Liberation at last
Jersey was liberated by British troops on 9 May 1945, the day following VE Day, which brought an end to all hostilities in Europe.
The belief that the island's ordeal was really coming to an end after the false dawn of D-Day the previous June, which left the Channel Islands isolated in German hands just a few kilometres from the French coast, really began to grow on Sunday 6 May 1945, as those still in possession of crystal radio sets kept pace with events elsewhere in Europe.
On the following day news reached Jersey that an armistice had been signed and the Bailiff, Alexander Coutanche demanded that the Germans release prisoners of war and those islanders still in custody after sentencing by the German Military COurt.
On the Tuesday, VE-Day, the Germans agreed to release prisoners and the Bailiff made an appeal to the population to remain calm and not to fly any flags until he had raised the Union flag over the Courthouse. This was to be done after Prime Minister Winston Churchill's speech to the House of Commons had been broadcast live to the Royal Square. A massive crowd packed the square for the broadcast of the speech on loudspeakers and raised an enormous cheer when Mr Churchill said:'Our dear Channel Islands will be freed today'.
It would actually be the following day before British troops reached Jersey, via Guernsey.
The following account of the events of early May 1945 is taken from Phil Le Sauteur's published diary Jersey Under the Swastika:
Flags on sale
- "With the news obviously indicating that the war was rapidly drawing to a close, a wave of optimism swept over Jersey. Flags which the shops had kept hidden for five long years were brought out and sold in their thousands. There was nothing surreptitious about this, and many hundreds of people gathered in the Royal Square to hear a proclamation which, it was falsely rumoured, the Bailiff was to make.
- "There were one or two minor incidents when some of the less tactful flaunted Union Jacks in the faces of the German soldiers, but the troops behaved with the greatest restraint.
- "Excitement continued to run high over the week-end. and most of the troops seemed to stay in their billets. The German scuttlers, from whom most trouble might be expected, had, it was noticed, been disarmed. It was rumoured that the smoke of ships had been to the south of the Island, but this was probably premature. In fact, rumour had a very busy time during these few days. On the night of May 7th, for more than an hour, signal lights were seen flashing from various high points of the Island, and the harbour area was flood-lit by searchlights.
- "On May 8th many people who had received the radio news that the war was at end end put up their flags. The Bailiff issued a statement requesting the people to maintain their calm and dignity during the difficult days, adding that he was in constant touch with the Admiral commanding the Islands, and would inform the public of any change in the military situation at the earliest possible moment. Later it was announced that the Bailiff would speak in the Royal Square immediately after Mr Churchill's speech at 3 pm and meanwhile those who had put up their flags were requested to take them down until that hour. Loudspeakers were hurrriedly being erected so as to relay the broadcast speech, and, the electric supply being got working, many people who had mains radio sets brought them out and placed them in their windows, so that all might hear.
Bailiff's moving speech
- "Mr Churchill's reference in his speech to "Our dear Channel Islanders" being free that day brought relief to many hearts, even though he was actually a little premature. The Bailiff, in a moving speech, annnounced that the Navy were already on their way from England to arrange the surrender of the Islands.
- "Such a complete volte-face has seldom been seen anywhere in so short a time. In the morning there was a great deal of uncertainty, despite the public knowledge that Germany had surrendered unconditionally, lest Admiral Hueffmiere, with his known Nazi tendencies, should decide to hold the Islands. It was later reported that he wanted to do so, but the complete refusal of his officers force him to surrender. By evening, the place was in a turmoil, with flags and tricolour favours everywhere, and quantities of fireworks which had (literally) been brought to light after being stowed away since before the war. Some of the Germans, even, joined in by firing off verey lights.
It was a peculiar situation — the Germans were still armed, and were nominally in charge of the situation. Yet the American and Algerian prisoners-of-war had been released, and the whole civilian population were ecstatically celebrating the end of Germany.
