ALDERNEY HOMECOMING DAY – 15 DECEMBER 1945 – BITTER SWEET EXPERIENCE

Of the Channel Islanders that had been evacuated in June 1940 it was those from Alderney that had to wait the longest to return home. The reason for this was the sad state that the island had been left by the occupying forces.

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”. In advance of this there was much work to be done. Things were already moving apace with the British Army having arrived in late May 1945 and German POWs being supervised clearing the island of mines, ammunition and barbed wire.

The first to return to Alderney was Judge French who, along with a few small groups, arrived in the island on 2nd December 1945 to prepare for the return of the population. Judge French was the crown appointed leader of the island who had been in charge when the island was evacuated.

A number of women from the W.V.S. went to the island as part of these advanced groups. They were sent to prepare to help with feeding and rehabilitating those that were to return. Miss Dunn-Pattison of the W.V.S. is reported in the Market Harborough Advertiser and Midland Mail – Friday 24 May 1946 of telling her local W.V.S. group of her experiences. She told them of the trials and tribulations and the ultimate success of their task.

Another W.V.S. lady that went to the island, Miss Cicely Fosbrook, was interviewed by the Leicester Evening Mail and their 9 February 1946 edition reports that she had gone to Alderney in November as part of the W.V.S. team of twelve.

The team was well equipped with all kinds of provisions and equipment, including two goldfish for the officers’ mess for the Army personnel occupying the island.

Miss Cicely Fosbrook 9 February 1946

Her team were housed in the convent as she recalls most of the houses were ‘flat’, more of that later, and most of the remaining structures were of German construction. She recalls that all houses which were standing and any furniture left on the island were pooled.

They established a transit camp for returning islanders where they stayed for two or three days before being dispersed gradually. Throughought this time the convent became the centre of life and activity for them.

About forty children arrived before Christmas and a big party was arranged for them, while a Christmas tree was also brought over for the church and decorated with every candle they could find – they numbered seventy. A padre was brought from Guernsey.

Miss Cicely Fosbrook 9 February 1946

The final note in the article recalls that when she left Alderney there were positive signs of normal life returning with signs indicating that shops were reopening shortly.

Homecoming Day

Western Morning News – Saturday 15 December 1945 Image © Reach PLC. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

The Salvation Army in Guernsey sent all three of their bands to welcome them home. The British Army provided a guard of honour to welcome them back.

Lieut.-General Phillip Neame’s, Lieut.-Governor of Guernsey, welcomed over a hundred war-time exiles of Alderney on their return to the Island on 15 December 1945 . In the course of his address he said:

On this great day, when you are returning to your own dear island, I want to quote to you some lines of Rudyard Kipling’s which have always appealed to me in regard to my own corner of Kent.

I am sure they will express the feeling for Alderney which is in your hearts today –

“God gives all men all earth to love,

But since man’s heart is small,

Ordains for each one spot shall prove,

Beloved overall.”

Lieut.-General Phillip Neame’s address as reported in the Faversham News and East Kent Journal 4 January 1946

Islanders were overjoyed to finally be returning. The Bradford Observer of 15 December reports an interview with Mr & Mrs F.C. Orderie who had run the bakery and confectionery shop in Alderney before the war. Their bakery had been destroyed by the Germans but they were still hopeful that they could reopen using a German constructed bakery.

This joy turned to a bitter sweet experience though as mentioned in the account above by Miss Fosbrook many of the houses had been flattened or had the interiors destroyed as the Germans ripped any wood out to use for fuel.

As there were all bar a handful of residents left after the evacuation, those that remained were the family of George Pope, the Germans had free reign to do as they wished. At least in the other islands the civilian authorities could protest and in some cases prevent some actions of the Germans.

George Pope had refused to leave as it would have meant that his cattle would have been left untended. Aside from the Pope family the only other Channel Islanders on Alderney were occasional working parties sent from Guernsey.

Whilst it became possible to return to other Channel Islands without a permit from 31 March 1946 it was not that easy to return to Alderney. By the end of 1946 only 459 islanders had returned. This was approximately one third of the population.

