This blog post is a slightly different one as it relates to events in the 1970s but about the Channel Islands during the Occupation of 1940-1945. It really is quite a curious tale, and it is hard to see what the character involved thought he might gain by his actions.

It lead me to a connection between Jersey and one of the most successful and well known double agents of the Second World War, as well as a traitor that was tried for treason after the war.

I recently found an article in the Guardian newspaper about a visit to the Channel Islands in October 1974. A man who claimed to be a former British Intelligence Officer turned author, Peter Tombs certainly seems to have been an interesting and controversial character throughout his life. He made strange claims about Martin Bormann and I found another, not immediately obvious, connection to the Channel Islands in that story. More about that later in this blog post.

He claimed that “he might take out a prosecution against the islands collectively under an ancient law of “harbouring of the King’s enemy”” when he appeared on a television show during his visit to the Channel Islands.

I wondered what motivated him to make this claim and why, if you were going to do so, you would travel to the very islands you are accusing to make those accusations on the local TV station. Much less be surprised when it provokes a hostile reaction from the population.

He claimed to have written a book on the subject although I cannot, at this time find any trace of, or of any legal action that he claimed he was going to launch.

He was believed to have completed a book, provisionally called “The Traitor Isles,” which accuses the Islanders of extreme passivity during the five years of occupation during the last war. He is considering taking out a prosecution against the Islands collectively under a sixteenth-century treason law for “harbouring of the King’s enemy.”

Guardian article 9 October 1974: Channel Islanders committed ‘treason’ in second world war.

One has to wonder why nobody checked on his past, previous claims, and accusations. I appreciate that it is much easier check the bona fides of people in the internet age but he had hardly been a stranger to the British national newspapers at the time.

Channel TV are quoted in the article giving their reasons and the reaction to the interview. Sadly I cannot find any footage of the interview.

A spokesman for Channel TV said last night: “Our switchboard was jammed with angry callers after the programme. Only one or two offered information about black marketeering and collaboration. The great majority very much resented what Mr Tombs said. We decided to invite him over when we heard about his book and like any good journalist we wanted to investigate it further.”

Guardian article 9 October 1974: Channel Islanders committed ‘treason’ in second world war.

He claimed that he had spoken to islanders and high ranking Germans that supported his story.

Now I am not saying that there weren’t people that made profits from the black market or that collaborated, these are well documented. Action was taken against those that had profited in 1946 to confiscate those profits and others had to live with the consequences.

He was going to launch a court case or at the very least to get questions raised in the House of Commons. I have searched the National Archives, British Newspaper Archive and Hansard. None of these provide any evidence of either or the book being published.

You can read the article about his appearance on Channel TV, the local ITV station for the Channel Islands here.

So who was Peter Tombs the British intelligence officer? Well it would seem that it was doubtful that he was a British intelligence officer at all. He first appeared in an article in 1969 where he claimed to be a double agent for South Africa & Tanzania.

Daily Mirror – Friday 11 July 1969
Image © Reach PLC. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

This was quickly denounced by the South African Premier.

Daily Mirror – Saturday 12 July 1969
Image © Reach PLC. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD

A couple of years after the interview in the Channel Islands he made some “interesting” claims in the Birmingham Daily Post. According to Tombs, Martin Bormann was alive and well and farming in Norfolk.

A series of articles in this vein followed. This was a little odd, not least because Bormann’s body had been found, and he had been declared dead in 1973!

Birmingham Daily Post – Tuesday 09 March 1976
Birmingham Daily Post – Tuesday 09 March 1976

His claim about Bormann was supported in the next article by another interesting character.

Diss Express – Friday 19 March 1976
Image © Iliffe News & Media Ltd. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

The man that supported his claim, Mr Eric Pleasants, obviously forgot to tell the reporter how he came to be in Berlin in 1945. The reporters also missed that Eric Pleasants had been tried for treason in 1946 and that he had a book written about his life in 1957.

Diss Express – Friday 26 March 1976
Image © Iliffe News & Media Ltd. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

Curiously Tombs claimed that he wanted to ensure that Bormann came to no harm. Which is an odd sentiment when talking about a senior Nazi! After the article above the story disappeared. One can only assume that he liked the publicity and got some sort of strange kick out of it.

When I looked further into Eric Pleasants and how he found himself in Berlin I discovered that he had been tried for treason in absentia in 1946. I then found that he had a connection with Jersey. He had left England in May 1940 to try and avoid military service. Caught up in the occupation of the islands he was sent to prison a number of times, during this time he met Eddie Chapman. Chapman was in prison in Jersey and went on to become “Agent Zig Zag”.

Following his deportation to Germany he joined up to fight for the Germans in the British Free Corps. He deserted and was captured by the Russians and wasn’t freed until 1954.

You can read about Pleasants here and Chapman here.

That is the end of this blog. If I find more I will share it.

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I will be adding more as time permits. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it on social media or add a comment if you did. Feedback is always appreciated.

Also happy to be contacted with questions about the war in the Channel Islands, media appearances, podcasts etc.

© Nick Le Huray

Author: Nick Le Huray 🇬🇬

Guernsey based amateur historian. Interested in the Occupation of the Channel Islands and wider Second World War history.


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