A picture of Jersey
under German occupation
Bedford School where a small group of Victoria College students were welcomed in the Second World War
Inevitably those who remained were concerned for how their loved ones were faring, either serving in the forces of perhaps living in towns and cities subject to aerial bombardment by the Luftwaffe. Their individual views have been documented over the years, but no collective opinions were published in the islands' censored media during the war.
The situation was different in England, where the mainstream media, and evacuees in their own publications, speculated on what was happening back in the islands. We choose the word 'speculated' deliberately, because little news was received in mainland Britain, save for that extracted from the few words permitted in censored Red Cross letters and the occasional report from someone who managed to escape the island and make it to the South Coast.
One such publication was the newsletter produced for Victoria College pupils who had evacuated and were welcomed as part of Bedford School. This article was written by one of the masters, Arthur Hardy Worrall. The exact date of its writing is uncertain, but the final paragraph, which refers to the deportation of Jersey residents, indicates that it was published after September 1942, just over two years into the Occupation.
Reports such as this in evacuee publications - see also Can we lighten the lot of the occupied Channel Islands? - tended to paint an more positive picture than the limited coverage in the mainstream media, of what life was thought to be like in occupied Jersey. They can doubtless be forgiven for what was clearly intended to boost the morale of their readers, but it is easy to see how these reports, when they inevitably reached the islands after the Liberation, could have contributed to an uneasy reunion between many of those who stayed, and those who evacuated
This particular article, which criticises others for their 'sensationalism', is guilty of much the same, suggesting as it does that 'fraternising is general, and in all strata of society'. There was no evidence to support this view, and when the truth of what happened in the island between 1940 and 1945 later emerged, it was proved to be as ridiculous an assumption as some of the other content of Mr Worrall's article
We should all like to be able to form a complete picture of Jersey as it is under German occupation. That, of course, is impossible, but I believe we have enough information to enable us to approximate to it.
In Jersey: Let me say at once that my information concerns Jersey alone ; I do not venture to express any opinion about Guernsey.
'Sensational and alarming' newspaper reports
What we read in the newspapers is usually sensational and alarming. It seems to be the business of some newspapers at least to provide sensation only, regardless of facts, and always to make the picture as gloomy as possible.
The story of the Sark raid early in October, however, was official, and showed that some people were being deported from the islands. The first account said for labour in Germany; later accounts said to internment camps. It was emphasised that no genuine islanders were being taken, nor people permanently domiciled there.
If this proviso is maintained, Jersey certainly could not be greatly affected. And indeed we know that all available labour in Jersey is being employed in the island. The enemy may at some future time cast the net more widely, but it would be hardly worth their while to adopt a complete reversal of policy for the sake of a few hundreds of unskilled workers.
The fullest and also the most sensational statement about the Islands is contained in a full-page article headed`` The Tragedy of the Channel Islands," contributed to the Sunday Despatch of 6 September, by Lord Portsea, an OV better known to the older generation as Bertram Falle.
A large part of the article consists of a bitter denunciation of the British Government for "its shameless betrayal of the oldest and most loyal subjects of the Crown." The sound and accepted view is that, since the Islands geographically are an integral part of the French coast line, when once the Germans held the one, the other was theirs. The British Government, acting in complete concert with the island authorities, did wisely to accept the inevitable. When Lord Portsea comes to deal with the question of food and fuel and appeals for food ships to be sent to the "starving islanders " he is in direct conflict with most of the known facts. 
"In the Island," he says, "there is no tea, coffee, or cocoa ; no sugar, flour, salt (except sea-brine) ; no oats, coal, oils, fat, jams" And again, " Potatoes are rationed at one pound a week, milk at half a pint — and then it is not always to be had. There are some tame rabbits and inferior vegetables, but we know, both through the Red Cross and other sources, that the Islands are on the verge of starvation."
“Some inferior vegetables!” Ye gods Forty-five square miles of the most fertile soil in the world, most of it skilfully and intensively cultivated by people whose life is hound up with it. "Some inferior vegetables" What has the Jersey farmer done to deserve this?
Three sources of information
We have three sources of information (a) the 25-Word messages, censored, going to and fro through the Red Cross. Many thousands are sent and received, and though there are many things that they obviously would not be allowed to say, they contrive to say a great deal, and to give a general impression of cheery confidence. (b) an occasional escape. In September, 1941, a young Jerseyman achieved a fine getaway, and brought with him a great quantity of authentic and valuable information. Much of it appeared in the Press; parts were reserved for the authorities. (c) a certain number of actual letters, full and uncensored, some of them enclosing photographs, have reached the United Kingdom by devious channels. I have one such before me now, from which I will quote later.
