The policemen's lot

In June 1939, the population of Guernsey was 43,820.  Just prior to the German occupation 19,000 evacuated to England, of which 4,700 were schoolchildren. Many men of fighting age enlisted in the armed forces.

The Guernsey Police Force was 33 strong all ranks - an Inspector, Deputy Inspector, seven sergeants and 24 constables. The officer in charge, Inspector Sculpher, and the Guernsey States discouraged the police officers from leaving the Island to enlist, stating their duty lay in Guernsey.

 

As life under occupation settled down the police were in an invidious position, still trying to police the Island by consent but with the Germans looking over their shoulder every step of the way. Their morale was affected, and they resented being told what to do by the occupying forces. They had to salute German officers for instance. In many reported

cases where they did not, they were summoned to German headquarters to receiving a “grilling”

and inevitably a fine.

 

The constables, along with most of the population, listened in to BBC radio. Of particular interest,

were broadcasts from Colonel Britton, speaking to the V Army (Occupied Europe) saying “Everyone

can find something to do which is anti-Nazi”. The Britton broadcasts gave them encouragement

to initiate some form of resistance. They were able to travel the Island freely after curfew when on

duty. Sculpher on the other hand did not work night duty, and the Germans would not allow him

the privilege.

From officers’ own testimonies it is known that simple acts of sabotage were carried out such as 

cutting telephone wires, syphoning fuel from German vehicles, immobilising German vehicles by putting sand in the fuel tank, or swapping HT leads over. Painting V for Victory signs was another activity that seriously rankled the Germans.

 

By the winter of 1940 food rationing was in place. Many families were in desperate need of essentials. The police knew that the Germans had stockpiles of foodstuffs across the Island. They hatched a plan to enter at night, such stores

and re-distribute, a little like modern day Robin Hood to the needy. This plan was aided by the fact that the Police Station had the master key to most of these premises.

By the winter of 1941 things were getting a little out of hand. Nobody really knew who was breaking into where, let alone what was actually being taken. It is reported that nearly all the police were involved to a lesser or greater extent.

If Sculpher was suspicious of his men he certainly did not take any action. He knew that premises were being broken into at night with many showing no signs of forced entry.  The Germans staked out one of the premises that were regularly being broken into. On the night of the 4-5 March 1942 PC Bailey and PC Tuck entered a store and were caught red-handed.

 

They were arrested and taken to German headquarters. During the investigation 17 police officers were arrested. They were all interrogated, beaten, deprived of food and water and kept in solitary confinement. False statements, written in German but never translated into English, were prepared for them to sign, implicating each other. Their homes were searched and, in some cases, families abused. A significant amount of incriminating evidence was found. In PC Burton’s home they found 11 tins of meat, two packets of coffee and a bag of tea. PC Short’s house was searched but nothing was found - he had hidden everything  up the chimney.

It transpired that some of the stores broken in to were not German at all and contained supplies for Islanders. This proved to be unfortunate for the police officers involved. They all stood trial on the 24 April 1942 in a German military court and all were found guilty. Then. on the 1 June 1942, they were tried by the state’s judicial system because of the thefts from civilian stores, and found guilty again. They received varying terms of imprisonment ranging from 4 years 6 months for PC Harper down to 4 months for PC Bretel. All the prisoners were transferred to France, where they were regularly moved from one prison to another and mainly being kept in solitary confinement.

Some were moved to German labour camps and it was at Augsburg prison where, on the 5th April 1943 PC Herbert Smith died from malnutrition & constant physical beatings.

Between September 1942 and February 1943 over 2,000 

Islanders from all islands were deported to German internment camps. The main group of persons selected were those who were not born in the Islands and those with a military background. It was also an opportunity for the Germans to get rid of troublemakers and the like, those people, who had come to the notice, of the Germans for whatever reason.

 

This included the wives and children of the policemen who had been convicted of the burglaries.  PCs Le Lievre, LeGallez and Piesing received short sentences (8 months). They were released from a French prison in early February 1943.

 

They returned to Guernsey on 16th February only to be deported as “undesirables” along with their families in the last group of Islanders to be deported on the 23rd February 1943. During their journey, the women and children were

An Interniertenpost postcard from Harold Piesing internee number 1098 Laufen Camp dated 5th April 1944 to Mrs W Gulliver (Daughter?) Salisbury England.  Piesing was one of the policemen involved and it was only after researching this short article that I associated this postcard with the story.

separated from the men and taken to the Compiegne camp in Paris. They stayed here until June 1943 before being moved to the family camp at Biberach.

Any correspondence from Compiegne is highly sort after, correspondence into the camp even more so:

Universal Kriegsgefangenenlager postcard from an American internee William MacKinney Front Stalag 122 Compiegne dated 17th May 1943 beautifully hand illustrated to Mrs. Nora Le Gallez. The wife of Police Constable Alfred Le Gallez.

The men from this group of internees were sent first to Kreuzburg and then onto Laufen. By August 1943 those with family at Biberach were transferred to join them there. Correspondence between the internment camps is very rare:

A homemade Christmas card dated 1943 from Nora LeGallez to Alfred. Part of the text inside the cards reads:’ France 1942. Germany 1943. England 1944’. It was this message that got me started on the research. Initially it did not make much sense. From the context of the Christmas card and other items that were sourced with it, it was clear they were internees in Biberach camp in December 1943. The reference to England was presumably an assumption that the war would soon be over and they would be in England. But France 1942 made no sense at all until I discovered that Alfred was a policeman and the rest as they say is history.

 FAR LEFT: Interniertenpost postcard from James May internee number 1055 Laufen Camp dated 6th  May 1943 to his wife Bertha at Front Stalag 122 Compiegne. He was not a policeman but they were in the last group of deportees to leave Guernsey.

LEFT:  second Interniertenpost postcard from James May to Bertha. This one from Laufen to Biberach dated 8th July 1943.

After the war the 16 surviving police officers returned to Guernsey to clear their names and they hoped to go back to work as policemen. The authorities were less than helpful and refused to re-instate them. They argued their case all the way to the High 

Court in London. The compelling argument of their defence was they simply carried out instructions from the Col Britton radio broadcasts and were carrying out acts of sabotage against the occupying forces as per his instructions.

 

The prosecution argued the Britton messages were directed to the larger countries of occupation - Belgium, Holland and occupied France - they was never intended to be acted upon in the Channel Islands.

The most damning evidence said the prosecution was the fact that the police broke into premises containing stores belonging to the States intended for the civilian population not the Germans. 

They never did clear their names.

BARRY MUDIE

References:

Islanders Deported Part I & II by Roger E Harris

I Beg To Report by William M Bell

Frank Falla Archive. Frankfallaarchive.org

Re-used envelope, 9 Aug 1945, St Peter Port Guernsey cancel, addressed to Mr S J C Duquemin the licensee of the Victoria Hotel, St Peter Port, Duquemin  who got himself embroiled in the police investigation. He was sentenced to 9 months imprisonment for receiving stolen goods, namely wine & spirits the police had stolen from the stores.