- "However anti-Nazi the soldiers might have been, and however much they had wished for the end of the war it must have been a most bitter experience for them, especially as, through lack of communication, they had had no news of their families in Germany for some time. And yet they behaved with admirable restraint, keeping their tempers when they might have had some excuse not to do so.
- "Towards evening, the destroyers Bulldog and Beagle arrived off Guernsey, and made rendezvous with a German naval officer just off St Peter Port. A rusty trawler stopped within hail, and dropped overside a rubber dinghy. Into this tumbled three naval ratings, followed by an officer who sat in the stern sheets. With the crew paddling, the dinghy made a crab-wise approach to the BULLDOG, the German officer being continually washed to the waist by sea-water coming aboard the craft.
- "A Royal Navy guard of honour bad been mounted in the Bulldog, and when the float came alongside the officer clambered up the side and stood — a miserable-looking, dripping, pale-faced figure, giving the Nazi salute to the salute of the guard. He gave his name as Kapitan Lieutenant Zimmerman, a junior officer and he was taken below to the wardroom, where Brigadier Snow, in command of the British land force, awaited him.
- "The German was told that the unconditional surrender of the Islands was required, but he replied tbat he had no power to sign such a document, and that he had merely been sent to enquire the terms of armistice. He was curtly informed that unconditional surrender and nothing less was required. He then added nervously that he bad been told to say that the British force must leave, or their presence would be taken as an unfriendly action. He was then told to leave the wardroom, and hour later was called back and handed the terms of surrender in German and English, together with the time and place of a fresh rendezvous, and he left the British ship.
- "The British ships then left the vicinity of St. Peter Port and cruised out of range of the heavy guns on the Island. During this evening, the lights of ships could be seen off the south coast of Jersey, and presumably came from the Bulldog and the Beagle. As the time of rendezvous, one minute after midnight, drew nearer, the ships again closed on Guernsey and, arriving at the designated point, awaited the arrival of the Nazi emissaries. Nothing happened for some time, until the lights of a ship were seen approaching. A searchlight was put on her, and she was seen to be the same trawler. There was a further delay, and the vessel was hailed on the loudspeaker and asked : "When are you going to lower a boat?" Very soon a boat was put out and came alongside. This time she bore as passengers a military officer of rank and Zimmerman. They were again received with naval honours and escorted to the wardroom, where the military officer, Major-General Heine, answered "Ja" to all the questions put to him by the British Brigadier. He was then told that the articles of surrender would be signed at 7 am, and promptly at that hour on the destroyer's quarter deck, using an up-ended rum barrel for a desk, General Heine signed eight copies of the articles which ended five years' domination by the Germans of the only part of the British Dominions invaded by them.
- "Later in the day the Beagle arrived in Jersey, and landed a small Naval party. They were greeted in a manner which they will probably never forget, and the delirious excitement reached fresh heights when Colonel Robinson, Jersey's new Military Commander, headed a small contingent of artillery up from the piers, now thronged with people who, for five years, had not been allowed there. His own report of progress as 100 yards an hour was certainly not exaggerated, and he and his men nearly had their hands wrung off.
Crowds greet troops
- "More troops came ashore, and were all surrounded by eager civilians, anxious to welcome them, to shake their hands and get their autographs. Huge crowds filled the roadway below the Pomme d'Or, which had been selected as the new military headquarters, eagerly awaiting a sight of the welcome visitors, who threw chocolates and cigarettes to them. Every few yards a group of people surrounded a soldier, anxious for information as to conditions in England, and eager to thank the men for coming. Curfew and all other restrictions were completely forgotten. Meanwbile the Germans had almost entirely remained in tbeir billets or aboard their ships.
- "The following day was observed as a public holiday, and there were more signs of jubilation. The VEGA had come in over the previous week-end, and many people took the opportunity to visit her, and to thank the captain and crew for the services they had rendered to the Islands during their time of distress.