Belfast Telegraph – Friday 22 March 1946

The damage to the island and the difficulties of restoring some form of normality went on for a number of years causing all sorts of difficulties and arguments. It eventually led to an enquiry by the Home Secretary and a fundamental overhaul of their system of government. I will deal with that in a future blog.

If you would like to know more about the homecoming and hear from some who were there the film below is worth a watch.

A film made by David Earl about the 60th anniversary.

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

CHURCHILL ABANDONED THE CHANNEL ISLANDS OR DID HE?

Recently Dr Gordon Barclay was getting a hard time from some quarters on Twitter, for taking the position that Churchill did not abandon the Channel Islands. Having been tagged by a mutual friend, Andy Bryson, I tweeted a very brief overview of my view of the situation and the oft repeated “Churchill abandoned the Channel Islands and forgot about them” commentary.

It wasn’t possible to cover it in detail in a series of Tweets so I thought I would address it in a blog post. Where the idea of abandonment came from, how it was perpetuated and was it true?

There are a number of reasons this narrative has arisen, and to be honest I did have it on the list of things to blog about but just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. The above has spurred me on to address it now.

The ground rules!

It is important to remember that unlike today, when we take instant communication and access to information for granted, this was not the case during the war years and for many decades thereafter. Sat here in front of my PC with an iPad and iPhone to consult the archives, newspapers and search the information from my own personal collection it is easier to get an overview of what was happening.

Much of the evidence I will present in this blog post was not available until many years after the cessation of hostilities and indeed in some cases not available to the public until recent years.

I am writing this with the benefit of access to this information and viewing it with an objective 2022 lens. Given the emergence of information over time if I had been writing this in the 1950s or 60s my view may have been different.

Where did this come from?

Arguably this comes from a number of sources dating as far back as the summer of 1940. There are also other events or perceived lack of action throughout the war which also relate to this idea that Churchill abandoned and forgot about the Channel Islands.

Firstly it came from the occupation of the Channel Islands in the summer of 1940. The British Government declared us a demilitarised zone with no defences. Some view this as being abandoned to suffer our fate.

This caused a bit of a commotion at the time in the House of Lords. You can read about that on my post here. This was caused by Lord Portsea who will feature further down this blog post.

For the next five years sentiment amongst some Channel Islanders was that no thought was being given to retaking the islands or what was happening there. You will see why later in this blog post.

The next key point was the advent of D-Day in Normandy on 6 June 1944. This created a false hope that Liberation would be imminent. With the French coast being visible from all of the Channel Islands and the sounds of aircraft over head as they dropped airborne forces and bombs on France, as well as the naval bombardment, hopes were raised that the occupation of the Channel Islands would end soon.

This turned into a feeling of disappointment and that the Channel Islands had been forgotten about. You can read about this in my post about “False hope and fear” blog.

The final nail in the coffin for Churchill’s reputation, with some, was the withholding of permission for food to be provided to the islands for several months. Eventually the requests for permission to help from the International Red Cross were granted. I dealt with the interpretation of Churchill’s “Let’em Starve” blog post.

How was it perpetuated?

Lord Portsea, himself a Jerseyman, was very vocal in the House of Lords for the entirety of the war. These protestations by Portsea were widely reported in the British press and also in the Channel Islands Monthly Review, a monthly publication for those that had left the islands. These were widely read by those that had been evacuated and those that had left to serve in the forces. I wrote about Lord Portsea here

Portsea wasn’t alone in campaigning, but he was certainly the most vocal, although others sought to make political capital out of this both during and after the war.

Lack of information in the Channel Islands as to commando raids and intelligence gathering operations contributed to this feeling. Only the capture of some raiders in 1940 and the ‘Sark raid’, Operation Basalt, were widely known about within the islands themselves.

One example of this is the M.I. 19 interview with two Guernseymen that escaped from Alderney in 1944.

