Deportees mark the moment they were taken to Germany

IT was but a small gathering of senior citizens who this week met on the Albert Pier to commemorate events that changed all their lives more than 78 years ago.

Deportees service on the Albert Pier conducted by Father Nick Barry (29206944)
Deportees service on the Albert Pier conducted by Father Nick Barry (29206944)

Some were too young then to remember queuing on that very spot with their families to catch the cargo boat to St Malo to begin two and a half years of wartime imprisonment in Germany.

Silence fell across the whole group as Lola Garvin – one of the youngest deportees – began to read from Jean Tipping’s diary entry recording those events of September 1942.

Her descriptions of Islanders with their hastily packed suitcases, some defiantly waving union flags from the vehicles that took them to an exile ordered by Hitler himself, and of those who remained, singing nationalistic songs across the harbour from Mount Bingham, had the group transfixed for the ten-minute ceremony.

One Islander who could remember that day was Pamela Tanguy, responsible last year for the erection of the memorial plaque where the deportees assembled. Six years old when she was uprooted, she recalls the journey by sea to St Malo, the lights of the boat extinguished lest it should be mistaken for a troop carrier and become a target for engagement by Allied forces.

‘We sailed as it was dusk, but I remember those people cheering and singing. I remember all that. I remember being in one of those wood-and-canvas life-jackets, too large for me. And I remember sitting with my back to the side of the boat with canvas overhead and a gap in between. It was complete darkness, with water coming over you, and I don’t remember food being given. It was terribly frightening,’ she said.

Others could remember, too, piecing together their own fragments of recollection, some assisted by birthday and Christmas cards given in captivity, cards which they still carry with them three-quarters of a century later.

‘When you are younger you don’t think of the past, you just get on with your life. It’s only since I got older that I began to think of what my parents went through. Really it was a war crime to be deported at 24 hours’ notice. I’ve still got my dad’s deportation notice,’ Mrs Tanguy said.

In prayers led by former RAF chaplain Father Nick Berry, they also remembered the many with whom they shared that experience but who are no longer alive – their own parents, neighbours and friends. Some never returned to Jersey.

Yet the gathering was not ultimately sombre in tone. Mrs Tanguy captured the mood of many who have returned to their place of wartime imprisonment in the years since the German spa town of Bad Wurzach twinned with St Helier.

‘I ask myself why I would want to go back to the place when I had been a prisoner of war for almost three years. Do you know why? It was the welcome. It laid a ghost. We came back to better times, to a better place and I have very dear friends there now.

‘It’s a very strange thing, but it just proves that good can come out of bad. I am what I am because of what I’ve been through,’ Mrs Tanguy said.

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