BATTERIE MIRUS – THE BIG GUNS

Batterie Mirus is probably the most well known of the German gun batteries in the Channel Islands. Probably because it was the largest on any of the Channel Islands.

The name of the gun batterie was in honor of Kapitan-zur-See Rolf Mirus, who was killed in 1941 while sailing between Guernsey and Alderney.

They had a range of 51km (31.5 miles). The image below shows the impact this could have on shipping in the area.

Range of guns shown on History.gg website

If you have read some of my tweets and blog posts you will be familiar with the Germans taking captured equipment and reusing it themselves. This is features in a number of aspects of the construction of the battery itself.

The 30.5cm (12 inch) guns themselves had a couple of previous owners including a short period with the Germans. Originally they were the main armament of a Russian battleship captured by the Germans and then returned to the Russians at the end of the First World War. After the battleship was broken up in the mid 1930s the guns were placed in storage before being pressed into use in the Russo-Finnish war. Captured by the Germans they were sent back to Germany to be reconditioned. Then onwards to Guernsey.

As you can imagine they were not easy to transport at any stage of the journey. Arriving at St Peter Port on barges a special crane was required to lift them. 50 ton guns will not be easy to move.

What was required was a crane with a large lifting capacity. The Germans had captured one from the French, the barge ANTEE, with a tested lifting capacity of 100 tons. This was dispatched from France to Guernsey and can be seen in the photographs below.

The next problem was transporting them, for which 48 wheeled trailers were used. If you are familiar with Guernsey roads you will know that they are often quite narrow and not particularly straight. The dotted lines on the Google Map below show where the harbour at St Peter Port is and then the location of the Batterie Mirus which is in the Guernsey countryside at the far end of the Island.

Some junctions such as the one shown below had to be widened to enable the trailers to get through. The pictures below show some of the challenges they faced.

You can see from the photograph below the difficulties in navigating the guns through the narrow lanes once they reached the area near the gun pits.

Once at the sites they then had the problem of lifting the guns into place. This was achieved using the massive cranes that you can see in the pictures below. You can see from looking at the people in the photographs the scale of the guns.

An incredible 45,000 cubic metres of concrete were used in construction of the four gun pits and supporting buildings.

Concrete mixers on construction.

Once completed it was disguised as a house. This was an attempt to hide it from reconnaissance flights. In reality the Allies were well aware of the construction because of photo reconnaissance missions during the course of construction.

© IWM HU 25925
© IWM HU 25926
Mirus Control Room © IWM HU 25928

I found an interesting account “The Grower’s Tale” in the June-July 2014 edition of “Shore to Shore” a magazine for the Parishes of St. Saviours & the Forest.

The first that Renaut de Garis knew that these guns were coming to stay, was when his brand new brick house, La Croix in La Vieille Rue, was requisitioned. He and his pregnant wife were moved down to the Grand Douit behind Perelle. La Croix was given a reinforced first floor: steel beams and a foot of concrete; and the Commander of the gun battery moved in.

Interviewed in 2009 aged 95 (he was 100 this May), Renaut remembered it all: “They were Spaniards building the battery, we called them Morroccans. Some of them were quite refined people. They were treated terribly, poor devils. Soupe d’Atlantique, they called the food they gave them, it was just water really. Disgusting.

In the winter they wrapped cement sacks round their feet to try and keep them warm. If British planes were overhead, the Germans would cut all the lights at their building sites, but not the power to the concrete mixers. Those huge mixers just ran and ran, night and day.

After they had built the battery they covered it all back with earth again. There used to be a little valley there, and now it’s flat. When they were going to test the [Number 2] Mirus gun the first time, most people didn’t want to go. The shock of the detonation was tremendous. I had my young son in my arms at the time… I saw his cheeks rippling with the shock wave. I had three greenhouses and they were just lifted up and moved sideways. The glass was like snow on the ground. 

“The Grower’s Tale” in the June-July 2014 edition of “Shore to Shore” a magazine for the Parishes of St. Saviours & the Forest.

