St. Helier - London, December 1964
We are accustomed to think that during the years of the Second World War, Hitler's soldiers never set foot on British soil, and that the swastika never flew over British towns. But all the same, Nazi jack-boots did tramp on British soil. In June 1940, Hitler's troops occupied the Channel Islands, which form part of the British Isles, i.e. Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark.
Geographically, Jersey is nearer to France than to Britain. I stood on the east coast of the island and saw the outlines of land showing dark in the distance. This is Normandy. In addition, the population of the island speak not only English, but an ancient French dialect, which has been handed down from the time of the Norman conquest.
Near the town of St. Helier, capital of the Island, in a deserted German air-raid shelter now turned into a museum, are exhibits which relate to the years of occupation. Here are photographs of the arrogant Nazis marching about on the island, and then of these same supermen being led along by the British soldiers after the liberation of Jersey. Here also are the grim orders of the Commandant, Count von Schmettow, forbidding the inhabitants to listen to the radio and others of a similar nature. All these things are just reminders of the war. But I should like rather to write about those events which brought the distant island of Jersey near to the Soviet people, about the connecting link in the common struggle against Hitlerism of the Soviet and British nations.
It was a summer day in 1942, when the inhabitants of St. Helier saw a terrible sight. Making its way along the streets was a column of people - bare-footed in rags and tatters and with ashen grey faces. Among them women and children hobbling along with difficulty. Soldiers, holding fierce dogs on leads, surrounded the prisoners and were driving them along with blows from their whips.
I was told about this by a Jersey woman, Mrs. Ivy Forster, who although all this took place more than 20 years ago, could scarcely hold back her tears. "At first," she went on, "we felt ourselves, as it were, turned to stone. Then all of a sudden, as if prearranged, the women standing on the pavements rushed towards the prisoners and tried to thrust into their hands, bread, or fruit, or anything that happened to be in their bags. But the soldiers whipped the children who tried to pick up any fallen apples, pushed us away and drove the prisoners on."
These were Soviet civilians who had been driven from the occupied regions, and war prisoners, whom the Germans had brought to Jersey to build fortification and an underground hospital. Later, Spanish prisoners came on the scene (who had fought for the Republic) also French, Poles and Czechs. Soon Jersey (as also the other islands) was covered with prison camps.
"Here, there used to be wooden huts," said the young Jersey Communist, Mike Le Cornu, who was accompanying me. "I was only a youngster then. Together with my sister, we used to creep up to the camp and here in these bushes we would hide food, which we had got together at home. The prisoners soon got to know about this cache and would come over to it, when the guard was not paying attention." Along the coast, until then poorly protected, appeared machine gun nests and underground shelters, all built by the hands of Russian prisoners. On the slopes of one of the hills, in the centre of the island, opens the entrance to the underground hospital. From here lead off long corridors with large side rooms. In the course of two years, the prisoners extracted fourteen thousand tons of rock and débris, and many perished under falling blocks of stone.
Fedor escaped the vigilance of the guards and hid in the bushes. Staggering from hunger and fatigue he was dragging himself over the hills and hiding whenever he heard voices. Night was falling when he came upon a small house and a farmer who was pottering about in his vegetable garden. Was he friend or foe? Fedor wondered. Hunger made him bold. He came up nearer. The farmer noticed him and glanced behind him as if afraid of prying eyes. Fedor made signs that he was hungry.
I went to St. Ouen and the home of a middle-aged farmer, Mr. René Le Mottée. He himself continues the story. "I knew at once that he was an escaped Russian prisoner from one of the camps. I took him into the kitchen and gave him some milk. He gulped down a glassful and then fainted. I knew that, whatever the consequences, for I had four young children, I had to help this Russian ally. We installed him in a hay-loft, where he lived for three months. The children looked upon him as their own brother and called him Bill. He told us about the terrible plight of the prisoners in the camps, so we used to go as far as the quarries and leave food for the prisoners to find. But there were informers among the local population. Someone gave Bill away to the Germans. one day I saw some of the Gestapo making their way toward the house. Literally at the last moment, Bill managed to get away."
René showed me a photograph of Bill - it was of a young Soviet lad. On the back of it was written in English: "Only true friends are found in times of need. To my friend René and his family, September, 1942." I managed to get hold of the background of Bill, whose real name was Fedor Polykarpovitch Boury (although I am not quite sure that the local people pronounced the Russian names correctly). He was born in 1919 at Smolensk, but before the war had been living at Tomsk. In October, 1941, his plane was shot down and he was taken prisoner. When he got away from René's house, there had come into existence and organisation for helping escaped prisoners. Among its leaders were the Island-wide known British patriot, the late Dr. McKinstry, and the Communist, Leslie Huelin. They found hiding places for the escapees and provided them with false ration and identity cards; they also collected clothes and food for them, both of which the population had little enough.
Mrs. Ivy Forster and her brother Harold Le Druillenec recalled for me the further adventures of Fedor. "He was brought to our sister Louise Gould and she was asked to hide him. Fedor, alias Bill, lived at her house for two years. We all took to him as one of us. But once again an informer caught up with him. Bill left the house the day before the Gestapo raided it. Louise and Harold were arrested and transported to Europe for having sheltered a Russian." Right up to the end of the war the brother was suffering in a concentration camp, but Louise was exterminated in a gas chamber at Ravensbruck. "I took Bill into my home," continued Ivy Forster, "but in the house a Russian prisoner was already hidden: George Koslov, of Leningrad, an officer who had already escaped several times from prison camps. The Germans had offered a reward for his capture. He was a venturesome kind of chap and used to walk around the town and even came with us to the theatre, where he sat alongside German officers. By this time he spoke English perfectly. We had no fuel left, but nearby in a valley a large laundry had dumped coke clinker before the war. Bill and George knew about this. "Don't worry," they told us, "we shall soon have some fuel." We warned them that there were German quarters alongside this dump, but this did not deter them and each morning they used to set off with their spades. During the next month they dug the coke out and filled up our outhouse and the neighbours' cellar. Sometimes the Germans came right up to them and when they saw what they were doing would say approvingly: "Good, very good," and then go away again. But I feared for a visit from the Gestapo and both Bill and George were transferred to other families."
