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Vega and Red Cross Parcels


Families walking home clinging to their precious food parcels

When Germany occupied the Channel Islands during the Second World War, islanders found their lines of communication almost completely severed from relatives in the UK. When the islands were also cut off from the French mainland after the D-day landings in 1944 the situation became desperate, with no imports of food and other essential commodities possible.

The British government reminded the German commander that it was the duty of the occupying authority to feed the civilian population. On 12 November, the German authorities allowed the bailiff of Jersey, Alexander Coutanche, to send a message to the British government giving details of the state of the islands’ supplies.

The Home Office issued a letter on 9 November 1944, proposing that the Joint War Operation of the British Red Cross and Order of St John take action to help the islanders. The government would provide facilities for sending food parcels to British civilians on the islands, subject to the same conditions under which parcels were sent to prisoners of war.

The German government agreed to accept a supply of food to the islands and on 20 December 1944 the Red Cross ship Vega left Lisbon bound for the islands carrying food parcels and diet supplies for the ill. She arrived in Guernsey with her life-saving cargo on 27 December and in Jersey on 31 December.

The Vega carried:

  • 119,792 standard food parcels
  • 4,200 diet supplement parcels for the ill
  • 5.2 tons of salt
  • Four tons of soap
  • 96,000 cigarettes
  • 1850 kg medical and surgical supplies
  • a small quantity of clothing for children and babies
The Germans insisted in searching Vega food parcels

The bailiff of Guernsey wrote to the JWO to convey the grateful thanks of the inhabitants when the first shipment arrived. He said that the parcels had arrived at the most opportune moment. Islanders also showed their gratitude after the Vega’s first voyage, when a Red Cross fund was opened in Jersey. By October 1945 it had reached £125,000. The people of Guernsey raised £46,000 for the fund. The letter from the inhabitants that accompanied the cheque explained that they were “trying to show their undying gratitude to the British and Empire Red Cross Societies for the great and timely aid which they had received from them”.

The Vega sailed five more times. In relief voyages between February and April 1945, she brought mixed cargoes of Red Cross parcels and commodities supplied by the British government. The JWO sent a letter to the Home Office on 9 February 1945 stating the items the ship was carrying:

  • standard food parcels
  • invalid diet supplement parcels
  • standard medical unit parcels
  • medical and surgical supplies
  • educational material
  • books and indoor recreations
  • outdoor games
  • soap and toiletries.

On 9 May 1945 the Channel Islands were freed from German occupation. The JWO agreed with the Home Office that the Vega should make one more journey, clearing the cargo lying at Lisbon and already planned for her to load. The JWO was able to provide 200,000 standard food parcels and medical parcels to the islands.

On the sixth and final journey on 31 May 1945, the Vega carried:

  • 21,232 standard food parcels
  • 118 bales of medical supplies
  • 23 cases of x-ray equipment
  • 721.5 tons of flour
  • 1.75 tons of yeast
  • 38 tons of sugar
  • 26 tons of soap
  • 1,888 cases of biscuits
  • 502 bales of clothing
  • 163 bales of boots and shoes
  • 155 drums of paraffin
  • 71 barrels of diesel oil
  • ten cases of honey
  • 150 sacks of salt
  • two cases of clothing.

In total, the Vega brought the islands 456,264 standard food parcels. The ship also carried 22,200 invalid diet supplement parcels.

Picture gallery

The Vega depicted on a phonecard
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