Story of Occupation heroism comes to light after 77 years

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A PREVIOUSLY untold Occupation story of a couple who sheltered a Ukrainian slave worker is being pieced together – with Islanders being asked if they can fill in some of the missing details.

Historians at Jersey Heritage have discovered details of Phillis and John Le Breton, who risked their lives by feeding and sheltering the slave worker during the final years of the Second World War.

And after Jersey Heritage issued a plea for anyone with more information about the couple to contact them, a written account was sent – along with contact details for Mr and Mrs Le Breton’s daughter Dulcie, now in her 90s.

The Le Breton family sheltered a Ukrainian soldier called Bokejon Akram, who like many other Soviet prisoners had been sent to Jersey to work as a slave labourer, quarrying stone and building coastal defences.

He managed to escape and made his way to St Mary where the Le Bretons took him in. He learnt English there and was able to read fairy stories to the children and play with them, and Dulcie Le Breton, who was four when the Occupation began, remembers him like a favourite uncle.

The family called him ‘Tom’ – aware that if they used his real name it might reveal his identity. Tom slept in a car that their father John Le Breton had hidden behind bales of straw in a shed in case the Germans came calling.

After the war Tom and the other surviving Soviet prisoners returned home and the Le Bretons did not know what happened to him afterwards. Despite attempts to reach him they never heard from him again.

But 20 years after the Liberation John Le Breton was one of 20 Jerseymen and women awarded a gold watch by the Soviet government for their courage in helping to shelter Russian and Ukrainian escapees.

Chris Addy, sites curator with Jersey Heritage, said they were surprised how much they had been able to find out about them.

He said of appealing for information: ‘It’s always a bit of a guess. You never know what stories are going to come out after 77 years.’

Other accounts of heroism include the story of Louisa Gould, the St Ouen shopkeeper who defied German orders to surrender all wireless sets and looked after another Russian escapee. She later died in the gas chambers.

There were also the efforts of St Clement resident Bob Le Sueur, who helped eight or nine escapees. He was made an MBE in 2013.

Mr Addy said: ‘It’s always fascinating to hear a new piece of information or research, and add it to the stories that we tell each year to remind people about this significant part of the Island’s history.’

He is co-ordinating the plans to mark the 77th anniversary of the Liberation on 9 May and added: ‘The way we mark Liberation Day has changed over the years, with more and more stories coming to light about the manner in which Islanders helped each other and those in even greater need, such as the fugitive slave worker in this case.

‘If anyone has any further information about the Le Bretons and their heroic efforts, which say so much about the character of Jersey people during the Occupation, we would love to hear from them.’

The commemorations of Liberation Day had to be pared back last year and in 2020 due to Covid restrictions and he said: ‘It’s far too uncertain at the moment to plan or invest much. But we are hoping it will be something closer to the full programme.’

Anyone with further information about the Le Bretons or other accounts can contact him at chris.addy@jerseyheritage.org.

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