Posts Tagged John Field

Channel Islands Occupied – Unique Pictures Of The Nazi Rule 1940-1945

Channel Islands Occupied – Unique Pictures Of The Nazi Rule 1940-1945.  Richard Mayne.  Jarrold & Sons Limited, Norwich, Norfolk, England. 1978.  ISBN 978-0711702448 Card cover.  64 pages.  channelislenazirule

I LOVE READING and I also like to support different charities.  I’m able to combine both of these interests by purchasing books at various charity shops. The books are usually in reasonable nick and are a fraction of their original price.  Therefore, when I came across Channel Islands Occupied in a charity shop a while ago, I was more than happy to pay the princely sum of 50p for it.

Compiled, and with a commentary, by Richard Mayne, it relates to the occupation of the Channel Islands – made up of Alderney, Guernsey, Jersey and Sark, and some smaller islands – by National Socialist Germany during WWII.  At 64 pages, it’s not a huge book.  However, I liked its convenient size – it’s roughly the same as a large postcard so you can keep it in a jacket pocket.  My copy also had reasonably thick cardboard cover which wouldn’t bend too easily.

The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles to be occupied by German Armed Forces (around 20,000 troops held the islands) during WWII and this book is absolutely crammed full of evocative photographs of the period.  Reflecting the history and makeup of the islands themselves, all text and captions are in English and French – indeed, the French title of the book is Les Iles Anglo-Normandes Occupées.

The book is dedicated to ‘the memory of the known five hundred and fifty-seven ‘slave’ workers, mainly Russian and Spanish, who died in these islands between 1942 and 1944.’

Richard Mayne sets the scene in his dramatic Introduction:

‘In 1940 Hitler’s legions swept rapidly and violently through France, and on 12 June the swastika, that hated symbol of Nazi Germany, was flown from public buildings in Paris.  With the fall of the rest of France imminent, the German occupation of the Channel Islands also became inevitable. 

There was voluntary evacuation to Britain of the civilian population of the islands and about 34,500 people departed, leaving a population of some 64,000.  In Alderney, the evacuation was so thorough that only 7 people remained out of a population of 1,432.  At the same time, the British Government demilitarised the islands by withdrawing British troops.  The Jersey Militia subsequently became the 11th Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment.  The Guernsey Militia had previously been disbanded to release hundreds of men to volunteer for H.M. forces.’

Channel Islands Occupied is conveniently and effectively set out in chronological order – before, during and after the occupation.  Headings like The calm before the storm, German Command, Fortification, Liberation are all accompanied by a commentary plus many photographs.  However, it’s still possible to dip in and out of it at your leisure – something I did many times.

The full colour cover is striking enough, but the hundred or so fascinating black & white photographs are the highlights of the book.  I’ve read a lot of history books, but I don’t really know too much about the occupation and I’ve never come across any of these photographs before.  They include images of bomb damage, the German military, fortifications, weapons, and the ‘slave’ workers.  Of particular note are photographs of various German proclamations and death warrants.

One photograph is a favourite of mine – it depicts a van belonging to the Jersey Gas Company which has been converted to run on gas.  A massive gas bag sits incongruously on top of the van – it’s truly a bizarre sight as it looks slightly larger than the van itself! – but apparently, there’s enough to fuel the van to cover a distance of 30 miles.

A fairly small photograph also caught my eye.  It depicted the words ‘British Victory Is Certain’ painted over a German language road sign in Jersey.  It made me wonder what the level and type of resistance to the occupation of the Channel Isles was like.  This interests me because I’m sure I’ve come across suggestions that some of the leading lights of island society didn’t exactly go out of their way to oppose the occupation.  I have a vague notion that one of the people who first mentioned this was, ironically, a former member of the British Free Corps, a volunteer unit of the Waffen SS made up of former British PoWs.  Hopefully, I’ll come across the source material again as I believe it’d make an interesting piece for this site.

