Friday, 11 May 2018

The German Underground Hospital - Part 2

In 1971, shortly after decimal currency was introduced, Mr R. Ellington produced this small booklet, price 13p, which was about 2 shillings and 6 pence in old money, or half-a-crown, about the German Underground Hospital.

The research into that has increased, and the site now, under the title "Jersey War Tunnels" provides vastly more history of the Occupation as well as the history of the tunnels themselves. It has far more audio-visual means of telling its story, but back in 1971, this was what visitors to Jersey would have had. It's a very personal booklet, as Mr Ellington not only tells as much as he knows about the hospital from records, but also includes eyewitnesses who he spoke to at the time. It is in that respect, a time-capsule of social history.

The German Underground Hospital - Part 2
by R.M. Ellington


When work commenced in the summer of 1942, the labour force involved was a combination of slave workers and members of the Todt Organisation. The Todt Organisation was a Para-Military unit, roughly equivalent to a combination of our Royal Engineers, Sappers, and Pioneer Corps.

The slave workers consisted, in the main, of Russians (mainly Ukrainians) and Poles, also some Frenchmen and Spaniards. These Spaniards were men who had been on the Communists' side in the Spanish Civil War. After the Reds lost the Civil War, they escaped over the border into France and that is how they became taken prisoner by the Germans and drafted into the slave worker force.

The Todt Organisation men worked side by side with the slave workers in varying ratios according to the specific work being carried out. The people I interviewed were only on the site for a limited period and therefore each had only a part of the overall picture.

But it would appear that the main labour force lived in an encampment at Goose Green March, Beaumont, though some of the Russians were encamped at La Moye.

There was a force of some 200 odd Senegalese prisoners of war stationed at Fort Regent. They were French Nationals and still in the ragged remains of the uniforms they were wearing at the time of their capture. They were mainly negroes and half-castes, but there is little concrete evidence to suggest than any one of them were involved in the construction of the German Underground Hospital.

The situation regarding the slave workers is more complicated than would appear at first sight. Not all the people were in actual fact slaves. Many of them were OT employees recruited in occupied territories, some voluntarily, some compulsorily, frequently from areas where there was no other useful employment for them. They were clothed in semi-uniform fashion by the Germans with their own system of coupons for essential clothing supplies. The money for any clothing thus supplied would be deducted from their wages. These mainly unskilled workers were usually on a definite service contract, 3, 6 and 12 months being the periods most frequently quoted.

The actual Russian and Polish slave workers had been brought overland from their homes in Eastern Europe on rail trucks, where these were available, but most of the way on foot. The journey entailed the most strenuous and appalling conditions and many were in a state of partial exhaustion and semi-starvation by the time they arrived at the French coast to be enshipped to Jersey.

It would appear from all reports that there were no Gestapo overseers or guards with whips as are so often portrayed in the more gruesome accounts. The only guards as such, armed with rifles in the normal way, were at the entrances. Inside the Todt Organisation men, the slave workers and the OT contract labour force worked side by side.

There was an Italian officer by the name of Realini whose true rank no-one has been able to establish. He was the main Architect on the German Underground Hospital project, but under the overall control of Major Teischmann.

The slave workers were encamped at Goose Green Marsh and their accommodation consisted of long wooden huts. There was little heating in the winter and little for them to do when they had returned from work. The encampment was surrounded by barbed wire and they were allowed no contact with the local population. They had to make their own entertainment and leisure activities as best they could, but in the state of physical exhaustion and semi-starvation they were in, it is doubtful whether they would have very much inclination in this direction.

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