On the trail of postmen who defied the German occupiers
THE hunt is on for Islanders who have stories to tell about four wartime employees of the Island’s postal service whose acts of resistance will feature in a new novel set during the Occupation.
Novelist Kate Thompson has been in Jersey exploring stories of heroism and betrayal during the Occupation. Her attention has now focused on those who would intercept collaborators’ letters to the German authorities denouncing fellow Islanders for a range of offences against the occupying forces.
She is particularly looking for those who have stories to tell about three postmen – Billie Matson, Harold ‘Peddlar’ Palmer and Jack Counter, the latter who was awarded a Victoria Cross while serving with the King’s (Liverpool) Regiment, 1st Battalion, during the First World War – and engineer Philip Warder who was responsible for the undersea cable between Jersey and the UK. All four are thought to have helped frustrate inquiries against fellow Islanders.
‘Their actions could have saved many lives if you think of what happened to Louisa Gould. How many other people could have ended up that way? They hated what they saw – people acting out petty grudges against others. These heroic posties are an untold story of the Occupation’, she said.
Letters found after the Occupation reveal the extent to which some Islanders tipped off the German authorities about offences which ranged from concealing radios or livestock, to giving help to escaped slave workers, but it is also known that members of the postal service often frustrated these efforts.
Sometimes they would steam open letters addressed to the Field Command at College House – now Jersey College for Girls – and alert those named in the anonymous letters to their impending investigation. They would then deliver the letters in apparently pristine condition. Other letters would simply be burnt in the Post Office furnace while others were discovered after the Occupation never having been delivered.
‘Postmen could move around the town freely. They would know who was collaborating and who was resisting, and there was every chance that they could have been passing on messages to warn people.
‘I want to find out more about these men and more about why they took the risks that they did, risks which could potentially have left them ending up in camps themselves,’ Ms Thompson said, adding that the postmen of the time worked for the Royal Mail which gave them a uniform that linked them directly with the English Crown. ‘They obviously wore their uniform with pride,’ she said.
Ms Thompson is keen to hear from anyone who knew the four postal employees or who has stories to tell about their wartime endeavours. Anyone with such information can contact her on firstname.lastname@example.org, 0787 989 8966, or pm on @KateThompsonAuthor.
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