I’ve wanted to visit the Channel Island for a long time now as a former workmate recommended the area years ago as an ideal holiday destination.  Like me, he was very interested in history – he was also a great fan of the TV programme Bergerac, which starred John Nettles and Louise Jameson, and which was filmed there.  In fact, he was the first person I’d ever come across who would go of his way to visit various TV and film locations – something that seems to be very common these days, given the success of films like Harry Potter and the TV series Game Of Thrones.

Channel Islands Occupied is a great introduction to this little known period of British and German military history.  It has certainly whetted my appetite for more information.  Needless to say, that reading it has deepened the desire to visit as I understand that it’s possible to visit some of the fortifications and associated museums.  Hopefully, I’ll be able to do that in the not too distant future and obviously produce a follow-up article for Counter Culture.

  • Reviewed by John Field

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Memories of Hoxton, Shoreditch, East London

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Hoxton Market – like much of inner East London – has changed considerably over the years.  

I WAS born and bred in East London.  Despite not living there for many years now, there’s no mistaking my accent.  Like any Cockney, I still drop my ‘h’ when speaking and pronounce anything that starts with ‘th’ as an f.  Thus, thirteen become ‘firteen’ and thirty becomes ‘firty’.  I still use a lot of slang words and whilst I’ve lost a lot of backslang (I haven’t spoken it in around 35 years and would probably need to sit down and write much of it out these days!) talking in double negatives – “I ain’t never going to do that again”– makes perfect sense to me.  To be really honest, I have trouble understanding people with posh or ‘plummy’ accents and really have to concentrate on what they’re saying!

So why am I telling you all this?

The main reason is that a little while ago I came across an excellent Facebook site called Memories of Hoxton, Shoreditch which you can check out here: https://www.facebook.com/groups/46495127566/  It has nearly 6,000 members and it encourages them to post ‘memories or photos of growing up in Hoxton’ – although folks are asked not put up anything about football, politics and religion as they often cause arguments!

When I was growing up, Hoxton was only about a five minute walk away from where I lived.  I spent many hours in the general area – and specifically in Hoxton Market where I worked for a couple of years as a barrow boy on an egg stall.

Before I got the job I was very familiar with the market itself.  It consisted of a wide variety of shops (from funeral parlours to pie & mash shops) as well as stalls that seemed to sell everything under the sun.  There was even a Woolworths – remember them?!!

Like many youngsters who grew up in the mid to late 60s, it was more or less obligatory to help my mum with the errands.  (This was way before the weekly shop to a massive out-of-town supermarket became the norm – indeed, from memory, the nearest supermarket at the time was a Tesco’s at Ridley Road Market in Dalston.) Therefore, two or three times a week I accompanied mum down to Hoxton Market.  Here my main job was to carry some of the items that she had bought.

Saturday was the main food shopping day, and most children would have followed their mum around, for what seemed like hours on end.  Although my mum was only really shopping for food, she seemed to look at every other stall as well – and clothes stalls, in particular!  As mum was a seamstress by trade, she’d examine in minute detail the way buttons, hemlines and zips had been sewn.  If something wasn’t to her liking she’d slowly shake her head from side to side, purse her lips and mutter ‘tut-tut.’

Unlike supermarkets, the old fashioned street markets seemed to have a real atmosphere about them.  Many of the sights, smells and sounds have never left me.  In particular, the air always seemed to be full of raucous laughter.  Everyone who owned or worked on a stall seemed to be a real character – the wit and banter were second to none.  Needless to say much of it would now be considered X-rated and most definitely Politically Incorrect – and this was absolutely true of Hoxton Market!

The market was also a place to meet friends, neighbours and relatives.  I always lost count of the number of times that my mum would stop and have a natter with someone.  Luckily, virtually every mum would have been accompanied by a child so at least you had someone to talk to as well.

I got my first Saturday job in Hoxton Market via my mum as well.  She got it through a friend of a friend of a friend – a classic case of ‘it’s not what you know but who you know’.  On saying that, I’m inclined to think that there’s no better way to learn any sort of trade other than from the bottom up.  Over many working years I’ve seen many a university graduate put into responsible positions and whilst most of them were very personable many were, to coin a phrase, ‘all brains and no common sense’.

I started working in the market when I was about 14 or 15 (this would have been around 1974/75) and carried on for about two years.  Here I was a barrow boy – aka a gofer or general dogs body – on an egg stall.  As far as I can recall, there were no other egg stalls in the market so we always did a roaring trade.

My job was to basically to help whoever was running the stall.  I helped to set the stall up and both sell & replenish the stock.  I was quickly shown one of the tricks of the trade – placing the eggs at a very slight angle to make them look larger!

I worked with a few interesting characters.  One was a New Zealander who was living and working in London for a while before returning home to help run family sheep farm.  He wasn’t really looking forward to going home to spend the rest of his life working with the “stupidest animals in the world.”  For the life of me I can’t recall his name, but I can remember that he was a very calm, happy go lucky bloke.  He was also as strong as an ox and was a real grafter.

I also recall working with a biker who was in his mid 20s who was just known as ‘Big Chris’ due to him being way over 6’ tall.  He had really long hair and always wore a black leather motorcycle jacket.  He was also the person who introduced me into heavy metal bands like Deep Purple & Black Sabbath.  He had an in-depth knowledge of anything and everything relating to heavy metal and would talk non-stop about the subject.  Big Chris would often recommend different LPs, most of which are still in the roof space!

Apart from bikes and music his other passion was for burgers and bacon sarnies.  He was very generous with his money and one of my main jobs was to go to the local café and come back with these delicacies!  Looking back on it they should have come with a health warning as they were dripping in grease and covered in brown sauce.

After my stint as a barrow boy, I worked for the local library service.  This started off as a Saturday job but I was also able to get plenty of work during the school holidays.  Here I was mainly based at Pitfield Street Library (in Hoxton) but also covered worked Kate Greenaway Library (which was situated in the Fellows Estate) and the De Beauvoir Library which was part of the De Beauvoir Estate.  I love books so this was more a vocation than a job.  I have great memories of the reading room in Pitfield Street where you could spend hours reading all manner of papers, magazines and reference books.

One great difference between working down the market and in a library was the method of payment.  In the market you got paid cash in hand – generally with greasy and stained old banknotes – whilst at the library the wages arrived in a small window envelope.  This contained a small printed wage statement and, more importantly, your wages in the form of both coins and pristine banknotes.  The notes were always stapled together and I always managed to stab my thumb with the staple whilst trying to separate the notes.  You also had to sign for the whole lot in a huge book!

A little while ago, and out of idle curiosity, I posted a question (on the Memories of Hoxton Facebook site) asking how many people worked down the market.  I was absolutely blown away by the response – it seems as if virtually everyone had either worked in the market or knew someone who had.  Many were even related to some of the shop and stall holders.  Indeed, one of those who’d worked in the market was someone I’ve probably known for over 50 years from our early days at Randal Cremer Primary School – in Ormsby Street, Shoreditch – and then on to  Parmiter’s Grammar School, which was situated on the Approach Road in Bethnal Green.  Sadly, we’re probably like many true Cockneys and both now live miles away from the East End.

I’d highly recommend the Memories of Hoxton, Shoreditch Facebook site to any Counter Culture reader (who comes from Hoxton or the general Shoreditch area) who like to reminisce about the ‘good old days’ before the area became gentrified.  I’d also like to encourage other Counter Culture contributors and readers to share theirmemories of bygone days, no matter where they come from.  In particular, I feel that it’s very important to chronical the lives of ordinary indigenous working folks – especially those from areas that have seen extensive racial, ethnic, cultural and social changes since the 60s – so that their vital memories are not lost to history.

Reviewed by John Field

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