Strangers to nuance with no feeling for or understanding of the past are busy trying to smash historic statues and rip our colourful ancestors 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 shopkeeper aged 54, murdered by the Germans in 1945. I like her immediately because of her appearance, a cross between Benny Hill and Giles’s 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 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, and to their values which were once our own.
Louisa led a humdrum life running a grocer’s in one of Britain’s remotest villages, the rural parish of St Ouen in north-west Jersey. By the time the Nazis invaded the Channel Islands in 1940, she was a widow with two sons, Ralph and Edward. She was used to hardship, coming from a poor family. She had five sisters and three brothers. Their father died when the youngest child, 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 of 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 betrayed 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 put on trial with her brother Harold Le Druillenec and 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 was allowed to serve her sentence in Jersey. Dora and Alice also served their two-month terms on the island. On June 29, 1944 the three main prisoners were taken by boat to St Malo, and Louisa and Berthe were moved to Rennes. During an Allied bombing attack Berthe escaped and was never recaptured, but Louisa and Harold were separately taken in cattle trucks, starving and without water, all the way to Germany.
In a heart-rending episode the brother and sister passed through Belfort in north-east France simultaneously, and they saw each other across the railway tracks. It was to be the last time. Louisa was taken to Ravensbruck concentration camp, north of Berlin, where she was 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 being imprisoned in several slave labour camps he ended up in Bergen-Belsen. He was there for only five days before the camp was liberated by British soldiers who found him in the last stages of emaciation. There is a moving photo of him meeting a British ‘Tommy’ which appeared in the Daily Herald. He was one of only two British survivors.
Although still in poor health, he agreed to relive his experiences and give evidence at the Belsen trial in September 1945, when Josef Kramer and 44 other camp guards were accused of war crimes. His evidence can be read online Harold Le Druillenec’s Belsen trial evidence. Words are now regarded as dangerous, and his come with a warning in case they are too much for ‘snowflakes’ who have no stomach for the reality of the past.
After the war Harold returned to Jersey. He became a headmaster and later was made an MBE for his services to education. They didn’t give out gongs freely or make a 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.