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The Eclectic Pen - Resistance in the Channel Islands

By: Elisabeth D. (celticsoceress) - ,  
Date Submitted: 7/17/2010
Genre: History » Europe
Words: 3,069

  I always felt that we’d done our little bit. We didn’t do it out of patriotism, but out of defiance. There wasn’t much you could do here in the war by way of resistance. We knew the Germans shouldn’t have been here but they were good and very gentlemanly (Bunting 191).
On July 1, 1940, German Luftwaffe began the invasion of the Channel Islands , after a series of air raids on the islands in the last few days in June. Within 2 days, all the islands had surrendered unconditionally to the Nazi conquerors, starting what would be termed “The Model Occupation”, a period of five years in which the Germans and the occupants of Jersey, Guernsey, Sark, Alderney, Herm, Jethou, Brechou, and Lihou ere to live in relative harmony with each other (“German Occupation”). Hitler himself gave orders to “treat Guernsey people as being equal to the Germans from the point of view of culture… be treated with respect” (Smith 21). Yet, as time passed, the Occupation came to resemble others by the Nazis, though on a smaller scale. As historian Madeleine Bunting wrote in her book The Channel Islands Under German Rule: 1940-1945
In its early days, the occupation of the Channel Islands bore little resemblance to what was happening in the rest of Nazi-occupied Europe. Life was comparatively safe and peaceful, and there was one of the systematic brutality that was terrorizing communities on the Continent. This was not to last (Bunting 148).

Besides the mindset of the Germans regarding the “superiority” of the islanders compared to the nationalities of others they had conquered, what truly separated the Channel Island Occupation from other countries under Nazi rule was the resistance movement, or lack thereof, as many historians have suggested. Indeed, there was no “organized resistance movement” (King 83) funded by the British, as Island historian Peter King suggests, nor was there any significant bloodshed by the Germans due to island hands nor did the actions of the conquered help with the liberation of the islands in 1945 (Willmot 67, 81), all characteristics which defined continental resistance movements against the Nazis. In addition to this, after the war, the majority of the survivors from the Islands were reluctant to talk about resistance towards the Germans, and those who did rarely received the honors that they deserved, becoming ,instead, heroes of folklore (Bunting 192).
Admittedly there was a certain hesitance towards organized resistance by the islanders. The Occupational time government strongly encouraged cooperation with the Germans. In August 1940, Ambrose Sherwill, the head of the Controlling Committee in the Channel Islands, pleaded with the people to “refrain from provocative behavior, adhere to the ‘strictest conforminity’ with German orders, and make the occupation a ‘model to the world’ ” (King 84), an order which many islanders strove to obey. There was also a feeling by the island inhabitants that they were not an occupied peoples, like those in France or Poland. Islander Izette Croad wrote in 1941 and 1942 that she was not surprised that the French gave the islanders the nickname “Les Cheries D’Hitler” since they obviously were given preferential treatment by the Nazis. To her, they were not an occupied people and thus had no reason to carry out an underground war (Smith 21). In addition to this, Louise Willmot suggests that the islanders were simply intimidated by the scale of German presence. In 1943, the ratio of Germans to inhabitants was 1 to 2, and on Guernsey even more (Willmott 69). It is easy to understand how all these factors would contribute to a more passive resistance. Yet, despite all this, resistance against the Germans played a very prominent role in the lives of the Channel Islanders, particularly in the nature of escape attempts, support for deportees, and hidden prisoners and Jews.

Perhaps the most daring attempt at resistance was the escape from the islands themselves. Between 1940 through 1945, there were approximately 160 escapes made by younger men, seeking to flee German oppression (King 98). Yet many of them were not successful. One of the most noted escapes was the failed one by Peter Hassall, Dennis Audrain, and Maurice Gould. On the evening May 2, 1942, the three teenagers attempted to escape the island of Jersey. After months of preparation, they hid a boat on the Jersey coast and gasoline on Green Island (off the coast of Jersey), and about 11 p.m. that evening, after hiding all day on the island, they dragged their boat into the sea and set out towards Green Island. However, the combined force of the motor’s propeller and the current capsized the boat, pinning the boys against a rock. Gould and Hassall made it safely to shore, and attempted to rook for Audrain, when they were stopped by two German cars (Hassall 82-92). Hassall had told his mother about the boys’ plan and she had betrayed them to the authorities in an attempt to save her other son from German retaliation. (109) Gould and Hassall were detained in Jersey, and later sent to camps on the continent, where Gould died. Dennis drowned when the boat capsized.

