tied me up like a dog, and took me to a nearby airfield, where further questions were asked. In the middle of the night I was taken to a French jail, chained like a dog. On the following morning, 7 June 1944, I was collected by the Gestapo police and was chained again, and taken to another prison, the name of which I cannot remember. I was there for about three days, kicked and questioned, kicked and beat again, and then with other prisoners I was marched to a prison outside Paris, Fresnes. I arrived at the prison Fresnes about three days later, which would be approximately 12 June 1944. — Gerald Bird, 4 March 1965.
Bird was later deported from Fresnes to Buchenwald Concentration Camp.
As described by Bird above, Lisieux Prison was heavily damaged by bombs on the night of 6-7 June 1944 in an allied air raid that resulted in the deaths of 819 French civilians. By 11 July, three-quarters of the medieval city had been destroyed by allied bombing. The town was liberated by British troops on 23 August after two days of heavy fighting.
Josette Falle, Gerald Bird, and Arthur Clarke survived the war, but like many of those who survived, would suffer from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of their lives. Gerald Bird was considered 60% disabled after returning from Germany in 1945, but a report from 1962 states that his condition had somewhat improved.
Lisieux Prison continued to operate after the war and gained notoriety for its overcrowded living conditions, which led to prison riots in 1976 and 1988. The prison was finally closed in 1990 and its prisoners transferred to Caen Prison. Lisieux Prison was razed in 1994 and the former site is now occupied by a German supermarket chain. There is no known memorial on the site for the prisoners who once suffered there.
Carr, Gilly; Sanders, Paul; Willmot Louise: Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940-1945, Bloomsbury Academic, London & New York, 2014.
Caen Service Historique de la Defense:
Undated Lisieux Prison record showing transfer of Josette Falle under maiden name Rouard from Lisieux Prison to Countances (SHD 27P4)
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO):
TNA FO HNP/1696 (Bird)
Court records relating to Arthur Edward Clarke, Jersey Archives ref. D/Z/H6/6/178.
Political prisoner logbook, Jersey Archives ref. D/AG/B7/1.