M. 19 (R.P.S.)/2144

Within the islands there was restricted access to news from outside and German propaganda in the local newspapers added to this. Following confiscation of radio sets islanders turned to making crystal radio sets to listen illegally and at some risk.

The lack of broadcasts or mention of the Channel Islands on the BBC added to this feeling of abandonment and that we were forgotten. This was a deliberate decision by the British government as there was a concern that such broadcasts may cause more difficulties for the islanders. There was a perception, rightly or wrongly, they may cause the Germans to introduce further measures.

Lack of information immediately post war other than very general short articles in the newspapers or the Channel Islands Monthly Review meant nothing was done to disagree with this view.

All of the above took hold over the war years. Over such an extended period of time and in the absence of evidence to the contrary these beliefs became entrenched. Rumours and speculation always gather momentum with a lack of information. They take on a life of their own and become a ‘truth’.

Was it true?

To consider the facts one needs to break it down into the various events that led to this feeling of being abandoned and forgotten. Addressing each aspect on its own merits and considering the evidence available.

June 1940 and occupation

Let’s address the situation in the run up to and the invasion of Guernsey on 30 June 1940 and Jersey on 1 July 1940. One has to remember that this was an extremely fast moving situation which meant that some decisions were reversed

As early as 1925 the Channel Islands had been identified as of no strategic significance and too difficult to defend. This was partially due to the advent of the aeroplane and in particular the bomber. In June 1940 a number of memoranda were produced to assess what was to be done with the Channel Islands.

C.O.S.C. (40) 430. 10 June 1940 “Defence of the Channel Islands, Memorandum of the Chief of Imperial General Staff,” Held at the National Archives, Kew, File reference CAB 80/12 Page 158 & 159

The memorandum then concludes as follows:

If the enemy effected a lading on these islands it would be essential to eject him as a matter of prestige, and an operation to ensure this would necessitate a diversion of our forces.

The Committee are asked to consider the danger and effect of the Enemy’s attack on the Channel Islands and to decide what steps if any shall be taken to strengthen the defences

C.O.S.C. (40) 430. 10 June 1940 “Defence of the Channel Islands, Memorandum of the Chief of Imperial General Staff,” by Field Marshal Sir John Greer Dill. Held at the National Archives, Kew, File reference CAB 80/12 Page 160

Following on from the above there was a further consideration dated the same day in another memorandum, extracts of which are set out below.

C.O.S. (40) 442. (J.P.) (J.P. (40) 220). “Strategic Importance of the Channel Islands,” Held at the National Archives, Kew, File reference: CAB 80/12/69

These memoranda were considered at meetings of the war cabinet on the 12th and 13th of June. At the meeting at 10 a.m. on 13th June they concluded that it was pointless to send the two battalions mentioned in the memorandum above.

13 June 1940 C.O.S. (40)178th. Held at the National Archives, Kew, File reference:
CAB 79/5/3

On the 14th of June the position was considered again and decided to defer the position until the Chief of Air Staff had considered the RAF requirements.

C.O.S. Committee 14 June 1940 Held at the National Archives, Kew, File reference: CAB 79-5-6

Events were moving every quickly and following on from the 18th of June a memorandum (CAB 66/8/38) was circulated that despite the above it was necessary to use the aerodromes in Guernsey and Jersey to provide support to the B.E.F. being evacuated from Brest and Cherbourg.

A further meeting on 14 June 1940 again talked about demilitarisation.

C.O.S. Committee 14 June 1940 Held at the National Archives, Kew, File reference CAB 79-5-20

The problem with what was agreed in respect of “no declaration of demilitarisation should be made by them unless they felt it advisable” was to have tragic consequences. A meeting on the 15th June went on to reinforce this decision.

War Cabinet meeting 15th June 1940. Held at the National Archives, Kew, File reference: CAB 79-5-7

The meeting of the War Cabinet on 19th June 1940 was the meeting that sealed the fate of the idea of defending the Channel Islands as you will see from the minutes below Churchill felt that the islands could be defended by the Royal Navy. He was eventually persuaded otherwise.

