BOB LE SUEUR MBE – A TRULY REMARKABLE MAN!

Just a short blog on the life of Bob Le Sueur who sadly died at the weekend. Recognised when he received the MBE in 2013 for his work during the occupation, he helped eight or nine escaped Russian slave workers to evade recapture, at great personal risk to himself. Mr Le Sueur could very easily have suffered the same fate as others, such as Louisa Gould who also helped escaped slave workers, but were caught and paid the ultimate price in Ravensbrück concentration camp.

Always willing to assist historians that were documenting the occupation years he will be sorely missed. He continued his humanitarian work up to the end of his life aged 102, most recently raising money for the Ukrainian victims of the Russia/Ukraine conflict.

There have been many short news reports about his life but I thought it would be good to share a couple of longer videos that tell you more.

Channel Islands Occupation Society Interview with him giving a comprehensive talk about the occupation.
Friends of the blog Jersey War Tours also had this excellent chat with him.

You can also read about him here and watch the news report from Channel TV here.

I recommend reading his story in his book. Growing Up Fast: An ordinary man’s extraordinary life in occupied Jersey.

RIP and thank you for all that you did over the years to champion the cause of those that needed help.

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

THE REVEREND DOUGLAS ORD GUERNSEY OCCUPATION DIARIES

John Nettles, those of a certain age will know him as Bergerac or if you are slightly younger as DCI Tom Barnaby in ITV’s Midsomer Murders, is also a man with a passion for the history of the Channel Islands during the Second World War.

His latest endeavour, no he wasn’t in that TV detective show, was to finally get the Occupation Diaries of the Reverend Douglas Ord published. The diaries were held at the Priaulx Library in Guernsey and often referred to by historians in their publications but were not available to the public unless they were aware of them and also able to visit the library.

The diaries are a great primary source of information about life during the Occupation of Guernsey. Written at the time so not subject to the passage of time on memories. It is also an excellent read, rather than just a reference book, it tells of the challenges of daily life.

This short film explains a little more and will only take a five minutes of your time to watch. It comes with the caveat that you may end up buying a book!

If you want to find out more about the Reverend Ord or might be interested in purchasing the book take a look at The Ord Diaries

John has also written another excellent book about the Occupation of all of the Islands called Jewels and Jackboots: Hitler’s British Channel Islands

A HOLIDAY IN GUERNSEY JUNE 1940? YES REALLY!

This blog post will look at why people were still coming on holiday right up until the days immediately before invasion and what happened to a couple on their honeymoon and a family who chose Guernsey instead of Cornwall.

It may surprise you that even up until mid June 1940 adverts for holidays to the Channel Islands were still being published in British newspapers. What could possibly go wrong?

“Lovely Guernsey for a Restful Holiday” proclaimed the advert in the 13th June 1940 edition of the London paper the Daily News. Just nine days short of the French capitulation the adverts were extolling the benefits of “Golf, Tennis, Bathing, Boating and Fishing.”

The adverts advised that sea services were available from Southampton and air services were “available three times daily from Shoreham. Apply Guernsey Airways, Hudson Place, Victoria Station, S.W.1.”

Adverts like the one below featured in Newspapers across the whole of Britain.

Daily Mirror 1 June 1940

They were of course placed well in advance so it is no surprise that they were still appearing at this point in the war. They had come about because of lobbying by hoteliers across the Channel Islands who in the spring of 1940 were keen not to miss out on their usual stream of visitors. After all in early 1940 it looked like the war would be fought far away from these islands.

Fast forward to June 1940 and you may be wondering did people still travel for holidays given that the Germans were advancing across France at a rapid pace? Especially with the Channel Islands being so close to the French coast.

Given that the British Government kept changing their assessment of whether the Islands would be invaded, sometimes twice in a day, you can’t really blame people for taking a holiday. The deliberations by the Government would not have been public knowledge in any case. Well not until the announcement that they were demilitarised and declared an open town on 15 June 1940.

In a few cases these holiday makers were to have an unexpected longer “holiday” than planned. Mr & Mrs Dunkley of Ramsgate had considered going to Cornwall but had previously enjoyed a holiday in Guernsey so decided to visit again with their son Leonard.

Unfortunately for them not long after they arrived the Germans bombed St Peter Port harbour on 28 June 1940. They were down at the harbour at the time of the raid and Mrs Dunkley described it as a terrifying experience. Two days later the occupying forces arrived and they were trapped for almost the next five years.

The problem that they will have faced is that once evacuation started it was clear that not everyone would be able to be evacuated.

Mr Dunkley and his son found work and they were able to find somewhere to live. In September 1942 they were deported to France and then onward to an internment camp in Biberach in Southern Germany. This was part of the deportation of all English born residents between the ages of 16-70, together with their families. Also deported were those who had at any time in their lives been enrolled in the armed forces of the Crown. The notice published by the Germans used the term “evacuated” rather than deported.

They were liberated in April 1945 and returned to Ramsgate where they were delighted to find their home intact. The whole article from the newspaper is at the end of this blog post.

Another couple who came to the island on Honeymoon were to suffer a similar fate. Ronald Harris married Eileen Brewer in London on 14 June 1940 and travelled to Guernsey for their honeymoon.

Ronald & Eileen from the Daily Herald June 1945

They had intended to return to England on the day that the Germans bombed St Peter Port.

