LORD PORTSEA – OUR CHAMPION IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS!

Lord Portsea was a colourful character and frankly must have been viewed by the British Government as a bit of a nuisance. The octogenarian was a fervent champion of the plight of the Channel Islands population, those that had been evacuated, those that were serving in the armed forces and those that remained behind in the Channel Islands. Despite this I would venture to suggest that many Channel Islanders alive now would be unaware of what he achieved and how he helped the islands.

If you are old enough to remember Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” then you will understand that this is a bit of a “What did Lord Portsea ever do for us apart from….” rather than the Romans. If you don’t remember Monty Python this is the relevant bit!

Some might say that he did more for the Channel Islands than any member of the House of Lords since the end of the war. There were others in the Lords that raised the issue of the Channel Islands from time to time but none were as vociferous and persistent as Portsea.

Some of the suggestions of action that he called on the government to take were quite sensible and others a little more fanciful. His suggestions included using POWs to sail a ship with aid to Guernsey or some women who had volunteered to do so, a force of Channel Islanders to go and recapture the islands and a few more. More of those suggestions later. Some of his suggestions really did help.

He was absolutely furious that the Channel Islands had been surrendered and declared in the House of Lords that he would go to liberate the islands himself if he could despite being 80. He viewed the surrender of the islands as an act of cowardice or ‘poltroonery’ as he put it. He also viewed it as a risk that the axis countries would think that they might surrender other parts of the British Empire just as easily.

I am an old man, but I do not imagine that because the sands of life are running out those sands are less hallowed. They are hoarded with miserly care. But I say to this House with all honesty that if I could go tomorrow to submit to the bombardment with any chance whatever of recovering those islands, I would go, I would go today.

Lord Portsea’s speech in the House of Lords – as reported in Daily News (London) – Friday 02 August 1940.

He made sure that the plight of Channel Islanders was not lost in the media or Government circles. One imagines that if he had been alive in the age of social media, he would have been all over it. If we were to compare his campaign in the media of the 1940s with the current position of social media campaigns on behalf of Ukraine it would probably have been very similar.

Whilst talking about social media thanks to Dan Girard for reminding me on the local Facebook history group “Guernsey Days Gone By” that Lord Portsea was worth writing some more about.

If you are familiar with the constitutional position of the Channel Islands, we aren’t part of the United Kingdom, you will know that we don’t have an official representative in the House of Lords. If you aren’t familiar with the constitutional position and want to know more you can find it here. You are probably wondering why I gave the article the title I did given this situation all will be revealed in this post. Before we get into what he did I will set the scene with a bit about Portsea himself.

Who was he?

Sir Bertram Falle. Bart. chose the title of Lord Portsea of Portsmouth when he was created a peer in the New Year’s Honours list in 1934. His connection with the Channel Islands was that he was born and educated in Jersey.

He then went on to a career as a lawyer, judge and politician before being elevated to the Lords. He had also fought in the First World War and gained the rank of Major in the Royal Field Artillery.

At the outbreak of the war in 1939 he was two months away from his 80th Birthday.

He was known not to be a fan of the motor car and was the last member of either House of Parliament to arrive by carriage and pair. He had several carriages and disposed of the last one in in July 1942.

Lord Portsea being drive out of Old Palace Yard at the Houses of Parliament
Portsmouth Evening News – Saturday 18 July 1942
Georgie and Ginger outside the house in Eaton Square, London c 1935

Anger & concern

At the top of the blog I mentioned that he was angry about what he viewed to be a cowardly act of leaving the islands undefended. You will find further down the blog quotes of his very eloquent speeches which illustrate quite how angry he was about the situation.

He was quick out of the blocks to speak on the subject and cause a fuss in the House of Lords just days after the islands were occupied. You can read about that here on my blog post from earlier this year.

This was followed by him expressing concern over the RAF bombing of the airport in Guernsey in August 1940 and lack of information available in respect of this.

Belfast News-Letter – Saturday 17 August 1940
Sunday Mirror 11 August 1940 – Reporting on the 9 August Raid.

In January 1941 he again raised his concerns about the Government treatment of the Channel Islands.

Aberdeen Press and Journal – Wednesday 29 January 1941

As time went on he became particularly annoyed at the difficulty in communication between those in the UK and their friends and family who were still in the Channel Islands. I wrote a blog post about these difficulties which you can find here.

Hampshire Telegraph – Friday 14 February 1941

Now the eagle eyed among you will have noticed that his “telegram” would have actually been a short Red Cross message. Miss Falle was of course his younger sister who was still in Jersey.