Below is a video from YouTube which shows the transport issues and firing.

The guns were fired numerous times from 13 April 1942 onwards.

When they were test fired large numbers of the population had to move out of the area and much disruption was caused. One can only imagine what happened when they were fired without warning. The picture below is from a document I found in the Island Archives relating to restrictions on test firing.

AQ696/08 Island Archives
From a report to the Historical Division of Group West. It was written in May 1948 by Major General Graf von Schmettow who was commander of the Channel Islands until his removal on 20 February 1945. Usefully there was an English translation.

The Guns were removed after the war as part of the scrap drive. You can see below a photograph of the site maintained by Festung Guernsey. Don’t be fooled by the photograph this is a massive site. The video at the end of the blog will help you appreciate just how big this site is.

Photo Copyright Nick Le Huray

Entrance to the gun pit. Photo Copyright Nick Le Huray
Picture from Weapons & Warfare gives an idea of the scale of just one of the gun sites.

Below is a great video with an overview of the site.

If you want to learn more about the Batterie Mirus and visit the site of one of the guns I highly recommend the tour that is run by Tours of Guernsey around the site maintained by Festung Guernsey. I recently took the excellent tour and posted about it below. If you go on the tour you will find out far more than I can write in a blog post. Plus nothing is as good as walking the ground!

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.

I will be adding more as time permits. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it on social media or add a comment if you did. Feedback is always appreciated.

Also happy to be contacted with questions about the war in the Channel Islands, media appearances, podcasts etc.

© Nick Le Huray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can also follow the blog on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs.

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

“MRS CHURCHILL” DEPORTED 25 SEPTEMBER 1941

Probably one of the best known people for carrying out individual acts of defiance against the Germans during the occupation of the Channel Islands is Winifred Green. If you consult almost any book about the occupation Winifred gets a mention.

She became quite well known in the UK Newspapers in May 1945 when her story was widely reported. Some extracts below from a couple of newspapers.

Manchester Evening News 15 May 1945

The Scotsman 16 May 1945

Below is a photo of the display at the German Occupation Museum in Guernsey.

Display at German Occupation Museum

You can read more about Winifred at the Frank Falla archive here

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.

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

DON’T MISS ‘CHANNEL ISLANDS WEEK’ ON WW2TV.

Paul Woodage of WW2TV is running a ‘Channel Islands Week’ starting this Monday (26 September). Links are below to the various shows as they stand at the moment. Promising to be a cracking week of excellent content.

Really pleased to have been invited to talk about ‘Commando Raids on the Channel Islands’ on Wednesday. I will be dealing with all the raids except Operation Basalt as Paul has the wonderful Eric Lee doing that on the anniversary on 3rd October 2022 live from Sark. I am also planning on being in Sark that day for the re-enactment on the anniversary.

Don’t worry plenty of other raids for me to talk about! Come along and ask questions.

Ever so slightly in awe that I am in such esteemed company as Duncan Barrett , Eric Lee , Phil Marett talking about various aspects of the occupation.

If you haven’t seen WW2TV it is a free to view history resource with lots of fantastic content covering all aspects of the Second World War. Either click the links below or go give the channel a follow on the various social media below. If you enjoy what you watch Woody would appreciate a sign up on Patreon.

Social Media links – https://twitter.com/WW2TV https://www.facebook.com/WW2TV https://www.instagram.com/ww2tv/

Monday 26 September 2022 – live at 7:00pm (BST) – or catch up anytime after that.
Tuesday 27th September 2022 – live at 7:00pm (BST) or catch up anytime after that.
Wednesday 28th September live 7:00pm (BST) – or catch up anytime after that.
Monday 3rd October 2022 – live at 7:00pm (BST) – or catch up anytime after that.

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 on Twitter at @Fortress_Island where I share other information and photographs.

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.