Finding themselves stuck in Guernsey with only £3 Ronald volunteered to be an an ARP warden as he had experience. After the invasion on the 30th June he found himself as second officer in the Guernsey Fire Brigade. Whenever they were called out after an RAF raid they had to get permission to attend the fire and the telephonist at the German HQ didn’t speak English. They worked as slowly as possible when the Germans wanted them to put out a fire.

In early 1942 the Germans stood down the Guernsey Fire Brigade and insisted that they train Germans. So Ronald found himself in charge of 25 Germans for some weeks with them obeying his orders and his whistle. He clearly enjoyed ordering them about and training them to his whistle!

As with the Dunkley family they were also deported in September 1942. Eventually they were repatriated to England in April 1945.

The article from the Below is an article published in the Thanet Advertiser & Echo on 17 April 1945.

I hope you have enjoyed the blog. 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, films and other resources that may be of interest.

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.

© Nick Le Huray

ACCOUNTS OF DEPORTATION AND EVACUATION FROM GUERNSEY

Following my blog post recommending the film “Nazi Britain – Life in the Channel Islands 1940-1945” I was delighted to receive an email from Martin Morgan who was one of the producers. Martin also happens to be a subscriber to this blog.

Martin was pleased that I had highlighted the film that he produced with his sister Jane Morgan and Chris Denton. This film was part of a trilogy of films that they made which were originally shown on the History Channel.

Over a million people have watched these films. This helped them to achieve their promise to the interviewees that they would share their stories as far and wide as possible.

They produced these films as a response to what they felt were the overly sensationalised and unfair versions of the story in other films. They set out to tell the story of everyday life in Occupied Guernsey.

If you follow my personal Twitter account (@Nickleh) or the Twitter account for this blog (@fortress_island) you will know that the misleading films they made these to counter are also a pet hate of mine!

The format they chose is in my opinion an excellent format. They took the decision to only use first hand testimony, designing the production so it required no script , voice over or third party explanation – just the voices of Islanders who lived through the war.

“Fleeing the Reich – the story of the Evacuees” tells the first hand accounts of people that were evacuated as school children to England in June 1940. It turned out they got away just in time. Many of them had never left the Islands before and were sent to live with strangers who picked them from the groups of children that arrived. Siblings sometimes found themselves in different parts of the country.

Stolen by Hitler – the story of the Deportees” tells the story of those that were forcibly deported to internment camps in Germany for allied civilians, mainly from the Channel Islands. A fascinating story of their experiences.

They have also produced another great documentary in a more conventional format. I will share that in another blog post.

Thanks once again to Martin for getting in touch and sharing these fantastic films.

At the time of writing in April 2022 this of course resonates with current world events.

LIFE FOR THE CIVILIAN POPULATION OF GUERNSEY

Whilst I am busy researching and writing a couple of articles which are not quite complete I thought it might be worth sharing this video that I found yesterday.

It is an interesting selection of interviews with Islanders that lived through the Occupation. Some of whom I had the privilege to know.

The English Doctor’s Occupation Story. Dr Richard Sutcliffe.

This is the story of Richard Brook Sutcliffe a doctor and surgeon who lived through the occupation of Guernsey in the Channel Islands 1940 to 1945. He was known as Brook to his friends. The interview conducted by Conrad Wood for the Imperial War Museum provides a great insight into many aspects of the occupation of Guernsey 1940-45. If you want to listen to the interview it is here

This post comes with a warning that some of what he describes may be upsetting to some as he details some unpleasant things he witnessed. No individuals are named in the more unpleasant parts for obvious reasons.

He came to visit the Island in 1937 and was so taken with the place that he accepted the offer of becoming a partner in a local doctors practice.

A friend of mine, who was a surgeon, Simpson Smith, who was also a great friend of Dr. Montague, who was also in practice in Guernsey and he was looking for a partner.

He came to ask me whether I would consider coming over as they wanted somebody over here to join him. I came over here to have a look round and I was so much taken with it that I came over here and settled in practice with my wife and then three small children, which being in 1937, was just two years before we were occupied. 

He recalls little of the evacuation of the Island other than his wife and three children travelling to England. His other recollection is interesting is the quandary that doctors living in the Islands faced at the time of evacuation.

It was difficult then to decide how many doctors we would need in the island, because that would depend upon entirely upon the number of people we had left in the island.  

So we formed a committee, which consisted of Dr. Kerry, who was at that time a very highly respected one of our practitioners in Guernsey, Dr. Montague who was my senior partner and myself, and when anybody wish to leave the island, then they had to appear in front of that committee.

We would decide whether or not they could leave the island. Unfortunately, I’m not going to mention any names here, but unfortunately, despite the wishes of the committee, with regard to certain doctors, three of them left without our permission.

Newspaper announcing evacuation of Children

Unlike the doctors he doesn’t recall any of the nurses leaving the Island. I will be blogging about a nurses experience at a later date.

All the the people in charge of the nursing home and the hospital they all congregated into the country hospital which we then converted into what was known as emergency hospital and remained there of course.

During the height of the war they did a wonderful job of work. The person in charge of it was matron Hall who was the person in charge of the Victoria Hospital and of course we had the sisters who were in charge of the maternity hospital they ran that and I can’t speak too highly of the word they did. Absolutely wonderful. 