War Cabinet meeting 19th June 1940. Held at the National Archives, Kew, File reference:CAB 65-7-67

At the War Cabinet meeting on the 21st of June 1940, they were informed that the military evacuation was complete.

War Cabinet meeting 21st June 1940. Held at the National Archives, Kew, File reference:CAB 65-7-69

On the 22nd of June 1940 a notice was drafted to declare the islands demilitarised. As noted in the minute of the 14th of June there was reluctance to release this. It was felt that releasing this notice too early would invite the Germans to invade. Unfortunately, this meant that the Germans went on to Bomb both Jersey and Guernsey with significant loss of life. You can read about it here. Occupation followed on the 30th of June 1940 and in Jersey’s case

I have seen the idea bandied about that the Channel Islands could have been defended in the same fashion as Malta. This argument simply doesn’t hold water for many reasons not least our geographical location so close to the French coast. There was also a complete lack of anywhere for the population to shelter in the event of sustained bombing or naval bombardment.

The map below will give you some idea of the challenges that would have been faced.

Location of the Channel Islands – Google maps

Malta had immense strategic importance to both the allies and axis forces so it was worth devoting men and resources as well as risking the cost to lives on the island. As you will see as you read on this was not the case for the Channel Islands.

One must remember that in June 1940 the British were smarting from Dunkirk and also facing the prospect of invasion. Precious men and resources could not be spared to attempt to prevent the Channel Islands being taken by force.

Our proximity to the French coast also meant that the Luftwaffe would have been able to operate from airfields that were only a few minutes from their target. The RAF on the other hand would have only been able to operate from airfields in the south of England which would mean that fighter aircraft would have only had approximately fifteen minutes over the islands before having to return to refuel and re arm. This would involve a round trip of some two hundred or more miles as opposed to sixty to eighty miles for the Luftwaffe. This continues to be an issue when planning the proposed operations to retake the islands. You will see this problem considered later on in this post.

Even if the Channel Islands had been able to be held initially the logistics of keeping them re supplied would have been impossible. The Germans were to find this out after D-Day in 1944. The allied occupied French coast meant they were unable to get anything but a few ships through to the islands.

No attempt or plan to retake the islands?

This aspect of the of the myth is patently untrue. At the time nobody outside of those involved in the plans would have been aware of them because by their very nature they were secret. The British population were therefore unaware of these at the time, including those Channel Islanders that had left the islands. Those still in the islands equally so for obvious reasons.

There were a number of detailed plans to retake one or more of the Channel Islands throughout the war. They reached differing levels of planning and training.

The first of these was Operation Attaboy in March 1941 which I wrote about in detail here.

The second was Operation Blazing strangely enough one year later than Operation Attaboy. My detailed analysis of Blazing is here.

Operation Constellation was a plan in March 1943 that considered retaking one or all of the Channel Islands. This became Operation Concertina when they again chose Alderney.

If you read my blog posts linked above, you will see that Lord Mountbatten and Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett amongst others were frequently pushing plans to retake the Channel Islands right from the outset. Often to the extreme annoyance of General Sir Alan Brooke.

Churchill was also involved in supporting the plan some of these operations.

“Arrived just in time to go to COS meeting to turn down proposed attack on Alderney Island [Channel Islands] as a large raid by Guards Brigade.”

Brooke notes in his diary on 6 May 1942

In addition to these large-scale operations there were many more smaller raids and the order to pursue this course of action as early as the 2nd of July 1940.

War Cabinet meeting 2nd July 1940. Held at the National Archives, Kew, File reference: CAB 65-14-2

These gave rise to a number of operations running right up to December 1943, after which raids were stopped due to preparations for D-Day.

The initial flurry of raids in 1940 were Operation Anger 8th July 1940, Operation Ambassador 14th / 15th July 1940 and an intelligence gathering mission on 3rd / 4th September. You can read about these operations here.

In addition to these raids the following raids were carried out.

Paul Woodage of WW2TV was kind enough to have me on to talk about Commando Raids on the Channel Islands which also covers the planned large-scale operations discussed above. You can watch it on the YouTube link below.

