Childhood memories of Pip Bratby

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My name is Pip Bratby and during the war I was aged between 8 and 14 and lived with my father and older brother under the German occupation on the Channel Island of Jersey. Just prior to the German invasion, my father went down to the docks to see if he could get us a berth on a boat out. But there were thousands of people milling around, all trying to do the same thing. So in the end he came home and said we would have to stay put for the duration of the war, however long it lasted.

Germans arrive

I can remember the arrival of the German troops with their noisy boots as they marched along the streets singing their awful marching songs. My father told me to hang out a pillowcase from the window as a white flag and my brother was made to hide all our valuables in the washhouse, as we had no idea what the German troops would do. In the end they were generally quite well behaved towards the local population. People were still allowed access to certain beaches on the island, but many were permanently locked off for the entire war

As school-age children, my brother and I were forced to take German in class and also learn their terrible marching songs. They hoped to turn us all in to ‘good little Nazis’ but it didn’t quite work that way. We kids would stand on the top of the Martello Tower at St Catherine’s Bay throwing tomatoes at the Germans and chanting ‘Pig! Pig! Pig!’ at the top of our voices — it was amazing they didn’t shoot us.

My father was a linguist by profession and turned out to be the only person on the island who could speak German, and subsequently became very necessary to the occupying authorities and the Island’s Bailiff. He had to translate all the proclamations that were then plastered all over the place.

My abiding memory of the war was the hunger and the constant search for food. At first there was rationing, which seemed to work fairly well, but as the war went on there was less and less to eat — everybody lost weight and became very thin. It was a constant worry for my father to ensure we were never separated as a family, or that we should have sufficient to eat. It wasn’t much better for the Germans — we even had to keep our dogs and cats locked indoors or the Germans would eat them. My poor father would cycle home from work and go scavenging for potatoes in the fields, or swop same family trinket for a piece of meat from the local farmer.

Later in the war the Germans brought in slave labour, mainly Russians, to build the ugly concrete fortifications that were constructed everywhere. The islanders may have had it tough, but these prisoners were treated abominably. One of them escaped and hid in the farm buildings nearby — I remember he was a very good-looking man. We kept quiet but eventually he was caught and almost certainly shop.

Surprise ending

The Channel Islands were by-passed by the war effort - long after France and other occupied countries had been liberated we were still waiting to be free. The end came as a surprise, I can remember going down into the main square in St Helier where there was a wild party in progress and being amazed to find that there were British Tommies dancing, instead of the Germans — the war was finally over for us.

However, the worry and deprivation of it all took its toll on my poor father and he never really recovered his health, dying some years later. After the war I left the island and only went back once, for the 50th anniversary of the liberation. I’d never go back to live there now — just too many bad memories from those times.

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