Another famous escape was made by Frank Killer and his friends in 1943. According to Jersey’s newspaper, The Evening Post, the boys would lead protests against the Germans when someone was being deported. Later, they formed a small underground movement in 1943 and asked former army officers on the island to lead them. However, it soon became clear that one of the members of the group was a spy, and the boys decided to try to sail to France. The evening of September 18th, 1944, the boys tried to escape, but their boat sprung a leak the morning of September 19th and they had to swim back to the Jersey shore, where they were arrested by the Germans. While in German custody, the boys attempted several escapes, and tried to blow up several outhouses at the German prison. They finally escaped on February 6, 1945 and assumed false identities (“How Local Lads Escaped…”).
Despite the glory that surrounded the escapees after the war, fear greeted them rather than applause during the occupation. Islanders, such as Hassall’s mother, were afraid for their own and their family’s safety, especially when a member of the family attempted to escape to France or Great Britain, and thus frequently served as informants to the Germans of underground movements. Sherwill spoke out venomously against escape from the islands, calling it ‘running away’. He warned people against escape, begging them to consider the consequences their actions would have on their friends and families (King 97-98). Yet, despite the risk of being caught, many people, particularly young men, attempted to leave the islands (by their own free will, rather than at the hands of the S.S. men). Despite the attitudes of these young men, the fear of Nazi repercussion led many islanders to a more “passive” form of resistance.

As the war went on, the Germans became stricter in their policies against islanders who disobeyed the law. Failed escape attempts and the way the war was going in Europe had brought out the conqueror in Germans in the islands. It became more and more common for people to be sent to detainment or concentration camps for minor infractions. It is suspected that at least 500 Channel Islanders were deported from the islands for minor offenses and sent to German prisons and concentration camps, including Buchenwald, Bergen-Belsen, Ravensbrück, Auschwitz, and Neunegamme. Of these 500, about 22 men and women from Jersey were killed, and at least 9 from Guernsey (“Deported to Concentration Camps and Prisons”).

One of the most common offenses was having a crystallite radio to listen to news from London. The Germans manipulated the Hague Convention in order to make wireless sets illegal, and expected the Islanders to turn “willingly” them in, which happened in many cases, though detector vans were also used to find illegal radios (King 89). There were other cases of defiance which islanders were imprisoned for. Winifred Green, a waitress in Guernsey, was imprisoned in a Caen prison for refusing to say “Heil Hitler” when serving pudding. She instead responded “To Hell with Hitler for a rice pudding”, for which she served six months (Bunting 198).

In addition to this, approximately 825 British citizens were deported from the Islands in September 1942 in response to Great Britain’s capture of Iranian Germans (Cruickshank 206, 217). In January 1943, around 200 men, women, and children were deported from Sark, “in reprisal for a Commando raid” on the island (219). Because of the rise in deportations, many islanders became more hesitant in their resistance movements. For a time, the only recorded resistance was by youths who attempted any major demonstration of hostility against the Germans, particularly by stealing German bicycles and petty sabotage attempts (Bunting 199). Yet, these deportations also inspired what was the most popular (in terms of numbers participating) form of resistance: support for those being islanders deported.
In 1942, the first large scale demonstration against those being deported occurred in Guernsey. Beforehand, there had been smaller demonstrations for Jews who were being deported, by those such as Frank Killer, but there had never been such a massive group, nor a the common feeling of resistance. On the eve of the deportations, the Germans commanders on the island allowed for “going away” parties for the deportees, yet the islanders made this a political demonstration. Frank Stroobant organized one for 200 people, who spent the evening singing British patriotic songs. On that same night in St. Helier, Jersey, crowds marched carrying banners with slogans such as “Churchill” and “England”. As a result, 14 young men were arrested, held for a fortnight in the police station, and tried. Many were let off, but several were sentenced to a month in prison (King 93).

