'It was such casual cruelty': The niece of a WW2 prisoner visits the prison he was incarcerated in

  • In Part 2 of our series, 'The Ultimate Sacrifice', Sophie Dulson takes George Fox's niece, Sandra Wakeham, to France, to visit one of the Nazi prisons he was incarcerated in.

During the Second World War hundreds of Channel Islanders were sentenced and deported from the islands for acts of defiance against the occupying forces.

They were sent to as many as 125 different penal institutions across Europe.

Between 1941-1943 at least 41 Channel Islanders were incarcerated in Fort d’Hauteville, just outside the city of Dijon.

The fort was built between 1877-1880 and was used as a military fortification, but as of 1941 the fort was taken over by the Gestapo to house political prisoners.

The fort was built between 1877 and 1880 as part of the Séré de Rivières military fortifications system. Credit: ITV Channel

George James Fox from Jersey was sent to Fort d’Hauteville after being deported from the island in June 1943 for stealing bread from the German barracks.

Research by Historian Dr Gilly Carr explains the journey he would have made before arriving into Fort d’Hauteville.

She said: "The prison register entry for George indicates that he was in Saint-Lô Prison first and quite possibly Dijon prison".

George Fox arrived at Fort d’Hauteville near Dijon on 19 July 1943.

George's name is documented in the Fort d’Hauteville prisoners register, which is held at Dijon Archives. Credit: ITV Channel

During his time at Fort d’Hauteville George was able to send just a few letters home to his loved ones in Jersey. This was the last his family ever heard from him. In them he wrote: "We are not so many here now, as there has been a lot moved up for work, probably into another country. You would have been interested in our talks last night, about the different animals they eat here. One eats mice, another frogs, I have seen a man with a grass snake three feet long, cook and eat it."

George was able to send three letters home to Jersey whilst he was at Fort d’Hauteville. This was his last correspondence home. Credit: Lloyd Drew

These letters were written from bedroom number 15, a room that still exists today inside the fort and one that George's niece, Sandra Wakeham visited.

After walking around the fort and walking into bedroom 15 she said: "It's a very strange feeling, it was more than seventy years ago. In spite of being able to look out of the windows the building is cold and it feels damp to me, just very unwelcoming. It must have been very difficult to have been here after the warmth of family life back in Jersey, a different world all together."

Sandra (George's niece) visited bedroom number 15 where George stayed during his time at Fort d’Hauteville. Credit: ITV Channel

Dr Gilly Carr said the impression left on those who survived Fort d'Hauteville was uniformly one of filth and hunger.

Former prisoner, John Guille from Guernsey described his room in the Fort many years after the war in his compensation testimony. In it he wrote: "The food and conditions were of the worst possible order. What little water available had to be brought in by water cart, & with no washing facilities we were even more verminous than at Caen. Bugs were cooked in the soup we received once daily."

Former prisoner, John Guille, explained what the conditions would have been like in the Fort in his compensation testimony from the 1960's. Credit: ITV Channel

After hearing of the conditions prisoners would have faced at the fort Sandra said: "One can't help but wonder at the so called human beings who did this to other human beings, it's beyond belief for people like us, such casual cruelty". George was one of the last Channel Islanders to leave the Fort in December 1943 before being transferred to East Germany, where he spent his final months in Naumburg Prison.

Watch Part 1 and Part 3 of the series below: