National Deportation Remembrance Day, April 25

DA France Veterans and Military Families Caucus Remembers Americans Deported to Concentration Camps during WW II, April 25th, National Deportation Remembrance Day

In France, the last Sunday of April is National Deportation Remembrance Day. The Democrats Abroad France Veterans and Military Families Caucus has chosen to talk about four remarkable deportees: Dr. Sumner Jackson, his wife Charlotte and son Phillip, and a certain wondrous Virginia d’Albert-Lake.

Dr. Sumner Jackson, his wife Charlotte and son Phillip

Dr. Sumner Waldon Jackson (1884-1945) joined the British Army as a field surgeon in 1916, then transferred to the US Army in 1917, where he met and married the French Red Cross nurse, Charlotte Sylvie Barrelet de Ricout, nicknamed Toquette. After WW l they returned to Sumner’s native state, Maine, but finding life there too conservative, moved back to France in 1921. In order to practice medicine, the French required that he first pass the baccalaureat. He flunked philosophy so moved to Algeria where the baccalaureat was easier, then returned to France and graduated from the Ecole de Médecine. Sumner and Toquette had one child, Phillip, nicknamed Pete (1928-2016) who was proud to be both American and French. 

Dr. Sumner Jackson with son Phillip

Charlotte Jackson, known as Toquette

Dr. Jackson was the Staff Surgeon then Chief Surgeon at the American Hospital in Paris from 1925 to 1943. During WWII, one of the Allied Forces soldiers he treated was an American ambulance driver who had gotten into trouble so Dr. Jackson hid him in the hospital basement. That was the beginning of the Jacksons French Resistance clandestine activities with the Goélette Network. During the Nazi occupation, his family home served as a resistance hub for the exchange of money, information and sometimes even people who were dropped off and picked up by a network of underground resistance fighters … but never arms. Messages heard on London radio about allied bombings or German positions were sewn into “stinky” cheese and sent to Vichy! Since he was a medical doctor, it was normal to see people come and go in his apartment.

At the American Hospital, Dr. Jackson openly treated French and German soldiers but secretly took in wounded British, US and French airmen, Jews and servicemen, listed them as dead in the hospital records, provided false ID papers and helped smuggle them to Spain, on their way to the UK.

In May 1944 his son Phillip, (16 years old), was already a resistance spy when Germans came to arrest him, his father and his mother. They were sent to the Compiegne prison camp. Toquette was shuffled to several camps and finally rescued by the Swedish Red Cross in Ravenbrück and taken to Malmö, Sweden on April 28, 1945. She had no idea what had happened to her husband and son.

Dr. Jackson and his son survived beatings, starvation, and forced labor in Gestapo and SS prisons in France and Germany. They finally wound up near Hamburg at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp for political prisoners where the working hours were long and strenuous. When Dr. Jackson’s finger became seriously infected, he had another prisoner amputate it and kept on working. 

Dr. Jackson spoke little, never explaining why he had been arrested because he was determined that nothing he might say would endanger those for whom he had quietly risked his life. He endured it all with stoicism and dignity that seemed to emanate from his sheer force of character.

In April 1945 the British Army was closing in on Neuengamme. Phillip and his father had spent a year in that camp which had 9000 prisoners. 3000 were shot. Dr. Jackson and Phillip were among the 6000 put in freight cars and then on ships to northern Germany.

On May 3rd 1945, as the POW ships were leaving the Lübeck harbor, the British ordered them to turn back. They didn’t. Unaware that these German ships were full of prisoners, British aircraft dropped bombs and rockets on them. Dr. Jackson’s body was never found. 10,000 people were killed, mostly prisoners. Phillip Jackson, then 17, despite the temperature of the Baltic Sea, swam to shore near Lübeck. Only 600 people survived. They were lined up against a wall to be shot but were saved by British tanks that rolled in just in time. The next day, dressed in a blanket, Phillip approached a British captain and said, “I have escaped and I am alone now”. He enlisted in the British Army and returned to Paris in September 1945 where he was reunited with his mother at the Arch of Triumph-Etoile. Their apartment on Avenue Foch was just as they had left it. After the War Phillip spent years encouraging improvement of Franco-German relations. 

In 2013, The Board of Governors of the American Hospital of Paris created the Jackson Award to commemorate the extraordinary devotion of Sumner and Charlotte Jackson in serving the hospital before and during World War II. The first recipients of the Jackson Medal were Sumner and Charlotte, posthumously. Their son Phillip accepted the award for them and personally received the French Legion of Honor.

Phillip, his father and his mother, Toquette, are the subjects of the bestselling book Avenue of Spies by Alex Kershaw.

Virginia d’Albert Lake 

Virginia d'Albert-Lake (1910-1997) was a schoolteacher from Florida who was awarded the French Legion of Honor, the Order of the British Empire, Croix de Guerre, U.S. Medal of Freedom and Maltese Cross for helping 67 British and American airmen evade German capture during World War II. Many airmen came with family to visit her after the War.

In 1936 Virginia travelled to France, where she fell in love with and married Philippe d’Albert-Lake, the son of an English mother and a French father. Life was peaches and cream. The family had means, apartments, even a château. But in 1940 France had surrendered and Philippe, who had been in the French Army since the beginning of the War, was demobilized and came to Paris. 

One day in the little town of Nesles where they tried to live inconspicuously by staying out of the Germans’ way, the village baker asked them to come to his shop. He was hiding and helping downed American pilots.

When they looked at the young pilots, Virginia and Philippe knew they had no choice. Soon they were working with the Comet Escape Line, the French Resistance network in charge of returning Allied pilots to England via Spain. 

Until Spring 1944, the routine was to receive the airmen at Paris train stations, hide them in their apartment and then guide them out of Paris to a camp in southern France from where they left for the UK.

Many Germans who had been to US, Canadian or British schools pretended they were American pilots. Virginia quizzed them all with cultural questions such as “Who is Babe Ruth” and turned the “fake ones” over to the French resistance fighters. 

On June 12, 1944, fearful of imminent arrest, Virginia, Philippe and 11 airmen left Paris and headed south. As they were bicycling near Châteaudun, a German car stopped Virginia who was slightly ahead of the group. She was ordered to empty her pocketbook. Out fell a list of French resistance fighters. In her haste, she had forgotten to memorize and destroy it.

At German headquarters she admitted to swallowing the list and was told she would be shot in the morning. Instead, she was on one of the last deportation trains to leave France. Virginia was sent to Ravensbrück and other devastating concentration camps until finally being freed by the French Army on April 21, 1945. She left the last camp weighing a mere 76 pounds. Willpower had kept her alive.

After the War, Philippe and Virginia moved to Brittany where she dabbled in the sale of antique dolls to the U.S. market. She died in 1997, Philippe 3 years later. They are buried in a section reserved for Anglo-American citizens in a cemetery in Dinard.

According to her son Patrick, “After her release, I think she thought she’d been given a second life. She loved life. She had a fantastic sense of humor. It was very sharp, very American.” 

Written by Karen Kenny and Tilly Gaillard