Despite the outcome of the 14 men, for many, this was the first time that they felt the spirit of resistance inspired by British patriotism against the Germans. Bob Le Sueur marched in St. Helier, said
…for the first time in my life I felt rather proud to be British. Whatever scenes there had been at home, such as breaking down and tears, by the time they got to the quayside the stiff upper-lip was showing….There was an air of gaiety born of bravo- a ‘We’ll show them’ attitude…. It was a deeply emotional moment for many islanders as they watched them setting off on a difficult journey, with a very uncertain end (Bunting 197).
Others felt the same after the demonstrations in 1942, which inspired not only mass demonstrations but also more people to become “riskier” in their activities to undermine the Germans.

The most common, and hardest, form of resistance was in the form of sheltering and aiding of forced workers and Jews on the Channel Islands. The Germans published notices, stating that any islander caught aiding an escaped prisoner would face harsh penalties, including deportation to concentration camps (“Albert Gustave Bedane: 1893-1980”). But many, such risked their lives to save people from the Nazis.

On October 23, 1940 in Guernsey and October 21, 1940, “The (First) Orders relating to Measures against the Jews” were published in the Royal Courts. It stated that “those who belong or have belonged to the Jewish religion, or who have more than two Jewish grandparents, are deemed to be Jews” and thus have “(t)he duty to resister Jews… has been delegated by the Bailiff… and that infractions of the Order were punishable by fine or imprisonment” (Cohen 15). Within the next month, those Jews left on the islands were required to report to the police and register. In late November 1940, the restrictions against Jews increased, with the Second Order, which declared all transactions made at Jewish businesses after May 23, 1940 were now void (19); and the Third Order, in May and June of 1941, which outlawed Jews from owning a business (29). Most of the Jewish in habitants had fled the Channel Islands in the weeks before the German invasion, leaving only a small number on the islands. The majority of the Jews who registered with the Germans were deported and died in the camps. The first deportations began in 1942, ending in February 1943 (“The Jews of the Channel Islands”). However a few Jews were able to hide in the homes of sympathetic islanders.

One of Hitler’s plans for the Channel Islands was for them to become an “impregnable fortress”, to protect western communications and create a buffer zone against the British and American Allies (Stephenson 11). To this end, 16,000 forced workers, mainly consisting of eastern Europeans, whom Hitler considered inferior (Smith 21), were transported to the islands between 1941 and 1944, as part of Organisation Todt (Willmot 73). Their lives in the labor camps rivaled the continental camps in how dire it was. As forced worker Vasilly Marempolsky remembers “Exhausted workers would come back from a grueling days work and fall half-dead onto their bunks, trying to cover their bodies and heads with grey rags…. Slavery never stopped…” (Marempolsky).

Aiding Jews and forced workers came in many varieties. Many people would simply leave hearty bread or soup or clothing for the prisoners walking back to camps after a hard day’s work (Vasilly Marempolsky). Others joined groups, such as those in Jersey, particularly the Jersey Democratic Movement (JDM) and the Jersey Communist Party, were the most active in this. Beginning in 1943, these groups, mainly the JCP, established a series of safe houses for workers who were escaping from the Germans. They established a series of houses with local families, moving the workers when the SS men were close to discovering them. They also provided medical care, transportation to safe houses, and in certain instances, a new identity with an identity card, photographs, and ration book. The majority of those working with the JCP were nonmembers, but rather those who had a political agenda or those who had personal tragedy with motivated them to help, particularly the family of someone who had been deported (Willmot 74).
Phyllis Le Breton and her family participated in this underground movement. Prisoners, from the work camps knew that her husband would give them food, either if they were walking back to the camps or if they escaped, which worried her and her father-in-law. Yet, despite their wariness, they hid a prisoner in their house, who slept in their car at night. The family continued to live in fear as the Gestapo searched farms for the runaway slaves. In these situations, the man the Le Bretons were hiding would duck out the back door. Le Breton remembers “(t)here were lots of close shaves like that. The Gestapo often used to come. They didn’t knock. They walked straight in” (Le Breton). Le Breton and her family were not caught. Yet others, such as Louisa Gould, were not as fortunate. She was discovered hiding an escaped Russian worker in her home and deported. She died in Ravensbrück in 1945 (“Louisa Gould: 1891-1945”).

