The Occupation of the Channel Islands
February 23, 2014 10:49 AM   Subscribe

Winston Churchill famously said, "We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills". And although Winston never had contend with an invasion force on the streets of London, he was not entirely successful in keeping the Germans from occupying British soil.

The Channel islands, which lay just off the coast of France, were the only part of Britain to be invaded and occupied during WWII. Made up of five islands (Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Herm), they were partially evacuated of civilians after being deemed indefensible and then soon after occupied by German forces during the Summer of 1940. The Germans set up fortifications on the shores, rounded up and registered the few Jews left on the island, and built concentration camps on Alderney using slave labor. There is evidence of both resistance and collaboration amongst the citizens during their five years of captivity. After the Normandy invasion, supply lines were cut and everyone (Germans and British alike) struggled with starvation until the Red Cross was able to get through. The end finally came on May 9th, 1945 when the Germans on the island surrendered, which is celebrated every year as Liberation Day on the islands.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI (22 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Dramatized in a TV series a few years ago on ITV in the UK and then shown on Masterpiece Theater in the US. Available on Amazon Instant Video.
posted by briank at 11:00 AM on February 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ian Hislop's mother was a Channel Island resident during the war and lived through the occupation.
posted by kewb at 11:21 AM on February 23, 2014

The excellent BBC series Coast has had at least one episode on the Channel islands, including interviews with islanders who were children during the war.

There was a semi-successful wartime plan to rescue some Alderney cattle (and most of the people) from Alderney during the war.
Most of the pure-breed Alderney cattle were removed from the island to Guernsey in the summer of 1940, because the island was then occupied by the Germans (during World War 2) and it was difficult for the few remaining islanders to milk them. On Guernsey, the cattle were interbred with local breeds. The few pure-breed cattle remaining on Alderney were killed and eaten by the Germans in 1944.
This incident (minus the extinction) formed the basis of a novel called Appointment with Venus, where Venus is a single Guernsey cow marked for rescue. I remember that her sweet demeanour and unsurpassed bovine beauty were repeatedly emphasized in the Reader's Digest condensed version I read as a kid. The book was turned into a movie with David Niven, which I haven't seen, so I have no idea if the casting director managed to get a cow (or set of stunt cows) who could live up to the novel's description.
posted by maudlin at 11:55 AM on February 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

The Channel Occupation was the last paper of my less than storied college career but ended up being the most rewarding research I have ever done. It struck me as odd with all of the Holocaust Studies classes I took that Lager Sylt was never mentioned.
posted by extraheavymarcellus at 12:10 PM on February 23, 2014

On the literary theme, all I know about the Channel Islands in general and these events in particular, comes from reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. In broad strokes, it does seem to cover most themes the post hits on, and it's a pleasant little read, despite the subject matter.
posted by cult_url_bias at 12:14 PM on February 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Thanks for this - most interesting indeed - thanks too for remembering to include Herm in your list of channel islands - often overlooked...

I think it was Countryfile on the BBC I was watching recently that named only four channel islands...
posted by Monkeymoo at 12:58 PM on February 23, 2014

And I've got to toss in this awesome previously
posted by straw at 2:16 PM on February 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Incidentally, this led to the decline of the use of French varieties on some of the islands. For example, before the war, people in Guernsey were somewhat isolated, and able to keep their Guernesiais up that way; however, children in Guernsey were evacuated due to fear of invasion:

"With the return of the evacuee children in 1945, many Guernesiais-dominant bilinguals who had previously spoken Guernasiais with their children must have found this was no longer possible due to their children having forgotten much of their Guernesiasis. Even where children had not lost the ability to speak Guernesiais, they began to teach their parents English…many of the children who had not been evacuated also turned more and more to English, seeing their friends who had spent the war in English as "sophisticated" and worthy of imitation". (From "Mette a haout dauve la grippe Angllais: Convergence on the Island of Guernsey", Mari C. Jones, 2002.)
posted by damayanti at 2:40 PM on February 23, 2014 [4 favorites]

I first learned about the occupation of the Channel Islands from a Doctor Who novel. I always liked its blurb: "March 1941: Britain’s darkest hour. The Nazis occupy British soil and British citizens are being deported to European concentration camps. Six thousand people a month are dying in air raids on London. The United States show no sign of entering the war. According to the Doctor, this isn’t a parallel universe, it isn’t an alternate timeline; and everything is running according to schedule..."
posted by baf at 3:13 PM on February 23, 2014 [1 favorite]