Portsea continued to campaign for the islands to receive food aid and to reiterate the impact of the lack of information had on the morale of Channel Islands men serving in the armed forces.

Belfast Telegraph – Wednesday 22 April 1942

He even offered to supply a ship and would take it there himself.

Hampshire Telegraph – Friday 24 April 1942

By September 1942 he had written an article for the Weekly Dispatch (London) – which was published on Sunday 6th September 1942. His article again drew attention to the history of the Channel Islands, their connection with the Crown and the information he had about conditions. You can read it below.

His frustration continued in October 1942 at the news of deportations from the Channel Islands to internment camps on mainland Europe, again referring to the abandonment of the islands.

The Scotsman – Friday 09 October 1942

He continued to raise the prospect of food being sent to help the Channel Islands. Accused of being hysterical and that any aid would aid the enemy he was still ignored. He raised the prospect of women sailing ships to the islands.

Daily Mirror – Friday 19 March 1943

He compared the dropping of food parcels to Belgium with the fact they were unwilling to do so for British subjects in the Channel Islands.

The Scotsman – Wednesday 02 June 1943

Following D-Day he became even more concerned about the situation in the islands and when they might be liberated. Proposing a force of Channel Island troops to liberate the Islands. Now what he wouldn’t have been aware of was that there had already been plans to liberate one or all of the Islands that had been discounted for various reasons. You can read about them Operation Attaboy and Operation Blazing. There were also further plans under way which had begun as Operation Rankin and became Operation Nest Egg the ultimate liberation of the Islands.

Liverpool Daily Post – Wednesday 21 June 1944

He later raised the question of whether the Government would give the German garrison an opportunity to surrender. What is interesting is the timing of this question as he raised it just a matter of days after an attempt to get the garrison to surrender had been made. Major Chambers had attempted to negotiate a surrender, at great risk to himself which you can read about here on 22 September 1944.

The Scotsman – Thursday 05 October 1944

In January 1945 he had another falling out with Lord Munster in the House of Lords.

The Scotsman – Wednesday 31 January 1945

Following the liberation of the Channel Islands the King was welcomed to the House of Lords where he replied to the speeches given and acknowledged as noted in the article below.

Northern Whig – Friday 18 May 1945

What did he achieve?

Whilst some of his ideas were somewhat fanciful and not achievable he did manage some significant achievements.

His constant harrying of the government around the food situation in the Channel Islands undoubtedly helped with the eventual U-turn by the British Government in 1944 over the policy of not allowing food to be provided. See my post about “Let’em starve. No fighting. Let them rot at their leisure.”

Earlier on in the war, in May 1942, he managed to save the Channel Islands Monthly Review which was an extremely important publication to those Channel Islanders that were outside of the Islands. Many of them were spread across the UK and also away serving in the forces.

If you can imagine going from small closeknit island communities and then being spread across the United Kingdom, let alone the World, with none of the modern methods of communication for five years then you may begin to understand the importance of the publication.

LORD PORTSEA
My Lords, I beg to ask the starred question that stands in my name.
[The question was as follows:
To ask his Majesty’s Government whether they are aware that the Stockport Channel Island Monthly Review has been ordered to cease publication on the ground of shortage of paper, and if they are aware that this small monthly publication is of great interest to Norman Islanders (of whom many are in His Majesty’s Forces) and whether the order can be rescinded.]

LORD TEMPLEMORE

My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend the Minister of Works and Buildings, I have been asked to reply. The Stockport Channel Island Monthly Review first appeared in May, 1941. The printing or publication in the United Kingdom of new periodicals has been prohibited since August, 1940, on account of the shortage of paper. It has been necessary to refuse permission to publish many new periodicals, including a number for circulation among persons in the Forces or affected by the war, and I regret that it is not possible to make an exception in the present case.

Hansard 12 May 1942 – Questions in the House of Lords

Now Portsea was not going to be fobbed off so easily and brought the matter back to the House again on 20th May 1942.

The review is the only real link between thousands of islanders who are serving His Majesty, their homes, their wives and their children. I have had a large number of letters from every part of the United Kingdom asking me to bring this matter before your Lordships. 

Hansard

He went on to share his anger at the treatment of Channel Islanders and how they were being treated differently to POWs.

