Friday, 2 October 2015

The German Cemetery at St Brelade's Church - Part 1

From the pages of "The Pilot", in 1991, comes this article about the German cemetery in St Brelade's Church.

A note about the  SS Schokland mentioned in the text. There are two Youtube videos of a visit to the wreck taken by Trevor Richomme.

Diving the SS.Schokland. 19/5/13.

The Schokland, a Dutch freighter which sank after hitting a reef in 1943 while under the command of the German forces. She now sits upright, 225 feet long.

Tony Titterington discovered the wreck of the ss Schokland in 1964. Here is an extract from "Master of the Wrecks":

"The Schokland was an 1100-ton merchant steamer, built in Holland in 1915 and used by the German forces during the occupation to carry cargoes between the islands and France. In January 1943 she headed for St Malo as part of a convoy, carrying building materials and large numbers of German troops going home on leave. In the hands of an inexperienced master she ran onto rocks south of the island and sank in half an hour with the loss of 136 lives. Tony discovered the wreck’s rough position by transit marks and then pin pointed it with a primitive echo sounder. This process took only half an hour and he now laughs when he remembers how long that seemed at the time. The wreck was in a very good condition and was intact except for the removal of its guns, presumably by German divers during the war. Tony recovered a number of items including the ship’s bell, telegraph and maker’s plate."

The German Cemetery at St Brelade's Church during the Second World War
By Michael Halliwell and David Ling
Part 1

The first part of a serialisation of the booklet compiled by David Ling and the Rev Michael Halliwell on the Occupation and how it affected the Church of St Brelade.


The year 1940 brought the first invading army since the French landed on Jersey in 1781, and for five long years the Island became part of the Third Reich.

Before that, during the First World War, while an exiled German was working on the wall paintings in the Fishermen's Chapel, some of his compatriots were held as prisoners of war in a camp nearby, and the bodies of those who died in captivity were brought to the cemetery for burial. It was natural, with their compatriots already buried here for the German authorities to choose St Brelade, and its church and cemetery, for further interments.

The first such burial took place in July 1940, only ten days after the arrival of the first occupying forces. The First interments were alongside the graves of those who died in the First World War, but from February 1942 burials were located in two large blocks separated by a gravel path.

In the following month the cemetery was designated a Heldenfriedhof or Heroes' Cemetery. Trees were planted, rough granite paths laid, and wooden gates with large representations of the swastika within the Iron Cross were installed in facing entrances to the cemetery and the Rectory garden. Bushes were planted to separate the civil from the military sections.

The sinking of the SS Schokland

In 1943, a Dutch cargo ship of 1,500 tons, the SS Schokland, was taking some 200-250 Germans on leave, to St Malo.

The ship foundered close to the southern shore of Jersey, in the early hours of 5th January, with heavy loss of life. This was due to crowding too many passengers, for the short sea crossing; into the stern hold, below a twenty foot vertical ladder and under a 50 cm square hatch. This deplorable bottleneck lead to the high number of casualties.

For days afterwards a number of bodies was washed ashore and locals recall them being "stacked like timber" on the Albert Pier, awaiting burial. The ship's captain swam ashore and was later court-martialled for losing the ship. She lies in 23 metres of water some 2,000 metres off Noirmont Point, but is rapidly breaking up

Suddenly the-Heroes' Cemetery had a large-input of new graves and by the end of the year the first block was nearly full. The second block was full by February 1945 when the first of sixteen burials was made in a new area in the Rectory garden.

The Strangers' Cemetery

The German cemetery at St Brelade was, as already stated, a Heldenfriedhof and was not available for the burial of non-Germans in their employ. The Strangers' Cemetery at the top of Westmount, St Helier; was opened in 1865 replacing an earlier strangers' burial ground. It had been used for soldiers of the Jersey garrison and for temporary residents who died while staying or serving in Jersey.

Prior to 1880 all burials in Jersey church graveyards had to be carried out using the rite of the Church of England. Book of Common Prayer, with the Rector as officiant. Thus, ministers of other denominations would sometimes use the Strangers' Cemetery which fulfilled the function of a free cemetery as it was owned by the States of Jersey,

In 1880 the law was changed in England, and effectively in Jersey, prohibiting the Rectors of the Parish Churches from refusing ministers of other denominations using their own liturgy. The Mont-a-l'Abbe cemetery was opened and the Strangers' Cemetery became the place of burial for the very poor, and for unknown strangers. This is the site of the present crematorium which was opened in December 1961. Prior to that, cremations had to be performed at Le Foulon, Guernsey, the the only Channel Islands cemetery with a crematorium.

With the advent of the German occupying forces in 1940, the Strangers' Cemetery became the burial place for all the non-German deceased and it was renamed the Westmountfriedhof. Russian impressed labourers, some Polish, French and Algerians, were buried here, each in the plot for his own nationality, carefully allotted by the Germans.

Violent Deaths

Two German soldiers, buried in the St Brelade cemetery, had committed suicide. Their bodies, later deemed unfit for a heroes' burial, were exhumed and re-buried in the Westmountfriedhof, the first German nationals in the Strangers' Cemetery. The body of an Italian soldier made the opposite journey, being exhumed from Westmount and re-buried in the Heldenfriedhof, the Heroes' Cemetery at St Brelade, in a plot set apart for Italians, their allies. Another exhumation was that of a Russian prisoner who had escaped from Elizabeth Castle and whose body had been found floating in the sea. He was buried in the Russian section of Westmount. His escape and death perhaps tarnished the official records, for his body was exhumed, examined again for nationality, and re-buried in the French section.

By Liberation Day twelve more German soldiers had been denied burial at the St Brelade cemetery, six more deaths through suicide, five executed. by firing squad, and one through an illness not stated.

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