DARING EIGHT ESCAPE TO ENGLAND – 6 SEPTEMBER 1940. THE FIRST DETAILED NEWS OF CONDITIONS!

This is the story of eight men who made a daring escape, by small boat, to England on 6th September 1940. The escapees were Frederick Hockey, a signalman at St Peter Port harbour, his three sons Frederick, George, and Harold. The remainder were William Dorey, William Mahy, Percy Du Port, and Herbert Le C. Bichard. Apart from Frederick they were all tomato growers.

It is incredible to think that they made this journey at night, in a 20ft boat, initially to Dartmouth and then on to Brixham. A journey of approximately eighty-seven miles through some challenging waters. They also didn’t have charts!

I had read a very brief report about this escape in the 1978 Channel Islands Occupation Review and decided to see if I could find more information1. This blog post is compiled using multiple sources which are detailed in the footnotes at the end.

I managed to find quite a bit of additional information as, unusually, it received quite a lot of newspaper coverage in England in the weeks following their escape. This included the names of all involved and a lot of other information about the occupation of Guernsey. This is partly because it was relatively early on in the occupation and thoughts about family members left behind being impacted hadn’t been considered.

The British government even sent three RAF bombing raids to Guernsey, as well as bombs they also dropped leaflets and copies of the the Daily Sketch and Daily Mirror newspapers reporting the escape. More of this later.

As with the all of the escapes in 1940 there doesn’t appear to be any MI 19 reports of interviews with them, unlike the later escapes where it is possible to obtain detailed reports. MI 19, a section of British Directorate of Military Intelligence, interviewed anyone arriving in England from the continent or the Channel Islands. This was to establish that they weren’t spies and to obtain valuable intelligence about the enemy. They also interrogated German prisoners as well as listening to their conversations covertly to obtain information. If you are interested in the activities of MI 19 I recommend the book by Helen Fry ‘The London Cage’.2

This escape, and the escape immediately preceding it, had serious ramifications for fisherman in Guernsey. Following these two escapes an order was issued on 26 September 1940 that all boats, including those stored on land, were to be moved to St Sampson and St Peter Port harbours by 1 October. The Germans were worried that escapees would provide valuable intelligence to the British authorities.

As a result of these restrictions this was to be the last escape from Guernsey until some two years later in September 1942.

Planning

In a newspaper interview Frederick said he felt that “All of this German business was getting a bit two thick.”3 The Germans were importing a large number of German women into the island and they were working in cafes and other places. Frederick’s son Harold went into a cafe and ordered a cup of tea but some Germans who came in after were served first. In typical British fashion Frederick said “This was the sort of thing that makes your blood boiling angry.” The other thing that irritated him was the “oily politeness” and attempts to ingratiate themselves with the local population.

All of the restrictions introduced by the Germans were in Frederick’s words making living in the island impossible.

Expecting air raids, there had been raids in August 1940 on the airport, the Germans had made all civilians dig air raid shelters at home and at their place of work. They also appeared worried that the British may try to take back the island and had, just before this escape, commandeered a number of large yachts and boats and had them fuelled and ready for them to make their getaway should this happen.

This made the prospect of escape by civilians more difficult. Despite this Herbert Bichard approached Frederick and discreetly enquired if he had ever thought of trying to escape. They went to Frederick’s house and sat in his kitchen where they discussed the possibility of an escape. Bichard had access to a 20ft boat, the ‘Tim’, and wanted to use it to escape along with three friends.

As they were all tomato growers they needed someone with boating experience. Frederick had considerable experience of boats sailing around the Channel Islands and this was why they had approached him. He agreed on the proviso that he could take his three sons with him.

They met several times after this, in his kitchen, to come up with a plan as to how to get away. Eventually they agreed on a plan and the night they would attempt it providing conditions were suitable. They needed a pitch dark night and the right tide.

Escape

At ten thirty, half an hour after the curfew started, on the evening of 6th September the men left their homes and set off on foot. They carried a few recent copies of local newspapers, some heavy spanners and some petrol for the boat engine. The petrol was difficult to obtain despite this being only two months after the Germans occupied the island.

Frederick said that they hadn’t dared to leave the petrol on the boat so carried it in cans with them. Another report said that they used beer bottles to transport it so it is not clear which method they used. He declined to say how they had acquired it but one can safely assume they pinched it from the Germans!4

They had armed themselves with heavy spanners as they knew some of the areas were patrolled by Germans. They had decided that it was “them or us” if they were stopped by a German patrol.

In order to attempt to avoid the German patrols they made their way through fields, back gardens and vineries. You can see from the photograph below how many vineries there were in that part of the island at the time. When they got to a main road that they had to cross they spotted a German on a bicycle and ducked into the long grass clutching their heavy spanners. Fortunately, they had not seen them and they crept across the road and continued on their way.

Their first objective was to reach a small dinghy which was hidden on the small tidal islet of Houmet Benest, circled in red on the photograph, at Bordeaux harbour.

The photograph below shows how Houmet Benest can be accessed via a shingle bank except at high tide. Google maps seems to have picked up a slightly different spelling of the name.
Houmet Benest the small islet from which they started their escape. Google Maps

The photograph below from Google maps show the location of the islet of Houmet Benest in relation to St Sampson’s harbour.

Map showing the location of Bordeaux Harbour, St Sampson Harbour and Houmet Benest. Google Maps.

If they had been trying to escape using Houmet Benest later in the occupation they would have been out of luck as the Germans put a 10.5cm Gun and a machine gun position there to strengthen the defences. If you want to have a virtual look around Houmet Benest you can do so thanks to probably the youngest historian in the island Zac Osborne. His video is below.

Very grateful to Zac and his dad Tim for producing this video not least because it saved me climbing over the rocks! Well worth subscribing to his YouTube Channel.

Herbert Bichard and Frederick rowed out to the boat named ‘Tim’ which was on an outer mooring. They then rowed back and collected the others from a group of rocks where they had agreed to meet them. Having returned to the ‘Tim’ they made fast the dinghy and rowed for about half a mile before they caught the tide and raised the sail.

This would have been risky as, by this point, there would have been Germans based at Vale Castle. The castle is on a hill and has an excellent view out over Bordeaux Harbour. Also there would have been sentries along the coast.

Frederick was worried about making any noise and attracting unwanted attention. Just a noisy splash of the oars could have given them away.

They were just north of the Platte Fougère lighthouse, which is a mile off of the north-east tip of Guernsey when three German aircraft flew overhead and flares were dropped. Incredibly they weren’t spotted despite the flares coming very close to the boat. One flare landed in the water only twenty yards from the stern of the boat.

They were unsure if the aircraft had been sent to look for them or if they were doing something else. What they did know was if they had been caught they would have been in serious trouble. If they had been caught they would have been sent to prison for a long time, probably in France. Realising that the noise of the aircraft engines would mask the sound of their boat engine they decided to risk starting it.

Just after passing the Casquets Lighthouse, twenty-five miles north of Guernsey and just eight miles from Alderney, their engine broke down and they had to repair it. This must have been a very nervous four hours drifting at sea, in waters that have strong currents, along with the risk of being spotted by a German aircraft or a German E-Boat, particularly given their encounter with aircraft dropping flares earlier.

Once they repaired the motor they headed for Dartmouth unmolested. Upon their arrival they were unable to attract attention to be let through the boom in the harbour so proceeded to Brixham where they were towed into the harbour by a customs launch. In total, their journey had taken some nineteen hours.

Unlike later escapes from the Channel Islands, they weren’t interviewed by MI 19 but were instead dispersed to their families around England. Frederick Hockey Senior had thirteen Children and all bar his eldest sons, who escaped with him, and his daughter, who wouldn’t leave with him when he escaped, had previously been evacuated.

Newspaper reports

This escape received extensive newspaper coverage, indeed probably the most detailed coverage of any escape from Guernsey.

Initial reports appeared in some newspapers, The Daily Sketch and Daily Mirror, on 27 September 1940. These articles are all relatively short. They didn’t really contain much of any interest.

The Daily Herald ran several days of detailed articles in October about the escape and life in occupied Guernsey. This provided details as to life in the run-up to and under the Germans in the first few months of the occupation. There are some interesting observations within these articles which are worth sharing.

In the first article5 on 16 October, the reporter, Dudley Barker, announced that through the interviews with Frederick Hockey, he would be able to provide for the first time the story of the occupation by the Germans.

After the fall of Paris and the Germans getting closer to the French coast, there was much unease and talk of evacuation, although nothing had been announced. One day Frederick was sitting in his office at the White Rock, St Peter Port harbour, and he got the first hint that things were really wrong. At two o’clock, he noticed that the British garrison was starting to embark on ships. They took everything men, guns and transport. By six o’clock that evening, they were gone and the harbour was quiet again.