What about negotiating a surrender?

It is frequently overlooked that there was extensive leaflet dropping following D-Day to encourage the garrison to surrender and at least one if not more attempts to secure a surrender. The October 1944 edition of the Channel Island Monthly Review notes a brief account of what happened.

From the October 1944 Channel Islands Monthly Review

Should you wish to find out more about this daring operation to attempt to secure a surrender, using a German General who was a POW, you can read about it here.

Let’em starve

Nobody outside of government was aware of this comment at the time but when it emerged there was much debate over whether Churchill meant the German garrison or the population as well. You can find my analysis of this here.

The comment was interpreted by many to be applicable to both the German Garrison and the population. Take a look at the blog to understand this complex situation.

The Verdict

The assessment in this blog post is in no way a criticism of those that were alive at the time and formed this view. I would have formed the same view had I been sat here trapped in Guernsey for five years and suffering numerous privations.

I will let you form your own opinion as to whether you think Churchill is guilty as charged or not guilty. Hopefully the above analysis will provide you with the information to draw your own conclusions.

It would however be remiss of me not to throw in my two penn’orth! Having looked at the evidence that has become available over the years, which I have set out above, I believe that Churchill is not guilty of abandoning or forgetting the Channel Islands.

My rationale for this opinion is:-

The Channels Islands were totally indefensible by 1940. Any attempt to defend them would have just led to them being bombed into submission. This would have resulted in enormous loss of life and some of you reading this may never have been born as a result.

The various intelligence gathering operations and commando raids clearly demonstrate that the Channel Islands were not forgotten.

Planned operations to retake one or more of the Channel Islands despite the fact that they were of no strategic advantage demonstrates that we were not forgotten. These operations didn’t take place, but were very seriously considered, trained and planned for, something that they wouldn’t have expended time, effort and resources on if we were forgotten or abandoned.

Churchill was not making these decisions alone. Whilst he was the figurehead of the government, he was guided by the War Cabinet and the Chiefs of Staff.

Whatever else he might have done wrong throughout his career and whatever else you think of him I don’t think on this occasion he is guilty as charged.

That’s all folks

I hope you enjoyed this blog post. I suspect I may get some incoming flak for this post. Ironic given the one thing we didn’t have in 1940 was anti-aircraft guns.

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

A SURPRISING FIND ABOUT VICE-ADMIRAL FRIEDRICH HUFFMEIER!

Whilst looking at what happened to him after the war I stumbled across an article from 1971. He pretty much disappeared off the radar after he was released from a prisoner of war camp in 1948. He moved back to Germany and some say he became a preacher, perhaps atoning for his past, although I have not as yet seen anything to evidence this.

Interestingly there is no mention in the article about his time, in the latter stages of the war, as commander of the German forces occupying the Channel Islands. As an ardent Nazi he was quite prepared to let his own men and the civilian population of the Channel Islands starve rather than surrender.

This appearance at watching HMS Belfast demobbed was just three months before his death.

Nottingham Guardian – Friday 22 October 1971 Image © Reach PLC. Image created courtesy of THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD.

There is even a picture, below, of a smiling Vice-Admiral Friedrich Huffmeier (left), a former captain of the German battlecruiser ‘Scharnhorst’, presents a picture to Rear-Admiral Morgan Morgan-Giles, a former captain of the cruiser ‘HMS Belfast’, which was involved in the sinking of the ‘Scharnhorst’ during World War II, at a ceremony on the River Thames, 21st October 1971. The ‘HMS Belfast’ is being handed over to the Belfast Trust as a floating museum. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Embed from Getty Images

You can read about Huffmeier and his dragging out of the occupation of the Channel Islands all the way to the end of the war in my blog posts below.

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

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.

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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

A TRIP TO ROSE COTTAGE, SITE OF THE GERMAN SURRENDER IN SARK. YOU COULD LIVE IN A BIT OF HISTORY AS IT IS FOR SALE!

