The Dubras family in World War 2
Based on an article by Toby Chiang published in the Jersey Evening Post in 2011
Bernard Dubras and African prisoners
During the Second World War people of many nationalities were taken prisoner by the Germans and brought to Jersey to work on various construction projects.
Islanders helped many foreigners at a time when feeding their own families was already a challenge, and among those who helped the French North Africans was Leon Dubras, who acted as a liaison officer for the men imprisoned in Pier Road.
Over the course of the Occupation 115 French North Africans, aged between 20 and 43, were brought to work in the island.
After encountering the men at their camp in Pier Road, the young Bernard Dubras spoke to his family who made arrangements to help the men. His father Leon was involved with bringing essential supplies to the island and volunteered to act as the welfare and liaison officer for the prisoners.
‘I was able to speak a bit of French,’ Bernard said. ‘I used to walk around as much as I could for exercise and I was able to establish contact with these chaps. I was 15 or 16 at the time. At one point I got into the camp and realised they were on very thin rations, so I went home to dsicuss it with my family. My father went about getting extra supplies for them, as they were relying on occasional handouts from farmers.
‘I went into the camp two or three times and made contact with Sergeant Mohamed Ben Mohamed, who was in charge of the men. He was a charming man – they were all responsible and behaved themselves very well.’
Bernard’s brother Michael also recalled the kindness shown to the prisoners by farmers in the island. He said: ’Many farmers gave vegetables to the camp. There was a store in the market that used to collect food for the men, and one farmer gave them a goat as a mascot.’
Berhard added that when it became too difficult for the prisoners to look after the goat, they gave the animal to the Dubras family.
Maurice, the youngest of the Dubras brothers, was just six when the Occupation ended. He was unaware of what was going on at the time but has memories of being taken to see the camps and fortifications after Liberation.
‘When we were more able to move about the island after the Liberation, I was shown the PoW camps, the internment camps and the fortifications,’ he said. ‘I remember being taken to the underground hospital and seeing the operating theatres and equipment – it’s one of my abiding memories.
‘It is very important that the island recognises the sacrifice these groups made – it’s part of our history and heritage.’
After the Germans left the island the French North Africans were quickly repatriated to their home countries. Perhaps because they preferred to forget the years that saw them enslaved by the Germans, the connection with the group was lost, despite efforts by Leon Dubras to keep in touch. But their time in the island is honoured each year on 9 May at Westmount Cemetery along with other groups who suffered during the Occuaption.
Leon Dubras took part in both world wars. He served as a Lieutenant of the 12th Regiment of Artillery of the French Amry in World War 1, and as an interpreter and liaison officer during the World War 2.
After France fell to the Germans, Mr Dubras made his way back to Jersey to check that his family were safe. Finding that they were managing well, he returned to an unoccupied area of France to resume his work as an interpreter until he was demobilised at the end of 1940.
With his uniform in hand, he returned to Jersey once more. He owned a cosmetics business for many years and was able to speak French, so the States asked him during the Occupation to arrange for essential items such as toothpaste and soap, to be imported from France.
After the Allies took the Normandy beaches in 1944, Jersey had its supply lines severed. Everyone in the Island suffered from the shortage of goods and in October 1944 Mr Dubras received a litter from Mohamed Ben Mohamed, the sergeant in charge of the French North Africans, who said that the group was in need of bedcovers, clothes and food.
Despite the difficult circumstances Mr Dubras took great care to see that the prisoners were not forgotten. He noted their names, ranks and home addresses and secured food and clothing for them. In one instance he made detailed instructions about the amount of medicine that one of the prisoners needed.
The French North African prisoners of war were housed in a former military hospital at the top of Pier Road. Furnished with bunks, chairs, cupboards and tables, the rooms offered only the most basic amenities and the prisoners cooked what little food they had on a kitchen stove.
Having arrived in their military uniforms and often having to do physically demanding work, the prisoners’ clothes soon became tattered and ragged.
Food was also a constant problem for the group. The men often relied on the kindness of farmers to pass on some vegetables when they could. Eventually one of the stores in the market collectied food which was given to the prisoners.
Some were put to work on the construction of a railway bridge across part of the harbour, and others were made to work at Avranches Manor, which the Germans had designated a petrol dump.
The men were paid 50 Pfennigs a day. Their sergeant organised a fund, into which the men paid 10 Pfennigs a day, which was used to buy vegetables and other necessities for the camp.
After being given a goat by a farmer the prisoners passed it on to the Dubras family. The brothers, who lived above their shop in Broad Street, relcall walking the goat – Ben – to Parade Gardens and how the animal made its way on to a neighbour’s roof, one day, after climbing up from the balcony.