Guernsey was now completely undefended. The Royal Guernsey Militia had been disbanded and the Home Guard as they would have been called in England had been disarmed.

Many had not known, with the exception of some in government, that the British were pulling out until it happened; there was a bit of an uproar with people wondering what was going on. This is referred to by Douglas Ord and Ralph Durand in their diaries.

For two days nothing happened. Then it was announced that all women and children under fourteen years old were to be registered for evacuation. Frederick was at work in the signal station when his wife and youngest children left. Interestingly Frederick notes that the boats were by no means full as some people changed their minds. He saw one ship leave which he thought could have carried four thousand and he doubted that there were more than thirty people on it.

On Saturday morning his son Harold came to see him at work and said that he was not going and neither was his girlfriend or his sister and her boyfriend. They had heard a rumour on the Friday night that those that had reached England were being compelled to sleep in public parks so the girls didn’t want to go. He did try to persuade his daughter to join the escape but she was worried that it was too dangerous so would not leave Guernsey and he could not press her to do so.

Another reason that some didn’t go was that on the Saturday the Bailiff and other leading men of the island climbed onto platforms and urged people not to leave. They said trade would carry on as usual, there would be no worry or trouble and if it came to the worst they would see that everybody got safely away. They had cars going around with posters saying ‘Don’t be yellow’. There was no compulsion but they persuaded thousands of people not to leave; he booked out large ships the government had sent with only a handful of people aboard. 

Example of the posters that were placed around Guernsey

The following week the island shook itself back to normal. The tomato boats that had ceased running during the evacuation week started running more busily than ever. The lorries pulled up to the quayside in St Peter Port and the mail boats came in again as usual. He had never had such a busy week. Everything seemed so normal that a few people who had gone away to England came back again on the mail boats, although some others decided to evacuate after all though this time they had to pay their own fares. 

Throughout that week he saw various German aircraft fly over the harbour initially high in the sky and then later at low level, so low he could see the pilot in the cockpit. Then on Friday 28 June 1940 the Channel Islands were attacked by German bombers. You can read about this in the article below.

After the air raid they knew that the Germans would be invading the Channel Islands they just didn’t expect it to happen so quickly.

In the next article on 17th October6 Frederick talks about the arrival of the Germans in Guernsey on Sunday 30th June. He, like most people, was not aware of the arrival of the Germans until the next day. On the Sunday afternoon, he had seen a German plane in the distance and had seen it dip but then rise again. Later in the afternoon, he saw another, and this time he did not see it take off again.

In the evening, he rode his bicycle to work. On the way, he saw people gathered on doorsteps chatting and some called out to him to see if he knew what was happening, but he didn’t have any news for them. The rest of his ride was not unusual except he felt that it was quieter than normal and those that he did see were quite nervy. He did not see any Germans.

When he arrived at the signal station his colleague asked him what he thought of things now, and Frederick told him that he didn’t like the look of it because he thought that a German plane had landed at the airport. His colleague went home, and he was alone, not that he was busy, as no ships were coming in or leaving the harbour.

It was deadly quiet except for the drone of the troop-carrying planes that started to come over about 18:00 and kept it up all night. At midnight one of the local police officers came to relieve him. This was because one of the signalmen had slipped away at the last moment on the pig boat from Alderney. The police officer had no definite news either. He asked what things were like and Frederick said very slack except for those planes going over and he didn’t know quite what to make of that. The police officer said all they could do now was hope for the best and it was his belief that the Germans had arrived.

He got on his bicycle and went home and still, there was nothing unusual to see. The island was very still except for the sound of those planes and the sound of the sea. It was a lovely night. Everything was alright when he got home, so he just went to bed.

The next morning he went down to the seawall at Bordeaux Bay which was the usual meeting place for the area and there were about one hundred people there sitting on the wall, talking and looking out to sea. They knew he had been on duty at the harbour so they asked me for news but he had none to give them. Then two German officers drove by in a car. They were the first they had seen and they were too surprised to do anything but stare at them.

The car was a Guernsey car that they had commandeered. They were driving along cool as you please in the sunshine towards Fort Doyle. Everyone stared at them, and they smiled and saluted and drove on. Frederick muttered something about there go the square-headed pigs. That encounter answered all of their questions. The Germans were here all right, so the meeting on the sea wall broke up, and he went home for breakfast. While he was sitting at breakfast in his kitchen two more Germans went by on motorbikes that they had brought with them in the aircraft.

By noon, the place suddenly seemed to be full of Germans. By nightfall, they were all in their positions, and the German patrols were out on the roads, and that’s how the Germans occupied Guernsey. It made people laugh a day or two later to read the German communique about it, which was printed in our newspapers. It said the British island of Guernsey was captured in a daring coup de main by detachments of the German Air Force. It also reported that in an air fight, the Germans reconnaissance aeroplanes shot down two RAF Bristol Blenheim bombers. There appears to be no record of these aircraft being shot down!

You can read in more detail about the arrival of the Germans in my article below.

The next instalment appeared on 18th October, where he detailed the initial days of the occupation and the impact that it had.7 The first thing he knew on Monday morning, after the encounter with the two Germans, was that the island’s two newspapers were being distributed free. They kept that up for three days, and their front pages were covered with the new German regulations for Guernsey. These new regulations were one of the things that were to spur him on to escape.

The regulations were extensive. All weapons, guns, ammunition, daggers and bayonets had to be handed in immediately to the Royal Hotel. It was forbidden to sing God Save The King; the penalty for doing that was 15 years of penal servitude. Nobody was to be outside their home at night between the hours of 22:00 and 06:00.

No fishermen were allowed to leave the port initially, three weeks later this was altered and they were allowed to go out to a limit of two miles from the shore. One or two fishermen broke this rule and they got a shot across the bows as a warning and then a launch went out to bring them back. Afterwards, their boats were hauled up on the beach for the duration of the war. What is more, if three or more fishermen went out in one boat they had to take a German sentry with them, and he sat with the machine gun across his knees.

Other regulations published on that first day said all motor transport was stopped except for absolute necessities. The chief tradesmen, for instance, were allowed to use their vans for deliveries. All petrol had to be handed into the Germans at once. This was, of course, a problem when they later needed to obtain petrol to escape.

There was to be no talking in groups, and severe penalties would be imposed for that. Nobody was allowed to buy another man a drink in a pub every man had to pay for his own. All sales of spirits were banned, and the spirits were to be handed over to the Germans. Larders had to be cleared of stores of sugar, tea, bacon and any tinned food. It had to be handed over to the Germans at the Channel Islands Hotel. He decided to risk not handing in his food and was lucky that his house wasn’t searched, unlike others.

These were just the first restrictions that impeded normal life. In the next article8 he explains how difficult it made life.

It was surprising, really, how things settled down on Guernsey on the surface, at any rate, after the Germans had been there a few days. After the shock of finding them there at all the islanders were pleasantly surprised at first to discover that the occupation did not seem to mean any particular hardships. It was not long before things began to get sufficiently intolerable for these eight men at least to risk their lives in escaping to England.

Initially, the most difficult thing was getting used to observing all of the regulations. Early on, some people were caught out just two minutes after the curfew. They were taken to a hotel for the night before appearing before the German court in the morning. They were fined and made to pay for their hotel accommodation.

The Germans imposed much stricter blackout restrictions than had previously been in place and Frederick tells some interesting stories. Before the occupation, you might get a ticking off from the local police officer; under the Germans, things were much stricter and slightly bizarrely different!

Old Bob, the police constable, got a shot through his window that nearly hit him because his wife had left a tiny crack in the curtains. Another man was shaving, and there happened to be a faint glow through a window. A German officer walked into the room, smashed the electric bulb with a revolver shot and then walked out again without saying a single word!

He said that the most difficult thing of all to get used to was ‘the attitude of the square-headed pigs themselves’. That is what Frederick said most people usually called the German soldiers.

They offered cigarettes, drinks and even packets of coffee to him. They were always mixing with locals in the pubs. Frederick said he would say ‘Look out here are the square-headed pigs,’ but they took no notice of that. Men would turn their backs, but the Germans would force their way up and offer drinks. Frederick and his friends would say that they had enough or make any sort of excuse but it was no good. They would buy the drinks put them down in front of them, and we had to drink them. Then, they would bring out cigarettes and cigars and compel them to accept them. If you refused the drinks that were offered, there was trouble. They were just so damn polite. This attempt to ingratiate themselves with islanders really got to him.

Sometimes, we just couldn’t stick it any longer and had to revolt. Frederick remembered one night he and some friends had got a bit merry in the London House and then they went home and stood outside his house and sang God Save The King as loudly as they could. Then his friends cycled home after midnight, more than two hours past the curfew. There were plenty of sentries about, but he thought that they must have looked as though we were spoiling for a bit of trouble that night, and none of them spoke to them.

