order to truly understand the circumstances of the photo of Harold Le Druillenec in rehabilitation, you have to begin with the incredible story of Louisa Gould and Feodor Polycarpovitch Burriy. Louisa Gould was a shopkeeper on the Island of Jersey, who continued to keep her store open during the German occupation for the people still left behind. She was a part of the Channel Islands Resistance Movement and secretly kept a radio in her house to listen to the allied news.
The Germans in 1942 ordered all wireless sets owned by the civilian population of Jersey to be handed over. Louisa, however, kept hers, and every night, she and her guests, in secret, would listen to the BBC news broadcast.
Feodor Burriy was a young Russian pilot who was shot down behind enemy lines in October of 1941. He was eventually caught and, in June of 1942, transported to a POW camp in Jersey. From 1939 to 1945, the Nazis had an organization called “Organisation Todt”, or simply OT. The “voluntary workers“ in the organization primarily consisted of Russian slave workers.
Once in Jersey, Feodor was processed by Organisation Todt and transferred to Camp Immelmann, a notoriously harsh OT work camp. He tried to escape twice but was caught and severely beaten and humiliated. Finally, on the 23rd of September 1942, his third escape attempt succeeded.
For the first 3 months, he stayed with a Rene Le Motte, but informants on the island gave him up and Feodor narrowly escaped again with the Gestapo hot on his heels. The children of Rene Le Motte had by that time adopted Feodor as a brother and called him “Bill”.
Feodor found Louisa. She rescued him and kept him hidden for the next 18 months until 1944, claiming he was a friend and also referring to him as “Bill”.
Louisa, herself, had 2 sons fighting for the British, and one had died when his ship HMS Bonaventura was torpedoed. Her reasoning for helping Feodor was simple – “She wanted to prevent another mother from losing her son”.
She and her friends, including her sister Ivy, were teaching “Bill” English with a French accent to convince the Germans that he was not Russian.
A neighbor finally informed her of the Germans. They wrote a letter to the German Secret Field Police (GPF), but addressed it incorrectly. The wrong recipient passed it on to the correct address, but that created a time delay in which he sent a warning to Louisa.
“Bill” was sent to Louisa’s sister Ivy and a frantic cleanup ensued to dispose of all evidence relating to “Bill”. Unfortunately, they missed a Russian-English dictionary and some papers, so on the 25th of May 1944, Louisa was arrested. “Bill” was at Ivy’s, but she also had another Russian slave in hiding, and they knew it was getting dangerous. “Bill” and the other escaped slave, George Koslov, were moved again, and a week after, Ivy was arrested too. The following week Dora and Bertha ( friends of Louisa and mentioned on the following transcript) were also arrested. The last to be arrested was Harold Le Druillenec.
As mentioned in the document below, Louisa Gould’s maiden name was Le Druillenec. Harold was in fact her younger brother, who was a Jersey schoolmaster from 1931. The informants had not only informed on her but had also passed on the identity of frequent guests of Louisa’s to the Germans. It was never proven that Harold had ever listened to the radio, as stated in his sentence. See the original sentence document below:
Original sentence document (Courtesy of Jersey Heritage Archives).
Transcript of sentence document:
“Attorney General’s Chambers, Jersey 3rd. July 1944.
Dear Mr Constable, I have today been informed by the Troop Court of the following six convictions by Court Martial proceedings dated 22nd June 1944 of that tribunal:
CAVEY, Alice, of Vinchelez, St. Ouen, born 29.12.1923 in St. Ouen; sentenced to 3 months imprisonment for abetting.
GOULD, Louisa, Nee Le Druillenec, of St. Ouen born 7.10.1891 in St. Ouen; sentenced to a total of two (2) years imprisonment for failing to surrender a wireless receiving apparatus, prohibited reception of wireless transmissions and abetting breach of the working peace and unauthorised removal.
FORSTER, Ivy, Nee Le Druillenec, of 7 Trinity Rd., St. Helier; born 6.4.1907 in St. Ouen; sentenced to a total of 5 (five) months and fifteen days’ imprisonment for prohibited reception of wireless transmissions and abetting breach of the working peace and unauthorised removal.
HACQUOIL, Dora, of Les Landes, Millais, St. Ouen, born 30.4.1899 in St. Helier; sentenced to 2 (two) months’ imprisonment for abetting breach of the working peace and unauthorised removal.
