A while ago I wrote about a little run through the Blanches Banques, the dunes that lie adjacent to Le Braye in St Ouen’s Bay. Formerly covering a wide area of the dunes was a WW1 prisoner of war camp, and the bits that remain to this day frustrated me, defying interpretation. Yesterday evening all was revealed. Stepping outside their time zone the Jersey branch of the Channel Islands Occupation Society led an examination of the area. Complete with blown-up photographs and plans the various lumps and bumps were put into some sort of context. The camp was opened in 1915 at the request of the War Department and at one time housed 1,500 German prisoners. It was set out parallel to the Chemin des Basses Mielles (Mont a la Brune). The main camp consisted of four rows of 12 huts, each set on 39 concrete and brick pillars. Between the four rows were the ablutions blocks. There was a hospital, YMCA hut and tennis court. Finally there was a large open recreation area towards the middle of the mielles. This was all fenced in of course. Outside, on the east side lay the British garrison area. Of course all that remains is traces; a number of concrete foundation pillars (one of the group correctly pointing out that the cement was clearly made from the nearby beach sand and pebbles); drainage channels; a few block floors etc. There will be a bit more under the heather and gorse but the landscape has changed a fair bit in the intervening years. Of equal, if not more, interest were some of the human stories. A few were related by the legendary Bob Le Sueur, 90 if he’s a day, but bright as a button and with a memory and voice as clear as a bell. I could have listened to him all night. He related that the camp had its own electricity supply which, in those days, was rare outside the populated St Helier and caused much comment.
There were escapes, mostly unsuccessful. A couple involved tunnelling from the row of huts nearest the road, and underneath it. The tennis court was little used, the Germans preferring their own version of handball. One Hauptmann Gussek is pictured as a prisoner in 1916. He became the first Kommandant in 1940 during the Occupation.
The camp closed in October 1919, the huts being sold off like hot cakes. It is thought two remain on land above La Pulente, though in poor condition*. A thoroughly geeky evening, but I can now plod around that area with the benefit of a little more knowledge. Well done the CIOS crowd.
*Edit 23/1/2015. One of these is in fact in very good condition having been thoroughly refurbished and maintained. It is on Hydrangea Avenue. The other is indeed in poor shape and is clearly visible across the road from La Moye Garage.