When recalling the bombing of St Peter Port on 28th June 1940 he doesn’t recall much of the raid itself more the aftermath.

The only thing I remember is the noise that went on and the fact that we were at the hospital to receive the casualties. 

We had people with abdominal wounds. We had people with legs, badly injured. We had every type of injury that you would expect. Somewhere between 30 and 35 of them.

Dr. Gibson, who was in the other surgeon in the Island and myself ran a theatre there and we did the majority of the operations during that night.  We started the 10 o’clock at night and we finished at 10 o’clock the next morning, but we did have a small break for breakfast.

The burnt out weighbridge in St Peter Port following the bombing of the harbour on the evening of 28th June 1940. Images © The Priaulx Library via Occupation Archive
Smoke rises from burning vehicles shortly after a bombing raid on the White Rock in St Peter Port. The raid on the evening of 28th June 1940 resulted in 33 civilian dead. The parked tomato trucks were mistaken for military vehicles. Images © The Priaulx Library via Occupation Archive
The aftermath of the bombing raid on 28th June 1940 with the burnt out tomato trucks littering the White Rock pier. Images © The Priaulx Library via Occupation Archive
Memorial at St Peter Port Harbour to those that lost their lives in the raid. Photo © Nick Le Huray

Two days after the raid he saw the Germans for the first time. They drove down the Grange as he was talking to his neighbour and friend outside of his house.

Jack Martel who was a lawyer over here a great friend of mine lived nearly opposite me.  I lived in the Grange then in house which is now Kleinwort Benson and we were standing outside when the Germans drove past.

They’d just landed and they drove past in the police car, an old Wolseley.  Jack said to me “Well Brook, they are here at last now” and I said “they are here at last Jack” and later on he said to me, do you know after we were liberated, he said to me “Brook do you remember the occasion when we were standing outside your house and the Germans came down and I said to you “well they are here at last and you said to me something. Do you remember what it was?” I said no.
“You said to me well, I suppose Jack there’ll be here for anything up to five years. Which was exactly the time they were here.”  I mean they weren’t here for a short time. We knew that I mean to take that length of time to get rid of them. 

The house that he lived in and referred to as now being Kleinwort Benson has subsequently become the headquarters for Healthspan. The building has been extended to make office space and is on the Grange which is the main road into St Peter Port.

The house where Dr Sutcliffe lived at the start of the occupation. © Nick Le Huray

During the occupation he witnessed some awful things. One of his first interactions with them, other than seeing in the street, was being called to a patient who had been robbed and raped.

Well, the first impression I had of them was went in my meeting with the Major Müller who was then in charge of the the German forces when they arrived and I think I was one of the very few civilians who ever came in contact with him.

That was due to the fact that there was a patient of mine there were two sisters who run ran a sort of preparatory school in the island. They were both around about the age of 70. I had an emergency call to go to see them because one of them had been raped. They’d both been robbed and one of them been raped by a German soldier.

When I arrived, Mr. Sherwill was there, who was I think the Procureur. He later became the Bailiff Sir Ambrose Sherwill, who was sent away during the war to one of the camps in in Germany. Wonderful Bailiff, he was a wonderful man. When they knew that this person had been raped, of course a Major Müller was sent for and when he was told that this woman had been raped, he was absolutely livid. I’ve never seen a man so angry in my life. And he immediately summoned the whole of the forces to parade, he discovered the man with the missing revolver.

The following morning, I was sent for by the Germans, they collected me at my house, under armed escort with Mr. Sherwill, we were driven to the airport, where we were placed in a cottage on the perimeter of the airport to await the court martial.

We were then taken into the court martial and we gave our evidence.  We were told that they would then return to tell us the verdict and we were then taken back to the cottage.

We were then taken back to the the court martial and we were told that he had been found guilty and he would be shot and would we like to see him shot. We told them we’d no desire to see anybody shot and to the best of my knowledge, he was then taken out onto the airport and shot. 

Photo of from the Axis History Forum of Generalmajor Erich Müller

Müller was feared by his men and eventually shipped off to the eastern front, captured by the Russians and held in a POW camp until 19552.

It would seem that the doctor is correct that his sort of attack wasn’t that common as recalled in a post war report on policing.

It was very unusual to hear a soldier whistle after a woman in the street and during the whole period we only had two cases of rape – one occurred within the first week of the Occupation, and he was sentenced to death, the other some years later. We reported the facts to the German Police. The man was arrested and sentenced to five years imprisonment. He appealed and the sentence was changed to 8 years.

Policing During The Occupation – Albert Peter Lamy

He notes that initially that health was pretty good and explains it as being because of the lack of alcohol and cigarettes. His reference to lack of alcohol and cigarettes is taken to be a reference to a restricted availability rather than none being available at all. Islanders improvised when tobacco became scare and either started growing it themselves or drying other leaves to use a substitute.

Whilst many accounts focus on what some called the ‘Hunger Winter’ of 1944/45 after the Normandy landings in June 1944 it is important to note that the lack of food had a serious impact some two years before this.

The interviewer asks about a picture he has been shown of a patient.

I have in front of me one of your photographs from the occupation of a patient’s lying in hospital and the patient really looks like somebody from the Belsen concentration camp and you’ve put on the back that this person was admitted on the 13th of May 1942.

