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.