Clifford John Cohu

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Canon Clifford Cohu

Canon Clifford John Cohu (20 December 1883 - 20 September 1944) was Rector of Saint Saviour during the Occupation, and one of the twenty-two islanders to die at the hands of the Nazis following deportation from Jersey.


Before the War

Cohu was born at Catel in Guernsey, the son of the Rev Jean Rougier Cohu and Ada Sophie Cohu née Orange. Canon Cohu's mother was the daughter of Moses Orange of the parish of St John. Clifford was educated at Elizabeth College in Guernsey, although the family had moved to Yorkshire in 1884, and then at Keble College, Oxford. Ordained in 1907, he served curacies in Ripon in the North Riding of Yorkshire and Hawarden on the borders of Wales and Cheshire before leaving for India in 1912, where he rose to the role of Canon at Lucknow and Allahabad, and the rank of Colonel in the military chaplaincy. He retired from Lucknow in 1934, and after a brief spell at the Anglican Church in Palermo in Sicily, he arrived in Jersey in 1937.

"Crime" and Punishment

When the post of Rector of St Saviour became vacant at the end of 1940, Cohu was given the post of Ministre Desservent.

Following the June 1942 ban by the German authorities on possession of radio sets, a group of four St Saviour parishioners acquired an illegal set. The set was owned by John Nicolle, a farm labourer; Arthur Dimmery, a gardener, was the set's "guardian" - he was responsible for digging it up and reburying it after use; Joseph Tierney, a gravedigger at St Saviour, typed up the information; and Cohu, who also performed chaplaincy duties at the General Hospital, provided information about the course of the war to various patients. Cohu was also known on at least one occasion to ride along the Parade in St Helier shouting the news. When, on one occasion, a nurse reprimanded him for his behaviour, Cohu allegedly replied along the lines of ‘Don’t worry, God’s on my side!’

Cohu was arrested on 12 March 1943, and on 9 April the case came to trial. Uniquely, a local advocate, Valpy, was permitted to act in defence of the group of accused. But the verdict was not in doubt: Cohu was sentenced to 18 months' imprisonment for "failing to surrender leaflets and [...] disseminating anti-German news". Other people caught at the time normally expected to serve between 2 and 6 weeks: the harshness of the sentence reflected the severity with which the authorities viewed the conspiracy. Given the length of the sentence, Cohu was deported from Jersey in July 1943.

Cohu was taken first to the Fort d'Hauteville at Dijon, then to Saarbrucken in December 1943. By March 1944 he had reached Preungesheim, near Frankfurt-am-Main, where he was kept in solitary confinement and forced to work. Food and heating were both inadequate.

Cohu's wife Harriet was meanwhile making frantic efforts to invoke the rule that would allow her husband to be released on completion of two-thirds of his sentence, knowing that Cohu's weight had dropped from 10 stone 3lb at his arrest to barely 7 stone. After two meetings with von Aufsees, the German Kommandant, she was informed that on 30 August Cohu had been released to an internment camp at Naumburg-am-Saale, near Leipzig. This was in fact untrue: Cohu had been sent on to Straflager Zöschen, where he arrived on 13 September 1944. A Czech, Premysl Polacek, witnessed the beating that the enfeebled Cohu received at the hands of the SS guards, who singled him out as der Englischer. Weakened by this he contracted dysyntery and died on 20 September 1944, aged 60.

References

I have come across Clifford's Jersey Identification Card, which the occupying Germans forced each resident to own. We would love to return it to his descendants. Contact me on wh32@sussex.ac.uk.

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