Strength to tread a lonely way: the Story of Marie Ozanne
For strength to tread a lonely way,
For darkness changed to shining day,
For burdens lifted when I pray,
I thank thee, Lord.
(Major Jane Kimberley, on Marie Ozanne)
For my blog on Liberation day, I have looked over the Guernsey for a story which, shamefully, I have only just come across. Living in Jersey, we tend to concentrate on those who displayed bravery in our own Island, but it is sometimes worth looking across the small divide of water from our Sister Island, and seeing instances of courage to inspire there, as well as here.
In 23 February 2013 a blue plaque was unveiled on the former home of Marie Ozanne at an event attended by 50 Islanders. Miss Ozanne, a major in the Salvation Army, publicly protested about the treatment of labourers on the island of Guernsey. For her actions she was imprisoned, but died shortly after her release in 1943.
Speaking at the unveiling, Guernsey Bailiff Richard Collas said: "This extraordinary lady, whose strength of spirit, generosity of heart and Christian principles, made a significant contribution to this island, to islanders and indeed to people beyond our shores. She continues to be an inspiration and an example through the life that she led and what she did."
Miss Ozanne was awarded the Salvation Army's highest honour, the Order of the Founder, in 1947. The award cites:
“an outstandingly brave witness for God and for Salvation Army principles” and a “self-sacrificing concern for men’s freedom to serve God.”
The Guernsey Donkey website gives some details of her background:
Major Marie was born in 1906 in the Vale where she went on to became a faithful member of the Salvation Army St Sampson’s Corps. She trained as an officer (that is, a vicar in the Salvation Army) where she rose to the rank of Major. When war broke out in 1939 Major Marie found herself serving at a Belgian Corps. Upon hearing of the outbreak of war she returned home immediately to lead the St. Sampson Corps in Guernsey.
The Salvation Army Midlands blog told her story in more detail in 2011, in the following article.
Courage under fire: a profile of Major Marie Ozanne
By: Valerie Murray, Estate Coordinator, Midland Division
In June of 1940 an event little known today occurred: The German army invaded and occupied the Channel Islands, a part of Great Britain off the coast of Normandy an occupation that lasted until war’s end. A part of this story belongs to a young woman of Guernsey, Major Marie Ozanne. Major Marie, a Guernsey native, served at a Belgian Corps. However, when World War II began, she returned home immediately to lead the St. Sampson Corps in Guernsey. When the German army took over the island, they ordered The Salvation Army disbanded, its worship services forbidden, and its officers forbidden to wear uniforms. The Commandant even forbade the band to perform.
However, Major Marie refused to bow to the German authorities. She wrote to the Commandant she would not close St. Sampson Corps. She continued her duties in full Salvation Army uniform at the Corps and in the marketplace, speaking to anyone who would listen to her. The Germans referred to her in Occupation documents of this period as simply a “lunatic and religious fanatic.”
Finally, the Commandant personally directed Major Marie to give up her uniform. When she ignored this order, the military police arrested her and forced her to give it up. Yet, in street clothes, she continued preaching the word of God, in defiance of the Commandant’s orders. She even began to teach herself German in order to minister to the German soldiers who might listen.
Hitler ordered six thousand slave labourers to these small islands during the Occupation, to build huge concrete fortifications and bunkers in advance of the British attack he believed would soon come. These men were from Spain, France, Russia, and Poland and treated like animals. Many were worked to death, others flogged and tortured, subsisting only on minimal rations. Many heard theirs screams. Major Marie heard these screams. She would not ignore them. She went to the slave labour camps to minister to the men and to bring them the word of God and hope. She complained unrelentingly to the camp’s commandant about their inhumane treatment.
After two years of her interference, in August of 1942, the Commandant realized that Major Marie was more than a lunatic or religious fanatic. He ordered her arrested and imprisoned. From prison, she wrote to him that she would “not take back a single word”; that she would not stand by to watch her fellow men treated so savagely. She told the Commandant she was revolted by the oppression and hatred with which the slave labourers were treated. He released Major Marie was after only two months, in October of 1942, but she died shortly afterward as a result of the horrible mistreatment received while imprisoned.
We will not forget Major Marie Ozanne’s courage and bravery in the face of evil. She is a witness to the precept that we are not put on earth for ourselves, but for others. As Catherine Booth said, “The world is waiting for you!” Pray that we, like Major Marie Ozanne, are ready to act.
Writing of her story in the Salvationist, Kersten Rieder wrote:
Not everyone agreed with the major’s action. She was branded a fool by some people – including some Salvationists – who tried to quieten her, to no avail. They feared the Germans might regard Marie’s conduct as an invitation for severe repercussions on all members of The Salvation Army, including heavy fines, imprisonment and perhaps deportation.
However, Marie’s resolve could not be broken and so she continued writing letters, preaching and offering herself in place of those sentenced to death for misconduct.
Marie was 37 years old when she died. To this day it is a mystery what really happened in that prison. There was speculation that she was tortured, even poisoned – traces of toxins were found in her body at post-mortem, leading to the suspicion that small amounts were introduced to her sparse prison diet.
Marie was buried quietly and quickly without a church service or grand recognition. It seemed she should disappear once and for all.
But Marie’s legacy did not die with her body. Her bold witness to humanity and faith under oppression remained intact. On a rainy Sunday in November 1947 at St Sampson she was posthumously warded the highest Salvation Army honour – the Order of the Founder.
General Albert Orsborn conducted the ceremony and Marie’s mother accepted the honour on her daughter’s behalf.
The heroism of this young Salvation Army officer was not only unique to the island of Guernsey, but across Europe – history unveils many stories of resistance, but few stories chronicle such fierce boldness. Her ability to stand up for what was right, regardless of the cost, did not only witness to an exceptional life of faith but was a true mark of humanity.