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The Bat­tle of Bri­tain may have scup­pered Hitler’s plans for an in­va­sion of Bri­tain, but, as Emma Slat­tery Wil­liams re­veals, some Bri­tish sub­jects still lived un­der Nazi oc­cu­pa­tion

When Dorothy Ed­wards stared out of her win­dow and watched a young sig­naller kick­ing a football around, she couldn’t help think­ing that he was very at­trac­tive. The Sun shone over Guernsey as he saw her look­ing and gave her a salute. Dorothy stuck her tongue out in re­ply. Willi Joanknecht was a Ger­man sailor and part of the force cur­rently oc­cu­py­ing Dorothy’s home, the Chan­nel Is­lands. He was sup­posed to be the en­emy. Boys she’d known since child­hood had signed up to fight men like Willi and de­fend their free­dom from Hitler and the Nazis. But still, Dorothy liked the look of him.

To­day, the av­er­age Bri­ton may not be able to give many de­tails about the Ger­man oc­cu­pa­tion of the Chan­nel Is­lands, and may not con­sider it that sig­nif­i­cant in the grand scheme of World War II. It doesn’t evoke the same im­agery and emo­tions as the Blitz, and is rarely taught in schools. Yet the sum­mer of 1940 marked the start of five years when a part of the Bri­tish Isles was un­der en­emy con­trol. It was a unique wartime ex­pe­ri­ence, which of­fers a glimpse into what life might have been like with a swastika fly­ing over Bri­tain.

With the fall of France in June 1940, and with the threat of in­va­sion loom­ing, the de­ci­sion was made by Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Win­ston Churchill and his gov­ern­ment to de­mil­i­tarise the Chan­nel Is­lands. They weren’t con­sid­ered of enough strate­gic value to de­fend so the small mili­tias there joined other reg­i­ments and the is­lands were left un­pro­tected, with only bailiffs in charge.

A rushed and con­fus­ing evac­u­a­tion mes­sage was an­nounced, leav­ing very lit­tle time for fam­i­lies to de­cide what to do. Should they leave their homes and busi­nesses un­de­fended? If they stayed, should they send their chil­dren away or keep them at home and risk their safety? Fear spread as gar­bled and ex­ag­ger­ated hor­ror sto­ries of Ger­man bru­tal­ity dur­ing World War I be­gan to trickle through from France. In Jersey, even though 23,000 out of the 50,000-strong pop­u­la­tion reg­is­tered to leave, only around 6,500 were ac­tu­ally evac­u­ated. Just un­der half of Guernsey’s res­i­dents left and al­most all of Alder­ney’s – that is, ex­cept seven stub­born res­i­dents. The Dame of Sark, Sibyl Hath­away, in­sisted the is­land wouldn’t be both­ered by the Ger­mans should an in­va­sion oc­cur so most of the 600 res­i­dents re­mained.


The an­nounce­ment of de­mil­i­tari­sa­tion wasn’t at first com­mu­ni­cated out­side of Bri­tain. On 28 June, the Luft­waffe un­leashed a dev­as­tat­ing at­tack on the is­lands. The towns hit hard­est were

St He­lier and St Peter Port, where lor­ries at the har­bour car­ry­ing toma­toes bound for Eng­land were mis­taken for troop car­ri­ers. The red of the toma­toes mix­ing with the blood of those hit must have been a hor­ri­fy­ing sight. In all, 44 peo­ple died and hun­dreds were left in­jured dur­ing the raids. In Bri­tain, how­ever, the at­tacks were com­pletely down­played. On 1 July, The Times men­tioned it briefly at the bot­tom of a page, but only af­ter re­port­ing that Ger­man raids on main­land Bri­tain had done no se­ri­ous dam­age.

The bomb­ings ter­ri­fied the is­landers into sub­mis­sion. With such close-knit com­mu­ni­ties, ev­ery­one knew some­one who had been killed or in­jured. With sto­ries fly­ing around about the Nazis’ cru­elty, it’s not sur­pris­ing that many thought their best hope of sur­vival was to keep their heads down. By 4 July, all of the is­lands had sur­ren­dered and Ger­man troops were soon ar­riv­ing.

For the Nazis, the Chan­nel Is­land pro­vided a prac­tice run for the planned in­va­sion of Bri­tain, so they quickly wanted to show that they could be fierce yet fair to their de­feated en­emy. Oc­cu­pa­tion or­ders ap­peared in the lo­cal news­pa­pers, in­clud­ing a cur­few be­tween 11pm and 5am, a pro­hi­bi­tion on the sale and con­sump­tion of spir­its out­side homes and no ac­cess to the air­port. Clocks were put for­ward to Ger­man time and ra­dios con­fis­cated, cut­ting off news of the war’s progress. It didn’t take long be­fore food be­came scarce and cases of mal­nu­tri­tion soared. It would con­tinue to worsen through­out the oc­cu­pa­tion, un­til soldiers were left steal­ing pets to eat. Many lo­cals grew what they could and had to hide pigs and other live­stock in or­der to feed their fam­i­lies.

Empty houses would be req­ui­si­tioned by the Wehrma­cht, while fam­i­lies with large prop­er­ties had to en­dure Ger­mans mov­ing in. Pearl White-Re­gan, who was 13 years old at the start of the oc­cu­pa­tion, lived in a Guernsey ho­tel run by her par­ents. “It was hor­ri­ble… the of­fi­cer got out and tried to shake hands with my fa­ther but my fa­ther wouldn’t shake hands with him,” she re­calls. “They looked over the ho­tel and took what they wanted and made me leave my room and move into a dou­ble room with my sis­ter.”


As for the soldiers them­selves, many of them weren’t en­thralled with the Nazi ide­ol­ogy of their lead­ers, but re­alised they had been given an easy

“The Chan­nel Is­lands were not con­sid­ered of enough strate­gic value to de­fend so were left un­pro­tected”

“The size of the is­lands hin­dered any hope of or­gan­ised re­sis­tance”

post­ing. White-Re­gan ex­plains how the be­hav­iour and dis­ci­pline of the soldiers got worse as the war went on: “They were per­fect at first be­cause they picked the cream of Germany. The men that came over first were very po­lite, some had been ed­u­cated at Ox­ford… we had all the ter­ri­ble men at the end.”

To­day, is­landers make the dis­tinc­tion be­tween ‘Ger­mans’ and ‘Nazis’. Even with the war rag­ing, lo­cals could sym­pa­thise with the young men for whom join­ing the Wehrma­cht wasn’t their choice.


When the shock of see­ing Ger­man soldiers on their home soil had sub­sided, the in­no­cence of youth meant that for young chil­dren, their new neigh­bours were viewed with cu­rios­ity rather than con­tempt. Some of the Ger­mans had chil­dren them­selves, as well as ac­cess to lux­u­ries such as sweets and toys, and be­haved in a friendly man­ner. Chil­dren couldn’t un­der­stand why their par­ents acted coldly to­wards them.

Hav­ing strong young men around the place had an ap­peal to some of the is­lands’ women as well. Con­tem­po­rary di­aries tell of Ger­mans hold­ing doors open for peo­ple and help­ing out on farms. And there were women who found so­lace in the pro­tec­tion of ami­able soldiers able to pro­tect them from the wrath of their more fa­nat­i­cal com­rades. As a re­sult, birth rates across the is­lands saw a sharp rise. Many of these re­la­tion­ships were doomed to fail, not least as the soldiers could be shipped out to the East­ern Front. One love story that did stand the test of time, how­ever, was that of Dorothy and Willi.

