The story of the heroism of the Occupation is revealed after 77 years
A previously unknown Occupation story of a couple who sheltered a Ukrainian slave is being pieced together – with the islanders being asked if they can fill in some of the missing details.
Jersey Heritage historians have uncovered details of Phillis and John Le Breton, who risked their lives feeding and sheltering the slave laborer during the final years of World War II.
And after Jersey Heritage appealed for anyone with more information about the couple to contact them, a written account was sent – along with contact details for Mr and Mrs Le Breton’s daughter , Dulcie, now 90 years old.
The Le Breton family sheltered a Ukrainian soldier called Bokejon Akram, who, like many other Soviet prisoners, had been sent to Jersey to work as slaves, extract stone and build coastal defences.
He managed to escape and made his way to St Mary’s where the Le Bretons took him in. There he learned English and was able to read fairy tales to children and play with them, and Dulcie Le Breton, who was four when the Occupation began. , remembers him as a favorite uncle.
The family called him “Tom”, aware that if they used his real name it might reveal his identity. Tom slept in a car that their father John Le Breton had hidden behind bales of straw in a shed in case the Germans came.
After the war, Tom and the other surviving Soviet prisoners returned home and the Le Bretons did not know what happened to him next. Despite attempts to reach him, they never heard from him again.
But 20 years after Liberation, John Le Breton was one of 20 Jersey men and women to receive a gold watch from the Soviet government for their courage in helping to shelter Russian and Ukrainian escapees.
Chris Addy, curator of sites at Jersey Heritage, said they were surprised at how much they had been able to find out about them.
He said of the request for information: ‘It’s always a bit of a guess. You never know what stories will come out after 77 years.
Other tales of heroism include the story of Louisa Gould, the shopkeeper from St Ouen who defied German orders to make all posts wireless and cared for another Russian escapee. She later died in the gas chambers.
There were also the efforts of Bob Le Sueur, resident of St Clement, who helped eight or nine escapees. He was appointed MBE in 2013.
Mr Addy said: ‘It is always fascinating to hear new information or research and add it to the stories we tell each year to remind people of this important part of the island’s history.
He is coordinating plans to mark the 77th anniversary of liberation on May 9 and added: “The way we mark liberation day has changed over the years, with more and more stories coming to light about how the islanders helped each other and those in even greater need, like the fugitive slave laborer in this case.
“If anyone has any further information about the Le Bretons and their heroic efforts, which speaks volumes about the character of the people of Jersey during the Occupation, we would love to hear from them.”
Liberation Day commemorations had to be scaled back last year and in 2020 due to Covid restrictions and he said: “It’s far too uncertain at the moment to plan or invest much. But we hope this will be something closer to the full program.
Anyone with further information on the Le Bretons or other accounts can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.