The States of Jersey continue to function normally, through the various committees, being largely concerned with the supply and distribution of food and fuel. Electric current continues to be supplied by diesel oil. The gas works are operating. Some coal is brought from France, but wood is the main domestic fuel. It is rationed, and private owners may not cut down trees without the authority of the States. Medical supplies appear to be sufficient. The existing supply of insulin lasted till the Spring of 1942 and then a further supply was obtained from England through the Red Cross.
For a good many years Jersey farmers had concentrated on potatoes and tomatoes for export to England. They have now reverted to mixed farming, under the direction of the States Agricultural Committee. Grain, fruit, roots and vegetables are being produced in abundance.
The cattle population, large at the time of the occupation, is believed to have increased. Dairy products are therefore abundant. Milk is rationed, but children undoubtedly get enough. Babies' weights are satisfactory. In three instances within my knowledge actual photographs have been received, and they show bright healthy children, full of fun. "Lawrence mimics everybody." Lawrence is two. This is the description of a family group" They all look extraordinarily fit, and my two youngest sisters are now as tall as daddy."
And again, the photo of a child born shortly after the Occupation shows a strapping youngster, in blooming health. Poultry farming: and rabbit keeping are general. A grower friend of mine in St Saviour began rabbit breeding on a large scale in 1939. Probably also pig breeding, already on a fairly large scale, has increased. A farmer not far from us never had less than two hundred pigs.
There is a certain amount of fishing, under restrictions. A recent message says :" Your father and brother have just got a fine catch of mackerel."
Tea and sugar
Sugar is brought from France: It is, of course, strictly rationed. A year ago there was still a weekly ration of one ounce of tea : that has probably come to an end now. But, after all, English folk did not lack something to drink before Queen Anne.
The Germans do not confiscate the produce of the island. They buy large quantities for their troops both in Jersey and Northern France. But it is quite clear that enough remains for the islanders. Some messages definitely say that food is sufficient, countless others imply that the people are sufficiently well nourished to enjoy good health and pursue their normal occupations with energy.
The currency is now practically all paper. The large stocks of British paper currency were, just before the Occupation, stamped by the Jersey Treasury, so that it is of no value outside Jersey. Side by side with it is the German paper, the ratio being about ten marks to the pound. Residents who drew their income from outside the island receive advances from the banks. We are assured that property is being well cared for.
The exception. is the dismantling of the Masonic Temple  at the beginning of the Occupation and the subsequent exhibition of the furniture and pictures in Berlin. That admits of a special explanation. Freemasonry on the Continent is something quite different from what it is with us, and to the German authorities, freemasonry in an occupied territory would be regarded as a subversive organisation.
Life is normal and the islanders cherry
The general purport of messages received indicates that life is normal and the islanders cheery. Education, including Victoria College and the Girls College, proceeds as usual, under some sort of supervision by the occupying power. Games flourish. Victoria College in 1941 reported a good cricket team and a successful season. The Green Room Club has put on a good many plays and revues. The Bridge Clubs are going strong. Surprisingly, the local trade in cut flowers continues. But a caveat is necessary. What was true a year ago may not be trite now. If all is lovely in the garden in June, things may look different in November. Our information is always several months in arrears.
On the other hand it must be remembered that, at the time of the Occupation, the German radio proclaimed that the islanders would soon learn how much better off they were under the German Reich. The islands were the first bit of British territory to come into their hands, and this mild control appears to have been adopted as a deliberate policy. It could, of course, be changed.
There appears to be no bullying or oppression. Orders have to be obeyed, but the behaviour of the troops is described as exemplary. One doesn't get off the pavement when a German officer comes along. In fact, it does not seem to be an overstatement to say that fraternising is general, and in all strata of society. I can't very well state here the evidence for this , but I believe it to be true. This may shock people at home, but it is inevitable under the peculiar circumstances, and it must not be taken to indicate any lack of patriotism. It simply means that the islanders and the occupying troops accept the existing state of things and make the best of it, the latter fully believing that it will be permanent, the former knowing that it will not.
From polite and correct behaviour to more friendly relations is a short step. Nature has a way of taking things into her own hands. There is such a thing as mutual attraction.
