Of the Channel Islanders that had been evacuated in June 1940 it was those from Alderney that had to wait the longest to return home. The reason for this was the sad state that the island had been left by the occupying forces.
The islanders had almost totally evacuated in the summer of 1940 and were not to return in any numbers until 15 December 1945, which is now celebrated as “Homecoming Day”. In advance of this there was much work to be done. Things were already moving apace with the British Army having arrived in late May 1945 and German POWs being supervised clearing the island of mines, ammunition and barbed wire.
The first to return to Alderney was Judge French who, along with a few small groups, arrived in the island on 2nd December 1945 to prepare for the return of the population. Judge French was the crown appointed leader of the island who had been in charge when the island was evacuated.
A number of women from the W.V.S. went to the island as part of these advanced groups. They were sent to prepare to help with feeding and rehabilitating those that were to return. Miss Dunn-Pattison of the W.V.S. is reported in the Market Harborough Advertiser and Midland Mail – Friday 24 May 1946 of telling her local W.V.S. group of her experiences. She told them of the trials and tribulations and the ultimate success of their task.
Another W.V.S. lady that went to the island, Miss Cicely Fosbrook, was interviewed by the Leicester Evening Mail and their 9 February 1946 edition reports that she had gone to Alderney in November as part of the W.V.S. team of twelve.
The team was well equipped with all kinds of provisions and equipment, including two goldfish for the officers’ mess for the Army personnel occupying the island.Miss Cicely Fosbrook 9 February 1946
Her team were housed in the convent as she recalls most of the houses were ‘flat’, more of that later, and most of the remaining structures were of German construction. She recalls that all houses which were standing and any furniture left on the island were pooled.
They established a transit camp for returning islanders where they stayed for two or three days before being dispersed gradually. Throughought this time the convent became the centre of life and activity for them.
About forty children arrived before Christmas and a big party was arranged for them, while a Christmas tree was also brought over for the church and decorated with every candle they could find – they numbered seventy. A padre was brought from Guernsey.Miss Cicely Fosbrook 9 February 1946
The final note in the article recalls that when she left Alderney there were positive signs of normal life returning with signs indicating that shops were reopening shortly.
The Salvation Army in Guernsey sent all three of their bands to welcome them home. The British Army provided a guard of honour to welcome them back.
Lieut.-General Phillip Neame’s, Lieut.-Governor of Guernsey, welcomed over a hundred war-time exiles of Alderney on their return to the Island on 15 December 1945 . In the course of his address he said:
On this great day, when you are returning to your own dear island, I want to quote to you some lines of Rudyard Kipling’s which have always appealed to me in regard to my own corner of Kent.
I am sure they will express the feeling for Alderney which is in your hearts today –
“God gives all men all earth to love,
But since man’s heart is small,
Ordains for each one spot shall prove,
Beloved overall.”Lieut.-General Phillip Neame’s address as reported in the Faversham News and East Kent Journal 4 January 1946
Islanders were overjoyed to finally be returning. The Bradford Observer of 15 December reports an interview with Mr & Mrs F.C. Orderie who had run the bakery and confectionery shop in Alderney before the war. Their bakery had been destroyed by the Germans but they were still hopeful that they could reopen using a German constructed bakery.
This joy turned to a bitter sweet experience though as mentioned in the account above by Miss Fosbrook many of the houses had been flattened or had the interiors destroyed as the Germans ripped any wood out to use for fuel.
As there were all bar a handful of residents left after the evacuation, those that remained were the family of George Pope, the Germans had free reign to do as they wished. At least in the other islands the civilian authorities could protest and in some cases prevent some actions of the Germans.
George Pope had refused to leave as it would have meant that his cattle would have been left untended. Aside from the Pope family the only other Channel Islanders on Alderney were occasional working parties sent from Guernsey.
Whilst it became possible to return to other Channel Islands without a permit from 31 March 1946 it was not that easy to return to Alderney. By the end of 1946 only 459 islanders had returned. This was approximately one third of the population.
The damage to the island and the difficulties of restoring some form of normality went on for a number of years causing all sorts of difficulties and arguments. It eventually led to an enquiry by the Home Secretary and a fundamental overhaul of their system of government. I will deal with that in a future blog.
If you would like to know more about the homecoming and hear from some who were there the film below is worth a watch.
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© Nick Le Huray
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