The Government state that the review is not to be allowed to continue because it has not been in being within certain dates, that is to say, within two years; and yet a brand new magazine has had its first issue with Government sanction this very month—the first issue of a “new special monthly journal” to be sent free of charge to all those who are eligible for it. It is called The Prisoner of War. It was inaugurated in a fine speech by a Scot. He says:

“Loss of freedom is hard to bear to those who have lived as free men in a free country.”

Who so free as the Norman islander, a free man, a freeholder; no serf blood in his veins, not a drop! A free man with a thousand years of history, his soil untainted by the foot of a conqueror till now, when the Government have handed him over to the Germans, not for any fault of his own, not because he did not want to fight. As he says:

“It is hard for those who wait at home, aye, and fight, to go cheerfully to their daily tasks, knowing that someone dear to them is a prisoner.”

Now the people of these islands are, from my point of view, truly prisoners, not because they gave themselves up—oh, no!—not because they were unwilling to fight—the thousands now fighting prove that—not because they wished to give in, not because they were hands-uppers—we know how the Boers despised their hands-uppers—but because a Government of their own blood handed them over to the Germans. Surely they have a claim to decent treatment. Abandoned, deserted and betrayed, to cover up that shame some red herring is introduced, and they are spat upon.

Hansard

His eloquent and staunch stance on the need for the continued publication of the Review undoubtedly saved it. The image gallery below shows an example of the publication.

A legacy that lives on today.

His legacy lives on in Jersey through “THE LORD PORTSEA GIFT FUND (JERSEY) ACT, 1971” . This fund was established in his name by his sister.

The Lord Portsea Gift Fund provides financial help for educational training, re-training or specialised equipment to young people who want to further their careers in the United Kingdom armed services or the civil services in Jersey or the United Kingdom.

Gov.Je

So that’s it!

I hope you have found this an interesting account of a champion of the Channel Islands who often gets overlooked when it comes to the Occupation of the Channel Islands. Lord Portsea passed away on 1 November 1948 at his sister’s home in Jersey.

All newspaper extracts are Image © Reach PLC. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorised 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.

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

WARNING TO THE GERMAN COMMANDER OF THE CHANNEL ISLANDS THAT HE WOULD BE TREATED AS A WAR CRIMINAL – MARCH 1945.

Having caused a bit of a kerfuffle in various history forums and on social media, particularly locally, with my look at Churchill’s “Let’em Starve” comment, see here if you missed it, I thought I would follow up with a look at the proposed warning to the commander of the Channel Islands in March 1945.

Churchill’s comment was made in September 1944 based on information available at the time to the British Government. Their concern being that any relief effort for the civilian population would lead to the Germans taking additional food supplies from the islands. This would of course result in no improvement of the position of the civilian population of the islands but would improve the position of the occupying forces.

The British Government did of course change their mind later in 1944 and allowed the International Red Cross to send supplies following an appeal from the Bailiffs of Jersey and Guernsey. The International Red Cross ship the SS Vega made five trips to the Islands prior to the liberation in May 1945. The first arriving in Guernsey on 27 December 1944. A further visit was made in June 1945 after the liberation.

The ship delivered food parcels designed to supplement the meagre food supplies of Islanders. The parcels were designed to provide an additional 462 calories a day. To give some context that is the equivalent of eating two Snickers bars or slightly less than one Big Mac.

SS VEGA in St Peter Port Harbour Image from BBC.co.uk

The Germans managed a few flights after D-Day bringing in limited supplies by air. The first of which arrived on 11 October 1944.

Western Morning Press 12 October 1944

As the war on mainland Europe progressed the supply line became longer and longer. Eventually these limited flights, if they made it through, required a round trip of almost 1.000 miles. I will be blogging about these flights in the future.

If you want to understand how cut off the Channel Islands were after D-Day and haven’t read it yet I wrote about it on the post below.

So having set the scene we fast forward to March 1945 when the War Cabinet were considering the position as it stood then. The Channel Islands remained essentially cut off from supplies from anywhere except from those flights and the International Red Cross.

By this time the commander of the Channel Islands The was Vizeadmiral Friedrich Hüffmeier a thoroughly nasty individual who was an ardent Nazi. You can read about the extreme lengths he went to and the trouble he caused in the blog below.

Given the above serious consideration was given to sending a message to him that if he were to neglect his obligations to the civilian population he would be treated as a war criminal. A warning had been given in September 1944 about their obligations under the Geneva Convention as an occupying force.

Having considered the report, which you can read below, the War Cabinet decided on the 28th March 1945 not to issue the warning.