Whilst I was in Sark recently my old school friend, Simon Elmont, asked me if I wanted to see the cottage where the Germans had formally surrendered to British forces on 10th May 1945. You can read about the surrender on the other Islands here.

We were walking from the Operation Basalt 80th Anniversary lunch at Stocks Hotel to the Bel Air for a quick drink, before I had to catch the boat back to Guernsey.

A very short diversion later we were outside Rose Cottage which sits on the Rosebud Tenement. It turns out that the house is pretty much as it was at the time of the surrender. Albeit the house is looking a little dilapidated having been empty for some time.

Rose Cottage Photo © Nick Le Huray
Rose Cottage. My friend Simon Elmont. Photo © Nick Le Huray
This is quite likely the table on which the surrender of the garrison in Sark was agreed. Photo © Nick Le Huray
The other two cottages that form part of the site. Photo © Nick Le Huray

Now you might be wondering why the this didn’t happen at La Seigneurie the home of Sybil Hathaway, Dame of Sark. The reason was that the German Kommandantur was not based there but at the cottage above. In the below extract from her book “Dame of Sark, an autobiography” explains what happened.

The British force had not landed on Guernsey till 9 May and the Occupation troops on Sark had refused to answer telephone calls from Guernsey. This ostrich-like behaviour gave rise to a rumour that there must be ‘trouble in Sark’. So at about five o’clock in the evening on 10 May a tug came over with only three officers and twenty men, and I went to the harbour to meet our ‘Liberation Force’. Not a German was to be seen anywhere.

Colonel Allen, the English officer in charge of the party, asked where they were and added that he would need an interpreter. I informed him that I would act as interpreter and led him to the house that the Germans used as their Kommandantur. But no Germans were about and it was only after one of our soldiers hammered loudly on the door that they appeared and the German major who was in charge was summoned to answer Colonel Allen’s questions.

When he had done so satisfactorily Colonel Allen turned to me. ‘I can’t leave any troops here because so far only a token force has been landed in Guernsey.’ He hesitated a moment and then asked, ‘Would you mind being left for a few days, or would you prefer to return to Guernsey with me?’ There was a glint in his eyes when I said tartly, ‘As I have been left for nearly five years I can stand a few more days.” ‘That’s fine. Now will you tell the German Commandant that he is to carry out whatever orders you give until our troops come over?’

Having translated this command, I promptly gave my first order to the German major: ‘You will see to it that the telephone is laid on at once to my house and kept open day and night so that I can contact Guernsey.’ Our Liberation Force boarded the tug and I was left in command of 275 German troops!

Dame of Sark, an autobiography
Guernsey Evening Press 11 May 1945

The cottage is for sale along with the other two on the site as part of the Rosebud Tenement.

Hopefully it will be purchased by someone that will be able to preserve the house and its history.

Estate Agent details for the property

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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

FALSE HOPE AND FEAR – D-DAY AND THE CHANNEL ISLANDS

This blog is about the impact that the D-Day landings on the morale of islanders in Guernsey, the hopes and fears surrounding the news, and the impact on them and the German garrison over the following weeks.

Islanders suffered a poor night’s sleep on the evening of 5th and 6th of June 1944 as streams of Allied aircraft flew overhead the Islands from 11pm.

Some feared it was German aircraft that were forming up to attack the English south coast as they had done on many occasions. Others awakened by the aircraft thought “This is it, the invasion of France has started!”

The Rev. Douglas Ord recorded in his diary that sleep was impossible even if one had wanted to sleep. He was standing in his balcony watching the streams of aircraft flying overhead which finally slowed in intensity at 3pm on the 6th.

In addition to the noise of the aircraft there was the sound of the bombing and shelling of the Cherbourg peninsula and the German’s returning fire.

As the Germans had been on a heightened state of alert for some weeks it is somewhat surprising that they didn’t seem to react until approximately 2am when Ord records that they started firing the anti aircraft guns, of which there were many on the islands. Allied aircraft also attacked positions on the islands.

