Under Nazi rule: Jersey, Alderney, Sark and Guernsey
The scene that you see above is a typical one and shows the British island of Jersey before the Second World War.
What a peaceful scene it is. The castle overlooks the calm, blue sea. Jersey cows are contentedly grazing. There is rolling countryside and a man and boy sit enjoying the scenery and the peace of the island.
But this traditional and sleepy, rural way of life was to change in 1940 on June 30th.
Although the islands are British and Britain was at war with Germany, there were no military installation on any of the Channel Islands.
The government of the day didn’t really believe that these tiny islands were of any particular military importance during those early months of the Second World War. But the islands are closer to France than they are to mainland England and the Germans had occupied France. The islands would be a military feather in their caps.
I first went to Jersey in the early nineteen seventies. More than twenty five years had passed since the end of WW2 but there were reminders everywhere – old gun emplacements, beach fortifications and the most chilling of all, the underground hospital. (See below). It was built by the Nazis during the occupation using labour from concentration camps.
Before the Germans occupied the islands, many families had evacuated their children. Some adults had left also believing that the government was wrong in not seeing the area of importance – they were sure that Hitler would not overlook this opportunity to occupy British soil. But the majority of the population remained.
British citizens under Nazi rule
The image you see here is perfectly typical of the type of reminder that can still be seen today.
Seeing these in the flesh was thoroughly chilling. It was impossible not to imagine the people who had used these fortifications.During our stay on the island of Jersey, we bought many books about the occupation (see below) which made it all the more real.
Imagine Nazi officers using British red telephone boxes to make a call. There was a famous photograph of a British policeman, complete with full uniform and helmet, chatting with a German officer, also in full uniform.
This was excellent propaganda for the Germans of course.
The Germans immediately enforced their own rules and regulations over the citizens. Curfews were established and, as in occupied France, it was illegal to own a radio. In addition, the Germans would punish any public demonstration of British patriotism.
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. Here’s one example – a German officer went into a Jersey restaurant and when the waitress came to take his order, he greeted her with the customary ‘Heil Hitler’. The young woman replied by saying ‘Heil Churchill’. She was arrested immediately and sent to a concentration camp in Germany. Sadly, there were many more examples like this one.
Of course, the Germans immediately instituted their ‘ethnic cleansing’ procedures too.
The occupying forced lived well. They had an excellent supply system from nearby occupied France. The locals however had to live by their own wits.
The Germans immediately put their anti-Jewish policies into place too, forcing Jewish-owned businesses to close.
The German underground hospital
You can still visit this extraordinary and haunting place today. As you do, you’ll be forced to remember that it was built by slave labour using men that were brought over from the concentration camps of Europe. The work continued on the hospital until the islands were liberated.
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 fare prices are very reasonable.
The islands were finally liberated after almost five years of Nazi rule – on 9th May, 1945.
Discoveries are still being made on the islands. Scroll down for video.
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