Here are two or three messages :
- From the Dean of Jersey [Matthew Le Marinel] to Mr Grummitt, dated 16 May 1942 : "Delighted to hear from you. Glad to report all well here."
- From Miss Barton, Headmistress of the Girls' College, 15th May, 1942: " Girls cheerful, adaptable, patient and helpful. Hoping for reunion friends." From Geoffrey Hamon, lately Senior Prefect, now teaching in a Primary School, 20th March, 1942 : " Guiton and I won Mossop Cup jointly. Still teaching. Love it. Every-thing O.K. Chin up."
- From Graeme Bentlif : "All bored stiff but fairly well.' From the actual letter referred to above, dated May 1941: " We want you all to know we are well and confident. We have sufficient to eat and drink, although like you we are short of some things. We shall be all right. Meat, flour, sugar, coal, etc, have been purchased from France, and we are growing sufficient wheat, oats, barley, potatoes and vegetables to satisfy the needs of man and beast for next winter. Milk has been a bit short this winter, as so much is required to provide butter, our only form of fats. We are being treated with consideration and carry on our normal lives with few restrictions. Naturally there are such things as a curfew, but as this is at 11 pm it is no hardship. And as we are two hours ahead of the sun, it is daylight till after this hour in summer and never dark in winter before about 7 pm There are few signs of warfare to worry occupiers and occupied, and the isolation is the worst aspect. We have taken over another garden, and are growing quite a lot of fruit and vegetables, and as the business is practically at a standstill it gives me some-thing to do."
- One cryptic message recently received presents something of a problem : " V C Joy and sister like Aggie." Aggie is Leslie Minty's well-known nickname. He is a prisoner of war. The interpretation therefore seems to be that Victoria College and the Girls' College are under German control.
The Bailiff, Lisle Bois, and Deputy Belford all speak of hard work, friends and colleagues well.
Two Rectors have died, the Rev J A Balleine, St. Brelade, and the Rev R Le Sueur, St. Martin; also the Rev Lawrence Lee, Curate of St Clement, and Canon Baskerville. The Rev G R Balleine, who was living in the island after retiring from his London parish, is in charge of St Brelade and St Aubin.
Peter Crill [who became Bailiff of Jersey], the last of the five Crills of this generation, was still at Victoria College, Jersey, working for a CI Scholarship, but expected to teach at some school in the island after Xmas.
Since the above was written, official information has been received about the deportations from Jersey which took place in September last. Those deported are in an Officers' Camp in Germany, OFLAG 55 VD. The War Office has received from the German War Office a list of 800 names. The list, which is to appear in a completed and corrected form this month, includes, I deeply regret to say, Mr Kennett, Senior Mathematical Master, Mr 'Williams, another master, with his wife and family, and the College Porter and his wife.
Notes and references
- ↑ Mr Worrall later apologised for the use of the term 'fraternising'. In a further newsletter he wrote: 'Let me get one thing off my chest at once. I am sorry that, in No 5, I used the word "fraternising". It seems to have conveyed more to some readers than I meant it to. It would have been less open to objection if I had said that, apparently, the occupying troops and the islanders are going about their daily jobs with an absence of useless and unnecessary friction. The islander is a shrewd and practical person. He knows how to make the best of a bad job; and I am sure he is giving the Hun no more help than he is absolutely obliged to give. Nobody would dream of questioning his loyalty to the Crown. It is rooted in the centuries.
- ↑ History confers on Lord Portsea considerable gratitude for his efforts to highlight in the United Kingdom the deprivations faced by Channel Island residents during the Occupation
- ↑ It would have been unusual if 25-word personal family messages had attempted to do any more than encourage their recipients to believe that life was not 'too bad'
- ↑ There were no 'occasional escapes' The escape of Denis Vibert, just over a year into the Occupation and more than a year before Worrall's article was written is the only one known to have brought any uncensored news out of the island until much later on
- ↑ There is no evidence of detailed letters with photographs reaching the UK through 'devious channels', or any other means at any time during the Occupation
- ↑ These descriptions of a population resorting to keeping poultry, rabbits and pigs on a grand scale bear no relation to what was subsequently found to have happened in Jersey
- ↑ The Masonic Temple was not 'dismantled'. It was sealed and could not be used, but apart from some internal damage, it remained untouched throughout the Occupation
- ↑ There was no evidence for this. It was the writer's imagination, subsequently proved totally untrue