After the Liberation:
War damage claims
Much has been written about the Liberation of Jersey from the Germans in 1945, and countless books and newspaper and magazine articles have been published about the Occupation itself. Jersey's recovery in post-war years: changes to the political system, the growth in its economy as the tourism industry boomed and other aspects of post-war life have also been well documented.
But one subject about which very little has been written, and details of which largely lie hidden in the vaults of Jersey Archive, is the process by which islanders claimed compensation for damage to their properties during the Occupation, and personal injury and trauma.
Property damage and destruction
Although those who remained in Jersey through the Occupation were able to protect their homes from structural damage and looting, those who abandoned their homes and evacuated before the Germans arrived left them at the mercy of the occupying forces and, in some cases, Jersey residents who remained.
And many properties, either abandoned or still occupied, commercial or domestic, were requisitioned by the Germans for their own use, and were either badly damaged or destroyed.
Some evacuees were able to leave the furniture and other contents of their houses with trusted friends and neighbours to await their return after the war ended, but others found it difficult to locate and get back what was rightly theirs.
After the end of the war the British Government introduced a compensation scheme for anyone whose property had been damaged in bombing raids or in other circumstances directly related to the conflict. In 1946 a similar scheme was introduced to cover the losses of Channel Island residents, known as the Channel Island Rehabilitation Scheme, but, having already paid out millions of pounds to offset the debts incurred by the States of Jersey and Guernsey during the occupation of their islands, the British Government refused to meet the costs of compensation.
The islands were forced to borrow money to finance the scheme themselves, and when it became apparent that awards being made in the islands were less generous than the compensation offered under the UK scheme, there was considerable controversy over whether residents and former residents of islands which had suffered enemy occupation were getting a fair deal. Not the least of the controversy was the islands' refusal to make any payments to those who had evacuated to England before the Occupation and were disinclined to return to their previous homes, some of which no longer existed.
An exchange between MPs and a Government Minister in the House of Commons in February 1947, recorded by Hansard, highlighted many of the complex issues involved.
One of these issues was the disparity between how the level of compensation was being assessed in England and the islands. Viscount Hinchingbrooke, MP for Dorset, Southern, was the first to raise the issue:
- "The Home Secretary is insufficiently aware of the suffering caused to His Majesty's subjects whose property in the islands has been lost either through Allied or enemy military action ... I submit that the recompense which he proposes does not show it. The United Kingdom war damage scheme provides for full compensation at current prices ... those who have been resident in the United Kingdom are virtually assured of full and fair compensation. But that is not the case with British subjects whose property is in the Channel Islands.
- "There the amount of compensation is determined by the terms of a grant made by the Treasury and announced by the Home Secretary to the House in March of last year. Under this grant, plans for rehabilitation have to be made on what he is pleased to call an austerity basis — a word much in use in these days — and, in consequence, persons who have not, for whatever cause, returned to the Islands have been excluded from the scheme. Perhaps the Under-Secretary of State, who is to reply, will tell us whether austerity applies to those who are now resident in the Channel Islands and whether they have been or will be rehabilitated in whole or in part."
Several other MPs intervened on behalf of their constituents, including a Methodist minister, who had been required, along with all other inhabitants, to leave Alderney, and was being refused any compensation for the loss of all his possessions.
- "When the end of the war came, he found that all his goods and chattels, his library of 3,000 books, and all the things he had spent his life in trying to get together — his home, in fact — had all vanished."
Viscount Hinchingbrooke added:
- "The Channel Islands are an integral part of the United Kingdom, and the same treatment ought to be accorded to His Majesty's subjects there as here. The Islands very well may, and I believe do, have their own fiscal systems. But I do not think that that ought to be cited as an excuse to override the principle that just compensation for war damage is payable to all alike."
Replying to the questions on behalf of the Government, the Under Secretary of State for the Home Department, Mr Oliver, explained how a large proportion of the debts incurred by the States of Jersey and Guernsey during the war, were being written off by the UK Government, but in a clear reference to the lower levels of taxation in the islands, said that it was not inclined to require 'the overburdened British taxpayer' to meet individual compensation claims estimated at £3½ million, 'unless the islanders bore burdens more in keeping with those in the United Kingdom'.
- "When the Channel Islands were liberated, and the first urgent steps had been taken of providing essential public services and food, and attending to trade, a detailed inquiry was made into the financial position of the Islands because of the extraordinary expense in which they became involved during the Occupation. The Islands had to face expenditure of the order of £13½ million. Some £10¼ million was for the debt incurred through the German occupation on the many measures taken to safeguard the civil population, such as subsidies on foodstuffs, social services, and so on, and to pay for the German garrison for which the Germans made a charge.
- "It should be remembered that the pre-war budget of each island was in the region of £500,000 a year, and it was, therefore, clear that substantial assistance would be required to restore the financial position of the Islands.
- "After examination of the resources of the Islands, it was agreed by His Majesty's Government that it would be equitable to pay £7½ million from the Exchequer in order to liquidate some of the indebtedness. A scheme of rehabilitation must be framed on a realistic basis, and with the object of restoring the economic life of the islands, so that they should pay their own way and not be further dependent on the United Kingdom. It was stipulated that the scheme should not be framed as one for compensation for loss sustained."
The UK Government had offered to lend the islands teams of experienced assessors who had been advising the Board of Trade on war damage claims in the UK, and had agreed with the States that their advice would be taken, 'save where there were very good local reasons' for not doing so.
- "Money required for the Property Rehabilitation Scheme has been raised by the islands themselves by borrowing. In these circumstances, the Home Secretary is not in a position to represent to the islands that the scheme does not go far enough, and that in particular cases they should pay a higher grant than they are doing, as any additional expenditure which would be incurred by increasing the payments, would be borne by the Island authorities, without the assistance of His Majesty's Government.
- "In Jersey, 3,625 claims, totalling £2,200,000, were received. The assessment by the individual assessors is £750,000. In Guernsey, 6,168 claims, totalling £3,000,000, were received, and the individual assessment is £880,000. It will be seen from these figures that the grants which are being made in the Islands are on a somewhat modest basis."
Mr Oliver then disclosed that it had been decided that compensation should be paid only for the loss of essential items:
- "The losses incurred in the Islands, included a wide range of possessions from pleasure yachts, sporting guns, cameras, radio sets on the one hand, to essentials, such as houses and furniture, on the other. It was necessary to take some realistic basis, and to exclude all items not really essential."
Papers relating to over 500 separate Jersey claims, previously held by the Bailiff's Office, are now in storage at Jersey Archive. Only examination of the papers relating to individual claims, which may in the course of time be undertaken by historians, will reveal how individual cases were handled, but the summary of the claims made as the papers have been catalogued at the Archive provides a fascinating insight into islanders' losses and the values they placed on them.
List of claims
Jerripedia has produced a full list of these, and highlighted some of the most interesting.