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Nazi Britain - The Occupation of The Channel Islands in World War Two

Updated on August 22, 2011

Prologue

The Channel Islands were the only part of Britain to be occupied by the Germans during World War 2. While Hitler strengthened coastal defences, Winston Churchill abandoned the Islands to the mercy of the Nazis.

Free Stock Photos.
Free Stock Photos.

Summer 1940

German forces are marauding across Europe and into Northern France. Although mainland Britain remains uninvaded, the people of the Channel Islands became only too aware of the advancing Nazis' arrival.

British Prime Minister Winston Curchill has taken the decision of fortifying the British mainland, but has left the Channel Islands to their own devices. 30,000 islanders have fled to the mainland, but many choose to stay behind.

Although they had advanced warning and thousands were evacuated, those who have remained are under the naïve assumption that the Germans would never set foot on the islands at all....they were to be sadly mistaken.

Friday 28th June 1940

People in Guernsey are mundanely going about their everyday business when just before 7:00pm that evening a series of explosions and machine-gun fire ring out. The island is witnessing it's first air raid by the Nazis. The harbour is the main target for Heinkel bombers, 25 people die during the attack and the scene is of utter carnage.

Sunday 30th June

On the sunday afternoon, nearly 48 hours after the attack, the first German troops begin landing on the island of Guernsey. The islands' Crown Hotel is commandeered as the German Headquarters. They began systematically inspecting the islands' houses, selecting suitable accommodation for their troops and enforced a 9:00pm curfrew on the islands' people.

Once the barbed wire started to go up around the harbour and the sea walls, the residents were now beginning to feel like prisoners in their homes. German orders were printed almost daily through the islands' newspaper. Different rules and regulations were given out, the islanders were made to drive on the right hand side of the road after countless accidents. The use of cars for private use was forbidden, all windows hed to be blacked out and cyclists were forced to ride a maximum of two abreast at any time.

March 1941

Things start to take a more menacing turn as the German language is made compulsory in the islands' schools. Although the ordinary German soldier is looked upon by the local people as not much different to a British soldier, the officers on the other hand are considered as the archetypal evil Nazi.

Food shortages are now becoming the all important issue, although local people are growing as much as they can, the German authorities simply took whatever they wanted. The people were going hungry and were severely punished should anyone steal so much as a potato. An ingenious bartering system was devised and printed in the local newspaper. Residents traded cigarettes for apples, rope for flour, candles for paraffin, eggs for beans and so on. Some children's coats were made from blankets that had been given to them by the more kind-hearted German soldiers.

Free Stock Photos.
Free Stock Photos.

6th June 1944 - D-Day

The thunderous noise of the D-Day landings on the Normandy Coast could be heard from Guernsey and although the islanders felt that this was probably the beginning of the end of the war they weren't to know then that the war would rage on for almost another year.

Winter 1944

The last winter of the war was a grim period on Guernsey. Food was running out and families struggled to make-ends-meet. The elderly were ravaged by malnutrition and mothers and fathers went without food for days, so that heir children would be able to eat whatever morsels there were. The German troops too were having to forage from the islands' natural resources to get by, combing the beaches and the hedgerows for any food they could find. All the islands' animals were being eaten, even cats and dogs. There had been no food parcels to the island between D-Day in June, and December that year.

28th December 1944

Finally, a red cross ship named the Vega, had got through to the island, providing the starving people of Guernsey with vital supplies. Parcels contained milk, tea, coffee, chocolate, powdered eggs, spam, dried fruits, biscuits and crackers. The islanders would surely have starved to death had this ship not arrived when it did.

8th May 1945

V.E. Day and the people of the Channel Islands were celebrating the end of the war as best they could considering they were still under occupation. The German commander on Guernsey however, had no intention of surrendering to the Allies. But surrender he must, with an armada of ships nearing the harbour, there was no other course of action left open to him.

The islanders informed the Germans that they intended to raise the British flags outside their homes at 3:00pm that afternoon, but the Germans would hear none of it and threatened to shoot anyone who did so.

Down at the harbour a massive landing craft pulled in and when the bow doors opened, a convoy of British trucks rolled out. The euphoric people cheered, laughed and cried in delight as the British troops handed out chocolate bars to everyone. All the German soldiers grouped together and fled back to the relevant safety of their hotel HQ before their official surrender.

Free Stock Photos.
Free Stock Photos.

The Sense of Freedom

In the following days and weeks, things gradually began to get back to a sense of normality for the islands' people. Nobody could actually recall the Germans ever leaving, but leave they did and a terrific sense of community spirit swept the island as people helped each other in any way they could to get on with their lives.

One survivor of the occupation, Miriam Mahy, summed up the occupation in these few words - "I do appreciate living in a free country, nobody can ever appreciate freedom until they have lost it, like we did during the occupation".

Winston Churchill had largely abandoned the Islands to their fate and the islanders almost starved to death as a result, but the unflinching resolve of the people and their sense of stiff-upper-lip British mentality saw them through.

Mainland Britain may have forgotten them, but they didn't forget how to be British!

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