Alfred William Baker, Réné Roger Bessin, Gordon Brehaut, Arthur Dimery, John Draper, Harry Featherstone, Alfred William Howlett, Frank Joliffe, Edwin John Lawrence, Francis John Le Flock, Ernest Le Provost, Thomas William Le Prevost, Philip James McCallen, John Henry Moignard, George John Frederick Morcel, John Birkmyre Neilson, Ronald Staples, Archibald Lloyd Tardif, William John Windebank
By Roderick Miller
In March 1941, the director of the regional prison in Clairvaux, in the Aube district of France, requested that Fresnes Prison cease the transfer of prisoners to Clairvaux, as the latter was already overcrowded. The nearby town of Troyes had an unfinished hospital near the municipality of St-André-les-Vergers that had been used by the Germans in 1940 as a prisoner of war camp (Frontstalag 124). Constructed on the site of a former vineyard and already surrounded by high walls, the French Vichy collaborationist government decided to convert the hospital into a prison with a capacity of up to 3500 prisoners. The German authorities and the regional collaborationist prefect Rene Bousquet used the improvised Troyes Hauts-Clos Prison (Frontstalag 124, Prison des Hauts-Clos Ã Troyes, Centre Hospitalier des Hauts-Clos Ã Troyes ) as a place to incarcerate political prisoners. At least 18 Channel Islanders were incarcerated here between 1942 and 1944.
An undated French document in the Service Historique de la Defense in Caen states that women prisoners convicted by the German Feldkommandantur 515 in the Channel Islands to sentences of four to nine months should be sent to Troyes Hauts-Clos Prison, but despite this document, research as of November 2016 has revealed no women from the Channel Islands incarcerated in Troyes. At least 18 Channel Island men were imprisoned in Troyes Hauts-Clos.
Seven islanders (Baker, Brehaut, Featherstone, Howlett, McCallen, Staples and Tardif) were transported from Caen Prison to Troyes on 15 July 1942, and are the first documented prisoners from the Channel Islands to have been incarcerated there. All seven were transferred to Clairvaux Prison three weeks later, on 8 August. Most of the islanders transferred to Troyes came from either Caen Prison or Saint-Lô Prison, although Réné Bessin appears to have been transported directly to Troyes in November 1943 and and served his entire sentence there. Bessin and several other Channel Islanders left testimonials:
While I was there I received not more than tow Red Cross messages from my wife and family… Also when I was in prison I was denied any medical attention but when I had dental trouble the Germans did allow me to visit a dentist in Troyes and they made me pay for the treatment. I was never visited by anyone from a neutral country. The Germans returned me to Guernsey on May 9, 1944 and I had only the clothes I stood up in, for the remainder of of my personal and family belongings had been confiscated. — Réné Bessin, 27 October 1964
A Russian, two Frenchmen, an Algerian and I were marched to the harbour and locked in the donkey-engine room of a small ship and taken to St. Malo, then on to Hauts-Clos Penitentiere, Troyes, where, for ten months, we were kept with several thousand prisoners on a very restricted amount of food. From Troyes, chained hand and foot to an Algerian for 17 hours, about 300 of us were marched through the streets to the station and taken to Dijon, where we were interned in an old underground fort for seven months. — Ernest Le Prevost, letter to the Foreign Secretary, 8 July 1965
The general conditions were disgusting, food was nothing else but vegetables boiled, one sort a day, bread about 80 grammes a day… Beds bug-infested & damp. I nearly lost my life at Troyes with hemorrhage of the bowels, being left for two weeks without attention, afterwards taken to hospital at Troyes for several weeks under guard all the time. Also left with chronic bronchitis. 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. — William Windebank, 3 April 1965.
It appears that most of the islanders were in Troyes for only a few months, although Ernest Le Prevost was incarcerated there from June 1943 for ten months. This was probably the longest sentence served by an islander in Troyes. Most of the prisoners transferred from Troyes to Clairvaux Prison and Chalons-sur-Marne Prison. George Morcel and William Windebank were the last islanders to leave Troyes Prison when they transferred out on 15 March 1944 to Fort de Villeneuve.
On 24 August 1944, the retreating 51st SS Panzer Brigade entered the nearby town of Buchéres and shot 67 of its civilian inhabitants, including women and young children. Troyes was liberated by US Army troops under General Patton on the following day. The collaborationist government official Rene Bousquet, who had played an instrumental role in the Vel’ d’Hiv roundup in Paris in which over 13,000 Jews were arrested and deported to their deaths in concentration camps, was formally accused of crimes against humanity fifty years later. Bousquet was shot and killed in his apartment in Paris in 1993 before the trial could begin.
Many of the Channel Islanders in Troyes would all go on to worse prisons and camps in France and Germany, and those who survived would suffer from a variety of chronic physical disabilities and post-traumatic stress disorders for the rest of their lives.
Troyes Hospital continued to be used as a prison after liberation, first for collaborators and then as a prison for women and youth offenders. It finally reverted to its intended use as hospital in 1959, which continues to operate today.
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 l’Aube, Troyes, France
Archives départementales du Val-de-Marne, Créteil, France
The National Archives (TNA), Foreign Office (FO), Kew, UK
TNA FO 950/943 (Baker)
TNA FO 950/2065 (Bessin)
TNA FO 950/1101 (Dimery)
TNA FO 950/1372 (Draper)
TNA FO 950/4038 (E. Le Prevost)
TNA FO 950/2165 (Tardif)
TNA FO 950/1833 (Windebank)
Miere, Joe: oral testimony collected for exhibition in the Jersey War Tunnels Museum.