The next instalment in the Daily Herald appeared on 21st October. This article dealt with the difficulties following the first few weeks of occupation.

A couple of weeks after the occupation, the Germans decided to prove that things would be better and happier under occupation. The idea was we should have no rich or poor, and all men would be equal except, of course, the Germans.

It was duly announced in the Guernsey newspapers that, henceforward, all businesses would belong to the States of Guernsey9, which in turn, of course, though this was not emphasised, temporarily belonged to Germany.

It was not exactly compulsory to hand your business over to the States, but if you did not there was nobody in Guernsey that could afford any longer to buy your produce. You could not export it, and you could not draw enough money to pay your employees even if you had it in the bank. This meant there was not much choice about it. A week later, all wages on the island were regulated as well. It was announced that every single man who was employed, and the Germans saw to it that they were employed if only for forced labour at the airport, would draw thirty shillings a week from the States.

Married men would get an extra 30 shillings a week with one shilling extra for each child up to the number of five and sixpence extra for each child over that number. Foremen and people who previously owned their business received two shillings a week extra and people with dependent relatives also got a little bit more. It was surprising how quickly you can put this sort of organisation into force, providing nobody is allowed to express any opinion about it and nobody is allowed to argue against it for they had it running in Guernsey within a few days.

They appointed overseers in each district to go around and make sure that everybody was working properly. Then, they set up local court officials in the school rooms in each parish to pay out the government wages collected each week by the foremen and the owners of businesses.

People of independent means were no better off because no matter how much they had in the bank, they were not allowed to draw out more than their 30 shillings each week, although they did not have to do any work. That was why no man could carry on his private business, as he could not get the money to pay his expenses. The Germans of course, wanted all businesses to be handed over to the States so they themselves could control them. Most of the Guernsey businesses were glass houses for growing tomatoes or grapes. The Germans made the growers turn many of them over to other crops, particularly maize and beans. It was thought that they wanted the seed to be sent to Germany for next year’s sowing.

Now, this idea of everybody having an equal income, even if it was a rather small income, sounded alright in theory, and some people got taken in by it at first.  Frederick heard several of them say so in pubs and sitting on the sea wall of an evening.  Even these people soon began to realise that things did not work out quite the way they thought they would. Everybody is working, everybody is equal, everybody is happy and so on. What happened was the Guernsey people were paid in Guernsey money that was the same as English money. At the same time, the Germans flooded the island with German money; at first, it was Marks they brought from Germany, but a week or two later they started printing them in Guernsey itself.

The Germans were paid in Marks, and the Germans decided how many Marks went to their Guernsey pound. The way it worked out was that the German private soldiers were getting three pounds a week in Guernsey money, and their NCOs and officers were rich men. Then, locals began to find out that it didn’t matter so much what their incomes were, but it did matter if there was nothing to buy with them. Nothing was imported into the island for the use of islanders, whilst the Germans got everything they wanted.

One of the first results was one by one the shops were closing down, despite the German order that business should carry on as usual. They were closing because they had exhausted their stocks. They could not get any more, and they had nothing left to sell. Then, the shopkeepers went out to work on the land or at the airport for thirty shillings a week. That was what his father-in-law had to do for one.

The Germans tried to cover all of this up by starting a little gaiety. They reopened the cinemas twice a week and at first, they showed one German and one English film. But when they had used up all the English films that were in the Channel Islands, they had to be all German films for which they put English subtitles. They also started showing propaganda films.

The article on the 22nd of October continued to tell the story of the difficulties faced by the local population.

Soon there was no bacon, no coal, and they were having to make potato bread. Frederick said that he feared that this winter, people in Guernsey would be existing on little else except potatoes and bread. The bread itself was at least half potato flour already. The Germans even got at people who had vegetable gardens and people who owned a field of potatoes to make a little pocket money. They published an order that these people could only keep for themselves five perches10 of potatoes each, and that had to last the winter.  

The other great trouble was clothes; they were rationed too, and nobody was allowed to buy any clothes at all, not even a pair of bootlaces, without the consent of the Kommandant. If you wanted to buy something, you had to take the old worn-out article along with you when you applied for permission to prove that it was really unwearable. Nearly always, they would hand it back to you saying you can wear it for a few weeks longer. You even had to get a permit to have your shoes repaired and you had to take the shoes to prove they needed it. As for buying a new packet of razor blades, it simply couldn’t be done.

There was of course a strong regulation that nobody could say anything against the Germans or Germany. One day a girl walked into a shop to buy something or other, and they could not sell it to her. She got a bit annoyed and said something about the Germans having everything and the Guernsey people having nothing. She went on that like that for a few minutes just an ordinary bit of grumbling.

As she stepped out of the shop door, she was arrested by one of those men in plain clothes who had been standing outside listening. They took the girl to prison, and though he didn’t think a charge was ever brought against her she was still in prison when he left the island. That taught people to be much more careful about what they said in public, and they started looking over their shoulders to see who was about before they said anything at all.

Early one morning, about fifty German soldiers, all dressed up for battle and carrying their guns, went off with a few boats and a film camera crew to the little island of Herm, which lies off the east coast of Guernsey. They put the camera person ashore on the deserted beach, and then the German soldiers made a gallant landing from their boats. Then they got back into the boats again and made the landing again and again. They landed on that beach hundreds of times that day. They then had a film which looked like thousands and thousands of German soldiers fully armed landed on a beach. He supposed they had already taken a film of German troop ships leaving Germany.

Not all their activities were just propaganda, though; one reason why islanders were not allowed to be out of doors at night was that they were practising all sorts of things, landings on the coast amongst them. There didn’t seem to be much doubt in his mind that if the Germans ever did really try to invade England, they planned part of the invasion to come from the Channel Islands.

They certainly had a lot of guns and ammunition there, and he saw the boats bringing them in and was held to secrecy about it under the threat of the most severe penalties, which may have included death. Frederick said the German propaganda was on the wrong tack when they tried to prove the British were bombing us. The reason was the Guernsey folk would have welcomed it.

Most had grown to hate the Germans, in spite of their soft soap methods, that they would willingly have taken a chance if the British started bombing the Germans out of the island. He had heard scores of Guernsey folks say that. Indeed they were delighted when the British bombed the airport. His father-in-law was up there at the time and he was delighted as the rest of us when we heard the news. Incidentally, as it happens, the RAF killed Germans in that raid and not a single Guernsey-man.

The reaction of the  Guernsey people towards the Germans after three months of this polite invasion was that they loathed them like poison. A few people may have been partly won over by the propaganda but most of the islanders would give their lives to see the Germans driven out. For now they were powerless to do anything but to submit to German orders, but that is how they feel about it.

The final article dealt with the escape which I dealt with earlier in this blog post. The poignant thing at the end of the article is where Frederick says ‘One day we will go back to Guernsey, with luck, in the British expedition to recapture it’.

Leaflet drops & bombing raids

Following the escape, and the early reports of it in the the Daily Mirror and Daily Sketch, there were a number of bombing raids which were also leaflet drops.

The raids didn’t kill any locals but left Guernsey covered in leaflets blowing around with the Germans desperately scrabbling to collect them. The locals were reminded that being caught with these leaflets was an offence. You can see an example of the leaflets below.

Extract from the leaflet dropped on Guernsey following the escape. Photograph © Nick Le Huray
Leaflet dropped on Guernsey following the escape. Photograph © Nick Le Huray

Consequences

The escape had serious consequences for islanders. The Germans published a notice that all boats whether moored around the coast or on dry land must be brought to to St Peter Port harbour. This severely impacted the ability of islanders to fish and therefore provide vital food for the island.

At the time it looked like they were there for the duration, however, later in the war the Germans relented and fishing was permitted from St Peter Port, St Sampson and Portelet. Those fishing trips were policed by the Germans under strict rules.

The first official notification of the escape came in a notice published in the Guernsey newspapers.

It must now be known to a good many local inhabitants that some eight persons recently left this Island in a boat with a view to reaching England. As a direct result, drastic control of boats has been instituted by the German Authorities, resulting in fishermen in the northern and western parts of our Island being unable to follow their vocation, and depriving the population of a very large proportion of the fish obtainable.

Any further such departures or attempts thereat can only result in further restrictions. In other words, any persons who manage to get away do so at the expense of those left behind. In the event of a repetition of any such incident there is a grave possibility that, by way of reprisal, the male population of the Island will be evacuated to France.

To any who may be contemplating running away (for that is what it is), we urgently address the order to put it out of their heads as an action unworthy of Guernsey men. I am officially informed that, before the incident, the local German command had been at pains to communicate to their headquarters the cooperation of the Island authorities and the exemplary behaviour of the whole of the civilian population, and, for their part, they hope no further incident will compel them to take the drastic action which would follow the departure of any other boat. (Signed) A.J. Sherwill

Notice published in the Guernsey News papers 28th September 1940 by A. J. Sherwill who was President of the Controlling Committee which represented the Government of Guernsey.

