At the outbreak of war in 1939 Channel Islanders were only able to be conscripted into the British forces to serve outside of the Channel Islands for limited purposes. The Islands had militias but their purpose was for the defence of the Islands themselves.

For centuries it had only been a requirement that Channel Islanders would serve overseas in two specific sets of circumstances. To accompany the Sovereign in person to recover England or to rescues the Sovereign if they were captured.

There was some confusion in Whitehall at the outbreak of war about the position was and what exactly to do about it. The War Office not being sure if they could liaise with the Islands directly or whether this had to be through the Home Office. Eventually the Home Office agreed that the War Office could liaise directly with the Lieutenant Governors of Jersey and Guernsey.

Whilst this was going on Jersey had already passed a resolution on the 16th September 1939 placing all their resources at the disposal of the Crown.

Jersey was first to pass a law which meant that all men, of British nationality, between the ages of eighteen and forty one could be directed by the Jersey Government to join the British armed forces. Jersey passed this law in January 1940 with the input of the War Office into the drafting of the law. The drafting of this law would prove to be a problem later on as they had unintentionally created a loophole.

The Guernsey Government had also passed a resolution of a similar nature in September 1939 to draft a law to enable the Guernsey Government to direct men to enlist in the British Forces in a similar manner to the Jersey proposal.

The Guernsey law was sent in draft to London for their agreement in mid February 1940, a month after Jersey had passed their law. It was during the discussions about the draft Guernsey law that it became apparent that there was a problem. If a Guernseyman was was invited to enlist under the law, all they needed to do was answer no to the question on the enlistment form “Are you willing to be enlisted for general service?”. This would then enable them to avoid being conscripted.

They then discovered that this was also a problem with the law already passed by the Jersey Government. This left them in a bit of a bind as to how to resolve this with drawing attention to it.

This discrepancy was noticed by the Guernsey Government and there was a bit of a an argument about whose fault it was, with the blame being put at Jersey’s door. In the end it was discovered that it was a hasty amendment made by the Home Office that had introduced the problem and that the original draft sent by by Jersey had been correct.

The Lieutentant-Governor of Jersey wrote to the War Office on 24th April 1940 outlining the problem with the legal position and that the calling up of men would have to be delayed until the matter had been resolved. There is extensive correspondence around the matter.

B/A/W19/1 Baliff’s Chambers Occupation Files – Jersey Heritage Archive

It was eventually concluded that only option to resolve the situation, without drawing attention to the loophole, was to amend the legislation in the UK. The bill received it’s second reading on 30 May 1945 in the House of Lords.

My Lords, I crave the indulgence which I believe is usually granted to a newcomer to your Lordships’ House, more especially as during the short period since I was called to my present office we have been living under great strain. I have not been able therefore to give that time to a study of the procedure and forms of debate in your Lordships’ House which I certainly would have been able to give at any other time.

The purpose of the Bill to which I now ask your Lordships to give a Second Reading is to legalise the enlistment of men called up in the Channel Islands under the local national service laws for service in the armed forces of the Crown.

Though compulsory service has always existed in the Islands in some form or another for the purposes of defence, the islanders have by ancient charter been immune from serving outside the Channel Islands, except for the purpose of rescuing the Sovereign. Shortly after the outbreak of war the States of the Islands waived this traditional right and decided to offer men who were fit for service abroad to serve in the armed forces of the Crown under the same conditions as men in this country.

Lord Croft requesting the second reading of the bill, 30 May 1940, Hansard

During the debate several Lords spoke of the loyalty of the Channel Islanders.

I would also like to re-echo what my noble friend Lord Strabolgi said about the patriotism of the ChannelIslands.

Lord Jessel, Hansard, 30 May 1940, Hansard

I must also state the pleasure which we feel in observing that the Channel Islands, that most interesting part of these Islands, join as they have always done in the past in making their contribution to the welfare and defence of the Empire.

The Marquess of Crewe, Hansard, 30 May 1940, Hansard
The Scotsman – Friday 31 May 1940

On 3rd of June 1940 the Government of Guernsey had reported to London that the relevant local legislation had been passed in the States of Guernsey and that Alderney had also ratified the application of the law.

Hansard records that the UK legislation, the National Service (Channel Islands) Act, 1940, had received Royal Assent on the 13th June 1940.

The Privy Council approved the Guernsey law on 26th June 1940. This made the law somewhat academic as the majority of those that wished to leave the Channel Islands had already done so. It was also only two days before the Germans bombed St Peter Port and St Helier and only four days before the Germans landed. The majority of men who would have been caught by the legislation had already left the Channel Islands and volunteered before the law was in place. This long drawn out process and somewhat confused administrative procedure turned out ultimately to be for nothing.

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© 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.


  1. As regards Jersey, there was a Military Services Law enacted in 1917 which would have sufficed. I can only assume it was repealed at some stage.

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