Maudlin, as I read the post I was thinking "This reminds me of something I read in a Reader's Digest condensed book, something about Jersey Island and cows." I couldn't recall the title until I saw your comment. I remember really liking that story.
posted by bunderful at 5:10 PM on February 23, 2014

Cool. I just spent an hour looking at Channel Island place names on a map.
posted by putzface_dickman at 5:24 PM on February 23, 2014

Important French surrealist artist and Cindy Sherman precursor Claude Cahun lived there with her partner Suzanne Malherbe during the occupation, and they were both part of the resistance, imprisoned, and sentenced for execution. They made it through the end of the war but Cahun eventually died a few years later from injuries sustained during prison, mainly poisoning from a suicide attempt.
posted by victory_laser at 5:28 PM on February 23, 2014

From the Tomahawk Films blog post, Music in the German Occupied Channel Islands 1940-45:
...during that Nazi occupation there were actually 2 German military bands stationed on the two main islands (out of the total eight Channel Islands): one drawn from the army: Pionierbattalion 15, garrisoned on Guernsey, and the other being provided by the Luftwaffe’s 40th Regiment, Flak Artillery, which primarily performed on Jersey.

The story of that Second World War occupation offers the incredible imagery of WW-II German Musikkorps performing on British soil alongside other rare and almost unimaginable images of German Forces on British soil and this sadly over-looked story is a historical study all of its own when it comes to the Second World War…

When the entire German garrison across the five main Channel Islands ultimately surrendered in 1945, their musical instruments, song books and many musical accoutrements were left behind intact and can be seen today on display in some of the superb island occupation museums. In addition, with the recent location of a number of rare photographs of these German military bands actually performing on British soil, it is possible to take a ‘then and now’ look at them and witness those instruments being played during the occupation...
When the air was still, would German band musik drift annoyingly northward?
posted by cenoxo at 5:56 PM on February 23, 2014

I, too read the book cult_url_bias mentioned: Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Fun book--not great lit, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Fun pics of Alderney dairy cattle.

Legacies of Occupation: Heritage, Memory and Archaeology in the Channel Islands--This looks like a fabulous read.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:09 PM on February 23, 2014

This period is covered in Gerald Basil Edwards's semi-autobiographical novel The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, which was a delight. It takes place almost entirely on Guernsey.
posted by SirNovember at 6:20 PM on February 23, 2014

Sometimes when I read through posts here, I am either enamored with the subject matter, or WTF and "yeah, but so what", or awestruck by the content.

In this case, maybe it's a little bit of all three, but I'm leaning toward the WTF when I look at the art presentations of perhaps humanoid heads posing's sake.
posted by chuckiebtoo at 6:24 PM on February 23, 2014

chuckiebtoo, (assuming you're talking about Claude Cahun)...

That's a normal reaction to Cahun.

She was a lesbian and her work is basically about gender performance. This sentence from wikipedia article on gender performativity nails it: "the socially constructed aspect of gender performativity is perhaps most obvious in drag performance."

Cindy Sherman (youtube)
posted by victory_laser at 6:45 PM on February 23, 2014

Thank you, I feel better about myself.
posted by chuckiebtoo at 6:54 PM on February 23, 2014

I had no idea that there were actual concentration camps, like SS-run ones, established there. I suppose forced labor was used for much of the "Atlantic Wall".
posted by thelonius at 8:10 PM on February 23, 2014

Dramatized in a TV series a few years ago on ITV in the UK and then shown on Masterpiece Theater in the US. Available on Amazon Instant Video.

Enemy at the Door is also an excellent series. So complex. Well-worth watching.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:11 PM on February 23, 2014 [2 favorites]

More from the Tomahawk Films blog: Channel Island Slave Labourers ’40-45.
posted by cenoxo at 8:46 PM on February 23, 2014

Dramatized in a TV series a few years ago on ITV in the UK and then shown on Masterpiece Theater in the US. Available on Amazon Instant Video.

It (Island at War) is also on Netflix.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:49 PM on February 23, 2014

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