Four friends drown in escape attempt

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Four friends drown
in escape attempt


On the evening of 12 November 1944, four young islanders made an attempt to escape Jersey by boat. Andy Siouville, the nephew of one of them, told their story

Clockwise: Ronnie Bisson, Madeleine, nee Milon, Andre Gorvel, Roy Luciennes, as a child

The friends were Ronnie (Ronald) Bisson, aged 19, his wife of four months, Madeleine Bisson, née Milon, aged 22, Andre Gorvel, aged 19, and Roy Elie Jean Luciennes, aged 20.

  • Leslie Sinel’s diary from November 12, 1944 states:
“At night a party of four got away from St. Martin’s, but the weather was not propitious. There is no doubt that the party left from Rozel two nights ago - three men and a woman - and local eyewitnesses declare the boat was seen dashing against the rocks off Saline Bay, but no help could be given on account of mines.”
  • The Germans published the following in the Jersey Evening Post on November 14th under the heading,
Four men drowned in attempting to leave the Island
“In spite of strict prohibition, four islanders again tried to leave the Island yesterday in order to avoid the common fate of the inhabitants. Their boat was driven ashore and dashed to pieces against the cliffs of the north coast. They themselves were drowned. The population will only have to put to the credit of such irresponsible persons if the occupying authorities are now forced to take stricter measures for the enforcement of their orders.”

Inaccurate reports

Some of the initial reports of the incident were incorrect in stating that there were four men. The embarkation point was reported as Rozel; as well as Bouley Bay. In all likelihood they set off from Gorey Harbour. The inquest for Ronnie and Andre confirms the boat was moored there.

Ronnie was a farm labourer; Madeleine worked at her aunt's farm. Le Coin Farm, in St Lawrence; Andre was a hairdresser working for Mr Samsons in New Cut; and Roy Luciennes, was an electrician.

Ronnie and Madeleine lived at a flat named Firmandale at Beaumont. Andre lived with his family at Highbury at Five Oaks. Roy lived at the family home, Houguemont, in St Martin, near the top of of Queens Valley.

Ronnie Bisson was one of seven children who lived with their parents in a two-bed house with box room in the family home in Langley Avenue, St Saviour. He was the eldest boy and was 15 when the Occupation began. He was desperate to join the British Army but was too young to sign up.

His family spoke of his frustration and anger at not being able to take up the fight. He was a growing lad and there was never enough food for them all, especially Ronnie, who used to bribe his younger siblings for scraps from the dinner table, and in the case of his younger brother Gordon, would often steal food from him. He was very headstrong and a bit of a tearaway, who was often breaking curfew and getting into trouble with the occupying forces. He was by all accounts a good boxer and had the nickname of ‘Basher Bisson’.

Father's departure

His father left to join the British army at the outbreak of the war in 1939, and the fact he was the eldest boy probably weighed heavily on him, and he must have felt quite directionless. In 1943 he was sentenced to two weeks in prison for “improper behavior” against the occupying forces, according to Occupation records. He began his sentence in November. According to family, he quite enjoyed his time ‘inside’, where he struck up a good camaraderie with his fellow inmates. Roy Luciennes mother, Francine, was also in prison during that same time, having been caught with a radio. She was sentenced to four months, two weeks.

Ronnie worked as a farm laborer and he got a job in St Lawrence upon his release. It was while working at Le Coin Farm that he met Madeleine Milon, who was living there with her aunt and family. Some time after Ronnie started work at the farm he began courting Madeleine. He was very much in love with Madeleine and it is reported that his character changed for the better when he started dating her.

In the summer of 1944 Ronnie, who was still only 18 and below the age of majority, asked his mother for permission to marry Madeleine, who was 22, but his mother refused. It was only after he told his mother that Madeleine was pregnant that she relented and he married Madeleine in July of that year. They moved into a flat at Beaumont called Firmandale, next to the Goose pub.

The escape attempt

Ronnie and Madeleine

On the afternoon of the 12 November 1944, Ronnie and Madeleine made their way to the family home in Langley Avenue. The walk there would have given them plenty of time to ponder the effect their news would have on the family, especially Ronnie’s mother.

The family’s memory of that meeting was gathering around the dining table and Ronnie sharing out all his German marks to his younger siblings, saying he had no more need for them. It was at this time that Madeleine told Ronnie’s sister Mavis, that she was having her period. This was some four months after they had told his mother that Madeleine was expecting.

It is believed the pregnancy was made up purely so Ronnie and Madeleine could marry. Whether they had the escape plan in their mind that far ahead is unknown but maybe it was in their thoughts, and that whatever the outcome of any escape attempt they wanted to do so as a married couple.

They met the other members of the escape party, André Gorvel and Roy Luciennes, in St Martin where Roy lived with his family. They made their way to Gorey where the boat they would take was moored. It is about a 20-minute walk. Roy Luciennes’ sister Yolande testified at her brother’s inquest that she last saw her brother that evening at their home, Houguemont, with Andre. They told her they were going to an all-night party.