© Nick Le Huray

LITTLE NEWS FROM THE ISLANDS – THE DIFFICULTIES OF OBTAINING NEWS OF FRIENDS AND FAMILY

In this modern age, as I sit here writing this blog post on my iPad with my iPhone next to me, it occurred that we take instant communication for granted. During the occupation of the Channel Islands it was a lengthy process to send and receive messages from the islands. Typically it would take four or five months for a message to be received and then a similar time frame for the reply to be received. An urgent message may take 5-6 weeks.

In the instance of my mother my grand parents found out four months later of her birth.

Unlike prisoners of war held on mainland Europe, who were able to write letters on a regular basis, islanders and their friends and family overseas found it very difficult to communicate. An International Red Cross office was set up at Elizabeth College in Guernsey as well as an office in Jersey.

In the early days islanders could only write to those outside of the Channel Islands if they had first received a Red Cross message to reply to. This changed in April 1941 when they were able to originate Red Cross messages.

As you can see below it also became possible to communicate with German and German occupied countries and these letters were not limited to 25 Words.

The only other information that found its way from the Channel Islands to England was either provided by the few that managed to escape, those that were repatriated from camps having been deported or information gathered during Commando raids.

Evening Press, Saturday April 19 1941

Messages were limited to twenty words initially and this was later increased to twenty five words. The messages were checked by the German and English censors. Often if you see a Red Cross message it will have a blue stripe across it or a blue cross. This is residue left by the German censor using a chemical to check for invisible ink.

The reason that it took so long for a message to reach the intended recipient was that the messages went via Portugal, Spain, France, Switzerland and then on to Germany before being sent on to Guernsey.

After D-Day on 6 June 1944 it became impossible to send messages so there was no further news from the islands or from the UK.

The quote below from the International Red Cross gives a good feel for how it worked.

 All messages were routed via the International Red Cross headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. The islands exchanged about 1 million messages.

The organization provided message forms on which islanders could communicate with family and friends who were outside the island. To ensure that the service was maintained for humanitarian reasons, both sides agreed that all messages would be read by both German and English censors. This was to ensure that no secret military or coded information was being sent via the forms. They were intended for non-military, civilian messages only. In May 1941, the first 7,000 arrived in England

Messages took anywhere from a few weeks to several months to get from the island to England and back again. At one point, islanders were not permitted to write to relatives but could write to friends. The number of messages that one could send was limited, and replies had to be on the back of the original message. To islanders, this link was invaluable. Messages ceased shortly after June 6, 1944, when the islands were cut off and isolated.

WWII and Guernsey: Red Cross Helped When German Forces Occupied English Channel Island

One thing that is of interest in the quote above is that it refers to the first 7,000 messages being received in England in May 1941. This seems to be at odds with reports in the Guernsey Evening Press of 2 April 1941 which indicates that messages were being received in England in January 1941.

Evening Press 2 April 1941

Likewise in the Evening Press of 16 January 1941 news of Red Cross Messages are recorded.

Evening Press 16 January 1941

In an effort to share news of loved ones that had been evacuated from the Island or were away serving in the forces recipients of a message could consent to the message being published in the Evening Press in Guernsey. An example of this is below.

Evening Press 30 April 1941

The end of these articles usually finished with a replies wanted to remind people that they needed to send a response.

Evening Press April 15, 1941

The reason for the “replies wanted” was that the messages were received in numbered batches and a batch of replies could not be sent until it was complete.

Evening Press 30 April 1941

The articles below from the Channel Islands Monthly Review October 1941 explain how the system worked and some of the frustrations.

Channel Islands Monthly Review October 1941
Channel Islands Monthly Review October 1941

The short video below tells the story of one family and their messages.

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.

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

WHAT HAPPENED IN SARK? A REPORT FROM DECEMBER 1944.

I will be writing a couple of blogs around life in Sark during the Second World War but I thought this account of life in Sark may be of interest.

It features in the December 1944 Channel Islands Monthly Review and is possibly the first news from Sark other than the Commando raids and a brief letter that found its way to England in 1941 (see below).