LE DRUILLENEC, Harold, of Westdene, Langley Avenue, St. Saviour, born 5.8.1911 in St. Ouen; sentenced to 5 (five) months’ imprisonment for prohibited reception of wireless transmissions in company with other persons.
PITOLET, Bertha, French national, born 1.2..1895 in Arc Les Gray, Haute Saone, France, of 83 Oxford Street, St. Helier; sentenced to a total of four (4) months and 15 days’ imprisonment for prohibited reception of wireless transmissions and abetting breach of the working peace and unauthorised removal.
Would you please have these six sentences inscribed in the local police register.
C. J. Cuming, Esq.
Constable of St. Helier”.
The trial was completed on the 22nd of June 1944, to the deafening sounds of the close battles ensuing in Normandy, and all parties were found guilty and sentenced.
Louisa was sent to Ravensbruck Concentration Camp. Here she continued to teach the camp’s inmates English until she was executed in the gas chamber in 1945. Her kindness and generosity were never forgotten.
Harold’s story however continued. While it was never proven that he had listened to the radio broadcast, he was nevertheless convicted and sentenced to five months imprisonment. He had also, in his position as a schoolmaster, refused to teach German to his pupils, which could easily have given sway in the sentencing.
Arrested and imprisoned on the 4th of June 1944, and sentenced 22nd of June, an interim of fairly quick transfers followed. From St. Malo Prison he went to the Jacques-Cartier Prison, which housed many suspected French resistance members, and on to the third French prison Fort Hatry – Belfort Gap Prison where his sister was also briefly held, until her final transfer to Ravensbruck. On the 1st of September, he came to Neuengamme Concentration Camp in Hamburg.
Neuengamme was one of the largest camps in the Nazi concentration camp system, with more than 85 subcamps. Over 100.000 prisoners came through here during the war and the verified deaths were over 42.900 individuals.
Initially built to provide Hamburg with bricks (as Hamburg had been chosen to become one of five Fuhrer cities in the new Reich), it quickly grew and started becoming the centre for, mainly, the Russian POWs taken from the Eastern Front.
It was a ruthless regime with daily beatings and arbitrary punishments. The guards and kapos held supreme power with no repercussions nor accountability for the abuse, mistreatment and subsequent deaths that followed.
The camps were run under the strict SS practice “Vernichtung Durch Arbeit”, which simply meant “Extermination Through Labour”. Between the excruciating 15 hours of daily hard physical labour, the brutal and random beatings by the overseers, and the appalling hygienic conditions, it left little room for interpretation of the German Reichs intent. Neuengamme was a place you entered but were not supposed to leave alive.
Typhus, tuberculosis, malnutrition, and dehydration were common, with no medication and no health professionals attending to the inmates. If you were taken to the “hospital”, chances were that instead of receiving medicine and care, you would be experimented on, have a lethal injection, or simply be led to the extermination bunkers to be gassed with Zyklon B. As an indication of the severity, the camp’s first commander Otto Thummel was replaced after only 2 months, for being “too humane” to the prisoners.
Harold had only been in Neuengamme 5 days, before being sent on “arbeitskommando” (work party) in Wilhelmshaven. Here they were to build what was to become the Alter Banter Weg Concentration Camp – another sub-camp of Neuengamme.
By this time Neuengamme had in all senses but the words, become an extermination camp. The inmates were in such poor physical and mental condition, that few were able to actually perform any labour.
Harold worked from 4.30 in the morning until 7.00 at night as an oxy-acetylene welder. He stated about this detail: “Banter Weg was a tough camp with torture and punishment the rule day and night. Means of putting inmates to death included beating, drowning, crucifixion, hanging in various stances … no-one escaped severe corporal punishment”.
On the 5th of April 1945, almost 7 months later, he was finally sent to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. He arrived after 5 days in a cattle wagon and was put in block 13 with 500 other people. See the diagram below.
Diagram of Bergen-Belsen
He later gave testimony during the War Crimes Belsen Trials and stated about Belsen: “No food, no water, sleep was impossible. We had to rise at 3.30 am. All my time here was spent heaving dead bodies into the mass graves. Jungle law reigned among the prisoners; at night you killed or were killed; by day cannibalism was rampant”.
