Another mother’s son

Louisa Gould (Credit Jersey Heritage)

Strangers to nuance with no feeling for or understanding of the past are busy trying to smash historic statues and rip our colourful ancestors down from their plinths, but some of us prefer to think of many people we’d like to put up there. We want more statues to the great and the not so good, to men and women who were brilliant, brave and flawed.

A good choice would be Louisa Gould, rural stall holder, murdered by the Germans in 1945 aged fifty four. I like her immediately because of her appearance, a cross between Benny Hill and Giles’ cartoon Grandma, who does in fact have a statue of her own in the centre of Ipswich.

Louisa’s roundness and resolute but unassuming face place her firmly before this age of Botox, enforced American style glamour and the cult of perpetual youth. She has not escaped our facile modern standards however, as this year she was played in a BBC film, ‘Another Mother’s Son,’ by Jenny Seagrove who is of course as tall, thin, blonde and angular as any Hollywood siren is required to be.

Her life and attitudes take us back to a time I experienced through my parents and grandparents when people were content with less and did not see themselves chiefly as ‘consumers.’

In honouring her we also pay tribute to her whole family, her brother Harold and sister Ivy who were all involved in the Resistance, to their values which were once our own.

Louisa led a humdrum life running a grocery stall in the rural parish of St Ouen in North West Jersey, one of Britain’s remotest villages. She was a widow with two sons by the time the Nazis invaded the Channel Islands. She was used to hardship, coming from a poor family. She had five sisters and three brothers. Their father died when the youngest, Harold was only seven.

They obviously always made the best of what they had; Harold gained a scholarship to teacher training college in England, and both Louisa’s sons won Howard Leopold Davis scholarships and gained BA degrees at Exeter College, Oxford.

She refused to leave Jersey during the evacuation before the Germans arrived. Ralph continued his education in England while Edward served in the Royal Navy. He was killed in action when HMS Bonaventure was torpedoed off Alexandria in March 1941.

Despite any depression which must surely have followed widowhood, invasion of her country and losing a gifted son, when she was asked to hide an escaped Russian slave worker, Feodor Burrij, she readily agreed, saying he was ‘another mother’s son.’

She hid him successfully for nearly two years but in June 1944 she was denounced to the Germans. She had sufficient warning to allow Burrij to get away to St Helier, where he was looked after by a friend of the family, but a Russian-English dictionary and an illicit radio were found when her house was searched. She was tried along with her brother Harold Le Druillenec, her sister Ivy, as well as Alice Gavey, who worked in the shop, and friends Dora Hacquoil and Berthe Pitolet, who knew about Burrij.

Louisa got the longest sentence, two years’ imprisonment in Germany. Harold, Ivy and Berthe Pitolet, five months each. Ivy became ill and managed to serve her sentence in Jersey. On June 29th the prisoners were taken by boat to St Malo, Louisa and Berthe were then moved to Rennes in France. During an Allied bombing attack Berthe managed to escape and was never recaptured, but Louisa and Harold were taken in cattle trucks, starving and without water, all the way to Germany.

In a tragic episode she passed through Belfort at the same time as Harold and they were able to see one another across some railway lines, the last time they ever saw each other. She went to Ravensbruck concentration camp, north of Berlin, where she was being gassed in 1945 a few months before the liberation.

She paid the full price for her bravery and compassion and so almost did Harold. After several slave labour camps he ended up in Bergen Belsen, where he was one of only two British survivors. There is a moving photo of him meeting a British ‘Tommie’ which appeared in the Daily Herald. He was only there for five days before the camp was liberated by British soldiers who found him in the last stages of emaciation.

Although still in poor health he was willing to relive his experiences and give evidence at the Belsen trial in September 1945, when Josef Kramer and forty four other camp guards were accused of war crimes. His evidence can be read on line.

Harold Le Druillenec’s Belsen trial evidence

Words are now regarded as dangerous things and his now come with a warning, in case they’re too much for ‘snowflakes’ who have no stomach for the reality of the past.

After the war Harold returned to Jersey and became a Head Master and later received an MBE for his services to education. They didn’t give out gongs freely or make an hysterical fuss about heroism in those days. If you’d asked the brother and sister about their bravery they would probably have said, like others of that generation, ‘Well, it was nothing special. Everyone did their bit.’

Quiet, unassuming and gentle but looking reality full in the face, Louisa and Harold surely both deserve a plinth, sharing one together.

 

 

 

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