Written by Miss Jehanne Beaumont, Daughter of La Dame de Serk. It covers the period up to Jehanne’s deportation in 1943. The photo at the top of the blog is Jehanne Beaumont from an article in the Tatler in 1929.

Belfast News-Letter – Wednesday 21 May 1941

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.

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 SECRET MISSION 3/4 SEPTEMBER 1940 – NICOLLE RETURNS WITH SYMES

Despite Churchill being reputed to have said ‘Let there be no more silly fiascos like those perpetrated at Guernsey’ after the Ambassador operation it was only a matter of a few weeks before another raid was under way.

Following Nicolle’s earlier mission and the subsequent disastrous Operation Ambassador it was decided to send him again. This time it was planned that he and fellow Guernseyman and school friend James Symes would stay for three days and gather intelligence. They had known each other since they both attended Elizabeth College and played in the football team together.

James Symes – Photograph of a photograph on display at the German Occupation Museum
Photograph of Hubert Nicolle on display at the German Occupation Museum which I took a photograph of recently.

Much has been written about this operation mostly from the perspective of Hubert Nicolle, however, I recently came across an interview in the IWM archives with James Symes where he recounts his memories. I thought that it would be interesting to use this and some other resources to recount his side of the operation. I will also pick out some of the key aspects of the operation.

We pick up the story where Symes recalls how he came to be involved.

I think if I remember rightly, anyway, Hubert Nicolle had already been to and come out from Guernsey. He was summoned to the Admiralty again, because he went in by submarine and came out by submarine and he was asked if he would go again.

He said he would go on condition that I went with him. I used to play inside left in the football team and he played inside right between us we had enough. There was something between us like that on the football pitch, which made us friends for life really.

So this was what all that was about and I said yes I would go. So I went up to London, Nicolle   at that time was in Parkhurst, in this other holding unit.

Symes, James Michael (Oral history) – Imperial War Museum

Both men knew that they were taking a massive risk as they were landing wearing civilian clothing. They also had family in the island so they were putting them at risk as well. More of that later.

They were landed at 3am on the 4th September 1940 at Petit Port from an MTB.

I went to see him and he had a lot of photographs of German planes which we had to look at and memorise and then we set off London, where we were both asked if we would go and said yes. Did we realise that If we were caught, nobody could help us? Like idiots we both said yes, we were only 20 at the time, both of us and we went.

We went over by MTB, Motor Torpedo Boat. I took five and fourpence ha’penny and a flask of brandy. I was dressed in civvies, I was dressed in a Guernsey so was he and that was all we had because we were going to be there for three days and then they would come and pick us up. We could do what we’d like to on the island as long as we got information on the civilian aspects of the island. Not the German military side so much but they wanted to know in London how people were being treated those were our tasks.

Symes, James Michael (Oral history) – Imperial War Museum

Symes recalls that it was either MTB 69 or MTB 70 that dropped them ashore in Guernsey. Photographs of these two vessels are below. Sadly he never solved the mystery of which of these vessels it was as their records were lost.

MTB 70 MTB 70 © IWM (FL 25709) LIGHT COASTAL FORCES ON OPERATIONS AT BEEHIVE, FELIXSTOWE. 12-17 NOVEMBER 1942. LIGHT COASTAL FORCES ON OPERATIONS AT BEEHIVE, FELIXSTOWE. 12-17 NOVEMBER 1942. © IWM (A 12914) LIGHT COASTAL FORCES ON OPERATIONS AT BEEHIVE, FELIXSTOWE. 12-17 NOVEMBER 1942. LIGHT COASTAL FORCES ON OPERATIONS AT BEEHIVE, FELIXSTOWE. 12-17 NOVEMBER 1942. © IWM (A 12915)

It was decided to use an MTB because of the issues that had previously been encountered using a submarine on the first visit and the difficulties encountered using other types of launch during Operation Ambassador.

