Radio use during the German Occupation
One of the first orders issued by the Germans when they Occupied Jersey in July 1940 was that the inhabitants should only listen to German stations on their radios - or wirelesses as they were called at the time. This order was rescinded a few weeks later, giving no clue to the eventual confiscation of all radio sets and the harshest of penalties for those who hid them and continued to listen to BBC broadcasts charting the course of the war.
Jersey families were allowed their radios to keep in touch with the outside world for the first two years of the Occupation, but on 13 June 1942 all 'wireless sets belonging to the civil population of the Channel Islands' were required to be surrendered. The confiscation had first been suggested in April by German military counter-intelligence (Abwehr) in France. Despite the fact that the Channel Islands had effectively been handed to the Germans by the United Kingdom Government's decision not to defend them in 1940, the Occupying forces were constantly afraid that an attempt may be made to free them, and believed that islanders would receive instructions in BBC broadcasts.
The Germans claimed that the Hague Contention of Warfare justified their actions, and although several thousand radio sets were surrendered, a significant number of islanders decided to take the risk of retaining their wirelesses and continuing to listen to BBC broadcasts. Some went further and started distributing news leaflets based on what they had heard in BBC transmissions. The penalties for such activities were harsh, and one offender was sentenced to five years imprisonment, which the Germans attempted to justify by saying: 'After taking into account the extenuating circumstances , in this case, the perpetrator was only sentenced to five years imprisonment'.
The date fixed for collection was 13 June, but was later postponed for a week, to allow of the necessary arrangements for the sets being received to be made. Although this was construed as an admission that the news was not favouring Germany, it was a very sad blow to lose this, the only contact with England, and there were many long faces as the sets were taken into "safe custody" in the various parish halls. Although no mention was made in the official notices, the Evening Post was authorized to state — and did so on more than one occasion — that the sets were only being held until the "military necessity no longer exists", and were being carefully kept until that time — subsequent events proved the case to be otherwise.
In his Occupation diary Phil Le Sauteur wrote of the radio issue:
- "Those who heard the BBC news passed it on to their friends, but, as can be imagined, by the time it had passed a few lips, the news items were more than a little exaggerated and distorted. Reports of up to 17,000 bombers over Berlin were commonplace, and other examples of the distortions were the news that a son had been born to Queen Mary, and in the imprisonment in the Tower of various well-known politicians for betraying military secrets. Several of the Quislings with which the Island, like most other occupied territories, was "blessed", were reputed to be acting as spies for the German Authorities in their efforts to trace the sources of the news which was being circulated — after two years, the Germans were so closely intermingled with the population that very little went on without their knowledge, and they were well aware that there were some radio sets operating.
- "Some of the blame for the leakage of news was attached to the Italians, who had been allowed to retain their sets — some of them having lived in the Island for many years, and even having married local girls, they were well able to hear and pass on the British news, and after some weeks, they, too, had to surrender their sets. In these rather delicate surroundings, it became very necessary for those who were listening to exercise great care in passing on information lest it reach the wrong ears.
- "During the middle of the year there were several cases of homes being searched by the Gendarmerie for radio sets. These searches had been prompted by the receipt of anonymous letters. The first unfortunate to be apprehended was sentenced to a term of imprisonment. For this he had to wait a vacancy in the gaol, as the gaols were already fully occupied by offenders of different kinds. Whilst awaiting a gaol vacancy, however, this person's sentence was commuted to a fine of one hundred Marks.
- "Towards the end of 1942, immunity from punishment was offered to anyone who, not having surrendered his radio set at the specified time, did so now — thereafter the penalty would be strictly enforced; fine, imprisonment, or in certain instances death itself.
- "During the six months since the bulk of the sets were confiscated, many had been sold to the German soldiers, who selected a suitable instrument at the different storage places and approached the owner, more or less threatening that a refusal to accept the offer of purchase would result in confiscation without payment.
During the week that the collection of radio sets was being made, a leaflet was circulated:
Bulletin No 1 of the British Patriots. 15 6 1942
To the people of Jersey
CONFISCATION OF WIRELESS SETS
Article 53 of the Hague Convention definitely does NOT give the German Authorities the right to confiscate cycles, wireless sets or any other form of personal property. Since the occupation of the Island, we have done all in our power to maintain peaceful relations with the enemy, so much so that the occupying authorities cannot point to a single hostile act of the population towards the forces of occupation. We have, in fact, carried pacification to a point of seriously compromising our honour. It follows, therefore, that the German Authorities have neither the legal nor the moral right to confiscate our wireless sets, yet this they intend doing.
For our part, we refuse to comply with the confiscation order. It is for you to decide, in the light of this brief impartial «exposé», what your attitude is to be. But whatever your decision, be careful to give the German Authorities no cause for offence in your dealings with them. Under all circumstances, be coldly polite, be careful and discreet.
Thus you will give them no justification for taking reprisals against you or the remainder of the population. An appeal has been made to the Bailiff of the Island, without success, firstly to have nothing to do with the confiscation order, and, secondly, to refute publicly the statement that the German Authorities are acting within the framework of International Law in confiscation our wireless sets.
Accidentally, or otherwise, a copy of this leaflet came into the hands of the German Authorities, whose first reaction was to arrest ten Islanders as hostages, pending the arrest of the originator, explaining their action in a notice:
Following a further act of sabotage concerning telephonic communications, and the distribution of leaflets with inciting contents, I have ordered the arrest of 10 persons residing in Jersey.
In the event of the perpetrators of the act of sabotage and the distribution of leaflets not being discovered, these 10 persons will be taken to a continental internment camp.
If a repetition of such or similar incidents occurs, 20 persons will be taken to an internment camp on the continent.