I worked for the Germans

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From WW2 People’s War – An archive of World War Two memories, written by the public, gathered by the BBC

People in story: John Mead

Contributed on: 25 May 2005

Born in Alderney

I was born on the island of Alderney in 1920 but my mother moved the family to Jersey when I was four as she realised that I would have to attend school. This meant that I was 20 years of age when the Germans arrived to occupy Jersey for the length of the war.

We knew that the Germans were coming because we were so close to France and we could see the German planes which flew low over the island. There were British troops on the island but they left when the Germans got closer. I was not surprised about this as I did not expect a small amount of soldiers to protect Jersey from the entire German army. I do not remember feeling frightened.

I remember just before the Germans arrived it was a beautiful sunny day and I saw some German planes flying towards us. Suddenly I saw that there were silver flashes falling from the planes and I realised that they were either bullets or bombs. I ran back into the house and shouted at my mother and younger brother to hide under our kitchen table. We did not have much furniture but I remember that the table was very big and strong. The German planes were bombing the harbour which was only 500 yards from our house and the noise and shaking was terrifying.

A short time after this the planes came again and dropped hundreds of pamphlets over the town. My mother had gone out early to do the shopping and came back with a handful of them. I can recall the pamphlets well. They were printed on white paper with black ink in English and told us that if we wanted to show that we had surrendered we must put up a white flag. In town the Union Jack was taken down and replaced with a white flag and my mother, like all the other households, hung a white pillow-case out the window.

A day or so later the German soldiers landed at the airport and I went down into town to see what would happen. I remember standing by the cenotaph which was opposite the police station and a drunk woman was shouting and pushing people. One of the soldiers spoke English and told her to “behave because the boss was coming”. The boss was an officer who went into the police station to give them orders.

Higher wages

Eventually 49,000 Germans were stationed on Jersey and I went to work for them. I had been working on farms or building roads for the council when they arrived but the Germans paid higher wages so I went to work for them as a potato peeler. When my younger brother left school the masters advised him to apply to the Germans for a job. He was employed as part of a team who cleaned up and prepared the weapons ready for use and was paid very well for this.

In my experience the Germans were very kind to us. Fortes stayed open throughout the occupation and was a very popular meeting place for the young German soldiers and local girls. They often played football with our local teams and we all went to the cinema regularly where we watched German and French films with subtitles. As far as I know the Germans did not destroy anything on the island and they made some improvements such as a new sea wall.

Many people on the island had wireless sets though this was forbidden by the Germans and they could find out what was happening in the rest of the world. The Evening Post was still printed and available on the island but I cannot recall now if it appeared to have contained a lot of German propaganda.

The Germans knew that the end of the war was coming and that the British would return and so they built themselves a Prisoner of War camp though they did not stay on the island long after the British came back. I went to work in the hospital kitchens as food was short and such a job ensured a good supply.

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