Surprisingly they were landed at one of the beaches, Petit Port, that was used during Operation Ambassador in July 1940. Although they were cautioned not to use the same route up the steps and instead used a path that they were familiar with. Given that there are approximately 350 steps this was no mean feat! Instead of the steps they used a steep track to the left of the beach if you stand facing the cliffs.

Map showing Le Jaonnet Bay on the left and Petit Port on the Jerbourg peninsula
Photograph taken part of the way down to the beach at Petit Port © Nick Le Huray

After a few days they successfully gathered the information required by London and were ready to return.

At the end of the period, we went back to where we had landed earlier. We did take one thing we took a torch quite a large torch, which had been had a metal funnel put on it so when it shone out to sea the beam was restricted by this funnel. All we had to do was once every half hour we had to signal the letter, dot dash dot, dot, dot dash dot, dot and a long one and a little shorter one went straight out to sea.

We were on a bay where they would pick us up at approximately 3am They never came. So we went back to our respective homes and the following night we went back to this beach they never came so we went along the third night was a hell of a storm.

Anyway we instead of concentrating on one beam down the middle every hour or whatever the timing was we’ve decided to do one left one centre one right like that in case the ship, the torpedo boat was out there somewhere and one couldn’t see the beam or a direct line. It never came so we both went back to our respective homes.

Symes, James Michael (Oral history) – Imperial War Museum

They had been told that if nobody came they were to wait until the next period with no moon and somebody would come and look for them. This did happen but didn’t go to plan.

A chap came and he got caught. Fortunately for him, he was in uniform and he couldn’t be treated like we could have been if we’d been caught because we were in civilian clothes.  He, John Parker, Captain John Parker, he told the Germans he was on a recce. I don’t know whether they believed it or not, anyway, he became a prisoner of war. So we have to sit at home and wait for the next new moon.

Symes, James Michael (Oral history) – Imperial War Museum
Apologies for the quality but this is a photograph of photograph on display at the German Occupation Museum

Now at various times during the time from the landing up until their surrender they stayed with family or friends and even hid in the cricket pavilion at their former school. The problem they had was that they could not move about easily as the Germans were convinced that there were British troops on the island. They could only move around under cover of darkness and after the curfew.

Between the time of the September new moon and the late September and October the Germans issued an order that anybody, after Parker, issued an order in Guernsey that if there were any British soldiers in hiding in the island, they’d already done this once before when they first got there, and they got a few who were on leave. If these people gave themselves up they would be treated as prisoners of war and those who helped them would not be punished.

Symes, James Michael (Oral history) – Imperial War Museum

Below is the notice issued by the Germans. As you will see later on the offer of no punishment was an empty promise as Nicolle and Symes were initially treated as spies.

Notice issued by the German Authorities October 1940

In the interview Symes recalls how Ambrose Sherwill, later Sir Ambrose Sherwill and Baliff of the island post war assisted them greatly. At the time Sherwill was President of the Controlling Committee for the island. Effectively the most senior person in the government during the war. He negotiated with the German Commandant, Major Fritz Bandelow, for any members of the British armed forces still in the island who gave themselves up to be treated as POWs.

A clever man he saved our lives he persuaded the Germans he put up a draft for the letter that sort of go out into the press the notice he knowing full well that we were there. He got the thing worded in such a way that we could go and give ourselves up as if we were as if we’ve stayed behind when the Germans arrived as if we were on leave when the Germans arrived.

Under the terms of that letter, which became a German proclamation, we eventually gave ourselves up with five minutes to go to the time when we should have done it. On October the 21st Trafalgar day 1940 we ourselves up to the local police, who then told the Germans and we were then spies captured spies. Terrible now thinking of it, anyway we were court martialled by the Germans. We were sentenced to death.

We were then relieved because of this letter. We were taken to France we went to the prison Cherche-Midi in Paris, Dreyfus was one time so we were in good company.

