Two brave men
Two brave men who never came home
From the Jersey Evening Post, 10 February 2003, by Paula Thelwell
As part of the 2003 Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony the Bailiff unveiled a plaque on the Lighthouse Memorial in memory of two Jerseymen. John (Jack) Soyer and Edward Peter Muels were both imprisoned by the Germans during the Occupation, but they met an early death in France.
Jack Soyer's niece, Lorraine Sowden, has fond memories of her uncle. Although he never returned home after the Second World War, those he left behind, and relatives born since, are proud of what he did. Mrs Sowden was only too pleased to make the family records available to the JEP and to share her memories and recount his story, even though, like most of the family, she prefers to lead a quiet life.
'I have fond memories of him. The family were very close,' she said. Mrs Sowden and a relative, Elizabeth Satchwell, attended the Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony to see the Bailiff unveil the plaque in memory of Mr Soyer and Mr Muels and to lay a wreath on behalf of the family. They were surprised, but honoured, to be asked to lay another wreath on behalf of the relatives of the Islanders commemorated on the Lighthouse Memorial on the New North Quay.
'I only went to sit at the back,' she said. 'I was amazed to be asked to lay the wreath, as I was just going there to sit and watch.' Now that Mr Soyer's name had been added to the Memorial, she added, it would be nice to take the grandchildren to see it.
Mr Soyer's crime was to have a wireless set and pass on banned news. He was shopped by an informer. Mrs Sowden's family nearly met the same fate. She remembered the Germans searching her parents' home at First Tower but failing to find their wireless, which was concealed in an armchair.
On 29 August 1943 Mr Soyer was sentenced to 12 months in prison, serving the first three months in Jersey before being sent to Fresnes prison in Paris to complete his term. He left behind his wife, Margaret, and their three children, Bernard, Dorothy and Albert. Until D-Day in June 1944 he managed to keep in touch with his family. After that they never heard from him again. When the Island was liberated, and he did not return home, his family tried hard to find him.
In August 1945 a letter from Edward Poullain, Justice of the Peace for Granville, brought the sad news. He wrote to Mrs Soyer: 'We all knew, in June and July 1944, a Jean Soyer who had escaped from his German jailers and who was with us on 29 July on the eve of the arrival here of the Americans. I hope that this Jean Soyer is not your husband and only a relation, but he certainly came from Jersey. He was killed by the Germans. He died gloriously on that day, fighting for the defence of his country and ours, a courageous Norman. Taken by the Germans, his body was discovered by us and on 1 August the whole population followed the funeral procession.
'The Final Absolution was given by the parish priest. The funeral was paid for by public subscription and his grave is tended and cared for by all his friends here, among whom are some of your family. All the information regarding Jean Soyer, who was known here as Jean Marion, while in hiding, is being sent by the orders of this administration to the Bailiff of Jersey. If you, madam, have the misfortune to recognise in this glorious death your husband, you could perhaps come to Bréhal, where you will be welcomed by all the people with the most friendly sympathy, which is the right of the widow of a heroic victim of war. And I hope that such a welcome would be some comfort to you in your great sorrow.'
The people of Bréhal - on the Granville-Coutances highway, from where, on a clear day, Jersey is visible - had welcomed Mr Soyer into their community, calling him 'L'Anglais'. He joined the French Resistance, taking part in forays against the Germans, always accompanied by 21-year-old Roger Laubel, who worked in the bicycle shop. Late in July 1944 the Allies broke out and flooded down the Cotentin peninsula. The Germans prepared to defend the village and a house-to-house search was started. Mr Soyer was shot as he tried to get away; his body lay where it fell for hours until it was recovered by villagers. The next day Bréhal was liberated by the US Army. Two days later the town came to a standstill as battle-weary American troops stood to attention as Mr Soyer's funeral procession passed through the streets.
But Bréhal had another tragedy to mourn. Mr Soyer's friend Laubel had climbed the church tower to ring the bell in honour of his comrade. Down below, an American soldier saw a flash of a face peering from the tower, a favourite hiding-place for German snipers who had killed many Allied soldiers from such vantage-points. The startled GI shouted: 'Sniper!' and a hail of instinctive gunfire was directed at the tower. Laubel was hit mortally in the neck by just one bullet. As he fell, he clutched the bell, which tolled just once for his friend. They lie close beside each other in the tiny cemetery on the lane to the coast in sight of Jersey.
Bréhal and the French did not forget the Jerseyman. His name is carved, among those of other resistance fighters, on the war memorial at St Lô. After the war his family attended a memorial service in the village, and the villagers still remember him. Now there is a fitting memorial in the Island of his birth.
Edward Peter Muels fell foul of the occupying forces when he helped one of their number to desert. Unlike Jack Soyer, there is not a great deal of documentary evidence about his life. But Mr Joe Mière has managed to piece together his story to paint a picture of his last days.
Born in St Helier on 2 July 1912, Mr Muels was living at Sea Breeze, La Rocque, when he was arrested. Although a resident of Grouville, he worked as a lorry driver for the parish of St Helier. Early in 1944, German soldiers descended on La Rocque to search for deserter Gefreiter David Hoost, who had shot an officer, Alfred König. Hoost had approached the licensee of the Seymour Inn for civilian clothes but had been refused. However, this did not prevent the publican incurring the wrath of the Germans for not reporting the matter.
Mr Muels was more charitable and helped the man. Mr Mière believes that the German encountered him near St Peter de la Rocque chapel and persuaded him to help, because when Hoost was recaptured he was wearing a shirt and other clothes. Tragically for the Jerseyman, these were traced to his home. Mr Muels was arrested and imprisoned, eventually being sentenced by a military court to a prison term in a German concentration camp.
On 29 June 1944 he and 20 other prisoners were taken to the Harbour to board a German ship bound for St Malo. Imprisoned overnight in the Breton port, they were the following day put on a train to Germany. The train never reached its destination. It was bombed by the RAF and Mr Muels was among the dead. Hoost fared no better. Sentenced to death, he was executed by firing squad on 27 April 1944. He was buried in the German section of the Strangers Cemetery at Westmount. König was buried in the German military cemetery at St Brelade's Church.