The Reverend Douglas Ord noted in his diary11 on the 28th September that he had been to town and groups of people were discussing the notice. Durand notes in his book that some people were critical of the use of ‘running away’ and an ‘action unworthy’ of Guernseymen. The more level headed realised that Sherwill was having to walk a difficult line to do the best for the population without provoking the Germans.

I hope you have found this an interesting story. I will be dealing with other escapes in the future.

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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

Footnotes

  1. Derek Kreckler Article – Channel Islands Occupation Review 1978 ↩︎
  2. The London Cage – Helen Fry ↩︎
  3. Daily Herald 24 October 1940 – Reporter Dudley Barker – British Newspaper Archive ↩︎
  4. Daily Herald 24 October 1940 – Reporter Dudley Barker – British Newspaper Archive ↩︎
  5. Daily Herald 16 October 1940 – Reporter Dudley Barker – British Newspaper Archive ↩︎
  6. Daily Herald 17 October 1940 – Reporter Dudley Barker – British Newspaper Archive ↩︎
  7. Daily Herald 18 October 1940 – Reporter Dudley Barker – British Newspaper Archive ↩︎
  8. Daily Herald 19 October 1940 – Reporter Dudley Barker – British Newspaper Archive ↩︎
  9. The States of Guernsey is the Government of the Bailiwick of Guernsey. ↩︎
  10. Perch = 41m² ↩︎
  11. THE REVEREND DOUGLAS ORD GUERNSEY OCCUPATION DIARIES ↩︎

ISLAND FORTRESS ON TOUR – NORMANDY

I have recently, at the time of writing this in October 2023, returned from an organised week long tour in Normandy. I thought it would be useful to share details of this tour for my readers as it was an excellent experience.

With the Normandy coast visible from the Channel Islands and the ferry service to Cherbourg and Saint-Malo it is also reasonably accessible. It is also easy to get to Normandy from England on the ferry to Ouistreham.

Organised by Paul Woodage of WW2TV, if you haven’t subscribed to his YouTube channel you should, and Magali Desquesne her tour website is here. They are both very experienced guides with a wealth of knowledge. Magali is a full time tour guide and Paul divides his time between guiding and WW2TV which has become his main focus.

There are some photographs at the end of this page. These are just a few as I took over 1,200 during the week!

Rather than a tour that just takes you to places in a disjointed fashion they made the tour around themes and you follow the units and the battles as they develop all the way from the beaches far inland and across Normandy. You can find the full details of the tour itinerary here https://www.ddayhistorian.com/ww2tv-group-tour-new.html

This builds a complete picture of how the battle for Normandy took place. Not just in the initial days but throughout the campaign to liberate Normandy. They also covered all nationalities that were involved.

They also allow plenty of time at each location so that you can ask questions and take photographs. Rather than rushing you around and pointing out places without stopping you actually get to see them. We walked through a sunken lane in the bocage where as some tours would just show you a bit of bocage rather than stopping and letting you experience what it is like to move through it.

If like me, you have read a large number of books on the subject, a tour with them will really help you understand and see the the difficulties faced in those battles. Whilst one can read about the importance of a particular location you really cannot appreciate the challenges faced by both sides until you have been there. Many of these sites provide breathtaking views of the Normandy countryside.

They both have an encyclopaedic knowledge of the battles and the locations. This coupled with the fact that Mag was born in Normandy, her family were there during the war, means that they provided a great insight into both the military and civilian experiences.

By keeping their tour groups to around a maximum of twenty people they can use smaller vehicles, which means they can take you to places that are inaccessible to larger groups. They can also arrange bespoke tours of different durations and party sizes from a couple of people upwards.

All in all it was a fantastic week and a fantastic group from across the world. I am still trying to process all of the information that I garnered during the tour.

If you want to take a tour with Magali then take a look at her web page, link above. For the WW2TV tours keep an eye on WW2TV website and social media.

Thanks to Magali & Paul for a very special tour.

RESISTANCE, DEFIANCE AND DISRUPTION IN THE CHANNEL ISLANDS – AN OVERVIEW

One of the myths surrounding the German occupation of the Channel Islands, outside of the islands, was that there were no acts of resistance. This is simply not true. Many Channel Islanders risked serious consequences by carrying out various acts throughout the occupation with some paying the ultimate price.

I will be dealing with this in detail on the blog during the course of this year. I thought an overview in advance of that might be of interest. Particularly as I have been interviewed by History Rage on their podcast on this subject. If you missed the podcast you can find it here and also on the all the usual podcast services. It is Series 8 Episode 2.

Whilst there were no acts of armed resistance, such as in other occupied countries, there were many acts of resistance, defiance and disruption. These acts caused some Channel Islanders to be deported to prisons or camps in mainland Europe. A number of these people paid the ultimate price, eight from Guernsey and twenty one from Jersey. There were over 4,000 prosecutions for breaking German laws in the Channel Islands.1 The list is acknowledged to be incomplete and doesn’t include those deported to internment camps under the mass deportations. In the context of a total population of the Channel Islands of approximately 68,400 this a large percentage.2

Why was there no armed resistance?

A broad explanation for no armed resistance or partisans was for a number of reasons :-

1. These islands are small and lacked any mountains or forests to disappear into after such acts. In other occupied countries they could be forty or fifty miles away after an attack.

2. Most men of military age had left the islands to join the British armed forces.

3. All weapons had been confiscated at the start of the occupation.

4. They had made it quite clear that any acts against the occupying forces would result in severe reprisals. These threats were not unfounded as the islanders were to find out.

5. The population was faced with ratios of one to three or one to two Germans at various points during the war.

6. The British had removed all weapons when they demilitarised the islands.

7. At no point did the British attempt to supply weapons or organise any resistance. The reason for this was that just as they viewed the Channel Islands of no strategic value they also felt that there was no value in encouraging such resistance. It would have just led to reprisals without actively aiding the war effort.

That isn’t to say that the Germans were not worried about the possibility of armed action being taken against them.

So what resistance was there?

There were many different types of resistance, defiance and disruption during the occupation of the Channel Islands. It varied from small personally significant acts, that made the perpetrator feel better, to organised groups disseminating news from the BBC, acts of sabotage or disruption, escapes and sheltering those that the Germans were looking for.

Small personal acts

Small personal acts were many and varied. Probably the most well known was the “V” sign campaign. The campaign came about because the BBC were encouraging those in all of the occupied territories to make the Germans feel threatened and uneasy. Channel Islanders took this onboard and started utilising the “V” for victory sign.

Xavier De Guillebon – Photograph of the display at German Occupation Museum

Xavier De Guillebon was the first Channel Islander to be punished with imprisonment in Caen Prison. As the “V” sign campaign escalated the Germans threatened to have any perpetrators of this shot. Fortunately this didn’t happen.

Other personal acts were the wearing of V for victory badges made from coins. These were usually worn under the collar of a jacket and upon sighting a friend it was turned over to show the badge.

Examples of the badges fashioned from coins. These examples are on display at La Valette Museum in Guernsey.

Another example of actions taken against the Germans was an incident where two police constables spotted a very drunk German on the streets of St Peter Port. He was near the top of some steps and they gave him a shove resulting in him falling down the steps and sustaining significant injuries.3 They then called an Ambulance and were thanked by the Germans for helping their colleague. If they had been found out they would have probably been sent to prison for three months and fined two years pay.

News sheets

There were at least two organised groups that circulated news sheets after radios had been confiscated for the second time. These groups produced news sheets that were circulated at great risks to themselves.

One group was known as GUNS (Guernsey Underground News Service) and I wrote a blog post about them. You can read it on the link below.

The other group was called GASP (Guernsey Active Secret Press). GASP were lucky as they weren’t betrayed and carried on until Liberation.

Display at the German Occupation Museum which tells a little of the GASP story.

The article below also tells the story of GASP.

Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail – Saturday 19 May 1945
Image © National World Publishing Ltd. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

Sabotage

There were acts of sabotage of varying levels during the course of the occupation. I have picked a few as examples.

Probably one of the longest running acts of sabotage was in Jersey. The Germans had kept on the civilian controller of the airport, Charles Roche. It is estimated that he was responsible for at least twenty eight German aircraft being written off between 1940 and 1942. Jersey War Tours wrote an excellent piece on this which is worth a read. You can find it here

Another example of the type of activities that were carried out to sabotage German plans is the “Matthew’s Sark Party”. Despite being forced by the Germans to work for them they managed to use this to carry out acts of sabotage. A summary of this is in the article below.