So the starvation started as early as that,  there were starvation cases well before the islands were cut off by the Normandy invasions? 

Conrad Wood

He responds that they were very short of food and that it was the elderly that suffered the most. They were dropping like flies. The patient referred to in the photograph weighed just six stone five. In kilos that is just 40.5!

There’s nothing to do nothing at all. We had no food to give them. They were beyond doing anything.

I suppose under modern conditions where you had everything that you could give them that’s a very different kettle of fish. But then don’t forget we were we were isolated with nothing at all. We no antibiotics we had nothing.

We had to improvise, as I said, the present medical profession would think we were prehistoric. We managed it’s surprising what you can do you know what you got to do it.  

He goes on to explain that this was an Island wide problem and that the lack of food was enough for a patient to die.

Particularly the old people, those people who couldn’t get anything on the black market or anything like that you see. They’re very independent  you know. The Guernseyman is a very independent sort of person. 

I have mentioned the fiercely independent nature and stubbornness and hence why to this day we are still known as “Guernsey Donkeys”.

It wasn’t just the Islanders that were suffering malnutrition during the occupation. Especially during the later stages the Germans were also suffering.

If you had a dog or a cat and you let it out at night it never came back in the morning because the Germans got hold of it killed it and ate it.

That’s the stage they were at. People had to put their cattle in at night for the fear of the Germans would go out and kill them and slaughter them. They were in a pretty poor state as well. 

It got to the stage where the Germans were having to send out soldiers to guard locals crops and livestock. You can read more about the impact of the ‘Hunger Winter’ on my previous blog post of A German Soldier’s experience here.

Dr Sutcliffe wrote in April 1944 about the need to balance meat production, milk production, the health of the population, and future sales of cattle post war.

To sacrifice the general public in order to maintain a high standard of Island cattle for presumed post-war sale is nothing short of criminal …

Desirable as it may be to maintain a good Island stock, I consider it more desirable to maintain the population, and I am sure that this view would be shared by the many people who have been evacuated. They would rather come back to be greeted by a healthy relative than by a large and healthy herd of Guernsey cows.

Charles Cruickshank notes in his book that Admiral Hüffmeier, who succeeded von Schmettow as Commander-in-Chief of the Islands in February 1945, saw the dairy herds as the saviours of the Wehrmacht. Hüffmeier was determined to hold out for the Führer. He famously said to the Bailiff of Jersey Coutanche that he would hold out until “You and I are eating grass”.

He had no doubt that the garrison could hold out longer if the production of milk, butter, and cheese was kept up; and he was therefore against the slaughter of cattle to provide even the troops with a meat ration.

He proposed in the interests of the garrison that the civilian milk ration in Jersey should be converted from full to skimmed milk; but Coutanche5 successfully resisted this move. 

The German Occupation of the Channel Islands

When asked to explain the impact of the International Red Cross ship SS Vega delivering food during the last six months of the occupation he provides a very good explanation of how important it was.

Terrific. Terrific. It saved the island there’s no doubt about it.  The Red Cross saved the island and I’ve got it on my film.

You’ve got film at the war museum of the Vega arriving and I remember that that time writing a letter to the to the local press saying how grateful we must be to the to the Vega for coming in at that stage and saving literally saving the island. I suggested at that time that every time that the Vega came in or whatever Red Cross ship it was that came in that the island should give, the Islanders who got a parcel,  should give 10 pounds for every parcel.

They gave to the Red Cross and that would have given an enormous amount of money to the Red Cross people for literally coming and saving the lives of the islanders. I don’t know what they collected. I have no idea. 

He recalls that he tried to limit his interactions with the Germans but he like many Islanders had Germans billeted in his house. One day they told him to get out of the house as they were taking it over. Now normally they would have official papers for this but these two didn’t. He therefore took matters into his own hands to get one up on them!

I had two officers put into my house and they behaved reasonably well, I suppose. One morning they came to me and said you must get out we are taking your house over. Now. At that time we had a billeting officer I’m trying to think of his name now major.

Anyway, it was usual. If the Germans took over a house, they would present you with official documents. They were very keen on official documents. You probably know the Germans were and when they came to me and said you must get out of the house. They didn’t present me with any official documents and I said well this is being done by themselves. They’re not doing this officially.

So I rang up a great friend of mine who was in removal man, Mr. Gould and I told him what was happening and he said, ‘right I will be around first thing in the morning’ and he turned up with his truck and we took everything out of the house.

I had an Aga cooker. and I rang up Huelins who were then the agents and I told Huelins and they said ‘We’ll be around doctor”. They came and they dismantled my Aga took the whole thing out and they put it in, down in my surgery in New Street, the house which was vacant and had been occupied by Dr. Montague.

So I moved in there and when the Germans got back that night they found nothing in the house. I had a very irate telephone call from them saying ‘you were removed the cooker and the curtains and everything else’.  I said well, I understand you have a billeting officer Major Langer. If you get in touch with him, if he gives me orders to return things I will do so. I heard nothing more after that. I concluded they had done it off their own bat and I got away with it. 

New Street where he moved and where he had his surgery.The actual building may have been replaced by a more modern one. © Nick Le Huray

This type of behaviour by the Germans was not uncommon and there are many references to this behaviour.

