J V Alexander
Report of capture in Normandy Hotel during the German Commando Raid on Granville, France, on the night of 8th/9th March 1945, and subsequent stay in P.O.W Camp at St Helier, Jersey.
About 11:30pm Thursday March 8th all Hotel lights noted turned on and off for about 5 minutes. About 1.30am March 9th Friday, noted waves of tracer bullets coming over house tops from harbour direction. About 2am boat noted approaching beach below Normandy Hotel. Actual landing made soon after in rubber boats, about 4 or 6 of them. Did not personally observe any firing from shore. Raiding party entered Hotel Normandy at once and fired several volleys along ground floor corridor. I cam out of my room on the 1st floor and found Germans waiting at the head of the stairs armed with tommy-guns. They did riot shoot as I half expected but took me to the front of the hotel where I waited while they collected others. There was considerable firing and much shouting going on all this while all this time by the Raiding Party but we were not hit. I was told some one opened fire on the Germans from the top floor of the Normandy but I did not observe this myself. Several prisoners were lined up against the quay wall and I understand searched and questioned. Some U.S Officers were taken from there on to the rubber boats and I also. We were transferred from rubber boats to a small launch and then to the prow of a larger vessel. Two of the U.S Officers were in pyjamas, one without stockings or boots. One of these was given a coat and one a blanket by one of the Germans as it was very cold and the journey back took about five hours. We arrived at St Helier, Jersey about 07:30am and after walking up the quay and waiting a lorry, were taken to the old Military Prison.
We were interrogated twice by Lieut. Odel, first on arrival at the Military Prison and second about two weeks later at the former Metropole Hotel, the German HQ while not experienced in these matters I should say, at least in my case, the proceedings were correct as no pressure to answer was suggested in any way.
During the crossing by boat a German soldier took all my personal property and papers. The papers including my passport were returned later, the other articles, which included a wristwatch, fountain pen, silver pencil, parker duo fold pencil, penknife, lefax note book, flash lamp etc, to the value of £20 could not, said the Germans, be traced, although application was made for the return of same during first 3 weeks verbally and by letter to the commanding officer on the 26th of March 1945. Other officers had the same experience.
From the 9th to the 24th we were billeted in the old Military Prison, when we were transferred to the P.O.W camp where there were already American P.O.W Both sites were within 100 yards of big guns, and this was brought to the notice of the German Commander. The conditions at the first Prison Camp were hard for the American Enlisted Men and British Merchant Seamen as they had stone cells and for the first week no heating. It was very cold at night, moreover most of the U.S Seamen had been picked up out of the water and had wet clothes on arrival. The officers had a wooden hut, wooden slat beds, mattress and pillow and 3 blankets. The Germans did as little for us as possible for the first week after which Red Cross parcels arrived and the whole atmosphere changed as the guards smelt tobacco through the cardboard. Bits of food appeared, a knife to cut the bread with, whispered news, toilet paper, plates and cups. Life became civilised again.
The living conditions at the second camp I should class as good. This of course was six weeks before the end. P.O.W's who had been on the island since August had a very different story to tell of the first five months. During the very cold winter they had no heating moreover the buildings they were in were quite unsuited to winter conditions. Food was lacking in quantity and quality till the arrival of the Vega in January.
Food generally from the Germans was inadequate, perhaps a 1000 calories a day. As in so many other cases the Red Cross parcels saved the day for us.
From what I could gather the American P.O.W's who arrived on the island in the summer had a very thin time in the matter of food, accommodation and lack of fuel for about 5 months. After that things slowly improved. In my own case their most serious lapse from Geneva Convention seemed to be the taking of personal articles. Finally I would like to mention the courage and tenacious spirit of with which the Commanding Officer, Col John Reybold and those under him, continued the mental fight against the Germans, without rest to themselves or their captors. Undoubtedly this would have changed to active operations had an Allied landing taken place. In the meantime attempts were being made to contact and lead underground forces and certain preliminaries were going forward for escape. Lectures in the use of German arms were given in the camp. Of our German guards Segt. Zimmer and Corporal Cannon won our respect and commendation for their treatment of prisoners. Also I should like to pay tribute to the Red Cross and the people of Jersey for their help and their spirit of resistance.