Dover Express – Friday 06 July 1945 – Image © Reach PLC. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

Other acts of sabotage included cutting telephone cables or removing wooden poles from fields. In the latter case it is entirely feasible that some of these wooden poles were removed by Germans desperate for firewood.

Guernsey Evening Press – 2nd March 1945

The poles had been placed there to inhibit the landing of gliders or parachutists and were rigged with explosives. It was therefore a very risky endeavour to go near them. Fortunately the only account I can find of a casualty is of a cow which wandered in amongst them.

Sheltering escaped forced workers and others

During the course of the occupation many escaped forced workers were sheltered by locals. Some were successfully hidden for a number of years and, some until liberation in May 1945.

Probably the best known story is that of Louisa Gould and Russian Bill. You can read about this tragic story here.

As well as forced labourers there were instances of prisoners of war being helped to escape. You can read about two Americans here.

Escapes from the Channel Islands

An estimated 225 people escaped from the Channel Islands over the course of the occupation. These escapers were able to provide valuable intelligence to M.I. 19, a branch of military intelligence. This consisted of not only the state of islanders but also the defences on the islands.

This was a risky proposition because of the risk of being shot whilst trying to escape and the risks of being at sea in boats that were often unsuitable for the task.

Defiance

One of the best known acts of defiance is that of Major Marie Ozanne. I wrote a blog about her on the link below.

Repercussions of these acts

There were various different threatened repercussions in response to these acts. Ranging from being made to provide guards to patrol in the case of sabotage or “V” signs to threat of the death penalty. Examples of various notices published threatening serious consequences.

From the German Occupation Museum
Guernsey Evening Press – 19 March 1941

From August 1st 1942, all inhabitants of the Channel Isles who are held in custody for any reason by the German Authorities, either in the Channel Islands or France, are liable to the DEATH PENALTY if any attacks or acts of sabotage are made against the Occupying Power in the Occupied Territory.  

In addition, I declare that, henceforth, I reserve to myself the right to nominate certain members of any Parish who will be liable to the Death Penalty in the event of any attacks against communications, as for instance harbours, cranes, bridges, cables and wires, if these are made with the assistance or with the knowledge of the inhabitants of the Parish concerned. In their own interest I call upon the population for an increased activity and watchfulness in combating all suspicious elements, and to co-operate in the discovery of the guilty persons. The population 

of the Island are once more reminded that, in accordance with the German Military Law and in agreement with the Hague Convention, penalties are as follows.

Espionage: The death penalty. 

Sabotage: The death penalty. 

High Treason: The death penalty or penal servitude for life. 

Der Feldkommandantur, Gez. KNACKFUSS, 
Jersey, den 27.7.42. Oberst.

Memorials

There are memorials in both Guernsey & Jersey to those that died as a result of their acts of protest, defiance and resistance.

Guernsey Memorial ©️Nick Le Huray

You can read about the Guernsey Memorial here

The Jersey Memorial has a similar inscription which reads:

During the period of the German occupation of Jersey, from 1 July 1940 to 9 May 1945, many inhabitants were imprisoned for acts of protest and defiance against the Occupation Forces in H.M. Prison, Gloucester Street which stood on this site. Others were deported and held in camps in Germany and elsewhere from which some did not return.”

Jersey Memorial

Conclusion

As will have become clear from this post there are many stories to explore in this area and I will be dealing with these future blog posts.

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post or here. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorized posts to make them easier to find and other resources such as tours, places to visit and films that may be of interest.

You can also follow the blog on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs. If you prefer Facebook I also have a page there.

If you have questions or information to share you can contact me by email on Contact@Island-Fortress.Com.

You can also find articles, podcasts, TV appearances and other social media etc here.


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

Footnotes

  1. Jersey Archives L/C/24/A/5 – Lists of Channel Islanders 1940-1945 (political prisoners, deportees and escapees) List incomplete.
  2. Cruickshank “The German Occupation of the Channel Islands” Page 59 Only 6,600 out of 50,000 left Jersey and 17,000 out of 42,000 left Guernsey.
  3. Bell, William (1995). I beg to report. Bell (1995).

LIFE IN JERSEY AS A SCHOOLBOY DURING THE OCCUPATION

Just a brief blog post to flag this two part interview with Bill Morvan by his Granddaughter. An interesting account about his life, as a schoolboy, during the Occupation of Jersey.

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post or here. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorized posts to make them easier to find and other resources such as tours, places to visit and films that may be of interest.

You can also follow the blog on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs. If you prefer Facebook I also have a page there.

If you have questions or information to share you can contact me by email on Contact@Island-Fortress.Com.

You can also find articles, podcasts, TV appearances and other social media etc here.


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

NATIONAL SERVICE AND THE CHANNEL ISLANDS – AN UNUSUAL SITUATION

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.

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post or here. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorized posts to make them easier to find and other resources such as tours, places to visit and films that may be of interest.

You can also follow the blog on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs. If you prefer Facebook I also have a page there.

If you have questions or information to share you can contact me by email on Contact@Island-Fortress.Com.

You can also find articles, podcasts, TV appearances and other social media etc here.


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

FLIGHT LIEUTENANT JOHN SAVILLE – TYPHOON RAIDS ON GUERNSEY JUNE 1944

Today, 5 June 2023, I attended the memorial service for Flight Lieutenant John Saville who was killed during a Typhoon raid on Guernsey in the Channel Islands. This blog tells the story of the two raids that happened and also shares some footage of the memorial service.

Flight Lieutenant John Saville was a Canadian who flew two raids against St Peter Port in Guernsey, in the days preceding D-Day on 6th June 1944. He was a pilot in 439 Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force, ‘Tiger Squadron’, flying Typhoon 1b aircraft. Often when these raids, and Saville himself, are written about there is only a passing mention of the first raid.

I thought it would be useful to provide some detail on both raids, as well as some photographs to provide the reader with an insight into what they were attacking. Hopefully this will bring to life the events recounted in this blog.

Photograph of John Saville from Canadian War Dead Records

I wasn’t able to find a photograph of John Saville’s aircraft but I was able to find a picture of another aircraft of the same type from his squadron.

(IWM Photo, MH 6864)
Hawker Typhoon Mk. IB (Serial No. RB402), coded 5V-P, of No. 439 Squadron, RCAF

What were they attacking and why?

The target that they were attacking was a Freya Radar station in Fort George overlooking Havelet Bay and St Peter Port Harbour.

German Freya radar installation near the entrance to Fort George, St Peter Port manned by the Luftwaffe.
Image © The Priaulx Library via Occupation Archive

There was concern that the radar, with a range of 100 miles, would pick up aircraft and ships approaching Normandy for D-Day on 6 June 1944. The map below shows the proximity of the Channel Islands to the Normandy beaches used for D-Day.

Google maps showing the proximity of the Channel Islands to Normandy.

Below shows the target area, Fort George in the centre of the picture. Top centre is Castle Cornet along with the emplacement that forms the south side of the harbour.

Fort George, Havelet Bay and Castle Cornet. http://ncap.org.uk/frame/1-1-44-537-48 Taken 7th November 1942 by 140 Squadron RAF.

The Google Maps image below shows how it is today.

As the Fort, Bay and Castle look today. The Fort has mostly been redeveloped as housing.

A current day view from Fort George looking out over Havelet Bay to Castle Cornet and St Peter Port Harbour.

View from Fort George. Photograph ©️Nick Le Huray
View looking from Castle Cornet across Havelet bay to Fort George. The radar installation would have been roughly in line above first boat on the left of the picture. Photograph ©️Nick Le Huray

The first raid on 3rd June 1944

Squadron 439 RCAF Operations Record Book entry for the first raid on 3rd June 1944. Listing the aircraft and pilots involved. National Archives AIR 27/1879/8.

Eight aircraft carrying 500 lb MC bombs with instantaneous nose fusing attacked the radar installation at Saint Peter Port on the eastern coast of the heavily defended Channel Island of Guernsey. The attack was made without a hitch from a south westerly direction at an altitude of 12,500 feet led by Flight Lieutenant Dadson. The squadron half rolled into a dive on the target and succeeded In scoring a large number of hits in the target area.

No bombs were seen to burst outside of the target area. As the aircraft individually half rolled into position, then heavy flak opened up and lateral errors only were all that kept a number of our aircraft from severe damage. The dive was carried out from 12,000 feet to 3000 feet, with the aircraft being followed all the way by both light and heavy flak and finally crossing out at over 500 mph amid a barraged of incendiary bullets.

Miraculously only two of our aircraft suffered minor damage, one flown by Flying Officer Burgess was struck in the radiator and the other flown by Flying Officer Porritt was nicked in the tailplane. All aircraft returned safely operations successful.

Squadron 439 RCAF Operations Record Book entry for the first raid on 3rd June 1944. National Archives AIR 27/1879/8.