The only civilian casualty in Guernsey on D-Day was a Mr Malbon of the Vale who was killed at 7:30am when an anti aircraft shell fell on his house.

By the morning of 6 June news had begun to circulate that the Allies had landed in Normandy. This news was obtained by islanders from illicit crystal radio sets but also from German troops who were, unlike their commanders, on the whole keen for the whole thing to be over so that they could return home.

In the first few days after D-Day islanders moods were lifted and islanders would great each other with a smile and a thumbs up. Various rumours abounded including that the German High Command had fled that morning. In fact they had left on 4 June to attend a conference in Renne and had been taken by surprise by the invasion. They had to rush back to Guernsey.

Many thought that it would be only a couple of weeks before the islands were liberated. This hope was tempered by the fear that the German commanders were determined to fight on and any attempt to liberate the islands would result in massive loss of civilian lives.

Even in England there were many who thought that the war would end soon. The psychic “Jagana” was at the more extreme of speculation as can be seen below.

The psychic “Jagana” in the New Milton Advertiser – 10 June 1944

In the House of Lords long time champion of the Channel Islands Lord Portsea, who was a Jersey man, called for a force of Channel Islands troops to liberate the islands.

Western Morning News, 21 June 1944

This of course was a completely impractical suggestion given that the Channel Islanders serving in the forces were spread far and wide across the world. If you take my own grandfathers as an example one was serving in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) and my other was more close at hand as a gunnery petty officer on HMS Ramillies supporting the D-Day landings.

Now Lord Portsea wasn’t the only one that advocated retaking the Channel Islands at various points during the war both Mountbatten and Vice-Admiral John Hughes-Hallett also advocated operations to retake them. One such example is covered in my blog post about Operation Blazing that can be found here.

Fortunately the implications of trying to retake the islands had not been overlooked by the Allied commanders and in addition to this they were of little strategic value so they decided to pass them by. Attempts were made to secure a surrender but these came to nothing until 9 May 1945. You can read about these attempts in an earlier blog post of mine about the liberation.

As a result of the landings the German forces were placed on the highest state of alert. Islanders were confined to their houses from 9pm until 6am as the curfew was brought forward from 11pm. All places of entertainment were closed as were schools because of the danger of air raids.

Rules were introduced forbidding islanders from going about their business but few seemed to obey them. Ord notes in his diary that he went into town and there was hardly anyone around and little business to be going about in any case as the difficulties in obtaining supplies meant many shops were closed.

The German police were fining those that hung around in groups which is just another example of how petty they could be at times. Other than the police the Germans were notable by their absence from the streets as they were either required to man the defences or remain in their billets.

There was also the fear that the remaining civilian population would be taken from the islands to Germany in order to allow the Germans to hold out longer. There had of course been deportations earlier in the occupation to internment camps in Germany such as Biberach internment camp Ilag V-B for allied civilians.

The fear was exasperated when islanders witnessed forced workers being marched through the streets to boats to be taken away to the mainland Europe. Indeed the removal of the population was suggested numerous times to Hitler but his procrastination over making a decision effectively took it out of his hands as the Allies seized all of the French ports that could have been used.

One of the strange bits of propaganda that the Germans broadcast on the radio for consumption in Germany was that there had been a landing in Guernsey and Jersey by Allied parachutists. They reported that there had been great loss of life of both the parachutists and the local civilian population as well as severe damage. Now the German garrison heard this broadcast and of course knew it wasn’t true. This made many of them question what to believe and was certainly an own goal from that perspective.

It was even reported in the UK Newspapers on 6 June 1944.

Belfast Telegraph 6 June 1944

During the weeks preceding D-Day there had been an increased level of air attacks on German positions in the Channel Islands. In particular the area around the harbour and Fort George. The main aim being to destroy the radar installation at the Fort as it was feared that this would detect the invasion fleet heading for France in D-Day.

These attacks increased in intensity post D-Day which led to islanders to leave their front doors unlocked to enable passersby to shelter in the event of an air raid. It is worth mentioning that these weren’t large scale air raids but more targeted attacks on specific targets. They usually consisted of fewer than ten aircraft aircraft and quite often just two or three aircraft.

