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 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.
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.
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.
The article below also tells the story of GASP.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
There are memorials in both Guernsey & Jersey to those that died as a result of their acts of protest, defiance and resistance.
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
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
- Jersey Archives L/C/24/A/5 – Lists of Channel Islanders 1940-1945 (political prisoners, deportees and escapees) List incomplete.
- 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.
- Bell, William (1995). I beg to report. Bell (1995).