Dorothy, or Dolly as she was known, was 17 when she first met Willi. She watched him playing football near her home and he no­ticed her, but they didn’t speak to one an­other. When she was ac­cused of steal­ing a loaf of bread and im­pris­oned in France for four months, it was on the boat jour­ney home that she first spoke to Willi. He took her up to the deck and gave her a cof­fee, al­though nei­ther could speak much of the other’s lan­guage. Dolly’s aunt then be­gan do­ing wash­ing for him – a com­mon prac­tice for is­landers in ex­change for food – and so be­gan their courtship. To Dolly, Willi was one of the kind­est men she had met. “I knew all along he was the en­emy, but he wasn’t the en­emy to me,” she later said. In 1944, they ex­changed rings in a chapel and con­sid­ered them­selves mar­ried. Like Dolly, young women across the Chan­nel Is­lands came to the

re­al­i­sa­tion that some of these soldiers were just nor­mal men, friendly, car­ing and home­sick.

Yet once the war was over, vig­i­lante groups sought to pun­ish the so-called ‘jer­ry­bags’ – women who had frater­nised with Ger­mans. There were in­stances of is­landers who pub­licly and vi­o­lently cut the hair of these known or sus­pected women or threw tar over them.


Dur­ing the oc­cu­pa­tion, the threat of de­por­ta­tion con­stantly loomed. In Septem­ber 1941, Ger­man civil­ians in mod­ern-day Iran were in­terned by Bri­tish forces, which in­censed Adolf Hitler. He saw the Chan­nel Is­lands as ideal for reprisals. Over 2,300 Bri­tish­born is­landers were deported to camps across Europe – with 45 never mak­ing it home again.

Any trust the is­landers had that they would be treated re­spect­fully was eroded with this or­der. White-Re­gan was packed ready to be sent to Germany as her fa­ther was Scot­tish, but he was also a butcher and so was con­sid­ered too use­ful to send away.

Like the rest of oc­cu­pied Europe, the Jewish pop­u­la­tion was sin­gled out. The is­land au­thor­i­ties be­lieved that anti-Jewish laws would have no ef­fect as they as­sumed any Jews had been evac­u­ated, so these laws were mostly un­chal­lenged. Is­landers helped hide Jewish ci­ti­zens but three women were found and deported from Guernsey. They would all die in Auschwitz. Af­ter the war, Am­brose Sher­will, Pres­i­dent of the Con­trol­ling Com­mit­tee on Guernsey, ex­pressed re­morse for not de­fy­ing the dis­crim­i­na­tive laws, but be­lieved any at­tempt to do so would un­der­mine his power to pro­tect the pop­u­la­tion.

In re­al­ity, the size of the is­lands hin­dered any hope of an or­gan­ised re­sis­tance move­ment. There was nowhere to hide, es­pe­cially as there was one Ger­man for ev­ery two is­landers. Hid­ing banned wire­lesses to lis­ten to the news al­lowed is­landers to feel they were do­ing their bit and there were small acts of sab­o­tage, such as set­ting fires and chang­ing road signs around to con­fuse the Ger­mans.

Hu­man­i­tar­ian re­sis­tance was an­other way of de­fy­ing the regime. Is­landers left out food for the thou­sands of slave work­ers brought over from oc­cu­pied Europe to build for­ti­fi­ca­tions. Some risked their own lives by hid­ing them. The ap­palling treat­ment of these work­ers saw the civil mask slip from the Ger­man soldiers in their towns and homes, turn­ing them into the cruel mon­sters of the ru­mours and pro­pa­ganda.

Still, the threat of reprisals, along with the im­prac­ti­cal­ity of hav­ing an un­der­ground net­work on such small is­lands, pre­vented se­ri­ous re­sis­tance. At­tempts to es­cape were con­demned by the bailiffs.

As the war went on, the is­landers felt in­creas­ingly for­got­ten and aban­doned. On D-Day, they were sure they would fi­nally be lib­er­ated – as did the Ger­mans as Al­lied planes could be seen over­head

cloud of sus­pi­cion hung over the Chan­nel Is­lands af­ter the war”

– but they had to wait an­other year. Even on VE day, 8 May 1945, the is­lands would not be lib­er­ated un­til the fol­low­ing day.

Churchill of­ten tops the polls of great­est Bri­tons for guid­ing the coun­try through the war and to­wards vic­tory. The opin­ion of him on the Chan­nel Is­lands couldn’t be more dif­fer­ent. He re­fused at­tempts to send food and mes­sages of sup­port when con­di­tions be­came tough. As White-Re­gan puts it, “I don’t want to hear his name, he let us down very badly.”