We spent two and a half months in solitary confinement there and then just before Christmas my father died in the prison. My mother was in the prison, a lot of our friends were in this prison. Terrible place. It no longer exists. We were told on the 21st of December or there about that the Germans had decided we should be treated as prisoners of war.

Symes, James Michael (Oral history) – Imperial War Museum
Cherche-Midi Prison in 1938. (public domain)

You can read about the prison on the Frank Falla Archive website here including the experiences of those that assisted Symes and Nicolle.

If you click on the links in the quote below you can access the individual stories.

Uniforms were found for Symes and Nicolle and they handed themselves in. However, the Germans reneged on the agreement and the friends and family of the two men were picked up and put in prison. When Sherwill went to complain, he realised that he, too, was a suspect. With days, all involved were deported to France.

Those deported were Ambrose Sherwill; Jimmy Symes’ parents Louis Symes and Rachel SymesAlbert Marriette and Linda Marriette and their daughter Jessie Marriette (Hubert Nicolle’s girlfriend); Wilfred Bird and his adult children Mary Bird (Jimmy’s Symes’ girlfriend) and Walter ‘Dick’ Bird; Emile Nicolle and Elsie Nicolle (the parents of Hubert Nicolle); Hilda Nicolle and Frank Nicolle (Hubert Nicolle’s aunt and uncle); Henry E. Marquand (a family friend); Bill Allen (the groundsman at the Elizabeth College sports field, who helped shelter the commandos when they were hiding in the pavilion), and farmer Tom Mansell (who was covering for his married brother, Dick Mansell, at whose farm Hubert Nicolle arrived as part of his gathering of intelligence as the Mansell’s farm bordered the airport). 16 people in total were deported.

Frank Falla Archive

It transpired that the reason that they were treated as spies was that It was later established that Bandelow, who had been on leave at the time of their surrender, moved heaven and earth in his endeavour to keep his word. He called for a Court of Honour and General Feldmarschall Von Reichenau was consulted. He declared, “When one gives one’s word, one gives one’s word.” Sherwill later said that he regarded Bandelow’s action in time of war as in the very highest traditions of chivalry.

Below is the notice that was published in the Guernsey Evening Press of 24th December 1940 announcing the change in the decision and the exemption from punishment. Sadly this was too late for Louis Symes, James’s father, as he had died a few days before.

From the 24 December 1940 Guernsey Press

As you will see from the above the it ultimately cost Sherwill his position although this was reversed during the winter of 1942/43 when he was to return as Attorney General.

Both Symes and Nicolle remained prisoners of war until their camp was liberated. Both men were awarded the Military Cross for their trip to Guernsey for “displayed the highest qualities of fortitude and bravery throughout”.

Symes went on to win a second MC in Malaya in 1955 for anti terrorist work. He finally retired from the army in 1971. You can read his obituary here

Hubert Nicolle returned to Guernsey and was very active in the community as well as being an insurance salesman. I was privileged to have known Hubert or Mr Nicolle as we called him. He was a past pupil of the school that I attended, Elizabeth College, and was actively involved in college activities when I was a pupil in the 1980s. Little did I know that the gentleman that often started swimming races with a starting pistol was used to more deadly weapons!

A plaque was erected at the College Field Pavilion commemorating the actions of Nicolle and Symes.

Plaque in the Cricket Pavilion at the College Field where they hid

I have only been able to touch on a fraction of the story here so if you would like to read more about the operation I recommend you track down a copy of William Bell’s “The Commando Who Came Home To Spy” which is out of print but you can pick up for a few pounds second hand on Amazon, eBay or from a second hand book shop.

If you would like to listen to the whole interview with James Symes you can find it here .

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.

I will be adding more as time permits. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it on social media or add a comment if you did. Feedback is always appreciated.

Also happy to be contacted with questions about the war in the Channel Islands, media appearances, podcasts etc.

© Nick Le Huray

OPERATION ATTABOY – THE FIRST PLAN TO RETAKE ONE OF THE CHANNEL ISLANDS – 1941

A while ago I wrote about Operation Blazing which was a planned operation for a large scale attack on Alderney in 1942. You can read it here .