The second raid 5th June 1944

Although the record book recorded the raid on 3rd June as a success photo reconnaissance photographs revealed that the Germans were making repairs to the radar installation. It was decided that a further raid was required to ensure that it was disabled permanently.

This time Saville was leading a flight of eight Typhoons from 439 Squadron Royal Canadian Air Force, “Tiger Squadron”.

Squadron 439 RCAF Operations Record Book entry for the first raid on 5th June 1944. Listing the aircraft and pilots involved. National Archives AIR 27/1879/8.

Having received confirmation of the fact that the last raid on the radar installation at saint peter port was 75% complete this squadron set out to finish the job by knocking over the one remaining Freya radar installation in the northeast corner of the target area.

Carrying two nose fused instantaneous 500lb M.C. bombs each the squadron led by Flight Lieutenant Saville attacked the highly defended target in a long dive from 12,000 feet to 4000 feet in an easterly direction. All the bombs appeared to burst on or very near the target itself.

A large disturbance was created in the sea about a mile offshore and at first it was believed to have been bombs. Flight Lieutenant Saville was not seen after the dive and it was later presumed that his aircraft had been hit by intense flag and failed to recover from the dive. The remaining seven aircraft and pilots returned unharmed.

Squadron 439 RCAF Operations Record Book entry for the first raid on 5th June 1944. National Archives AIR 27/1879/8.

A further report gives more insight into what was observed by another pilot.

On 5.6.44 at 08.20 hours, eight of the 439 Squadron aircraft took off to dive-bomb a Radar installation at Fort George on the Island of Guernsey.

The formation which was led by F/L Saville encountered very heavy flak over and near the target. As F/L Saville went into the target, six bursts of heavy flak were observed in front of him. This officer was seen making an aileron turn to port, which, on pull out, would have brought him out over the Island instead of the sea.

His No. 2 pulled out towards the sea and did not see him again. Shortly after F/L Saville’s No. 2 called him on the R/T twice, but received no reply.

The rest of the Squadron returned to base at 09.20 hours. Subsequently, an A.S.R. search was made in the face of very heavy flak which failed to find any trace of F/L Saville.

Circumstantial Report: Can J. 8146, F/L J. W. Saville, 439 Squadron, RCAF missing on Operations. w.e.f. 5.6.44. Typhoon MN210. – The Typhoon Project .Org

At the memorial service on 5th June 2023 an eyewitness account was read out, which had come to light in 1987. The eyewitness had seen the level of anti aircraft fire and was certain that the aircraft had been hit by fire from a flak ship in the harbour.

Swastika Over Guernsey – Victor Coysh – 1955

You will probably have noticed in the operations book extract above that twelve aircraft are noted as having flown that day. This is because four aircraft took off to search for Saville in the hope that he had been able to bail out of his aircraft and was in a dinghy at sea. If that had happened it would have been likely that he would have been captured by the Germans in any case. The aircraft searched in the face of heavy anti aircraft fire but to no avail.

The chance of being able to call in a seaplane or ship to rescue him would have been slim in any case due to the heavy fortifications on the island.

On the 16th June 1944 John Saville’s commanding officer wrote to his mother to report that he was missing in action.

Letter to Mrs. Saville, from Commanding Officer of 439, S/L Norsworthy, LAC, Ottawa. – The Canadian Virtual War Memorial

Five weeks after the aircraft crashed the body of a Canadian airman was washed ashore, although it wasn’t able to be positively confirmed that it was the body of John Saville.

As can be seen from the letter below he was officially declared dead in 1952.

from Canadian War Dead Records

Outcome of the raids

Unfortunately, despite the valiant efforts of those involved in both of the raids, all of the radar equipment remained in working order. As had been feared they detected the incoming invasions ships and aircraft on the evening of 5th/6th June and a message was radioed from the German Naval Signals Headquarters in St Peter Port to Berlin warning of the attack. You can read and see pictures of the Naval Signals Headquarters here.

Fort George. Original image here taken on 7 February 1945 by an aircraft of 541 Squadron RAF
The above is a zoomed in part of the previous photo which shows what appear to be bomb craters around the area where the radar was based. These are most likely from the June 1944 raids and just haven’t been filled in.

Discovery of the wreck of Typhoon MN210

In the 1960s what was believed to be aircraft wreckage was found in Havelet Bay. It wasn’t until 1982 that the site was investigated further by local diver Mick Peters and it was established that this was the wreck of Saville’s aircraft. It was subsequently designated as a war grave following identification of personal items which confirmed that Saville had gone down with his aircraft.

Panoramic picture of Castle Cornet, Havelet Bay and Fort George in the distance. Photograph ©️ Nick Le Huray.

Memorials

John Saville is commemorated on two physical memorials in Guernsey. One at the Castle Emplacement overlooking Havelet Bay and Fort George.

Information board on the Castle Emplacement, St Peter Port. ©️ Nick Le Huray
Plaque next to the information board on the Castle Emplacement, St Peter Port. Photograph ©️ Nick Le Huray

The second memorial is at the airport in Guernsey where his name is inscribed. The airport also has a virtual memorial which you can view online here.

Memorial to all Allied Aircrew lost near Guernsey during the Second World War. Photograph ©️ Nick Le Huray

He is also commemorated on the Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede in Surrey, England.

Annual memorial service

Each year there is a memorial service held in Guernsey at the site of the memorial plaque on the Castle Emplacement in St Peter Port. Provided I am in Guernsey at the time I attend the service. Fortunately I was able to attend today, 5th June 2023.

Below you will find a couple of video clips from the service which I attended today. It was pleasing to see a good turn out for the memorial service despite the chilly easterly wind. Apologies for the wind noise but it was blowing a force 4!

Part one of the memorial service held on 5 June 2023. Video ©️ Nick Le Huray
Deputy Bailiff Jessica Roland reads a poem “RIP John Saville” Video ©️ Nick Le Huray
Last Post at the memorial service. Video ©️ Nick Le Huray

RIP John Walton Saville. Per Ardua Ad Astra.

Thanks to all involved in organising the memorial service and all that attended.

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post or here. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorized posts to make them easier to find and other resources such as tours, places to visit and films that may be of interest.

You can also follow the blog on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs. If you prefer Facebook I also have a page there.

If you have questions or information to share you can contact me by email on Contact@Island-Fortress.Com.

You can also find articles, podcasts, TV appearances and other social media etc here.


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

OPERATION CONCERTINA – RECAPTURE ALDERNEY! 1943

If you have read my previous posts about proposed raids on Alderney then you will understand why this blog post could have had a multitude of titles! As with the other proposed operations this one was very much the brainchild of and driven by Lord Louis Mountbatten.

This operation was a sub operation of Operation Constellation the others were Operation Coverlet against Guernsey and Operation Condor against Jersey.   In this blog post I will be dealing with Concertina. I will deal with the other operations in future posts.

The previous blog posts are Operation Attaboy (1941) which you can find here and Operation Blazing which (1942) which is here . If you haven’t already read these I would read them first starting with Attaboy then Blazing. This will give you a good background to how Constellation and then Concertina came about.

I considered “Operation Concertina – third time’s a charm”, “Alderney here we go again or not as the case maybe!” or just a graphic of Alan Brooke shouting “Oi Mountbatten no!”. Anyway enough of being flippant and on with the story.

Having read those you may well be wondering why on earth they were considering what looked like a very similar operation to what had been proposed in February & March 1941 and 1942. This is especially pertinent as they had evaluated the Islands as being “of no strategic importance to either us or the enemy.” as early as mid 1940 and an assessment that was repeated almost every year thereafter.

At the Casablanca Conference in January 1943 the possibility of a large-scale raid on the Channel Islands was again discussed.    This was to be given the name Operation Constellation, the sub operations were Operation Coverlet against Guernsey, Operation Condor against Jersey, and Operation Concertina against Alderney.  

On 17 January 1943 Mountbatten, at the Joint Chiefs of Staff 53rd meeting, made the very bold statement that “He would capture the Channel Islands without help from the United States.”1

On 22nd January 1943 a note by the Combined Chiefs of Staff was presented for cross Channel Operations.  Part of this was to undertake “Small scale amphibious operations, such as the progressive reoccupation of the Channel Islands. (Note: Raids are already adequately taken care of by the existing organisation.)”2   The note suggest that such a raid should be along the lines of Dieppe. We all know how Dieppe ended!

At the meeting on 23rd January 1943 the American President, Franklin D. Roosevelt, asked about the dates proposed for the operations.  In his reply Mountbatten said that the date for the Channel Island operations had been chosen so as to fit in with Operation ‘Husky.’3  The difficulty being the number of landing craft that the Americans required for ‘Husky’ some of which would need to come from the British Channel Assault Force.4

Mountbatten later goes on to explain that the landing craft resources would only permit an initial assault by 2 brigade groups with an immediate follow up of one brigade group with some armour. This could only be increased with American assistance.  This the Americans declined to help with this as they required all their landing craft for ‘Husky.’    