When lib­er­a­tion came, it was a joy­ous cel­e­bra­tion. “Bells started ring­ing all over the is­land, there were peo­ple ev­ery­where, my fa­ther put his flag up, it was ab­so­lutely won­der­ful,” ex­claims White-Re­gan. “We never saw an­other Ger­man around our house again, they were gone.”

By the end of 1945, most of those evac­u­ated or deported had re­turned, though home was a dif­fer­ent place. Friends were gone, build­ings de­stroyed and ugly for­ti­fi­ca­tions lit­tered the pre­vi­ously tran­quil land­scape. Evac­u­ated chil­dren came back with strange ac­cents and lit­tle mem­ory of their fam­i­lies. For Dolly and Willi, lib­er­a­tion was bit­ter­sweet – she was eight months preg­nant when Willi was taken away to a pris­oner-of-war ship. By vol­un­teer­ing to help with the clear-up, he stayed im­pris­oned on Guernsey for a year, but wouldn’t be able to hold his son un­til he was three months old. When he was then sent to a camp in Devon, Dolly left her fam­ily to be with him.

A cloud of sus­pi­cion hung over the Chan­nel Is­lands af­ter the war. When the home sec­re­tary Her­bert Mor­ri­son vis­ited, he com­mented that he would take care of any “white­wash­ing” needed, sug­gest­ing there was some­thing for the is­landers to be ashamed of. They were made to feel the em­bar­rass­ment of be­ing oc­cu­pied. There’s a mis­con­cep­tion that the is­landers col­lab­o­rated, but the ma­jor­ity just tried to sur­vive in an im­pos­si­bly dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion. When dis­cussing the oc­cu­pa­tion of France, An­thony Eden, for­eign sec­re­tary dur­ing the war, re­marked: “It would be im­per­ti­nent for a coun­try that did not suf­fer oc­cu­pa­tion to carry a judg­ment on an­other one that suf­fered one”. But a small part of the Bri­tish Isles were oc­cu­pied, and its res­i­dents left to fend for them­selves.

Dolly and Willi didn’t re­turn to Guernsey, opt­ing to stay in Devon as Willi was de­nied a work­ing per­mit. He passed away in 2015 and Dolly in 2017. They re­quested that their ashes be scat­tered at La Valette pools in Guernsey, a place they vis­ited dur­ing the oc­cu­pa­tion. Their story demon­strates how love can be found across en­emy lines; a light in a des­per­ately dark pe­riod of his­tory.

LEFT: The Ger­mans es­tab­lish them­selves quickly; one soldier pa­trols the cliffs of Ger­man-held Jersey, over­look­ing the La Cor­bière light­house RIGHT: Bri­tish sub­jects live side by side with the Wehrma­cht un­der a host of rules and re­stric­tions

LEFT: Dame of Sark Sibyl Hath­away re­fused to evac­u­ate the is­land; she re­mained in her po­si­tion un­til her death in 1974RIGHT: The Manger fam­ily were among the few thou­sand to leave Jersey

A Bri­tish bobby on Guernsey helps a Ger­man soldier – but this freindly scene has been staged for a piece of pro­pa­ganda Signs – Ger­man first, then English – were put up all over the Chan­nel Is­lands

The Gau­mont Palace cinema in St Peter Port shows the Nazi film Vic­tory in the West

LEFT: The iden­tity card of Al­bert Bedane, who hid slave work­ers and a Jewish woman from the NazisRIGHT: Am­brose Sher­will was im­pris­oned for try­ing to frus­trate the regime on Guernsey, but also pleaded with peo­ple to stay on the is­land The Chan­nel Is­lands cer­tainly proved an eas­ier and safer post­ing for a Ger­man soldier than the East­ern Front

The early 19th-cen­tury Fort Doyle on Guernsey had been heav­ily for­ti­fied by the Ger­mans

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