In an article about the infamous torturer and murderer Irma Grese “The Blonde Beast of Birkenau and Belsen” Harold is mentioned. “Harold Osmond le Druillenec, a prisoner at Belsen for its last 10 days, described how a prisoner took a knife and cut out a portion of a corpse’s leg and then ate it. Other prison inmates told the British horrendous tales that the kidneys, livers, and hearts of corpses were being eaten by the starving prisoners”.
At first, Bergen-Belsen was constructed under the name “Civilian Internment Camp”, but later this was changed to “Detention Camp”, to avoid any interference from international commissions like the Red Cross. It was never intended for Belsen to be an extermination camp (like Auschwitz-Birkenau). It was meant for “hostage prisoners”, unique in the way, that whole families were sent here, including large numbers of children and adolescents.
As the allied forces tightened their grip on Germany, rather than giving up prisoners, the Nazis kept moving them to still-occupied german territories, resulting in massive overpopulations and quickly deteriorating conditions for the inmates, already barely hanging on.
Druillenec was “only” in Bergen-Belsen for ten days, but what he experienced there haunted him until his death.
After finally being freed, Druillenec spent five months in the hospital: “His ailments included food poisoning with septicaemia which led to a ‘perturbing unbalance of mind’. He also had acute dysentery, fluid in the lungs, and various skin diseases including scabies and impetigo. Malnutrition meant that his weight was about six stone (38kg) at the time of his liberation. Longer-term, Le Druillenec was left with a weakened constitution, and his heart and lungs were affected (he suffered a coronary thrombosis in 1961). He also suffered a complete loss of memory of his pre-war life”.
Harold spent a further six months in Horton Emergency Hospital for rehabilitation.
As mentioned, he testified in the Bergen-Belsen Trials in October 1945, in fact interrupting his rehabilitation to do so, and in 1946 and 1947 he gave further testimony in the trials of Neuengamme and Banter Weg.
At Christmas 1945, he introduced the King’s Speech, and an interview about his experiences was broadcast by the BBC.
The sleeve for the photo which is the foundation for this article, states that Harold is “making good headway under the rehabilitation treatment”, but while he returned to teaching in 1949, he later had a mental breakdown in the 1950s.
He was asked many questions during the trials, but to the question “What was the atmosphere inside the hut?”, his answer truly sums up his inability to convey the true nature of what he had seen – even with his blunt observations on the ongoing cannibalism of the camp: “I think I have told you sufficient to make you realize that the smell was abominable; in fact, it was the worst feature of The Belsen Camp. A night in those huts was something that maybe a man like Dante might describe, but I simply cannot put it into words”.
The total testimony of his horrific experiences in Bergen-Belsen is available here in the official Belsen trials transcripts: http://www.bergenbelsen.co.uk/pages/Trial/Trial/TrialProsecutionCase/Trial_010_Druillenec.html
One of only two British survivors of the Holocaust and the only British survivor of the Bergen-Belsen camp, he was given 1835 GBP as compensation.
Below is a photo of the original application for compensation.
Application for compensation for disablement resulting from nazi persecution (Original document)
In 1985, Harold Druillenec passed away at the age of 73. In 2008 a petition was made, to call upon the Prime Minister to change the laws in the UK, so that under the British Honours System, an award could be given to a person posthumously. This was primarily done to honour the legendary Major Frank Foley. This petition gained traction and in March 2009, MP Russell Brown secured 135 signatories.
On the 9th of March 2010, the UK government presented 27 people with the new award named “Hero of the Holocaust”. 25 of these awards were presented posthumously.
Of the only 25 posthumous awards given, 3 were bestowed upon Louisa Gould, Ivy Forster, and Harold Le Druillenec.
Parts of the story have now been made into a motion picture called “Another Mother’s Son”, featuring Ronan Keating as Harold Le Druillenec.
The young Russian pilot Feodor Polycarpovitch Burriy – aka “Bill” – survived.
THIS ARTICLE IS PART OF A SERIES OF ARTICLES FROM AN UPCOMING BOOK, “PICTURES OF THE PAST” WHICH IS BASED ON SEVERAL HUNDRED RARE AND UNSEEN WWII NEGATIVES.
Previously a teacher of music, arts, drama, English, P.E. and martial arts. Studied Comparative Religion, Philosophy and Psychology at the University of Southern Denmark as well as Multimedia Design and Marketing. Author of the trilogy “Letters From The Past” and several other books, primarily about WWII. Photographic image restoration for TopFoto.co.uk, an avid musician, antiques dealer and a great lover of single malt whiskey!