Fedor and George lived in this way till the liberation of the island by the British troops in May, 1945. Fedor sent a letter to the local newspaper in which he wrote: "I was deeply moved by the kindness of my friends in Jersey, who helped me, a stranger, at the risk of their own lives."
We arrived at a public house in the Parish of St. Martin. In the smoky haze, workers at the end of their day's work were crowding along the bar counter with pints of beer in their hands. The landlord, Oswald Pallot, and his wife told me the pitiful story of a young lad from the Ukraine, Vasil Lukich, who had lived with them for over a year. "We installed him in an attic," said Mrs. Pallot, "we provided him with clothes and shoes and taught him English so that the Germans would not take him for a foreigner. He was sixteen years old. everyone called him Basil Martin. Once he arrived at the house in a German staff car. My heart nearly stopped beating; but it appeared that he had only asked the officer to give him a lift as far as home. Disaster overtook us out of the blue. The Gestapo suddenly arrived and took away my father and Basil. While Basil was waiting to be questioned at the Gestapo he suddenly took to his heels and was shot there and then in the street."
Peter Bokatenko from the Ukrainian village of Vesoly Kut had worked as a cinema operator and a tractor driver in Znamenka. The Germans had dragged this 17-year-old lad all the way across Europe and had thrown him into a prison camp on Jersey. He escaped, was recaptured and beaten. He escaped again, was given the birch and sent to work in the quarries. He knew that there were minefields nearby but he ran away for a third, then a fourth and a fifth time. For five months he was hidden by Mr. W. Sarre. Soon the underground organisation got to know about him and later he was moved to the home of the artist Blampied, who counterfeited seals on an identity card for him, and later on he was taken in by the Le Cornu family.
Peter sent news of himself after the war. Le Cornu showed me two letters, one dated the end of 1945 and the other the beginning of 1946, and stamped with a Field Port number. Peter wrote that he had been safely reunited with his relatives and that he was serving in the army as an artilleryman. "I shall never forget the way you helped me," he concluded his letter.
The Soviet citizen does not remain a passive spectator of events taking place around him. For that is how we have been brought up. Michael Krokeen came all the way from Kiev to the Channel Islands and soon escaped from his prison camp. Having spent a few nights in the haystack of a hospitable farmer, he made contact with the underground organisation. He was found a hiding place with Mrs. Augusta Metcalfe and her sister. Michael could not sit idly by and asked the organisation to give him something to do. One of the former active members of this organisation, the Communist Norman Le Brocq, related to me that the illegal activity of the patriots was conducted in conditions of utmost secrecy. On an island which it is possible to drive round in two hours, it was impossible to undertake any action on a large scale against the occupying force.
"I myself," said Le Brocq, "knew only a few members of the organisation. I was never told the names of others. At first my task was concerned with Russian, Spanish and French comrades. We found out where escapees were hiding and where they could be given shelter. Michael was entrusted with the task of establishing contact with those Russians who refused to work for the Germans and who had escaped from the prison camps. He also distributed food to them which had been collected by the organisation"
At the end of 1944, continued Le Brocq, preparations were being made for an uprising amongst the German garrison. The first leaflets were being printed. "I was responsible for getting hold of paper and printing the leaflets. Michael and Fedor hand wrote the leaflets in Russian as it was necessary for the Soviet and the other foreign workers to join in the rising both in the camps and outside of them. In addition we printed news extracts about the war fronts. Our Russian friends made contacts with the camps. But because of treachery the mutiny had to be put off till May 15th. By that date the war was over."
Mrs. Metcalfe and her sister, who were hiding Krokeen, were arrested by the Gestapo, but Michael managed to escape. He was later hidden by Mr. W. Gladden. Leonard Perkins and Dr. McKinstry also helped him. Mrs. Metcalfe told me that two days before the landing of British troops on the island, Michael hoisted the Soviet flag over the house where he was living. According to her account this was near where a German colonel was living, so it could have been serious. But the Nazis knew that the war was almost over and at this stage they did not take reprisals.
The local television service invited me to give a brief account of my visit to Jersey. When I was back in London, I began to receive letters from people I had not met giving me more new facts about the fate of our prisoners. Before me I have one of those letters, received today and written by Mr. and Mrs. Le Breton.
"It would be possible to give you a long story about the Russians we used to try to help. We are farmers and the prisoners used to come to us asking for shelter in the barns or the hayloft. We had little food, but we used to give them what we could and not one left hungry. There was one such escapee who lived for a long time with us. We would very much like to know where he is now. He was from Central Asia and about 30 years of age, a school teacher. His name is Bokkerjan and to this day we have kept his photograph which is very dear to us."
Jersey is now one of the favourite English holiday resorts. Everywhere one sees new villas and bungalows, hotels, and guest houses along the sea-shores, in the fertile valleys and green fields of the island. Only along the cliffs, the reinforced concrete coastal defences stick out and remind one of the long past war years. But I had to trouble the memories of the local people for these stories of past experiences because this is what I wanted to impart to the Soviet reader.O. Orestov