They were of course seeking to cause maximum damage on German forces with minimal civilian casualties. The raids were often timed for when the minimal number of civilians would be in the harbour area. One such raid to attack shipping that had taken shelter including a U-Boat was carried out before the shops and offices opened. Which was just as well as they dropped a 1,000lb bomb in the harbour which blew all the windows out of the shops in the high street as well as some of the stained glass windows of the Town Church.

This raid was carried out by Typhoons protected by Spitfires. Whilst on local suffered slight shrapnel wounds but twenty eight Germans were killed or badly wounded.

This was likely to be U-275 which was attacked no less than five times in St Peter Port Harbour. On the 14th of June it was attacked leaving the harbour by Typhoons. It escaped but two support vessels were severely damaged. I found an account of this attack from an NCO Pilot Tom Handley who was a Typhoon pilot. It is only a brief mention on reel 7 of the tapes here on the IWM if you want to listen to it. He recalls them attacking the submarine with rockets when he was hit by flak and had to head for home.

Now whilst there was minimal airborne opposition to these raids they did run the risk of considerable anti aircraft fire. This can be seen in a selection of photographs below.

The area around Havelet Bay in St Peter Port had been largely abandoned by the civilian population as the risk of being injured was too high. Rather unfortunately for a Mr Jehan who owned a house on the Strand overlooking the bay it was hit by a stray bomb and completely demolished. Fortunately it was unoccupied as it had been badly damaged in 1940 when the Germans bombed the harbour. In the book ‘The Battle of Newlands: the Wartime Diaries of Winifred Harvey’ Mr Jehan is recorded as having agreed it had rather solved a problem for him as to what to do about the property.

View from Castle Cornet over Havelet Bay to Fort George and the far end of the Strand where Mr Jehan ’s house stood. © Nick Le Huray
View from Fort George looking out over Havelet Bay to Castle Cornet and the Harbour. © Nick Le Huray
Castle Cornet & Havelet Bay images courtesy of Das Bundesarchiv

As a result of these air raids the Germans started to move away from the harbour area and the fort and seek billets in civilian house. The occupiers being turfed out to find alternative accommodation.

As the weeks went on islanders found that the other implications of the Normandy landings began to become apparent. The islands had effectively become cut off and supplies were not able to get through. The Royal Navy was active in the area as were Allied aircraft. This led to an announcement on the BBC that the area from a line drawn east of Cherbourg to Guernsey and a line across from St Malo in the south was a free bombing area and that fishermen should avoid putting to sea in this area.

This presented a problem for Channel Islands fishermen as once they were allowed to return to sea they could not refuse to do so as this would have alerted the Germans to the fact they had been listening to the BBC on an illicit radio.

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

This announcement didn’t deter islanders from attempting to escape the islands using small boats. Now this wasn’t an easy task as any fishing trips were guarded by the Germans but this didn’t stop attempts at night or in bad weather such as fog. The Allies now being much closer on the French coast led to an increase in these attempts as any journey would be no more than thirty miles rather than a minimum of eighty miles across the Channel to England.

The initial hope given by the D-Day landings soon changed to a realisation that it wasn’t going too end soon. This lead to severe hardship for the islanders for the next eleven months but that is a topic for another blog post. If you want an initial insight into the problems encountered in the winter of 1944/45 I discuss it in my blog about a German soldiers experience which you can find here.

Report from the March 1945 Channel Islands Monthly Review of a speech about why the Islands had not been liberated after D-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

WATCH THE COMMEMORATION OF THE LIBERATION AND THE CELEBRATIONS LIVE ONLINE

I thought this might be useful to share for those readers of the blog that are either on Island but for whatever reason unable to go out to watch events live or those overseas.

You can take part in the Church Service, watch the Cavalcade and even the Fireworks. Just follow the link for details. All times are British Summer Time.

http://liberationday.gg/livestreams

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

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