Can we lighten the lot
of the occupied Channel Islands?
The magazine page
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.
This article, by Ferdinand Tuohy, was published in The Sphere magazine on 4 October 1941, 15 months into the Occupation. Although it subsequently became clear that life in the occupied islands was somewhat less rosy than the writer suggested, it was, nevertheless, a reasonably balanced article at a time when so little was known about the existence of the only citizens of the British Empire whose territory had been overcome by the Nazis.
Reports in evacuee publications - see also A picture of Jersey under German occupation - tended to paint an even more positive picture, some of them much later into the war years. 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
The only part of the whole British Empire which has fallen onto German hands, the Channel Islands have now been in occupation by the Nazis for 15 months. In this article the present position of the islanders is reviewed.
Complaints of lack of sympathy
Fifteen months after the German occupation of the Channel Islands, complaints of lack of sympathy and help from Britain are still being voiced. It is averred that we of the Big Isle, Government and general public alike, continue to show little or no concern for the fate of the Channel Islanders, both those left behind and those who were evacuated. I expressly recover the words of an MP, as used in writing to the Press here. The Islanders have no Member representing them at Westminster, but they have not lacked spokesmen in either House.
When grievances extend to the person of Mr Churchill himself, it seems to be time to try and get to the bottom of them. A noble lord has, in effect, just announced that "the men of Jersey and Guernsey - thousands serving in HM Forces - their land and families handed over (for the first time in their history) to the enemy, marvel that the Prime Minister has no word of sympathy or comfort for them in their utter desolation.
I am sure most of us here realise that the Channel Islands, as the only portion of British soil occupied by the enemy, should come first in our list of cares for the captive peoples. We have taken over vast spaces in Africa and the Middle East, but we have temporarily lost these 45,000 acres bang next to us and united to us for nearly 900 years.
There sits the enemy on Guernsey, barely 90 miles from Plymouth. It is not a thing the most casual person can exactly overlook, and if we have not yet had a piece of Churchillian oratory directed at Jersey and Guernsey (there are reports that Alderney and Sark only contain German personnel), we must look elsewhere for the cause than to an unthinking lack of sympathy.
In point of fact, the King has lauded the Channel Islanders in warmest language, and were it considered helpful to revert to similar sentiments over the broadcast system there would assuredly be no hanging back.
But one has to weigh the possible effect of reiteration on the Germans. Would it be of positive aid to the Channel Islanders, who, one understands, while permitted as yet to retain their wireless sets and to listen to the BBC, are not allowed to mention the Royal Family in prayer or to play the National Anthem?
An obvious supplementary question is whether prominent Channel Island evacuees should go on the air, stimulating and guiding their own people, as allied leaders of the deliverance movement in London are frequently invited to do. But, once again, would that help? Might it not, on the contrary, provoke a hardening of Nazi attitude in the Islands, a visiting of new burdens upon the very ones it is our aim to protect and preserve? The Channel Islands are a peculiar and delicate case, scarcely to be likened to the open non-cooperation and even revolt of certain other occupied territories. More than others, they can with advantage be considered as temporarily removed from the conflict.
No last-minute resistance
Take our act of leaving the Islands without offering a last moment and vain resistance which would only have brought death and misery to a population long grown used to considering itself safe from any possible land operations. We left because the Islands, demilitarised years before, lost their surviving usefulness of checking shipping in and out of French ports when the whole French coast fell to the Germans.
Since then the Germans have fortified the group, which is used for aero-naval warfare against us in the Channel. Yet we do not engage in retaliatory attack. The Islanders escape the bombing we direct upon other, friendly occupied territory, and the absence of such intervention by us cannot but operate to the good in regard to Nazi treatment of the population.
Mercifully, there is no other call to bomb the Islands, which cannot help Hitler's war production - although Channel Island sympathisers will no doubt bear in mind that the so-called "potato flotillas " constantly feeding the German Army from the Islands would be included in the RAF's valuable offensive against coastal shipping were the vessels in question sailed by foreigners.
Anything written about conditions in occupied territory stands open to correction, yet it hardly seems that the Channel Islanders who remained behind - apparently some 65,000 - are being as pressed under as sufferers in several other latitudes. In some respects the Germans have set out to woo them, possibly a clumsy German hope Channel elements from "the Norman Isles" will one day aid by sailing forth to impress the British by propaganda.