We were surrounded by Germans and if they decided they wanted to they would come in and look around the house in case there was anything they wanted, because there were days when if they decided for example they wanted  blankets,  they would roll up to your house with a van, ring the bell and say right we are confiscating blankets and they’d strip your house of blankets.

Dorothy Hurrel-Langlois

When it comes to the impossibility of armed resistance he sums it up nicely. Although in respect of his thoughts on the Guernsey Underground News Service and Frank Falla I don’t agree with but that is his view point.

There’s no point in it actually and I mean, as I said, in France, you could blow a bridge up and be 50 miles away within an hour or two, but there really was no point. 

I think people did silly things in a way we had I think a fellow called Falla who ran an underground newsreader thing, which I think was really quite unnecessary because so many people had crystal sets and sets they’re listened into and he was eventually caught doing this and then he was sent away to Germany to one of the one of the camps.

But news got round and then of course, we had the RAF drop leaflets here. I got the whole lot of them and I think they’re now in possession of the Imperial War Museum. News got round fairly quickly you know. 

His views on propaganda produced is in line with all of the other sources that I have read. Very little impact.

When asked about collaboration he at first speaks about it but then says he doesn’t want to bring it up further.

Well, you’re bound to get a certain amount I think, personally, I think the amount of collaboration that went on in Guernsey was minimal. I know a lot of it has been made in this film they’ve had ‘The Swastika over the Channel Islands’, particularly in Jersey. I don’t think it’s done Jersey any good.

I can’t speak for Jersey. I know there were a number of babies, German babies born. It is more than likely I delivered some of them. But you’re bound to get that I mean what would it have been like?

Dammit look at the Americans in England. You’re bound to get that going on in an occupied territory. Look at France look at the whole of the occupied territories in Europe and compare them with the Channel Islands. This is bound to happen and I think to bring it up now is, I’ve no time for it, I’m sorry. 

When asked about the experience as a whole he provides an interesting and thought provoking explanation.

I don’t know I suppose. A period of experience I think. In wartime one has to put up with many things that one doesn’t want. 

My dear wife who’s now left me (she died before he was interviewed) was over in England with my three young children and I when I look back on it, she was bombed from here to there.

I think that apart from starvation, she’s probably had over a much worse time than I had. In wartime one’s got to put up with the certain things you’ve got to put up with and consider yourself lucky if you get through them. Fortunately, my wife and three children they got through them I got through it but that is war. 

His take on the behaviour on the Germans and the occupation as a whole is in my opinion a fair statement given the lack of the more extreme aspects of the occupied European countries.

Could have been a lot worse. They suffered at the end you know, they (the Germans) were starving in the end. 

Upon Liberation he used a Ciné-Kodak camera and colour film he had hidden to film the liberation which is above or you can watch the whole film here and the colour footage starts at 5:29.

After the war he continued to serve the Island for many years in a variety of roles. In particular he was instrumental in the development and extensions to the Hospital that still serves the Island today. You can read about this in his Obituary below.

I hope you have enjoyed this post. Feel free to follow on Twitter @Fortress_Island or sign up on the right of this post for email updates.

A massive thank you to those that also pointed me in the direction of information for this blog.

Footnotes

  1. Obituary
  2. The Channel Islands at War: A German Perspective  – George Forty page 51
  3. Hurrell-Langlois, Dorothy Catherine (Oral history) IWM Archive reel 2
  4. The German Occupation of the Channel Islands – Dr Cruickshank
  5. https://www.theislandwiki.org/index.php/Lord_Coutanche

A German Soldier’s Story

Many articles and books about the occupation of the Channel Islands focus on local people or those in command of the occupying forces. I thought it might be interesting to share the perspective of a German who was sent to Guernsey in October 1943. Along with my thoughts on his observations and how they compare with experiences of Islanders.

I found an interview, conducted in 1987, whilst looking for something completely different in the Imperial War Museum archive. I must admit I wasn’t planning on writing a German perspective on experiences during the occupation quite this early on. Having listened to the tapes of the interview, researched him some more and considered his comments compared to other accounts I thought it might make for an interesting blog.

As with all interviews conducted many years after the war it is important that we remember that the passage of time may lead to things being forgotten or misremembered. We also have to consider that they may not have been aware of the wider picture. I have therefore added some context from other sources.

Erwin Grubba


Erwin Grubba1 served with the Infantry Regiment 583 minus IId Ben, Grenadier Regt, which had originally been assigned to the Eastern Front. He was immensely relived in late 1943 to be sent west from the Eastern Front. Indeed he described it as “his route to salvation”.

The journey took four weeks to get to France by train travelling in cattle trucks. Eventually arriving in Paris where they were deloused before being allowed to mix with the populace.

Shortly after this he was sent by train to St Malo in Brittany to embark for Guernsey in the Channel Islands. St Malo continues to this day to be the main port for modern ferry links to the Channel Islands from France. The German troops of course did not travel in the comfort that modern day travellers enjoy!

For context the modern route that you would take.

Upon arriving in St Peter Port he first saw a Guernsey policeman looking like a “typical English Bobby” and adverts for Fyffes bananas. This made him feel that he was on to a cushy number compared to his experience of the war so far.

In reality by the time he arrived in October 1943 the bananas wouldn’t have been seen for over three years. He was later to find himself caught in what he described as the hunger winter of 1944/45 following the Normandy Invasion and subsequent fall of Brittany.

