11th February 1944

The last issue of GUNS was distributed

Information is power. No wonder the occupying forces wanted to control the flow of news during the Second World War. This was particularly true as they started to lose ground. In 1942, all known radios were confiscated on Guernsey, and anyone still found with one was punished.

Naturally, there was a hunger for information about what was happening in the outside world. This led a band of brave locals to set up GUNS, the Guernsey Underground News Service. The founding members were Ernest Legg, Henrietta and Joseph Gillingham, and Charles Machon. They were later joined by Frank Falla and Cecil Duquemin.

Although Falla was a journalist and Machon was a linotype operator at The Star, not all of the team were journalists. Nonetheless, they covertly listened to the BBC news on a hidden radio set and produced a summary for distribution around the island each morning. By its peak, 300 copies of GUNS were being sent out each day. They were passed from house to house so that a large portion of the population knew what was going on.

GUNS team betrayed

Not everyone could be trusted with a secret like that, and the news service was exposed. Frank Falla wrote extensively about GUNS and its discovery in The Silent War, his memoir about the war years. He doesn’t explicitly say who betrayed them, but it’s clear that he knew:

An avowed Communist enjoying protection from the Germans as a so-called neutral not only informed the Nazis about GUNS but was quite prepared, probably to save his own skin, to help them round up the team responsible for the news sheet…

Paddy [the Communist] was seen… directing the Gestapo men to the two houses where Cecil Duquemin and Charles Machon lived. They searched Machon’s home from top to bottom and in the basement found his typewriter set with headed GUNS sheets and carbons waiting receipt of the next morning’s news.

Most damaging of all they discovered hidden away in a tin trunk copies of news-bulletins which he had saved from the previous two months… later to be swollen by stocks accumulated by Paddy and handed over to his Gestapo friends.

Falla, Machon, Gillingham, Legg and Duquemin were tried and convicted, and set to various German prisons. Falla, Legg, Duquemin and Gillingham were sent to Frankfurt-am-Main, and later to Naumburg.

Machon, considered to be the ring leader, received the most severe sentence: two years and one month hard labour. He died on 26 October 1944 in Hamelin prison hospital of a gastric ulcer and haemorrhage.

Gillingham was released from prison after serving his sentence, but died a month later. Duquemin was moved several times, and eventually escaped while being transported to Therezinstadt. Legg and Falla were liberated from Naumburg prison on 13 April 1945 and returned to Guernsey with Duquemin in October that year.

A blue plaque in memory of the GUNS team was unveiled on the site of their former office on the Bordage in St Peter Port, in April 2017.

 

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Other events that occured in February

Mail ship wrecked on Black Rock 1st
Oil rig stranded at Grandes Rocques
Birth of Generaloberst Friedrich Dollmann 2nd
Death of Sir Charles Hayward 3rd
St Martin’s parish church consecrated 4th
Guernsey suffers its worst storm in 35 years 5th
Guernsey watchmaker helps Stone of Scone manhunt 6th
Guernsey Language Commission formed 7th
Queen Mary executed while wearing Guernsey stockings 8th
Guernsey gets its first postbox
Guernsey Society celebrates its 70th anniversary 9th
Guernsey’s last execution didn’t go according to plan 10th
The last issue of GUNS was distributed 11th
Alderney gets its first full-time radio station 12th
Guernsey’s last duel 13th
Specsavers’ Mary Perkins was born 14th
Blue Islands takes to the skies
Guernsey gets its own flag 15th
Birth of concrete poet Dom Sylvester Houedard 16th
HMS Guernsey launched in Aberdeen 17th
Guernsey’s first Methodist minister arrives 18th
Aurigny Air Services founded 19th
Guernsey Railway Company runs its first services 20th
The Channel Islands were cut off from the outside world 21st
St Sampson was ordained a bishop 22nd
Death of Thomas Fiott de Havilland 23rd
Murder inquiry ends with suicide 24th
Death of occupation resister Marie Ozanne 25th
Guernsey’s first banker dies 26th
Release of Reverend Harry Samuel 27th
Plans for St Sampson power station approved 28th
Second World War bomb detonated 29th