Whilst researching material for another blog post I came across a newspaper article about Corporal John Dennis, Royal Army Service Corps. This article tells the story of how he managed to evade detection by the German authorities for the entire five years of the occupation of the Channel Islands.
His reason for appearing in this article was because he had been invited back to Ramsgate, where he had been previously based in 1940, after returning from Dunkirk. Dennis was bringing a message of thanks for the Red Cross parcels that were received by Channel Islanders.1
Dennis was at home in Guernsey, on leave, when the Germans arrived. I have previously written about visitors that found themselves caught up in the occupation of the Channel Islands, but not military personnel. You can find that blog post here.
There were other military personnel home on leave who were caught up in the capture of the islands and they were taken prisoner and held at Castle Cornet before being sent to P.O.W. Camps in Germany.
Dennis had other ideas. When the enemy arrived he burnt his battledress and wore civilian clothes. He appeared on the “other ranks casualty list” in September 1940 as missing.
By 1941 he appeared on a list of the missing circulated around POW Camps to try and locate missing personnel.
I was intrigued by the newspaper article as I had never heard of anyone doing this, and had not heard of John Dennis. Having asked around it seemed that nobody else had heard of this story either, apart from one possible post war lead that turned out to be a dead end.
I checked the many books and publications that I have and still turned up nothing, other than a Private who presented himself at the Royal Hotel to meet with Lieutenant-Colonel Stoneman of Force 135 on 9 May 1945. That was Private Le Goupillot, who had initially been detained by the Germans for eleven weeks in 1940, before being released back into the civilian population due to ill health.2
One of the regular readers of the blog is Alan Dennis so, although a long shot, I asked him if by any chance John Dennis was a relative. It turned out he wasn’t a relative but Alan had been told about Dennis by his Grandmother. His Grandmother had lived near where John Dennis lived during a large part of the occupation.
This spurred me on to find out more, armed only with the newspaper article this wasn’t going to be easy. My next port of call were the ever helpful staff at the Island Archives to see if they knew anything of Corporal Dennis. They didn’t know of a Corporal Dennis but they did have a registration form for a John Dennis.
They pulled out the documents for me and I went along to see what leads they would give me. Having looked at his registration documents I noted that he had a wife Adèle Dennis with whom he seems to have lived for part of the occupation. Having found her registration form in the same folder I was able to ascertain that, whilst she now had British nationality, she was originally from Austria.
The documents held at the archives reveal that he moved around a lot during the early part of the Occupation, although remaining in St Peter Port. Living at Truchot House, Le Truchot, then 29 Havelet, 29 Hauteville, 4 Sir William Place and then 3 Vauvert Terrace.
After this he was looked after by a Scotswoman for the remainder of the occupation and lived in Mount Durand. Initially at 1 Mount Durand from July 1943 then at 2 Mount Durand from 28 December 1943. Curiously in the article in the newspaper he says that the he was looked after by a Scottish lady for the whole five years.
For five years I was cared for by a Scotswoman at Mount Durand, Guernsey, and had it not been for her great help I probably could not have fooled the Nazis.Cpl. John Dennis – Interview with the Thanet Advertiser & Echo, Tuesday 12 June 1945
One thing that nobody picked up on, or if they did they didn’t act on it, was that on his registration form he had entered the date of leaving the British Army as 8 July 1940, some 8 days after the Germans had occupied Guernsey.
At various points throughout the occupation the Germans were convinced that there were British soldiers hiding here, particularly after commando raids. They were successful in rounding up all that didn’t escape after the raids. Dennis and those that helped him were putting themselves at great risk. They risked being deported to camps in mainland Europe or worse shot.
His updated registration form dated 22 December 1942 lists him as judicially separated from his wife and and working as a lorry driver for for a German firm Ruby. You may be wondering why he is working for a German firm. Frankly those that lived in the Channel Islands had little choice as if they refused they would imprisoned, not be able to obtain food or escape the island. Unlike France they couldn’t disappear from the area.
The form had a number of slips attached to it updating details of where he worked and lived. From October 1943 until February 1944 he worked as a labourer for the German Forces. After this he became a docker working for Blum & Co until November 1944 when he returned to being a labourer.
The report in the Thanet Advertiser & Echo records that he told their reporter “a harrowing story of the misery he had seen, and experienced himself, and some of the details of the Germans’ behaviour are so revolting that they are unprintable”.
The remainder of the article tells of the hardships faced by the civilian population. He talks about the difficulties in obtaining food and that the Red Cross ship Vega delivering food saved many from starvation. I wrote about that in a blog post here.
I also found a small article which recorded him talking about the cost of obtaining rabbits and chickens on the black market being £20. That is the equivalent of £1,105 at the time of writing this in May 2023.
As well as shortages of everyday items medicines had all but run out. As a result of this he reports having had twenty two teeth extracted without anaesthetic.
He appears again on the casualty lists from July to August 1945 as reported not missing.
The article finishes by providing the address that he was staying at and inviting those Channel Islanders in England seeking news of relatives to contact him.
So what else do we know about Corporal Dennis? Sadly the answer to that is not a lot. If you are reading this and are by any chance related to him or know something about his time in Guernsey or the Scottish lady that helped him I would love to know more.
Massive thanks to the following people for their assistance with locating information on Corporal Dennis.
Alan Dennis for passing on the story that his grandmother had told him about this gentleman which spurred me on to keep looking.
The team at Island Archives for searching their records to see what they could find on anyone called John Dennis. This enabled me to find more about who he was, where he lived, and what he did.
Pierre Renier for tracking down the service number of Dennis and that he had appeared in a casualty list as missing and then a later list as no longer missing. This helped me to track down some more information.
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© Nick Le Huray
- Thanet Advertiser & Echo – Tuesday 12 June 1945
- Lamerton, Mark, Liberated by Force 135 An account of the Liberation of the Channel Islands after World War 2. Volume 2 page 180.