He was billeted in the Parish of St Martin on the south coast of the Island but was mostly on duty on the west coast of the Island. The billet was near the headquarters of his unit.

Ordinary routine began which was the usual army routine with stand to in the morning, parades and night duties, most of it being guard duties, shift work.

You went on duty, and manned concrete bunkers at nighttime and you went off again at six o’clock in the morning and took your guard duties as they came. There were drill exercises and a lot of military exercises went on the island to the great annoyance sometimes on the farmers and other locals.

Erwin Grubba

Today that would only be a twelve minute drive but during the occupation, particularly the latter stage, it may have taken much longer because of lack of mechanised transport and fuel.

Some photographs of the Vazon bay area he would have been guarding are in the gallery below. These are all taken by me over the last couple of years and may help to give some context to what follows later.

Erwin found Islanders to be fiercely loyal to the Crown rather than Westminster2. The footnote explains the history behind this. Prayers for the Royal Family continued to be said at church services throughout the occupation. He was frequently reminded that they were Guernsey men and women and not English. They were stubborn in nature and wouldn’t back down from getting their point across. This trait continues and hence the nickname of “Guernsey Donkeys”.

During the interview he recalls that Islanders behaved, on the whole, absolutely correctly and that he wasn’t really aware of any collaboration, although undoubtedly there was some. Islanders had no choice but to sell goods to the occupying forces or have them confiscated or reprisals for failing to comply. This certainly ties in to other accounts that I have seen.

We were surrounded by Germans and if they decided they wanted to they would come in and look around the house in case there was anything they wanted, because there were days when if they decided for example they wanted  blankets,  they would roll up to your house with a van, ring the bell and say right we are confiscating blankets and they’d strip your house of blankets.

Dorothy Hurrel-Langlois3


He also notes that the Island authorities and the police force had no choice but to comply in order to limit the impact on the local population.

They had the sense of logic to say well you lads are also here, not because you wanted to come. You were forced to join up and come and occupy the islands. Not because you wanted to and you want to go home as much as we want you to go home.

The farmer that I was friendly with near my billet. always used to say that I love your your singing when you march off in the morning to your exercises but by gum I wish you would go all the same. Because it’d be nice to be free again.

Erwin Grubba

He also mentions that there was no real resistance for fear of reprisals. Whilst it is true that there was no organised armed resistance their were other acts of resistance. Armed resistance would have been pointless on such a small Island as there would have been nowhere to hide and reprisals would have been severe. I will be blogging about resistance but if you want to know more now I highly recommend the Frank Falla archive which can be found here.

Whilst RAF attacks may have caused damage to local properties he still recalls that Islanders openly grinned and gave the thumbs up. They were just pleased to see the RAF. Towards the end locals could often tell if the RAF had been over as there would be leaflets dropped and suddenly some people would have English cigarettes which had been dropped3.

He became friendly with a man who had fought in the Great War and had lost a an arm. He understood that Erwin no more wanted to be here than he wanted him to be here.

I once met a chap who had been wounded he lost his arm and the Battle of Cambrai in the First World War and I stopped him so I could ask the route away to somewhere.

As always I spoke English and then he showed me his hand and he said, Look, I lost that in the first world war against your chaps. My father was there as well. So one we became friends. After that, he said, I know what it’s like, at the second.

Erwin Grubba

His first cup of tea ever that he was given by another acquaintance was unlikely to have been real tea as this was a very precious commodity and nigh on impossible to obtain by the time he arrived in the Island. It was more likely to have been a substitute tea made of leaves of the common bramble that had been dried. I guess if you hadn’t had tea before you wouldn’t know the difference!

I got along very well with them. And of course, very soon when they knew your attitude in any case, as in my case, they became quite friendly.

I mean, I had my first cup of tea with a lady. Her husband was an accountant and they lived on Vazon Bay in a bungalow. They had a little boy who was just about four years old, and she asked me into the house, you know, come in and have a cup of tea, and I sat down had my first cup of tea by a fire side, real fire, you know, the first open fire I had ever seen, being used to living in a Berlin flat and and then we talked about literature and Dickens.  

Erwin Grubba

His farmer friend like many others suffered losses of livestock. These losses occurred due to theft, by triggering mines if they wandered into the many mine fields that were laid or explosives rigged on poles in fields to prevent glider landings. Estimates are that there were approximately 71,000 mines laid in Guernsey in around 115 minefields.

Considering that the Island is only twenty five square miles this is a large amount of mines. This doesn’t include the other munitions that were deployed around the Island such as the estimated 1,000 roll bombs on the cliffs of the south coast.

Erwin was responsible for laying some of the mines and for recording their location. The German forces kept meticulous records of their minefields which at least meant that come the end of the war it at least made them easier to clear.

Minefield at L’Eree

He remembers seeing Russians forced to work on fortifications in 1943 and early 1944 but doesn’t recall seeing them after that. That is because many were moved to Alderney or back to France. He also doesn’t recall how they were treated or what their accommodation was like. Suffice it to say after the liberation of the Islands their barracks were burnt down rather than trying to clean them up.

Some of the occupying forces were Georgians. It was very difficult to communicate with them and as time progressed they had their weapons taken away and were assigned low level tasks. This was because of a fear of them turning on the the Germans when they realised they were on the losing side.