The rationale being that there was no information from the International Red Cross officials that the civilian population had their Red Cross supplies interfered with. The other consideration was that the Germans would point out that the offer to the British Government of evacuation of Channel Islanders not of military age in September 1944 would be thrown back at them. Have a read of the document below for the full detail.

Hopefully the above will shed a bit more light on why they did not pursue this course. It does of course not answer the debate of whether he should have been treated as a war criminal for other actions. That is a blog for another day.

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorised 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.

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

“LET’EM STARVE!” – A CONTROVERSIAL COMMENT! WHAT DID CHURCHILL MEAN?

On the 27th September 1944 Churchill is reputed to have scrawled a note on the bottom of a report put forward to the War Cabinet “Let’em starve. No fighting. Let them rot at their leisure.” A picture of the report is at the end of this blog post.

The report was produced following a request from the Germans to arrange the evacuation of all of the civilian population of the Channel Islands with the exception of men of military age. Rather than do this or mount any form of operation to liberate the islands the British Government reminded the German authorities of their responsibility under the Geneva Convention to adequately feed the population.

Over the years this has become a very controversial comment with various historians and islanders interpreting it differently. Some felt that he meant just the German garrison, others felt that he meant both the garrison and the islanders.

The aspect that is always focused on is the lack of food and Churchill’s refusal to allow a supply of the islands with food. The rationale for this was that it was felt that the Germans would take the food for themselves. The islands effectively formed a prisoner of war camp which didn’t require guards but meant that a large force of German resources were tied up there rather than being able to be deployed in mainland Europe.

At the time the Islands were caught in a pocket and effectively under siege.

Map of the Channel Islands and the pocket of German resistance
Illustrated London News Feb 1945

There are some factors that don’t seem to have been taken into account by some commentators. Most notably that Churchill’s comment was made days after an attempt to get the Germans to surrender. They had however refused to even entertain the idea. One would imagine that he would have taken this into account in making his assessment.

This first attempt to achieve a surrender by direct negotiation happened on 22 September 1944. Having secured the assistance of a high ranking German officer, who had been captured in 1943, Major Chambers boarded an R.A.F. launch at Carteret and proceeded towards Guernsey under a white flag. I have read a number of differing accounts of this and decided to go back to primary sources to establish exactly what happened.

The intention was that Chambers would meet with von Schmettow and invite him to come and meet the German officer understandably said he was not willing to go ashore or aboard a German vessel. The German officer is only identified in the reports of the raid as Mr Black. Subsequent to earlier accounts being written it is now believed that Mr Black was in fact Gerhard Bassenge. He was captured in North Africa in 1943 and spent time in Trent Park a luxurious camp for high-ranking prisoners. They were kept in luxury because it meant they would talk freely amongst themselves without realising that the British were listening through hidden microphones.

Letters had been dropped to arrange a meeting off the south coast of Guernsey. On arriving at the rendezvous point they found no German vessel waiting to meet them. Chambers decided that they should proceed to St Peter Port and try to make contact. On approaching St Peter Port a German vessel, not under a white flag, approached them. Extracts from the official report about what happened next

This was certainly a brave effort by Major Chambers, who received a DSO for his actions.  You can read the full account of it here

If they had decided to surrender they could have saved the islanders and their own personnel from a terrible winter of hunger and deprivation.

Eventually following an appeal from the Bailiffs of Jersey and Guernsey an International Red Cross ship the SS Vega made five trips to the Islands prior to the liberation in May 1945. The first arriving in Guernsey on 27 December 1944. A further visit was made in June 1945.

The ship delivered food parcels designed to supplement the meagre food supplies of Islanders. The parcels were designed to provide an additional 462 calories a day. To give some context that is the equivalent of eating two Snickers bars or slightly less than one Big Mac.

SS VEGA in St Peter Port Harbour Image from BBC.co.uk
Newcastle Journal – 31 January 1945

Without these food parcels things could have been much worse. If you want to read more about the food situation from a German soldier’s perspective go to my previous blog here . For a civilian view point I blogged about the doctor’s story here .

The report with Churchill’s comment scrawled on the bottom.

Whatever the true reason or reasons were some islanders held it against Churchill for the rest of their lives.

You may be reading this and wondering why the Channel Islands were not retaken by force. There are a multitude of reasons but first and foremost the loss of life that would have occurred amongst the civilian population would have been immense. It would also have mean’t that a vast amount resources would be taken away from the main front on mainland Europe. That is a blog for another day.

If you would like to receive email notifications of future blogs, you can sign up to the right of this blog post. Feel free to look around the website, where I have categorised 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.

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

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