An escaper's story

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I Was There! - I Heard the Horst Wessel Song in Jersey

From The War Illustrated, July 19, 1940

A refugee from Jersey, while waiting for nightfall to escape from the island, saw Nazi troops pass within a few yards of him. Reaching England safely, he told his story to Laurence Wilkinson of the "Daily Express" – the full, dramatic account of the German occupation of the Channel Islands.

"My wife and daughter left Jersey immediately the Lieut-Governor announced that the island was to be demilitarized. The last of the troops and guns were leaving the harbour as the first of the stream of civilians boarded the ships awaiting them. There were thousands – men, women and children – carrying every ounce they could. Things were quiet for a day or two after they had gone, but everywhere I met people who had tried to get away from the island, only to find there was no more ship accommodation. The mail boats were crammed.
"Then on Friday (June 28) the German planes came over, bombing and machine-gunning, killing and wounding civilians indiscriminately. We didn't have a chance. There wasn't a gun, not even a revolver, left in the island. I was in a car on the coast road when two bombers came roaring low at us from the direction of the harbour. I flung myself down by the sea wall. The bullets spattered all around me. On Saturday morning they came over again, but did no damage. On Sunday they came skimming over the housetops – huge Heinkels – singly, at intervals of half an hour. At 5 am I was awakened by the roar of a dive bomber. He swooped very low and dropped something on to a roof.
"Someone climbed up and found it was a German flag. Attached to it was a ultimatum from the general commanding the Nazi air force in Normandy. It was taken to the Bailiff, Mr Alex Coutanche, who ordered it to be printed and posted up all over the island. By the evening there were white flags showing from houses all over the island. The Germans were already in the streets. They had arrived at 5 pm. By that time I had made my plans for escape, though I had little hope of their succeeding.
"I tried to buy a passage to England in a motorboat. The owner wanted £50, then backed out at the last moment, after I had made all preparations to leave. Then I met the captain of a Dutch cargo vessel which had come to collect potatoes. In the air raid of Friday his cook had been injured, and the skipper had taken him to hospital. In his absence the crew had gone off with the ship, leaving the captain stranded. Another man pointed out a motor-boat left by an Englishman who had gone in the general evacuation. We decided to take it to England and hand it over to its owner.
"We got two loaves, a large jar of water, and a chart of the Channel. Then we hid inside the boat, and waited for darkness and high water. A man on the quay begged a passage. I knew it lessened our chances, but we agreed to take him. I told him to come back later, and not to breathe a word to a soul. A woman of about 50 drove up in a car and begged a passage. I said she could come. She turned to a man lounging on the quay and said, "Do you want my car? You can have it." The man said, "What's the use of a car? I can't even drive." But he said he would have it, as it was free. The woman told me she had just seen the Germans in the town. She said they were lined up, heavily armed, with motor-cycles, with which they had landed from planes.
"I gave orders, "No smoking, no talking, no moving about. If you don't obey these instructions it's the finish for all of us."
"Twilight was coming on when I heard voices. I crept to the hatch and peeped out. I saw between 50 and 80 German soldiers swinging along shouting the Horst Wessel song. They marched past within ten or fifteen yards of us and went up to the fort. After that I saw motor-cyclists patrolling. Otherwise there was not a soul to be seen.
"The boat started to float. We put up the sails, but there was not a breath of wind. We got hold of a rope tied farther along the quayside, and tried to haul ourselves out. It took us almost an hour to travel fifty feet. We thought we should be caught in the middle of the harbour. We dared not start the engines. We had just got through the harbour mouth when we started the engines. We took a circuitous amateurish route. North-west of Guernsey the engines seized-up for lack of oil. We heard scores of planes and expected them to spot us at any moment. We heard the sound of many explosions from the island. We thanked heaven for a mist which came up at that moment. But we had to have oil. I searched among our provisions and found 3 lb of butter. We melted it on the exhaust pipe and poured it into the sump. The engine ran the whole day until eight o'clock that night on Jersey butter.
"We were within twelve miles of the English coast when darkness fell. There was a big swell and our engines failed. Then an air raid started. The German bombers dropped flares. Searchlights swept the sky, then coastal guns blazed into action. At daybreak a cutter spotted us and towed us in, more dead than alive. Someone made us coffee. Everybody shook hands, thanked everybody else, and then drifted away – perhaps never to meet again.
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