Erwin remembers when they heard the attempt to kill Hitler and that he had survived a friend of his expressed his disappointment. A sentiment that seemed quite common amongst the lower ranks as they just wanted the war to end and to go home.

He had to be wary, yet there was a definite anti-war feeling amongst his comrades.

In 1944 I remember when the fellow who read the news said “An attempt has been made on the Fuhrer’s life, but fortunately his life was saved”, whereupon a voice from the ranks said “Oh shit they messed it up

Erwin Grubba

Erwin was lucky as his ability to speak English soon led to him to easier duties than the usual boring guard duties. Radios were confiscated from the civilian population in June 1942 and as Erwin spoke some English he was sent to seek out illicit radios.

His efforts were a lot less diligent than others. He would merely enquire if the householder had a radio and when they replied that they didn’t have a radio he would leave it at that. It is hardly surprising that nobody admitted that they had a radio as the penalty ranged from a fine of up to 30,000 Reichsmarks, six months in prison or deportation to a camp in Europe.

Islanders took great care to hide radios. They were mostly crystal radios that had been constructed following the confiscation of the traditional radios. As these crystal radios were smaller it made them easier to hide. Examples of where they were hidden include in light fittings, books and clocks.

During searches by other German soldiers one woman threw her crystal set into a pan of boiling water to prevent detection and another hid it where no gentleman would look!

Crystal Radio © IWM COM 501

The occupying forces were allowed to have radios and had their pick of them from the radios that had been confiscated from Islanders. My great grandparents had a German billeted in their home. He had a radio and would sometimes leave it turned on and tuned to the BBC. He would then announce that he was going for a walk and a smoke so that they could listen to the news.

During the last few months of the war he became reliant on news from the BBC to know what was happening. The local newspapers being controlled by the Germans of course didn’t tell the actual news.

I was privileged knowing that this farmer friend looked after me too. He had a radio in a in a drawer, chest of drawers under some cushions in his bedroom. When I used to come in in the evening after duty, he came down rather sheepishly, and I said, What’s the news today? He said, on the radio or whatever, you know but by that time, we knew we could trust each other. He knew I wouldn’t shop them as I regarded to the whole thing as a joke anyway, looking around houses and just asking for, for radio sets. I mean, nobody will openly admit it anyway, it was a stupid thing to do

Erwin Grubba

Once the news that Brittany had fallen reached the Island he, like many others in the occupying forces, knew the end was nigh. Unfortunately for him and for the Islanders there was no chance of the German authorities in the Channel Islands surrendering until the end of the war. Essentially forcing a siege of the Islands.

Following on from his search for illicit radios he had to undertake other duties during the last winter of occupation or has he described it the “hunger winter” of 1944/45. This winter of food shortages took its toll on both the civilian population and the occupiers. It led to deaths as noted by Erwin and indeed the lasting effects of the suffering during this period led to long term illness and premature deaths of those that lived through it. The extreme food shortages during this winter meant that there was a need to guard the crops in greenhouses and fields.

He spent many evenings sleeping in greenhouses to guard the crops to ensure that they were not stolen by the occupying forces or by locals. He used to sleep in the greenhouses with his MP40 at his feet. Theft was punishable by death if caught and they had orders to shoot anyone attempting to steal if necessary.

In the winter of 1944/45 things were so desperate that even the risk of being shot did not deter thieves and he recalls a German soldier being shot. The lack of food was so great that they had to change their duties to allow them to sleep. Instead of six hours on duty this was reduced to two hours. A staple of their diet by this stage was nettle soup.

My ribs were showing like a key on an accordion. In fact, one day I was on duty with my steel helmet on and probably with the pressure of the helmet I keeled over.

We organised concerts, we had literary readings, even a cabaret to take our minds off things and the hours of duty were cut. For instance there was a compulsory forty winks period in the afternoon after our so-called lunch, which was nettles boiled in seawater. I mean these are all signs of decay aren’t they, when an Army has to do that?

Erwin Grubba

During this time the civilian population suffered severe food shortages and but for the five visits of the International Red Cross ship SS Vega during the last six months of the occupation they would have suffered more. 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.

© IWM HU 25920 Islanders collect Red Cross parcels

During the time following the D-Day invasion and into the last months of the war he knew of three German soldiers that lost all hope and committed suicide.

The more fanatical of his comrades naievly thought that when the Ardennes Offensive (Battle of the Bulge) began “this is it they are coming to get us” which of course was never going to happen. The Islands would remain under siege until May 1945.

In the last days of April when Hitler committed suicide, my Farmer friend and his wife had two boys David and Leslie. Little David  was the younger one, I had just come off duty and it was about six o’clock in the morning dawn was just arriving and I’d gone to bed.

I hadn’t been in bed five minutes when I was a knock at the window, it was a bungalow. I always had the window open for like to hear the ebb and flow of the sea. His little head poked through the window and he said “Hitler’s dead”. All I did was say “Hooray”, turned over and I slept like a log until midday.  

Now I probably was the first one who knew because he had heard it on the BBC and later on of course the army headquarters over the wireless must have got through to us. Then came the official announcement from our captain  “we’ve been told that Hitler had died a hero’s death in the Battle of Berlin you know, the usual version, but I knew that at least six or seven hours ahead thanks to little David, from my farmer friend next door. 

