Islands under siege
As the Allied invasion of France on D-Day, 6 June 1944 started on the other side of the Cotentin Peninsular, it was apparent even from the distance of the Channel Islands that something important was happening, as Phil Le Sauteur wrote in his diary.
- "The question of invasion had been uppermost in the minds of the Islanders for some time. For a while this had been undoubtely wishful thinking, but they still believed that in some way or other the Allied forces had been dealing with the problem. There had been increasing air activity, only the weather being a deterrent, and this air activity had foretokened something more than mere local "strafing". When June, 1944 came round, however, the inhabitants felt more convinced than ever that something really great was on foot, and on 6 June they surmised that something was really on foot then. On that day, from midnight onwards, an almost continuous stream of planes passed over the Island, and for many hours the heavy AA guns were in action, putting up a very intense barrage of fire. So many aircraft were in the sky that it did not seem at all impossible for them to avoid being hit, but there was no visual evidence that any of the thousands of rounds fired had found a mark. It seemed to the lslanders that these were the the transport planes landing airborne troops behind the coastal defences, and that the Island was being used as a turning mark.
- "The following morning the Islanders were faced with feverish activity on the part of the occupying forces. Great defence preparations were in hand everywhere. There were barbed wire barriers across many main roads, heavy guns were being moved into position, ambulances were at the ready, and, of course, every available soldier was on duty.
- "It was rumoured that a proclamation was to be read in the Royal Square, and the people congregated there in cheerful groups, openly discussing the welcome news. Everyone forgot the need for caution, but the Germans were far too busy with their immediate problems to take the wonderful opportunity offered to them for tracing the sources of news dissemination, The proclamation was not read out, but was posted up in the Town Church and the Town Hall, and was in the following terms:
PROCLAMATION TO THE POPULATION OF THE ISLE OF JERSEY
- "Germany's enemy is on the point of attacking French soil. I expect the population of Jersey to keep its head, to remain calm, and to refrain from any acts of sabotage, and from hostile acts against the German Forces, even should the fighting spread to Jersey. At the first sign of unrest or trouble, I will close the streets to every traffic and will secure hostages. Attacks against the German Forces will be punished by death.
Der Kommandant de Festung Jersey
After the invasion the Channel Islands were cut off from the nearby French mainland and effectively under a state of siege. As might be expected of two nations which had been at war for nearly five years, the English and the Germans blamed each other for this situation; the English made no attempt to recapture the islands and demanded the capitulation and surrender of the occupying German forces, which they resolutely refused.
On 31 August the Bailiff, on behalf of the Superior Council, sent a lengthy memorandum to the Germans calling attention to the serious situation which would arise in the Island in the event of the state of siege being unduly prolonged. It was a lengthy document which concluded:
- "The Insular Government has just heard, with unfeigned dismay, that the Occupying Authorities are of the opinion that the siege can be maintained until January 31st, 1945.
- "For the reasons which are stated in the foregoing memoranda, the Insular Government does not and cannot share that opinion, and declares in the most solemn manner possible that, in the view of the Insular Government, it is the bounden duty of the Occupying Authority to re-examine the problem in its entirety and in the light of the observations contained in this memoranda.
- "Sooner or later, the clash of arms will cease, and the Powers will meet not only to consider the means to an enduring peace, but also to pass judgment on the Authorities, be they Civil or Military, upon whose conceptions of the Principles of Honour, Justice and Humanity the fate of Peoples and Places, and not least of Occupied Peoples and Places, has temporarily been determined. The Insular Government believes that, at that day, it, or such of its Members as survive, will stand with clear consciences born of the conviction that it has failed neither in its duty to the People of Jersey, nor in its interpretation and observance of the rules of International Law.
- "May the Insular Government be spared the duty of adding to the problems which will face the Powers an allegation that, by an justified prolongation of the Siege of Jersey, the Military Representatives of the German Government unnecessarily endangered the health, and indeed the lives, of the People of Jersey."
Following a conference, for which the Military Commandant of the Channel Islands, Major General Graf von Schmettow, crossed from Guernsey, the following notice was published in the Evening Post on 3 October:
- "In order to keep the population informed about the question of supplies, and to stop injurious rumours, the Commander of the Channel Isles has authorized this paper to publish the following information:
- "The Channel Isles had virtually been cut off from already a month before the invasion. From that moment the population lived on the produce of the Island, and from stocks which had been formed according to instructions from the Occupying Power. In view of the possibility of a state of siege, agriculture and industry has been adapted as far as feasible to make the fortresses self-supporting.
- "As the population, however, cannot be supplied indefinitely from the stocks of the fortresses, or from produce harvested or manufactured within them, the Commander of the Channel Islands some time ago took the precaution of getting into touch with superior authorities, and has informed the German Government of the situation. This action was appreciably facilitated by reports about the most essential commodities, supplies of which were running out in the near future, submitted by the Bailiff in the interest of the population of Jersey.
- "The German Government has intimated its intention of taking the necessary steps in this matter with the Protecting Power. For this purpose the Commander of the Channel Isles has submitted a report about the Islands' monthly requirements of essential commodities. Any action the Protecting Power may decide to take on this information is now, of course, beyond the control of the Occupying Authority."
On 22 November the following news was published:
- "As a result of negotiations instigated by the Occupying Authorities re supplies for the civilian population, a delivery of medical supplies, soap and food parcels has been promised as a first measure."
The extra ration for the 1944 Christmas season was 4 oz. of ersatz coffee, but when it became apparent that the Red Cross supplies could not arrive in time, a last-minute notice announced the issue of a small tin of tunny fish. A further concession allowed the meat ration for the following week to be drawn with the Xmas issue. Black market meat and other food was nearly unobtainable. The curfew was extended as usual for the holidays, with a corresponding increase in the electricity hours.
The International Red Cross ship Vega duly arrived in Jersey during the evening of 30 December, after having visited Guernsey and discharged that Island's share of the cargo. Two Red Cross representatives came with the ship, and conferences were held with the two Island Bailiffs and the German Authorities regarding the future needs of the population. Jersey received some 400 tons in this first consignment, which included a double issue of Canadian POW parcels, medical supplies, salt, soap, a small quantity of cigarettes and tobacco and a few babies' layettes, the gift of Lady Campbell, wife of the British Ambassador to Portugal.