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The Channel Islands: Occupied by the Germans in WW2

Updated on October 21, 2015
Image from Wikimedia Commons
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney & Sark under Nazi rule

The photograph you see above is a typical scene showing the island of Jersey in the days before the Second World War. The scene is idyllic. We see rolling countryside, the sea, Jersey cows gently grazing in the field, an historic castle and a man and boy taking a rest from their labours and gazing out at the scenery on a beautiful sunny day.

This changed dramatically on 30th June 1940.

There was no longer a British military presence in these islands. Although they are a part of the UK, our government didn't see them as having any strategic importance. This left the way open for the German army, who now occupied France just a few miles away.

I was teenager when I first went to Jersey. I had a family connection there. My cousin was the official botanist on the island - its produce is well-known and in demand in mainland Britain.

Although this was twenty five years after the end of the Second World War, my younger brother and I were fascinated to see that remnants of the occupation - fortifications and so on - were still there. The most haunting of these was (and still is) the underground hospital built by the Nazis using slave labour. (See the video below).

Prior to the occupation, many children had been evacuated. Some adults too had left the islands believing, rightly, that Hitler would not ignore this opportunity to occupy British soil. It was a great propaganda tool for the Germans.

But what about those people who were left on the islands? How would they cope living under enemy rule?

Before we move on

You might also be interested in visiting these places in the UK.

Image from Wikimedia Commons
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Britons under Nazi rule

The image above is typical of the type of fortification that can be seen throughout the Channel Islands. Whilst the rest of the family were on the beach or enjoying picnics, my brother and I were discovering old bunkers like this one. Going inside them was beyond creepy.

It made us realise - or at least gave us some idea - what life was like under Nazi occupation.

We bought books (see below) and it was unbelievable to see men in Nazi uniform in red British telephone boxes, seeing the famous photograph of a British bobby, complete with distinctive helmet, talking to a German officer in uniform. This photograph was widely circulated in Germany to boost morale.

The occupying army immediately put their own laws into force.  There was a curfew for civilians and owning a radio set was made illegal. The German army would put up with no shows of British patriotism.

One young woman, a waitress, was greeted by a German officer with the customary 'Heil Hitler' to which she replied 'Heil Churchill'. She was immediately deported to a prison camp in Germany.

This was not an isolated incident - many people suffered the same fate for minor infringements.

The Germans immediately put their anti-Jewish policies into place too, forcing Jewish-owned businesses to close.

Life was hard for the islanders but the Nazis had a good chain of supply from German-occupied France. The islanders lived on their wits. The islands were finally liberated after almost five years of Nazi rule - on 9th May, 1945.

Photo Gallery

Click thumbnail to view full-size
All images from Wikimedia. You can imagine the propaganda value of these for the Germans.News from England was dropped by aircraftBritish truck and German plane.An example of the many public ordersLiberation in 1945Yet another directive.Surgical equipment in the underground hospital.Just an example of prosecutions and deportations.The entrance to the underground hospital.
All images from Wikimedia. You can imagine the propaganda value of these for the Germans.
All images from Wikimedia. You can imagine the propaganda value of these for the Germans.
News from England was dropped by aircraft
News from England was dropped by aircraft
British truck and German plane.
British truck and German plane.
An example of the many public orders
An example of the many public orders
Liberation in 1945
Liberation in 1945
Yet another directive.
Yet another directive.
Surgical equipment in the underground hospital.
Surgical equipment in the underground hospital.
Just an example of prosecutions and deportations.
Just an example of prosecutions and deportations.
The entrance to the underground hospital.
The entrance to the underground hospital.

Recommended

People who were seventeen or over when the Channel Island were first occupied, if they are still alive, are over ninety now. Fortunately we have some of their reminiscences available. There are unlikely to be more.

ISLAND AT WAR DVD
ISLAND AT WAR DVD

This is a BBC production about the islands at war that we were lucky enough to see on BBC America.It's an astonishing six and a half hour series showing what life was like for a variety of people.I can't recommend this highly enough. It's fiction, but I believe it to be a very accurate account of life on the islands for the ordinary people and for the officials who were torn between patriotism, maintaining order and preserving life.

 
Living with the Enemy-The Story of the German Occupation of the Channel Islands 1940-1945, with eye-witness accounts from both sides. Foreword by Jack Higgins
Living with the Enemy-The Story of the German Occupation of the Channel Islands 1940-1945, with eye-witness accounts from both sides. Foreword by Jack Higgins

This has many accounts from people who lived in the Channel Islands during the time.

What's fascinating is that this includes a number of German people too.There are also plenty of fascinating photographs in this remarkable book.This is truly amazing.

 

Read more about the occupation of the Channel Islands.

Jewels and Jackboots: Hitler's British Isles, the German Occupation of the British Channel Islands 1940-1945
Jewels and Jackboots: Hitler's British Isles, the German Occupation of the British Channel Islands 1940-1945

As this book explains, for many years there was a myth that the time of the German occupation was - shall we say - benign.It was believed that the Germans were 'kindly' rulers and that the islanders were co-operative.(this may be due to the fact that it's estimated that there were over a hundred illegitimate babies born during the occupation - with German fathers).This book lays that myth to rest.

 

The underground hospital

Jersey is a wonderful place for a beach vacation. It has everything. In fact, it has something that no other beach holiday can offer - the opportunity to visit the underground hospital which is now an incredible museum.

It's impossible to visit the museum without thinking about the men who laboured there to build it. Work continued right through until the end of the war.

The main thing I remember was an official's office. It was exactly as it would have been in the 1940s. On the desk was a newspaper and - the item that was so poignant - a pair of wire-rimmed spectacles. It was easy to imagine that the commandant had been there minutes before and had just stepped out for a moment. Very chilling.

If you're going to the Channel Islands, you can still visit the museum today. The details are here.

If you're in London, Jersey is only an hour away by air and ticket prices are low.

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© 2014 Jackie Jackson

Can you imagine what life was like living under German occupation? Have you been to the islands? Share your thoughts here. I look forward to hearing from you!

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    • BritFlorida profile image
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      Jackie Jackson 3 years ago from Fort Lauderdale

      You need to add it to your bucket list, Merrci :)

    • Merrci profile image

      Merry Citarella 3 years ago from Oregon's Southern Coast

      I'd love to see the Islands. I've read about occupation over the years but it is still fairly hard to imagine how difficult it must have been. Very interesting lens! Thanks for sharing it.