- "Lorry-loads of Russian prisoners-of-war sang heartily as they were brought into town, driven by German soldiers, whilst the American troops happily signed authographs for all and sundry on the steps of the Ommaroo Hotel to which they had been tranferred from the prison camp. The harbour area was again the main centre of attraction, one of the most welcome sights being the white crosses painted on the German ships and guns — a perfect antidote to the unhappy memory of white flags hung out of cottage windows five, years before. British troops tried to lead the surging mass of people below the verandah of the Pomme d'Or in community singing. But the singing felt flat until the old songs were sung, for crystal sets, whilst useful for getting the news, were not the easiest way of following the latest fashion in song hits.
- "Everywhere were groups of some fifty people, and in the centre of each group would be found a British sailor or soldier doing his best to answer eager questions, shake the many hands, kiss the many babies and sign the many books thrust at him. Occasionally there was the delirious happiness of an unexpected re-union, for amongst the Liberation forces were many local boys. Many of them, sun-tanned and broadened by army life, and five years older, were not easily recognisable, but they quickly spotted old friends. Trying to push a way through the dense crowds was an occasiona1 "scuttler" with a wheelbarrow loaded with ammunition which he was taking to the selected dumps. It is amazing that there were not more serious accidents, for there was an immense quantity of ammunition of all types lying around without any guards, and people were swarming everywhere.
Germans ordered out of town
- "No immediate attempt was made to take the Germans prisoners — indeed, it would have been impossible for so small a force of British troops to handle the 17,000 Germans on the Island in that way, especially hampered by the happy seething mass of people. lnstead, they were first ordered clear of the harbour area, and later clear of the town. This herding went on for a few days, after which they were rounded up and the majority shipped away. Some, however, were put to work cleaning up the billets taken over by the new force, and later they were made to help in clearing the mine fields. The scant courtesy accorded them by the British troops quickly removed the self-satisfied smiles from their faces.
- "A few of the more prominent Germanites were severely man-handled by the excited crowds, whilst others sought police protection, until the general excitement had subsided. Some of these later had their premises badly smashed up. But all of them who were seen amongst the crowds heard very rude remarks, and must have been apprehensive of the future. It is fortunate indeed that drink was amongst the greatest of the "unobtainables". Most people celebrated the Liberation with dry bread, and very little of that, for some weeks had passed since the last issue of food parcel, and the rations for this week were almost non-existent — 5 lbs. bread, 7 ozs. oat flour, 2 pints milk, no potatoes and very little else in the way of vegetables obtainable. Fortunately the exciting events allayed people's appetites, and the short commons were hardly noticed.
- "The day was marked by an address in the Square by Colonel Robinson. A Guard of Honour of Tommies was headed by the band of the local Boys' Brigade, which bad been practising in secret for just this opportunity — they were amongst the bodies disbanded by order of the Germans. The parade of troops preceeding the speech was led by Colonel Robinson and Lieut-Colonel Taylor, in charge of civil affairs during the transitional period. A Jersey contingent of the Liberation forces was led by Captain Hugh Le Brocq, himself a Jerseyman.
- "Friday was nominally a working day, but very little work was done anywhere, for excitement still ran high, and another holiday was declared for the Saturday, in order that people might appreciate the veritable armada which arrived in St. Aubin's Bay.
- "Dukws were seen in action for the first time by the lslanders, and excited admiring comment as they poured ashore one after the other with their loads. Tank Landing Craft beached at West Park, and literally opened their hearts, pouring out requirements, food, clothing and other vitally needed supplies for the civilian population. Some 2,000 troops landed, and the speed with which the urgently-needed cargoes were dispached showed very fine organization.
- "Minesweeping operation had already begun, and judging by the frequent heavy explosions, were very necessary. Throughout these several days, squadrons of Mustangs and other planes had been enlivening the proceedings each day by some fine formation flying, probably as a reminder to any Germans inclined to be obstreperous of the power behind the operations. Wolfe and other members of the German Secret Police were already behind bars, after trying to fade away amongst the ordinary prisoners-of-war.