Despite the lack of support from the Americans the feasibility of a large-scale operation to retake one or more of the Channel Islands continued.  On 17th February 1943 a memorandum was produced by the Chief of Combined Operations, Mountbatten, for the War Cabinet Chiefs of Staff Committee and the name Operation ‘Constellation’ appears.5   It refers to an outline plan for an operation against Alderney. Regarding the other islands, he states that “examination has not yet reached a stage when it is possible to say that attacks on Guernsey and Jersey are practicable.”   The attached outline plan refers to ‘Constellation’ as a whole but the operation against Alderney as a sub operation ‘Concertina.’  The sub operation against Guernsey was named ‘Coverlet’ and Jersey was called ‘Condor’ although these names are not mentioned in this plan.

Interestingly for the first time, having previously been discounted, the plan to retake one of the Channel Islands, specifically Alderney, is referred to as “strategically desirable.”  The plan records that the reason for this is that it would assist with ‘Husky’ because the Germans would become nervous of a landing on the Cherbourg peninsula.  This would also prevent them from moving men and equipment away from France.

It also notes that ‘Concertina’ would have an impact on the proposed, but never enacted, Operation ‘Lethal’ the capture of the U-boat bases in the Brittany peninsula of German-occupied France and Operation ‘Hadrian’ combined operations attack to seize Cherbourg.

The plan notes that if ‘Concertina’ went ahead it would mean that ‘Lethal’ would not be impacted but that ‘Hadrian’ would probably become more difficult because the Germans would strengthen their defences.

The memorandum of 17th February notes that the preliminary air bombardment of Alderney would involve the following:-

  • Night of D-2/D-1 the island is attacked by a force of 500 to 600 heavy and medium bombers.
  • D-1 daytime daylight attacks to be carried out by American heavy bombers.
  • On the night of D-1/Day the island is again attacked by a force of 500 to 600 heavy and medium bombers.   

This would be an incredible amount of bombs to be dropped on such a small target.   At the lower end this would be somewhere around 2,300 tons to 4,500 at the higher end depending on the mix of heavy and medium bombers.

The Naval force was to be:-

  • One Monitor
  • 1 AA Cruiser
  • A/S Destroyer escort
  • 8 Hunt Class destroyers
  • 12 M.T.B.
  • 12 M.L.
  • 6 L.S.I. (H)
  • Landing Craft as required for the force
  • 6 M.S. Trawlers
  • 6 A.S. Trawlers
  • One Boom Defence Vessel

The memorandum considered that the military force required would be:-

  • One Brigade Group   
  • Two Commando Units
  • One Field Company R.E.
  • Two Heavy and two light A.A. Batteries
  • One  Battery of 4.5” Gun Howitzers for coast defence
  • One Squadron tanks
  • Ancillary units

Apart from the bombers they would require:-

  • One Squadron A.S.V. Aircraft
  • One Squadron striker aircraft – torpedo and bomb
  • Forty to fifty squadrons of S.E. fighters
  • At least two aircraft of P.R.U.

This memorandum was discussed at the War Cabinet Chiefs of Staff Committee meeting on 19th February 1943.6 Mountbatten said that he had come to the conclusion that the only option was Alderney given the discussions in Casablanca, referred to above, because of the requirements for landing craft for ‘Husky’ and the Americans requirements.

As with its forerunner “Blazing” Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, thought the plan unsound feeling that the peculiar granite construction of the island that the bombardment would be unsuccessful.  Sir Charles Portal, Chief of Air Staff, on behalf of the RAF doubted that it would bring about the air battle predicted by Mountbatten.

The meeting went on to approve the operation being further investigated but that a raid on the submarine pens in L’Orient was also to be investigated.

On the 19th February 1943 Brooke notes in his diary a long COS meeting.

A long COS meeting at which Dickie Mountbatten gave me a heap of trouble with a proposed attack on the Channel Islands which was not in its proper strategical setting and tactically quite adrift .

Sir Alan Brooke, Chief of the Imperial General Staff

At a subsequent meeting on 1st March 1943 the meeting noted “the Committee took note of a report from the Chief of Combined Operations, Mountbatten, on the result of a reconnaissance of an island in the “Constellation” group.7

After this mention of “Concertina” dries up and it is likely to have been killed off by that final meeting and the lack of available landing craft or crews for them as well as the unwillingness of the Chiefs of Staff.   

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post or here. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorized posts to make them easier to find and other resources such as tours, places to visit and films that may be of interest.

You can also follow the blog on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs. If you prefer Facebook I also have a page there.

If you have questions or information to share you can contact me by email on Contact@Island-Fortress.Com.

You can also find articles, podcasts, TV appearances and other social media etc here.


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

Footnotes

  1. United States Joint Chiefs of Staff –  https://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/History/WWII/Casablanca3.pdf   page 371
  2. United States Joint Chiefs of Staff –  https://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/History/WWII/Casablanca3.pdf   Page 113
  3. Husky was the operation to take Sicily.
  4. National Archives – CAB 80. Memoranda (O) Nos. 1-100 – War Cabinet and Chiefs of Staff Committee Memoranda – page 131
  5. National Archives – CAB 80. Memoranda (O) Nos. 1-100 – War Cabinet and Chiefs of Staff Committee Memoranda – page 331
  6. War Cabinet Chiefs of Staff Committee 19th February 1943 – National Archives Reference – CAB 79/59/24
  7. War Cabinet Chiefs of Staff Committee 1st March 1943 – National Archives Reference – CAB 79/59/31

THE WWII GERMAN OCCUPATION OF SARK – TIM’S GUIDED WALKS TOUR

Last weekend I went on Tim Osborne’s guided walk around Sark. This was an interesting tour covering multiple events that happened between 1940 and the liberation in May 1945.

The tour is a full day in Sark leaving on the first boat in the morning and returning from Sark at the end of the afternoon. Tim is very knowledgable about the occupation of Sark and really brought the stories to life. He had also secured access to private property to enable us to see some of the key sites not normally open to the public.

During the day we walked in the footsteps of the commandos that undertook Operation Basalt and Operation Hardtack 7. This is the start of the tour after refreshments upon arrival.

The site of the Operation Basalt and Operation Hardtack 7 memorials is a great spot to admire the stunning views out over the Sark coastline.

Photo © Nick Le Huray

We walked from there through Dixcart Valley and up to a fairly steep path up the side of the valley.

Photo © Nick Le Huray

This took us towards La Jaspellerie, the white house in the photograph below. We stopped at various key points along the way and Tim explained the story of the raids as they happened.

Photo © Nick Le Huray

After this we followed in their steps to the Dixcart Hotel and then on to Stocks Hotel for a brief refreshment stop before going into a tunnel in the grounds.

The second tunnel was just up the hill and a little more challenging as there was no lighting and it was a little muddy. Despite having walked by this tunnel many times I was completely unaware of it.

Photo © Nick Le Huray

Following this we walked up to the top of the valley to the visitor centre and then on to a delicious lunch at the Island Hall.

After lunch we visited the site of a Lancaster crash landing. Following this we visited the graveyard at the church and Tim told us about some of the people that were buried there.

The penultimate stop was at the former German headquarters and the cottage adjacent to it where they surrendered on 10 May 1945.

The final visit was to a house where a murder took place and a complicated investigation ensued. A really fascinating murder mystery story!

Following this we made a beeline to the top of the hill and had time for a quick drink before heading down to the boat to return to Guernsey.

This tour not only tells you the history of the occupation of Sark but also allows you to enjoy walking around car free Sark and enjoy the views and enjoy the peace and quiet.

I have given an overview of the tour and a few photos to give a flavour of what you can expect if you go on this tour in the future. I haven’t gone into great detail as that would spoil the tour should you wish to go on it.

Tim is running this tour again in September so give his page a follow on Facebook and look out for it, the link is below. He also does other walking tours in Guernsey and Alderney.

https://www.facebook.com/events/272337598527136/?ref=newsfeed

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post or here. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorized posts to make them easier to find and other resources such as tours, places to visit and films that may be of interest.

You can also follow the blog on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs. If you prefer Facebook I also have a page there.

If you have questions or information to share you can contact me by email on Contact@Island-Fortress.Com.

You can also find articles, podcasts, TV appearances and other social media etc here.


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

LIBERATION OF ALDERNEY – 16th MAY 1945 – “PLAN MERIT”

The 16th of May marks the anniversary of the liberation of Alderney. Alderney had been almost completely evacuated save for the family of Alderney resident George Pope. There were therefore few Alderney people there to see the liberation.

Force 135 had bypassed Alderney as there were estimated to be some 3,000 Germans there as well as some political prisoners and slave workers, although many of those had been removed from the island in late 1943 and 1944.