A forerunner to Blazing was Operation Attaboy in 1941. Despite Attaboy ultimately being cancelled they still went on to plan Blazing and Constellation at later stages in the war. This was partly due to Lord Mountbatten and the fact that he had the ear of Churchill and an apparent obsession with retaking one or all of the islands at various stages of the war. Some of the reasons are in earlier blog posts and some are for future blog posts.

Given this first assessment for Attaboy concluded that “The strategic value of the Channel Islands either to ourselves or the enemy is negligible.” it is somewhat surprising that they persisted.

If Attaboy had gone ahead it would have been Alderney that was the most likely target.

The paper below sets out the original proposal.

The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-43_8.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-43_8.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-43_8.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-43_8.jpg

The minutes and papers below show the consideration of this proposal and subsequent .

The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-37_
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-37_02.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-43_1.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-43_5.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-43_6.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-44_1.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-44_3.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-48_1.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-48_1.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB 80/57
The National Archives’ reference CAB 80/57
The National Archives’ reference CAB 80/57
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-55_1.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-55_1.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB 80/57
The National Archives’ reference CAB 80/57
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-54_1.jpg
The National Archives’ reference CAB-79-9-54_4.jpg

As you can see from the minute above they decided not to proceed and instead to proceed with Operation Barbaric.

‘Barbaric’ was a British unrealised intelligence-gathering operation involving the landing of special forces parties of No. 12 Commando, totalling some 220 men, along the north coast of France between Dunkirk and Calais, and between Boulogne and the Somme Bay for the purposes of capturing German troops for interrogation (20/21 March 1941).

The operation was cancelled just before its commitment.

https://codenames.info/operation/barbaric/

If you want to read about other raids that happened or were planned take a look at my other posts that are listed here.

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.

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

LADIES’ COLLEGE IN EXILE 1940-1945

Following on from my recent post about Elizabeth College in exile the Guernsey Weekly Press of 20 June 1945 also featured an article about Ladies’ College in exile. The paper is quite fragile and difficult to scan so apologies for it being somewhat askew in some of the images 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.

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 END OF AMBASSADOR AND AN ATTEMPT TO RESCUE MULHOLLAND AND MARTEL – 3 AUGUST 1940

Sgt. Stanley Ferbrache – You can see this and more information at the German Occupation Museum

This one is just a short blog to tie up the end of the Operation Ambassador story.

If you read my earlier blog about Operation Anger and Operation Ambassador you might be wondering why there was an attempt to rescue them on the 3rd of August when they became POWs on 28 July 1940. The earlier blog is here.

The answer to that question is that there was no way of getting a message out of the Guernsey other than if someone escaped or by the covert landings. Rumours abound on some forums that someone had a radio transmitter but this is simply untrue. All of the military equipment had been destroyed or removed prior to the arrival of the Germans.

Another Guernseyman Stanley Ferbrache volunteered to attempt to meet up with Mulholland and Martel and get them off of the island.

As with the previous raids he was landed at La Jaonnet Bay, this time having learnt of the issues with using other boats they used an MTB, on the 3rd of August.

Having met some of his family members he discovered that Mulholland and Martel had been left with no choice but to surrender the previous week. In order to avoid the mission being a waste of time he spent the next few days gathering intelligence on the German forces in the island.

He succeeded on leaving the island on 6th August. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for this mission.

Churchill is reputed to have said ‘Let there be no more silly fiascos like those perpetrated at Guernsey.’ As it turned out there were plenty more missions to the Channel Islands to come and they were much better organised. More of those to come in future blogs.

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.

I will be adding more as time permits. Thank you for taking the time to read this, and I hope you enjoyed it. Please share it on social media or add a comment if you did. Feedback is always appreciated.

Also happy to be contacted with questions about the war in the Channel Islands, media appearances, podcasts etc.

© Nick Le Huray

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