Jack Buesnel, a friend of André, was also meant to go, but the story is he was prevented from leaving by his father who caught him as he was about to set off. Andre lived at the family home, Highbury, at Five Oaks. He had a sister, and four brothers. He was a popular member of St Thomas’ Men’s Club.

Andre Gorvel

Earlier in the day Andre Gorvel visited Eileen Le Sueur at her home in St Saviour, Clair Val Farm. Andre was a fairly frequent visitor to the farm, often able to barter fresh food for his family in exchange for haircuts. He became excited when he saw a can of petrol in Eileen’s barn. He told her of their plans for that evening. Eileen did her best to dissuade him from trying to escape but it was no use, their minds were made up. After much pleading, Eileen reluctantly gave him some petrol. Her recollections of that encounter were written down many years later and retold during an interview on a local radio station. Her story was also retold in part in the book by Roy Thomas, Lest we Forget, published in 1992. Eileen carried the burden and guilt for giving Andre the petrol for the rest of her life.

Andre mailed a letter that same day to Eileen and her husband. She received it the next day, November 13, by which time the party of four had already drowned.

His letter read:

Five Oaks
St Saviour
12 November 1944
Dear Mr and Mrs Le Sueur
Just a line before I try and get away, to thank you for all the good you have done for me and my family. I appreciate it from the bottom of my heart. I wish you luck in the future and I hope everything will turn out alright for you. I am sorry in a way to leave but we are all fed up with the life we have to put up with. If we are lucky enough to get across I shall be more than delighted. If not we shall land in Gloucester Street Mansion but our spirit will not be broken. I pray and with God’s blessing I hope we shall be alright.
So I will end my short letter and say not Goodbye but Au Revoir.
From one of your devoted friends
Thank you once again
PS: Give my love to Guy

Roy Luciennes

Not much is known about Roy Elie Jean Luciennes. He was an electrician, and lived at Houguemont, St Martin. He had two sisters. Andre reportedly told Eileen Le Sueur that Roy knew about boats. Both Roy’s parents came to Jersey from France, but Roy was born in St Helier.

The evening of 12 November was particularly unpleasant and they could not have chosen a worse night to flee the island. It is not known exactly how they procured the boat or managed to cast off without being spotted, but at the inquest for Andre and Ronnie, it was stated that the boat belonged to a States of Jersey fisheries inspector, Robert Kempster, who had the boat moored at Gorey harbour.

It is believed that they somehow took the boat and rowed out of Gorey Harbour undetected. It seems like the motor wouldn’t start and the boat drifted through the night. By early morning, around 8:30, the boat was seen floundering about a mile off the north coast by workers at the quarry at La Saline. The story doing the rounds at that time was the Germans refused a request by the workers to go to their aid. At the inquest, workers said they saw the boat floundering and someone on board attempting to start the engine. About an hour later the boat had drifted into the bay and was smashed on the rocks. They heard one cry for help.

Ronnie and Andre’s bodies were found four days later at La Saline. Roy’s body was washed up on the beach at Giffard Bay, Trinity two weeks later on November 27. It was some week’s later, on December 6, before Madeleine’s body was washed up around 30 yards from La Braye slip in St Ouen’s bay. As she had been in the water for some weeks she was unrecognizable facially. She was identified by her clothes and the initials on her wedding ring.

Only six months later the Island was liberated, and the freedom they so craved would have been theirs.


Ronnie and Madeleine were buried together in the family plot at St. Saviour’s Church. The family belatedly erected a headstone in 2015 commemorating the escape following Ronnie’ sisters passing, Mavis Siouville, née Bisson whose ashes are in the plot. The family felt it was important their sacrifice was not forgotten.

Andre was buried at St Martins Roman Catholic Church on November 29. A very large crowd was in attendance.

Roy was buried at St. Martin's Roman Catholic Church next to Andre.

Eileen Le Sueur

Eileen Le Sueur wrote an account of her part in this story which was to form part of a book about her life. Unfortunately, being in her mid-nineties, she was unable to finish it. The story she had written about Andre and the escape was given to Andy Siouville in 2009. Eileen wrote to him and said: “Go ahead and write a book we can be proud of.” That book is still to be written, but this account and news stories in the local media over the last few years have helped bring their story to light to a wider audience.

  • Jersey Evening Post clippings from 1944 were used for informational gathering and verification
  • Lest we Forget, written by Roy Thomas in 1992 was used for reference purposes
  • Mavis Siouville, née Bisson, Ronnie’s sister, recounted her memories and information from the occupation, and the escape
  • David Siouville has facilitated research including interviews with Eileen Le Sueur’s daughter, Sadie Le Sueur Renard, as well as a relative of the reported fifth member of the group
  • A relative of Roy Luciennes has been found in Paris, and he has provided a photo of Roy as a child
  • A niece of Madeleine Milon and extended family made contact in 2022 after an appeal on BBB Radio Jersey
  • A memorial Stone was unveiled on November 19, 2022 at La Saline Bay in St.John to remember the four young lives that were lost in the bay below. All four who drowned were represented that day by their living relatives.
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