An important fact of June 1940 was that several more rescue ships were sent from England than ever returned to Weymouth filled to completion. Boat after boat returned only part-filled. If there has been much suffering and anxiety due to absence of information since, it is only fair to remember that the Islanders - under great stress, it is true - elected to divide in the ratio of, roughly, three staying behind to one crossing to England.
In the last desperate hours, spokesmen of the Jersey States parliament addressed the crowds in St Helier's Place Royale. The legislators announced their intention of "staying at their posts with their families".
No Quisling has materialised in the islands, though a Gauleiter Heries, late of Victoria College, is said to officiate in the room of Jersey's Lieut-Governor. If Berlin has been regaled with newsreels showing German officers sitting beside local dignitaries in session, we may be sure it is all done very much against the grain. Nevertheless, the Nazis prepared the ground years in advance (how people would have laughed had one reported they were doing so), and it would he stupid to imagine that they have not profited by a certain amount of collaboration from a mixed population.
Velvet glove policy
There has been evidence from time to time that the Nazis are practising the velvet-glove policy in the Islands, hoping thereby to wean the inhabitants from the British allegiance and affection, and it would be wiser to do nothing that might painfully disturb such policy, so long as we know that the Islanders will joyfully come back to us in the end.
At present we know also that anxiety in their regard has been mitigated. Red Cross postcards are arriving at long last in their thousands. These twenty-word reports from the Islanders themselves, if added to escapees' information, might result in such a composite report as this:
- "Don't worry about us. We are as happy and cheerful as possible. The Germans have been orderly and quiet. A special type has been sent here who do their best to fraternise. They are always inviting us to dances, concerts and sports. And they want us so badly to learn German. Inter-visiting between the Islands is permitted. We have two newspapers, censored, of course. But we can listen to the BBC.
- "The films, however, are Nazi stuff only. Only Nazis and doctors can use petrol.
- "If we don't write often, remember that we cannot initiate correspondence. Also that it costs a shilling a time and we are all poor. The Germans commandeer a lot of our foodstuffs and give us occupation money in return, at seven marks to the pound. They have introduced a common working wage for all, which varies from 30 shillings to £2. As regards food, we have not done so badly. Absence of meat, has turned us partially into vegetarians, but we a11 raise rabbits and we can go fishing a mile and a half out. But butter, milk and eggs are unlikely to be as plentiful as heretofore."
One of the chief complaints was that it used to take five months or more to get a reply from the Islands. Actually,until early this year the Germans restricted communication through the Red Cross to the merest trickle. Now a reply is forthcoming in three months or less. But that delay is likely to persist, as the postal route is Lisbon-Geneva-Cologne-St Helier, and the same in reverse, with censorship on the way.
Are we doing all we should?
And so I leave "the most marooned people" and pass to their kith and kin here. Are we doing all we should for them? There are clamant voices answering with a negative.
Well, it is necessary to divide Chanel Islander evacuees into two categories. There is the smaller company who settled in the Islands 'in order to enjoy their lighter fiscal treatment. Back in England, these folk find themselves heavily hit. They also claim under the War Damage Bill, and complain when reminded that the Islands were under a different fiscal system. I have even seen letters asking why money cannot be obtained from, and be dispatched to, the Channel Islands. It is necessary to understand that for all such purposes the Channel Islands are in the same position as Occupied Belgium, just as severed and unattainable.
A larger company arrived here with little clothing or belongings and only restricted means of earning a livelihood. It is asserted that such victims have been helped almost entirely from funds subscribed voluntarily to a Refugee Committee. This had some time back disbursed £13,000 odd, helping 1,400 urgent cases. A further £10,000 then remained, but this sum has certainly since been increased. Evacuees have been settled in several areas, many of the children having been sent to Scotland where they are quite properly growing tomatoes.
Nearly all the savings bank deposits, amounting to over £3,700,000, were brought away from the Islands, only money in the till being left to the Germans. What part this tidy sum can play in succour work I am unable to say. But much difficulty is being caused by the absence of all registrar details affecting births, deaths and marriages. Couples have had to swear here that they are man and wife.
A further grievance concerns the refusal of the War Office to set aside full allowances for wives and families of serving men who have remained in the Islands. Only a portion is being credited, despite protests from all ranks that they will need every penny to get restarted after the war.Quite a number of Islanders here can in no way be arraigned as dodgers, and it is up to us to see that the least hardship prevails among them, particularly where men in the Forces and their dependants are concerned. That is probably the best way we can help those Channel Islanders who have remained behind to see the Nazis through. Watching of postal contact, continuing to send vitamins and vital stores and an occasional broadcast on Channel Islands musical themes, have further been recommended.