Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Channel Islands as Nazi Occupied British Territory

Our predominant image of Britain in World War Two was of the bombing of London. Winston Churchill and Princess Elizabeth personified the grim determination of the people of the United Kingdom to defeat the Nazi menace at whatever cost might be necessary. The sacrifices of soldiers lend eternal resonance to this bloody chapter in British history.

There is another side to the history of British territory in the Second World War. It is that of the Channel Islands. Although they are only thirty miles from France, the hearts of the Channel Islanders are with Great Britain, which is twice as distant. French is widely spoken in the Channel Islands, where Elizabeth II reigns not as Queen but as Duke of Normandy.

Jersey, one of the larger Channel Islands is very popular as a place to get away for the summer. Guernsey, Alderney, Herm and Sark also attract their share of vacationers and stamp collectors. Even those who never make it to Great Britain send their money to the Channel Islands not for the light of the sun but for the ample shade provided by its banking laws.

The Channel Islands History took a sharp turn from the British mainland on June 30, 1940 with the following declaration, signed by His Royal Highness King George VI


For strategic reasons it has been necessary to withdraw the Armed Forces from the Channel Islands

I deeply regret this necessity and I wish to assure My people in the Islands that in taking this decision My Government has not been unmindful of their position.It is in their interest that this step should be taken in the present circumstances.

The long association of the Islands with the Crown and the loyal service the people of the Islands have rendered to my ancestors and Myself are guarantees that the link between us will remain unbroken and I know that My people in the Islands will look forward with the same confidence as I do to the day when the resolute fortitude with which we face our present difficulties will reap the reward of Victory.

With this awkwardly formal declaration began the arrival of German troops , which would remain formally in charge of the Channel Islands until May 19, 1945.

How did the people of the Channel Islands respond ?

There was a window of opportunity in which those who wished to could evacuate to the British mainland. About a third of the islanders did so. On Alderney, almost everyone left. On Jersey, relatively few did so.

The Germans were not harsh with most of the Channel Islanders. there were restrictions on listening to the BBC. There were deportations to labour camps on the European mainland of non natives. among these non natives were 17 Jews, some of whom were murdered in concentration camps.

There was some resistance to the German occupation. Almost all of it was symbolic, such as defacing street signs. Occasionally, escaped slave labourers were given refuge. In General, the civil service shifted allegiance to their new German masters, implementing the new order.

The occupation was mild for natives to the Channel Islands. It was welcome news to many a German soldier that he would be stationed in the Channel Islands. It was a rest stop among a cordial populace that included some who welcomed them wholeheartedly.

For Spanish Civil War prisoners and Russian Prisoners of War, the Channel Islands were far more grim. there was a forced labour camp that was built in Alderney, upon the ruins left by retreating residents who wanted to leave nothing of use to the Germans. After their hurried departure, the entire island was turned into a forced labour camp. The web site recounts their travail as follows.

There was no deliberate extermination of the prisoners here but, inadequate food, excessive labour, frequent beatings, poor living conditions, with no medical help and insufficient clothing, meant that considerable numbers died from malnutrition, dysentery, septicaemia and pneumonia. A few were shot trying to escape. The exact number who died will never be known. At the peak of the work there were about 5-6,000 slave workers and 3,500 German troops and technicians in the island. When the island was eventually freed by a small British force and the German garrison surrendered on 16th May 1945, more than a week after Jersey and Guernsey were freed on the day after VE Day, the German records and the marked graves found showed 437 deaths amongst the workers, but many of the survivors claimed that hundreds more were buried in the trenches where they fell, or, if they died in their barracks, their bodies were piled into lorries and tipped into the sea off the Breakwater. Many more slaves were taken back to France after D-Day and some died en route for Germany, or trying to escape from the trains.

On the Isle of Jersey, a hospital was dug out of the rock and built underground as a showpiece at the centre of a network of fortifications. Although it functioned as a military hospital, it was built at the expense of hundreds of lives of the slave labourers conscripted into its construction. although much of what the Germans built was destroyed after the war, the hospital is maintained for public view. The death toll involved in its construction is hard to approximate. Many slave labourers who died in its construction were dumped in the ocean like city garbage.

What role did the Channel Islanders have? Were they simply overpowered by the massive might of the Wehrmacht? The British government thought it better to surrender the islands. What happened when they left? Julia Pascal writes as follows on

"In one of the most shameful episodes in British history, more than 2,000 British subjects were deported from the Channel Islands to Nazi-controlled France and Germany. Sixty years on they are still waiting for compensation, yet today all they hear is a deafening silence.

In September 1942, under German orders, the Channel Islands government made deportation lists of British passport holders and foreign nationals, while native Channel Islanders remained safe. The deportation of foreign-born Jews had started in April 1942. Four months later it was the turn of the British. Their lives were uprooted and some died, yet after the liberation the subject was closed and any mention of compensation ignored.

The Channel Islands' war history was one of almost total collaboration with the Nazis. It has taken decades for the islands to admit their role in the Jewish deportations, which took place when Guernsey and Jersey absorbed Nazi Germany's anti-Semitic laws into their own legal system. Today there is still shame about the issue, and the islands' governments are uneasy about revealing what happened during the second wave of deportations. "

The British deportees included pregnant women and babies. It was a harsh deportation in which some died Julia Pascal, in the London Independent paints a damning picture of the useful and wholehearted collaboration of channel Islanders. She compares the Bailiff of Guernsey, Victor G. Carey to Marshal Petain in France, who traded his medals for valour for the role of Nazi collaborator. How bad was Carey? At one point he offered a 25 Pound reward for anyone who provided information useful in the apprehension of those who defaced German signs with anti Nazi graffiti.

How was Victor Carey treated after his wartime record of referring to the Allies as "the enemy"?
After the war, he was knighted by King George VI. To this day, critical records on the island remain classified. The checkered history of the Channel Islands is kept under wraps.

Massive fortifications were built on the Channel Islands. They were given a very high priority in German defenses. Why was this done? It is generally agreed that the islands had little military value. The occupation of the islands had great value as propaganda. after their conquest, it could be reported that British territory was under German rule. Allegedly against Winston Churchill's objections, it was decided to cede the islands to those who wanted them more, to Nazi Germany.

What in retrospect is the value of studying this under reported chapter in World War Two history? The lives, deeds and misdeeds of the Channel Islanders are the actions of British subjects, of English speakers. As such they resonate far more with an English speaker than the stories that abound from the European mainland.

As the descendants of the victors in World War Two, we English speakers approach the war with the smug certainty of those facing a math problem that has been solved. Looking at the Channel Islanders with whom we share a common tongue shakes our complacency in looking back at history. There is growing interest in this chapter and stage of world history. When we study the past, we are looking at and listening to ourselves. In the case of the Channel Islanders, they speak to us in our own language.


Following is a recording of a famous speech by Queen Elizabeth when she was a princess, addressed to the children of Britain Sphere: Related Content

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