One of the most honored people for their resistance efforts in this field, was Albert Gustave Bedane, a physiotherapist on the island of Jersey. Between June 1943 and the liberation of the island, he hid an older Jewish woman, Mary Erica Richardson. Richardson had registered as a Jew during after the First Order in 1940, misspelling her name to hide her Jewish origins. On June 25, 1943, she was taken either to the German headquarters or to the Alien Office to be photographed as part of her Jewish identity card, but somehow escaped and made her way to Bedane’s clinic, which was attached to his house. (It is also suggested that she escaped as she was being processed to go to a German Concentration camp). Bedane originally hid her in his cellar, which was less than 5 feet in height, later moving her to a curtained room in one of the upper floors of his house. Throughout her stay with Bedane, Richardson changed her appearance, and would often sit out in the garden while wearing a pair of dark glasses. She would hide in the cellar should there be a house inspection. In the final weeks of the war, Richardson emerged from hiding to care for her ailing husband, but was never caught. She later wrote to Bedane thanking him for saving her life (“Albert Gustave Bedane: 1893-1980).
Every day resistance in the Channel Islands never reached the scale, nor had the impact that movements in other Nazi occupied countries had. Yet the attempts of the islanders to undermine their occupiers, from minor sabotage attempts to the previously discussed escape attempts, demonstrations against deportations, and protecting Jews and forced workers, did play a role in the lives of the inhabitants of the islands. These movements provide a chapter, no matter how small or minor, in the history of resistance, for in many ways the actions of these men and women provided a will to live, to survive the dire situation. That glimmer of resistance, no matter how small it was, gave the Channel Islanders hope for life past the occupation, and that when it was over, they would come out a stronger, better people.

Works Cited
“Albert Gustave Bedane: 1893-1980.” Occupation Memorial. Jersey Heritage Trust. Web. 30 Sept. 2009.
Bunting, Madeleine. The Model Occupation: The Channel Islands Under German Rule 1940-1945. Great Britain: HarpersCollins, 1996. Print.
Cohen, Frederick. The Jews in the Channel Islands During the German Occupation 1940-1945. St. Helier: Jersey Heritage Trust, 2000. Print.
Cruickshank, C.G. The German Occupation of the Channel Islands. London: Oxford University Press, 1975. Print.
“Deported to Concentration Camps and Prisons.” Occupation Memorial. Jersey Heritage Trust. Web. 29 Sept. 2009.
“German Occupation.” This is Jersey. Guilton Group. Web. 29 Sept. 2009.
Hassall, Peter. Night and Fog Prisoners. St. Helier: Jersey Heritage Trust, 1991. Print.
“How Local Lads Escaped from Gaol: Frank Killer Tells His Story.” The Evening Post. 1945. Web.
“The Jews of the Channel Islands.” Holocaust Education and Research Team. HolocaustResearchProject. Web.
King, Peter. The Channel Islands War. London: Robert Hale, 1991. Print.
Le Breton, Phyllis. “Forced Workers.”Occupation Memorial. Jersey Heritage Trust. Web. 29 Sept. 2009.
“Louisa Gould: 1891-1945.” Occupation Memorial. Jersey Heritage Trust. Web. 29 Oct. 2009.
Marempolsky, Vasilly. “Forced Workers.” Occupation Memorial. Jersery Heritage Trust. Web. 29 Sept. 2009.
Smith, Hazel R. Knowles. The Changing Face of the Channel Islands Occupation. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2007. Print.
Stephenson, Charles. The Channel Islands 1940-1945: Hitler’s Impregnable Fortress. New York: Osprey Publishing, 2006. Print.
Willmot, Louise. “The Channel Islands.” Resistance in Western Europe. Ed. Bob Moore. New York: Berg, 2000. Print.

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Jesse (EddyKrueger) - 7/19/2010 8:47 AM ET
That was interesting. thanks
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