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Monday, 3 October 2016

They all collaborated, didn't they?

Jenny Lecoat's story featured in The Times newspaper



What do you do if you want to share a family secret with the world? The answer, for  Jersey girl Jenny Lecoat, is turn it into a film.  Jenny's great aunt, Louisa Gould, was murdered by the Nazis for sheltering an escaped Russian prisoner in her home during thr German Occupation of the Channel Islands.  Another Mother's Son, starring Jenny Seagrove as Louisa,  will be released in March 2017.

A television scriptwriter for thirty years, Jenny  created storylines for high-profile  soaps such as East Enders and Holby City before she realised that she wanted to share her own  family's tragic past. Louisa Gould perished in the gas chambers at Ravensbruck for sheltering a Russian prisoner-of-war during the  Occupation of Jersey. The prisoner was known as Bill.

'She was pretty lax about security - she used to take him into town with her, she used to go to church with him,' Jenny told Simon de Bruxelles in The Times this week. Louisa was a widow who was running the village store in St Ouen in the west of Jersey when the Germans invaded in 1940. At first the Occupation was relatively benign as Hitler harboured hopes of a negotiated settlement with Britain. The Germans brought thousands of Russian prisoners captured on the Eastern Front who were put to work on concrete fortifications that still stand today.

Among them was Feodor Burriyiy, a pilot in in his early twenties, the same age as Louisa's son Edward, who had won a scholarship to Oxford but was killed serving with the Royal Navy. Burriyiy escaped within weeks of arriving but was recaptured. When he escaped again Louisa was asked by a neighbour if she could take him in.

Explained Jenny 'One of Louisa's sons had been killed and the other was in the RAF and she didn't know whether he was still alive and I think she was very lonely. She was a good-hearted person but I think there was a certain degree of naivety there.'

Louisa taught Bill English and altered her son's clothes to fit him. Bob le Seur, now ninety four, who helped to shelter Russian fugitives at the time, said of her 'She was a saintly soul but not as discreet as she should have been.'

When a neighbour sent a 'betrayal' letter to the Gestapo headquarters, Bob hid him in his lavatory until another safe place was found.

Bill was never recaptured. He returned to Russia after the war and kept in touch with his Jersey friends. Louisa, her brother and her sister Ivy Forster, who had also hidden a Russian prisoner-of-war, were tried by the Germans and sent to prison in France. Louisa was transferred to Ravensbruck in Germany and sent to the gas chambers, eight weeks before the camp was liberated.  She was 53.

'When you mention Jersey and the Occupation,' said Jenny, 'people say "They all collaborated, didn't they?" No, they didn't.There were a lot of people like my family who were involved in the so-called resistance. I had written soaps and comedies in the past but found what I really liked was fact-based so I went over in 2012 and spoke to people like Bob Le Seur.'

Jenny sent the screenplay to producer Bill Kenwright in 2014, 'and he was fascinated by the story.' The film had a budget of £2.5 million.

NB I can't wait to see the film.  My new novel, Occupying Love, set in the Occupation of Guernsey, includes a fictitious Guernsey Resistance called GINA based on an underground news service which really existed.









2 comments:

Barbara Fisher said...

Hello Marilyn, this is one film I don’t want to miss. Thank you for telling us about it.

Guernsey Girl said...

I've always loved films that are based on historical fact, Barbara. Good to hear from you.