A jolt from the Past

The National Archives in Britain have released papers concerning applications for financial assistance in the 1960s from UK victims of imprisonment in concentration camps during WW2. Yesterday, the British newspaper, The Daily Mail (http://www.dailymail.co.uk) ran an article on the only British survivor from Belsen: Harold Osmond Le Druillenec and today the Daily Telegraph have printed another (http://www.telegraph.co.uk/history/britain-at-war/7406043/The-remarkable-stories-of-Britains-Heroes-of-the-Holocaust.html). This resurrection of the past gave me quite a shock – because I knew Mr. Le Druillenec.
I met Mr. Le Druillenec when I was working as a peripatetic secretary for schools in Jersey, C.I. and he was the Headmaster of St. John’s school. A quiet man but a stickler for accuracy in the smallest things, which he explained to me as the direct result of his imprisonment. He spoke rarely of his dreadful experiences and spoke to me more than his staff because , I suspect, I was the ‘outsider’; I only went to his school twice a week – Tuesday and Thursday afternoons if I remember correctly – to deal with any correspondence required.
The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles held by German forces during WW2 and were extensively fortified. The work was carried out by Russian prisoners and by all reports the conditions were horrendous ; it was said that the men worked barefoot and when their feet became encased in concrete and they could no longer work, they were thrown into the foundations of the walls. I don’t know whether this story is true but it was widely circulated in the Islands. Mr. Le Druillenec and his sisters sheltered two Russian escapees and when caught were sent to the camps. One of his sisters died in Ravensbrueck and the other survived in Jersey, being too ill to be transported.
After the war, Mr. Le Druillenec was honoured by the Russians and given a gold watch; engraved on the back was permission for him to attend meetings of the Russian Praesidium whenever he wished. I don’t know whether he ever availed himself of the privilege.
Seeing his name after such a long time was a jolt and brought freshly to mind the privilege of knowing such a man. I am pleased to see that at long last there is to be some recognition of his and others fortitude and bravery as Prime Minister Cameron has recognized twenty-seven men and women as “Heroes of the Holocaust”.

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One Response to A jolt from the Past

  1. Jed says:

    That was very interesting and fortunate that you were able to meet Mr. Le Druillenec and get firsthand accounts of some intimate moments. So often, people such as he are unwilling to bring up the past because of those bitter memories. I had a friend that served as a marine in the islands during the war and refused to talk about his experiences for years and only did so a month before his death.
    My memory was jarred when you mentioned he received a gold watch from the Russians. I don’t remember a whole lot of the post war period but, one thing I vividly remember is that Nikita Khrushchev gave John F. Kennedy a gold watch as a gesture of friendship in the sixties–must have been a Russian “thing!”
    Well don’t want to get off on too much of a tangent. Great blog.


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