Saturday, 8 May 2010

Liberation Day 1945-2010 - 65 years

For Liberation day, I've decided to simply print an extract from R.M. Lockley's 1950 book, "The Charm of the Channel Islands".  One small note - Lockley speaks of "Martello Towers" which is erroneous; strictly they are Jersey Round Towers.

I've taken the extract from 1942, when the British subjects were taken from the Islands, and continued it up to Liberation day, and that also includes the Vega coming to the Islands. One matter which I've not come across elsewhere is the part played by Noyon and Endicott in their escape, and alerting the British Government about the conditions in the Islands.

Invaded but Unconquered by R.M. Lockley

On September 15th, 1942, a direct order from Hitler was published instructing all British subjects not normally resident, and all men between 16 and 70 years not born in the Channel Islands, to prepare for deportation to Germany. They were to carry enough food for two days, meal dishes, drinking-bowl and a blanket, but no more luggage than could be carried in the hand.

The insular authorities objected strongly against this order, claiming that it was in flagrant breach of the Hague Convention. The greatest distress was caused by this order, for which even the German authorities could give no reason, since it meant that farms would be abandoned and workers taken from essential social services. It was generally supposed to be an unreasonable reprisal for the bombing of German towns. The curious part about this forced exodus of 1,200 people from Jersey and 800 from Guernsey was that the deportees were on the whole sympathetically treated by the Germans all the way into the concentration camps in France, where they were allowed to set up their own organisation of these, did no work for the Germans and suffered only from a lack of decent housing and food. But later many men were taken from their wives and mothers and sent to work in Germany. The scenes at the sailing of the ships from St. Helier and St. Peter Port were extremely moving, for though the islanders' hearts were heavy, there was singing of patriotic songs in the face of sullen German patrols, and "There'll Always be an England" was sung many times, with intervals of cries for "Churchill !", "England !", "Jersey !", "Guernsey !" and ending with "God Save the King" from throats hoarse with emotion.

Soon after this the B.B.C. announced that is successful Commando raid on Sark (in thick fog on October 5th) had revealed the order for the deportations, and that efforts would be made to enlist the help of the International Red Cross to lighten the hardships of the exiles. This news was at once distributed by the owners of secret radio sets. Nineteen-forty-three saw more austerity for the islanders, more deportations, more deaths of the unfortunate Russian prisoners, many of whom ran about the islands mad with hunger, stealing food for a few days before they were released by death or shooting. During this year a number of German soldiers committed suicide and were buried "in dishonour" in the Strangers' Cemetery at St. Helier. But when the bodies of British and American airmen were recovered from the sea they were given burial by the insular authorities, with military honours rendered by the Germans, and their graves covered with masses of flowers sent by the islanders.

The Allied Forces were now seeking out and sinking on a larger scale German shipping. The roar of the approaching battle for the restoration of France drew closer, with increasing casualties to German planes and ships near the Channel Islands.

The Field Commandants of the islands, accusing Mr. Churchill of cutting off supplies to his own countrymen, reduced the rations still further, and bread was cut down to half a pound a head per day for all save those who worked for the Germans. Yet in spite of semi-starvation the islanders remained cheerful. Entertainments were devised in place of the cinema shows (with their German films and propaganda) and amateur theatricals flourished. But most people stayed at home in the evenings, or visited friends to hear and give news. The libraries were overworked and books of all kinds were in demand. Red Cross messages were coming in, somewhat spasmodically.

In the spring of 1944 more and more allied planes crossed the skies above the islands. On May 27th the radiolocation station at Fort George in Guernsey was bombed by American planes. On June 6th the Allies landed in Normandy. But it was nearly a year before the Channel Islands were relieved. They were by-passed, and the besieged German garrison bad been ordered to fight to the last man. There was not enough food to keep the civilian population alive through another winter. The garrison itself was on short rations and hungry soldiers were rapidly digging up the crops in the gardens, although forbidden to steal food. Negotiations for relief by the Protecting Power were begun, and these dragged on slowly through October and November.

Meanwhile the German governor repudiated all obligation to feed the islanders. In these desperate circumstances a number of young men and women escaped in small boats from Jersey, and. crossed to the mainland of France, with the idea of asking for Red Cross help for the islands. A retired Captain Noyon, with a young fisherman by the name of Endicott, left Guernsey, also carrying with him copies of the recent correspondence between the States and the German commandant. This escape was engineered on November 3rd, when, informing the German coastguard at St. Sampson that they were going out in search of "ormers" and would be returning to another harbour (St. Peter Port) to effect some necessary repairs, Noyon and Endicott slipped away unobserved in the early winter dusk. They were fortunately picked up by a passing American destroyer about 50 miles to the north of the island. As a result of the information which Noyon and others supplied to the British Government, the true condition of the islands was realised, and arrangements for the visit of a Red Cross ship were hastened.

On December 27th the as. Vega arrived in Guernsey with 750 tons of supplies to be distributed in both islands, the whole cargo of parcels having been packed by British Dominion Red Cross Societies. This arrival and others that followed undoubtedly saved many from death by starvation. Unfortunately the Germans, although they did not tamper with the parcels and their distribution, requisitioned more and more of the home supplies and the meagre bread ration was again halved. The soldiers were growing desperate with hunger and the failure of Hitler's war. They rounded up, killed and devoured cats and dogs, and stole farm animals and crops. They collected limpets, dead squid and other edible and scarcely edible fish, and sorted garbage for food scraps. They seized the timber of gates, doors, floors and roofs of houses for firewood. Trees were felled in such numbers that the Jersey lanes and Guernsey's famous "water-lanes" were no longer pleasant leafy avenues. The failure of coal and gas supplies caused many islanders to join in this fearful race to secure fuel for cooking fires. Empty houses were ruthlessly torn down, piecemeal, for their wooden parts.

It was a long long wait, until the Allies and Russian forces met in the heart of Germany. On May 1st, 1945, the news of Hitler's death caused the swastika to fly at half-mast over the Channel Islands for one day. Meanwhile the islanders prepared their flagstaffs, and Union Jacks were selling briskly. At 10 a.m. on May 8th, the German staff reported to the Bailiffs of Jersey and Guernsey that the war was over, that political prisoners were being released and that the Union Jack could be flown as from 3 p.m. Mr. Churchill's speech at that hour, broadcast in the towns, stated that "our dear Channel Islands will also be freed today." On the 9th H.M. destroyers Beagle and Bulldog landed British troops, which were received with tremendous enthusiasm by the crowds upon the pier heads. The German troops were relieved, too, of their desperate food shortage. But now it was the turn of the islanders to requisition their services, and get them to remove all mines and engines of war, to clean up the worst of the mess of dug-outs and concrete monstrosities, to assist in the repairing and rebuilding of homes.

But the damage was too great to be repaired even in a dozen years, and many of the immense blockhouses remain to this day on the coast. Time and the elements are gradually giving these structures a hoary appearance and the rising generation now look upon them much as the young people must have looked upon the new Martello towers in Napoleonic times - as interesting historic relics of a barbarous war. They are even becoming show-places. Such, for example, has become the fate of the vast German-built underground hospital in Jersey-now an empty echoing monument to the conquerors of the obedient concrete, but who failed to subdue the free spirit of man.


Ian Evans said...

Nice Piece to read.

Anonymous said...

I thought the order was given in reprisal for the British ordered detention of Germans in Iran ??