Lost WWII resistance heroes' graves found after 70 years
Just a few months after their daughters were born they were snatched away by Hitler's forces in the German-occupied Channel Islands and never returned home. Now after more than 70 years a BBC investigation has helped solve the mystery surrounding the final resting places of two resistance heroes who died at the hands of the Nazis.
Cambridge University academic Dr Gilly Carr spent a decade searching archives around the world and has uncovered new information about the fate of Joe Gillingham and Joe Tierney.
The men lived on different Channel Islands and were both deported for distributing BBC news reports - a banned practice.
German armed forces occupied the Channel Islands from June 1940 until May 1945.
Pat Fisher's father, Joe Tierney, was arrested five months before she was born and was deported to a prison in Dijon in September 1943.
She said: "He was very, very strong, he must have been so brave. It's very difficult and I just would've loved to have met him."
Jean Harris's father, Joe Gillingham, was one of five members of the Guernsey Underground News Service (GUNS) who were deported and imprisoned for wireless offences and secretly spreading news.
"There was a lot of anxiety for my mum, to spend years trying to find out what happened to him, waiting for him to come back after the war had finished."
Both men were crammed into cattle trucks and sent to prisons in the heart of Nazi Germany but their fates remained a mystery.
As part of BBC investigation Dr Carr took Pat and Jean to Europe to retrace their fathers' steps in the hope of finding clues.
"It definitely drives me when I read these testimonies of what people went through, it makes me want to get justice for them and find out more for the families," Dr Carr said.
In July 1944 both men ended up in the same prison in Naumburg (Saale), Germany, where dysentery and dropsy were rife and deaths were occurring at a rate of 18 men a week.
Frank Falla, a fellow incarcerated Channel Islander, who made it home alive, said inmates were "not allowed to smoke, talk, sing, hum or smile".
After visiting the site Mrs Harris said: "It's like walking in my father's footsteps, I now know what it must've been like for the men, it must have been awful."
In February 1945 her father left the prison but his next destination and fate were unknown.
Dr Carr's research discovered that just 40 miles (60km) away in Halle archives there are paper records of German prisoners which reveal Joe Gillingham died on 11 March 1945 from heart failure in the city's prison.
Unbeknown to his family he was cremated and his ashes were buried in a local graveyard in a section reserved for prisoners of the Nazis.
Mrs Harris said: "At last I have found the closure I have been looking for. I'm at peace now I know how the story ended and where he is."
Pat Fisher's father met a different fate. Not long after he left Naumburg prison in March 1945 he made a desperate escape attempt.
At that time German forces had almost been destroyed by the Allies and the Nazis were trying to cover up their atrocities.
Joe Tierney was being taken to a concentration camp in the Sudetenland, today part of the Czech Republic, when he managed to get away.
Dr Carr said: "The men around him were either being killed or dying of their diseases and hunger and he probably thought, 'what have I got to stay for?'"
His escape wasn't to last, he was captured a couple of days later and died less than a week before the end of the war.
His death was described by fellow prisoner Albert Koch in a letter to Mr Tierney's widow after the war.
"He and I were placed in cattle trucks, and it was not till some days later that your dear husband died in my arms in Kaschitz at 11:30pm on 4th May 1945."
Associate Professor of the University of West Bohemia Pavel Vařeka and his team are currently excavating the mass graves in the area to gain a better understanding of what went on.
He said: "We know that two-thirds of prisoners died of disease or starvation and the rest showed evidence of violent deaths - shootings."
Just a few months after the war German civilians living in the area were forced to rebury Mr Tierney and the other 233 prisoners in consecrated ground.
Pat said it was hugely important to her to finally learn of her father's final resting place
She said: "It's been such a journey, there's been so many highs and so many lows, cries and emotions, but it's ended up the best thing ever - you don't know how I feel."
Finding Our Fathers - Lost Heroes of World War Two is on BBC One South West on Friday 6 May at 19:30 BST and on the iPlayer for 30 days thereafter.
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