- "Preparations for the release of the Islands had been made in England for some ten months previouly, since which time the troops now in the Island bad been standing by, and had the war not ended so abrutly, the invasion of the Islands would probably have been carried out at about this time. With the Islands so strongly fortified, and under the command of a fanatic, there is no doubt that the operation would have taken a heavy toll of life, both amongst the attacking and defending troops, and the civil population. It is indeed fortunate that events turned out as they did, but Jersey, even in her occupation misfortunes, was always lucky.
- "Civilian affairs were rapidily restored to normal. The Islands were, of course, under Military control, with the States still functionning under their guidance, but it was already very apparent that the Military Authorities were out to speed up civil rehabilitation, and to help in any way possible. A skeleton bus service was running by the first week-end after the liberation, and most other essential service vehicules were back on the road. The postal and telegraph services to the mainland were restored without delay, bringing the inexpressible joy of direct communication with friends and relatives there with whom contact had only previously been possible at long intervals through the good officers of the Red Cross. There had been a certain amount of pilfering of German stores, and of the ex-civilian radio sets which the Germans had stored in the Mason Temple.
To mark the occasion of the Liberation of the Islands, the following message was broadcast by the King.
- "To my most loyal people in the Channel Islands I send my heartfelt greetings.
- "Ever since my armed forces had to be withdrawn, you have I know looked forward with the same confidence as I have to the time of deliverance. We have never been divided in spirit. Our hopes and fears, anxieties and determinations have been the same, and we have been bound together by an unshakable conviction that the day would come when the Islands, the oldest possession of the Crown, would be liberated from enemy accupation. That day has now come, and with all my Peoples, I cordially welcome you on your restauration to freedom and to your rightful place with the free nations of the world. Channel Islanders in their thousands are fighting in my service for the cause of civilisation with their traditional loyalty, courage and devotion. Their task is not yet ended; but for you a new task begins at once — to rebuild the fortunes of your beautiful Islands in anticipation of reunion with relatives and friends and neighbours who have been parted from you by the circumstances of war. In this task, you can count on the fullest support of my Government. It is my desire that your ancient privileges and institutions should be maintained and that you should resume your accustomed form of government. Meanwhile, the immediate situation requires that responsibility for the safety of the Islands and well-being of the inhabitants should rest upon the Commander of the Armed Forces stationed in the Islands. I feel confident that the Civil Authorities, who have carried heavy a burden during the past years, will gladly co-operate with him in maintaining good government and securing the distribution of the supplies which he is bringing with him. It is my earnest hope that the Islands, reinstated in the ancestral relationship to the Crown, will soon regain their former happiness and prosperity.
Herbert Morrison and other Home Office officials paid a flying visit to the Islands to enquire on local conditions and needs. As soon as a supply of English currency arrived in the Island, the German Occupation Marks, long since the only currency in use, were withdrawn and reimbursed at the occupation rate of exchange — 9.36 to the £.
- "Within ten days of the Liberation, there was a very considerable increase of rations, made possible by the generous quantities of food brought over by the Liberation Forces. Potatoes and flour (both unobtainable for some time) and bread were all ration free, and very soon the basic ration was higher than in England, in order to compensate for the extreme shortages during the previous months of siege. Chocolate, tea, soap and cigarettes were issued as a free gift from the British Government. It was not long before urgently needed clothing became available, sixty coupons being issued immediately in order that everyone might have a fair share.
- "Some 150 Germans were still at large, some of them having been given civilian clothes, food and shelter by their Germanite friends. These were being routed out one by one and passed into the prison camp which had been set up at St. Peters' Barracks.
- "Now that it was possible to cull more of the truth, it came to light that there had been a small-scale Commando raid at Trinity on the night of Boxing Day, 1943. The farmer whom the four British soldiers knocked up that night naturally found it wiser to keep quiet about it whilst the Germans were in control. Quite a number of the Russian workers who had escaped from the Germans, and had been helped and sheltered by local people, told their stories before being repatriated.