Erwin Grubba

Islanders started flying flags days before the official surrender to the liberating forces was announced and he knew it was over. This came as a relief to him. He realised that the only way to get rid of the Nazi regime was for Germany to lose the war. He didn’t think of it as a defeat of Germany but the defeat of a regime.

He, like his father, believed a better Germany could come out of the ashes of the war, although, he was later shocked when images of quite how bad the devastation of German cities was. He had of course not received any news from home since shortly after the Normandy landings.

There was bitterness from a few of the unconditional surrender as it had echoes of the end of the Great War.

There had to be total and utter elimination of any traces of the Nazi regime in all shapes and sizes. Having said that, nobody I think at that time, if they had been told that within a very short span of time, there would be a German army again, within the NATO context. You know, nobody would have believed that, they really thought well we all really thought this was a total end of any military form of government or military inside Germany, we would become a totally demilitarised country.

The professionals of course, were glum about it. Obviously, any professional soldier knew it was the end of his career, and they should try to readjust themselves to try and you know, get other jobs. That’s what they did in captivity, studying things even ordinary things like arts and crafts like joinery and pottery and whatnot.

Erwin Grubba

Amongst his comrades there was only small clique of Nazis most were ordinary and just wanted to go home as they were sick of it.

At the end of the war, of course, they knew it was lost, and I talked to one who had been a Hitler youth and of course, he was very glum. He wasn’t a bad lad and he was quite a nice chap. He said to me, so what will happen now is they will grind, grind us to dust, and we will be like slaves.

I said, well, this is you forget, you see, you are thinking of the mentality that you’re brought up to have but you are now facing somebody who does not have that same philosophy. You can’t expect that they will put laurels on your head but at the same time, they will not treat you as you or your Führer would have treated the conquered nations if the war had gone the other way. They were depressed, naturally, I mean their ideas are shattered.

They had really believed in it, you know, to them that must have been a severe blow. But again, that was only a small clique that thought that way. Because the ordinary soldier the ordinary person there was totally sick of it. They wanted to go home that’s all they wanted that so only thought was at the capitulation was well, when can we get home?

Erwin Grubba

Nobody new it would take three years before they get home.

After the initial landing by the allies on May the 9th 1945 it took time to organise what to do with the German forces.

They took their time. It gave us an opportunity with almost a week to 10 days of being on our own. We never saw a Tommy until them and that gave us time to celebrate often in conjunction with the civilians. Really, really well. I had my first magnificent meal me a pig was slaughtered we had cauliflower and cutlets and opened a bottle of wine.

There were stores on the Channel Islands for emergency situations, you know, to the year 2000 to hold out for the Führer. There were concrete bunkers and concrete shafts underground not only for hospitalisation, but also food. When the war was over, all of a sudden now having starved us through the winter they suddenly released tins of fat, tins of liver sausage and bottles of wine, everything they had been hoarding them all through the winter, which would have helped quite a lot of people. So now of course there was the second warning given out instantly be careful and don’t eat too much of it because, I remember in fact, their was a Russian boy, Georgian. He died because of overeating kind of stuffing himself like that.

Erwin Grubba

They certainly took the opportunity to party and celebrate the end of the war in Europe.

I had to be supported by the Sergeant Major on one side and another Corporal on the other to get back to my billet and to my bed, because I had knocked back the wine a bit too much, but we had a great celebration.

Erwin Grubba

His quartermaster wanted to make a list of all their weapons and ammunition but Erwin said just make a pile you are not a soldier now. Some weapons were just thrown down drains or into ditches which explains why in subsequent years many turned up. Whilst waiting for orders they just sat around, there was no drill, and waited to hear from the British.

The delay gave him time to go and say goodbye to his Guernsey friends. His first encounter with the British forces was some eight to ten days later.

Six cyclists from the Royal Artillery in Portsmouth came near our barracks and stopped as they didn’t quite trust us, so I stepped forward, cheeky me as usual and said “How do you do, have you come to collect our weapons?”

“Oh no, we were just told to patrol and see you are behaving yourselves”. I asked one what he did in civvy street and he told me he was a taxi driver, and that was my first encounter with the British forces face to face.

Erwin Grubba

After a few more days they were called to a collection point, The officers were separated from the other ranks and they were marched to the harbour. There they were loaded on to landing craft. They were then taken to England and on to captivity.

One aspect of the interview with Erwin that I find interesting is that he states that the Islanders were lucky that the German administration were not Nazis. Indeed he states that Count Von Schmettow and others were more of the old Junker class of officer. He recalls that many of the officers were well educated including Cambridge and Rhodes scholars. Indeed one who translated the works of former Island resident Victor Hugo into German.

Whilst this is up for debate and may be argued to be the case for Von Schmettow it would seem that Erwin was either unaware of or forgotten that Vice Admiral Friedrich Hüffmeier, former commander of the battleship Scharnhorst, who took over from Von Schmettow was indeed a nasty piece of work. That however is for a future blog!

Footnotes

1. Grubba, Erwin Albert (Oral history) IWM Archive
2. Islanders owe their allegiance not to the British government but to the Queen of England through the sovereign’s ancient title of ‘Duke of Normandy’.
3. Hurrell-Langlois, Dorothy Catherine (Oral history) IWM Archive reel 2

%d bloggers like this: