Posts Tagged John Nettles

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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