2nd May 1918
Guernsey deportee, nurse Gladys Skillett was born
Nurse Gladys Skillett was the first British woman to give birth while incarcerated in occupied Europe.
A Guernsey resident, Skillett had been born on the island in 1918. She was deported from the Channel Islands to the internment camp at Lindele in 1942, when five months pregnant. When she entered labour she was taken to hospital at Biberach an der Riss, where she gave birth to a son called David.
Upon arrival at the maternity ward, she had been put into the same room as a local woman, Maria Koch. Although they were on opposite sides, and neither could speak the other’s language, they quickly made friends, and that friendship endured throughout and beyond the end of the war.
Friends on opposing sides
Maria Koch’s husband, who had been on duty in the Netherlands at the time of the birth, returned to see his new son, and convinced his superiors to allow him and his wife to visit Skillett at the camp. They couldn’t enter her camp, but they were able to talk through the fence, and the German family passed small gifts through the wire.
Gladys Skillett, her husband and her elder son, Colin, had been deported because her husband was English-born. According to her obituary in The Times, she had been booked on one of the last boats to leave Guernsey before the occupation began. However, when German forces bombed the harbour she had dashed to the hospital to help treat the wounded. When she returned the following morning, the last ship had sailed. She was trapped.
Along with more than 800 of her fellow islanders, she was taken to an internment camp to be used as a bargaining chip in an effort by Germany to secure the release of its own captive citizens. The bargain was never accepted, and Skillett remained at the camp until it was liberated by Allied forces on 23 April 1945.
Gladys Skillett died in February 2010.