- "Other tales which reflected credit on the loyalty of the Island people included a very gaillant rescue of an American airman by a young Jerseyman at St. Brelade's, and the unofficial organization which grew up spontaneously to help many of those who chose Fauvic beach as their starting point for escape from the Island towards the latter end of 1944. News was also received of the escapees themselves, most of whom arrived safely, and were now serving in the Forces.
- "News was received of most of those unfortunate people who were taken to German prison camps for such "heinous" offences as having kept their own radio set. A few were known to have lost their lives in horror camps, and one or two were rescued just in time. There were a few the fate of whom it proved impossible to ascertain.
- "The M.O.I. documentary films were being shown during the first weeks, and they helped the Islanders to realise how fortunate they had been, even in their misfortunes, to have suffered so little of the material devastation of war. A special B.B.C. broadcast to the Islanders of greetings from relatives and friends now eagerly waiting to return was heard by almost everyone on May 22nd. Many employers sacked the "Jerrybag" members of their staffs, and they and the men who had been working for the Germans found great difficulty in getting employment for a time.
- "Within a very few weeks, the shops began to restock such goods as were available in England, manufacturers giving special consideration to the needs of the Islands after five years of being without almost everything, and the place began to regain its pre-war air of happy busy-ness. It was truly amazing how quickly the Island started to get back to something approaching normal. Certain restrictions were necessary about passing money out of the Island, in order to prevent black market profiteers from removing their ill-gotten gains from the Island before legislation had been introduced to mulct the great majority of it.
Air and sea services
- "The mailboats and air services were operating very soon, and, slowly at first, those who had evacuated to England or been deported to Germany returned to their homes and rejoined their families. Gas again became available to the great joy of the housewife, to whom the lack of cooking facilities had been a nightmare. It was generally agreed that it was the womenfolk who had born the heaviest burdens throughout. They concocted meals almost wholly of vegetables, cooked them wih inadequate fuel, mended unmendable clothes without proper material, and worried lest their efforts shall not be good enough. To them goes the greatest credit for courage under very trying conditions.
- "The troops themselves were busy clearing the immense quantities of ammunition, it being officially stated that there was sufficient to wear out three barrels of every one of the many guns in the place. More than 50,000 land mines were cleared, and the German guns dismantled. Even those who had been in Jersey throughout and had seen something of the amount of work carried out were amazed at the extent of the German fortifications. Miles of tunnels had been hewn out of solid rock in St. Peter's Valley, St. Aubin's and elsewhere, and on every gun site there were deep excavations. Amongst the St. Peter's tunnels was a completely equipped hospital capable of holding about a thousand patients. Guns of 6" calibre pointed seawards from every strategic point, their crews being accommodated in hills dug into the rock or in deep underground concrete shelters equipped with air-conditioning plants, central heating and gas-proof doors.
- "Military controls came to an end August 24th, and the Island reverted to its pre-war constitutional government with a Lieutenant Governor appoined by the Crown.
- "So passed the years which the locust had eaten, wasted and irreplaceable years which reduced one of the most prosperous small communities in the world to a state where "toil, tears and sweat" must be their lot for many years to come. And yet many lessons were there for the learning.
- "On all sides was the determination that Sunny Jersey should, with the help of her great neigbbours, again become the happy and prosperous Island of pre-war days.
After the Liberation
After the initial celebrations were over Jersey slowly began to come back to life. The first essential was feeding the population, followed closely by removing all German troops to prisoner-of-war camps in England.
- After the Liberation another gallery of photographs
- Advertising after the Liberation Added 2016
- From Liberation to Coronation, how Jersey recovered from the German Occupation into the early 1950s
- Oral History an article on a Jersey Heritage project on the post-Liberation period
- German articles of surrender
- A childhood memory of the Liberation Added 2016
- A Liberation soldier's album
- A German's view of the Liberation
- A letter written after the Liberation - 1
- A letter written after the Liberation - 2
- Letter from Liberation boat commander
- A special page of Liberation pictures