On 16th May “Plan Merit” was undertaken to liberate Alderney. An armed trawler HMT Beal set off for Alderney along with two LCI’s, Landing Craft Infantry, carrying approximately two hundred men of all ranks.

A view from a landing craft sailing towards a jetty, looking up towards a group of German soldiers standing in on the quayside. © IWM Art.IWM ART LD 5594

Brigadier Snow A.E. Snow accepted the surrender of the Alderney garrison from Oberstleutnant Schwalm, who was the Island Commandant, at a property which is called Peacehaven which was used as the Officers’ Mess.

The picture below shows five German officers in uniform sitting around a table within the interior of an Officers’ Mess. One of the German officers, Schwalm, signs a document on the table in front of him, watched by a British naval officer who is sitting on the same side of the table, two British officers sitting at the end of the table and a crowd of British officers gathering at the door behind them.

© IWM (Art.IWM ART LD 5595)

Once the document was signed the Union Flag was duly raised.

Alderney had been left in a terrible mess by the Germans who had destroyed many of the buildings by stripping them of wood and other materials to burn as well as causing other damage.

Some of the Germans were kept back to clear up the mess they had made and deal with removal of land mines and other weapons but a large number were removed within a few days and taken to England as prisoners of war.

Birmingham Mail – Thursday 24 May 1945
Image © Reach PLC. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

As I mentioned above there were only a handful of Alderney residents there at the liberation. 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” you can read about that in my blog post below.

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post or here. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorized posts to make them easier to find and other resources such as tours, places to visit and films that may be of interest.

You can also follow the blog on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs. If you prefer Facebook I also have a page there.

If you have questions or information to share you can contact me by email on Contact@Island-Fortress.Com.

You can also find articles, podcasts, TV appearances and other social media etc here.


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

THE BRITISH CORPORAL WHO EVADED CAPTURE FOR THE WHOLE OCCUPATION!

Whilst researching material for another blog post I came across a newspaper article about Corporal John Dennis, Royal Army Service Corps. This article tells the story of how he managed to evade detection by the German authorities for the entire five years of the occupation of the Channel Islands.

His reason for appearing in this article was because he had been invited back to Ramsgate, where he had been previously based in 1940, after returning from Dunkirk. Dennis was bringing a message of thanks for the Red Cross parcels that were received by Channel Islanders.1

Dennis was at home in Guernsey, on leave, when the Germans arrived. I have previously written about visitors that found themselves caught up in the occupation of the Channel Islands, but not military personnel. You can find that blog post here.

There were other military personnel home on leave who were caught up in the capture of the islands and they were taken prisoner and held at Castle Cornet before being sent to P.O.W. Camps in Germany.

Dennis had other ideas. When the enemy arrived he burnt his battledress and wore civilian clothes. He appeared on the “other ranks casualty list” in September 1940 as missing.

WO417/18 Casualty Lists (Other Ranks) 304-322 page 20 held at the National Archives.

By 1941 he appeared on a list of the missing circulated around POW Camps to try and locate missing personnel.

I was intrigued by the newspaper article as I had never heard of anyone doing this, and had not heard of John Dennis. Having asked around it seemed that nobody else had heard of this story either, apart from one possible post war lead that turned out to be a dead end.

I checked the many books and publications that I have and still turned up nothing, other than a Private who presented himself at the Royal Hotel to meet with Lieutenant-Colonel Stoneman of Force 135 on 9 May 1945. That was Private Le Goupillot, who had initially been detained by the Germans for eleven weeks in 1940, before being released back into the civilian population due to ill health.2

One of the regular readers of the blog is Alan Dennis so, although a long shot, I asked him if by any chance John Dennis was a relative. It turned out he wasn’t a relative but Alan had been told about Dennis by his Grandmother. His Grandmother had lived near where John Dennis lived during a large part of the occupation.

This spurred me on to find out more, armed only with the newspaper article this wasn’t going to be easy. My next port of call were the ever helpful staff at the Island Archives to see if they knew anything of Corporal Dennis. They didn’t know of a Corporal Dennis but they did have a registration form for a John Dennis.

They pulled out the documents for me and I went along to see what leads they would give me. Having looked at his registration documents I noted that he had a wife Adèle Dennis with whom he seems to have lived for part of the occupation. Having found her registration form in the same folder I was able to ascertain that, whilst she now had British nationality, she was originally from Austria.

John Dennis shown from the picture on his registration form held at the Island Archives.

The documents held at the archives reveal that he moved around a lot during the early part of the Occupation, although remaining in St Peter Port. Living at Truchot House, Le Truchot, then 29 Havelet, 29 Hauteville, 4 Sir William Place and then 3 Vauvert Terrace.

After this he was looked after by a Scotswoman for the remainder of the occupation and lived in Mount Durand. Initially at 1 Mount Durand from July 1943 then at 2 Mount Durand from 28 December 1943. Curiously in the article in the newspaper he says that the he was looked after by a Scottish lady for the whole five years.

For five years I was cared for by a Scotswoman at Mount Durand, Guernsey, and had it not been for her great help I probably could not have fooled the Nazis.

Cpl. John Dennis – Interview with the Thanet Advertiser & Echo, Tuesday 12 June 1945
Numbers One & Two Mount Durand, St Peter Port, Guernsey. photo ©️ Nick Le Huray.

One thing that nobody picked up on, or if they did they didn’t act on it, was that on his registration form he had entered the date of leaving the British Army as 8 July 1940, some 8 days after the Germans had occupied Guernsey.

Extract from John Dennis’s registration form from 1940. Held at the Island Archives.

At various points throughout the occupation the Germans were convinced that there were British soldiers hiding here, particularly after commando raids. They were successful in rounding up all that didn’t escape after the raids. Dennis and those that helped him were putting themselves at great risk. They risked being deported to camps in mainland Europe or worse shot.

Example of one of the notices published when the Germans were looking for Members of the British Armed Forces. Photo of display at the German Occupation Museum ©️Nick Le Huray.

His updated registration form dated 22 December 1942 lists him as judicially separated from his wife and and working as a lorry driver for for a German firm Ruby. You may be wondering why he is working for a German firm. Frankly those that lived in the Channel Islands had little choice as if they refused they would imprisoned, not be able to obtain food or escape the island. Unlike France they couldn’t disappear from the area.

The form had a number of slips attached to it updating details of where he worked and lived. From October 1943 until February 1944 he worked as a labourer for the German Forces. After this he became a docker working for Blum & Co until November 1944 when he returned to being a labourer.

The report in the Thanet Advertiser & Echo records that he told their reporter “a harrowing story of the misery he had seen, and experienced himself, and some of the details of the Germans’ behaviour are so revolting that they are unprintable”.

The remainder of the article tells of the hardships faced by the civilian population. He talks about the difficulties in obtaining food and that the Red Cross ship Vega delivering food saved many from starvation. I wrote about that in a blog post here.

I also found a small article which recorded him talking about the cost of obtaining rabbits and chickens on the black market being £20. That is the equivalent of £1,105 at the time of writing this in May 2023.

Kentish Express – Friday 15 June 1945
Image © KM Group. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

As well as shortages of everyday items medicines had all but run out. As a result of this he reports having had twenty two teeth extracted without anaesthetic.

He appears again on the casualty lists from July to August 1945 as reported not missing.

WO417/95 Casualty Lists (Other Ranks) 24 July 1945 to 14 August 1945 page 6 held at the National Archives.

The article finishes by providing the address that he was staying at and inviting those Channel Islanders in England seeking news of relatives to contact him.

So what else do we know about Corporal Dennis? Sadly the answer to that is not a lot. If you are reading this and are by any chance related to him or know something about his time in Guernsey or the Scottish lady that helped him I would love to know more.

Massive thanks to the following people for their assistance with locating information on Corporal Dennis.

Alan Dennis for passing on the story that his grandmother had told him about this gentleman which spurred me on to keep looking.

The team at Island Archives for searching their records to see what they could find on anyone called John Dennis. This enabled me to find more about who he was, where he lived, and what he did.

Pierre Renier for tracking down the service number of Dennis and that he had appeared in a casualty list as missing and then a later list as no longer missing. This helped me to track down some more information.

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post or here. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorized posts to make them easier to find and other resources such as tours, places to visit and films that may be of interest.

You can also follow the blog on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs. If you prefer Facebook I also have a page there.

If you have questions or information to share you can contact me by email on Contact@Island-Fortress.Com.

You can also find articles, podcasts, TV appearances and other social media etc here.


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

Footnotes

  1. Thanet Advertiser & Echo – Tuesday 12 June 1945
  2. Lamerton, Mark, Liberated by Force 135 An account of the Liberation of the Channel Islands after World War 2. Volume 2 page 180.
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