During the Occupation a German war cemetery was created in St Brelade's churchyard. The 337 bodies buried there, and a further ten from the Strangers Cemetery, have long been exhumed and taken to France.
During the First World War, while an exiled German was working on the wall paintings in the Fishermen's Chapel, some of his compatriots were held as prisoners of war in a camp in St Ouen’s Bay, and the bodies of those who died in captivity were brought to St Brelade’s Church for their funeral service and burial.
The German Invasion
When the Germans occupied Jersey between 1940 and 1945 it was natural, with their compatriots already buried here, for the occupying authorities to choose St Brelade, and its church and cemetery, for further interments.
The first burial took place in July 1940, only ten days after the arrival of the first troops. The first interments were alongside the graves of those who died in the First World War, but from February 1942 burials were located in two large blocks separated by a gravel path.
In the following month the cemetery was designated a Heldenfriedhof, or Heroes Cemetery. Trees were planted, rough granite paths laid, and wooden gates with large representations of the swastika within the Iron Cross were installed in facing entrances to the cemetery and the Rectory garden. Bushes were planted to separate the civil from the military sections.
The Sinking of the SS Schokland
In 1943 a Dutch cargo ship of 1,500 tons, the SS Schokland, was taking some 200-250 Germans on leave to St Malo. The ship foundered close to the southern shore of Jersey, in the early hours of 5 January, with heavy loss of life. Too many passengers were crowded into the stern hold for the short crossing, below a 20 foot vertical ladder, and under a small hatch. This bottleneck led to the high number of casualties.
For days afterwards bodies were washed ashore and locals recall them being "stacked like timber" on the Albert Pier, awaiting burial. The ship's captain swam ashore and was later court-martialled for losing the ship. She lies in 23 metres of water some 2,000 metres off Noirmont Point, but is rapidly breaking up.
The Heroes Cemetery had a large input of new graves and by the end of the year the first block was nearly full. The new block commenced impressively with the interment of Oberleutnant Zepernik, an efficient and popular officer who was killed in an RAF raid in nearby France and whose body was returned to Jersey for burial with firing party and full military honours.
This second block was full by February 1945 when the first of 16 burials was made in a new area in the Rectory garden.
The Strangers Cemetery
The German cemetery at St Brelade was not available for the burial of non-Germans employed by the occupying forces.
The Strangers Cemetery at the top of Westmount, St Helier, had been opened in 1865, replacing an earlier strangers’ burial ground. It had been used for soldiers of the Jersey garrison and for temporary residents who died while living in the island.
In 1940 the Strangers Cemetery became the burial place for all the non-German deceased and it was renamed the Westmountfriedhof. Russian forced labourers, some Polish, French and Algerians were buried, each in the plot for his own nationality, carefully alotted by the Germans.
Two German soldiers, buried in the St Brelade cemetery, had committed suicide. Their bodies, later deemed unfit for a hero’s burial, were exhumed and reburied in the Westmountfriedhof, the first German nationals in the Strangers Cemetery.
The body of an Italian soldier made the opposite journey, being exhumed from Westmount and reburied at St Brelade, in a plot set apart for Italians, their allies.
Another exhumation was that of a Russian prisoner who had escaped from Elizabeth Castle and whose body had been found floating in the sea. He was buried in the Russian section of Westmount. His escape and death perhaps tarnished the official records, for his body was exhumed, examined again for nationality, and reburied in the French section.
By Liberation Day 12 more German soldiers had been denied burial at the St Brelade cemetery, six more deaths through suicide, five executed by firing squad, and one through an illness not stated.
British and Allied casualties
The sinking of ships and shooting down of planes occasionally resulted in a British, American or French body being washed ashore and subsequently buried in the new cemetery at Mont-A-l'Abbe. The Jersey authorities decided to prepare a proper military cemetery for the British and Allied dead at Howard Davis Park, and a plot near St Luke's Church was chosen.
It was dedicated on 26 November 1943 by the Dean, the Very Rev Matthew Le Marinel. After the War the bodies of all but the British were exhumed and returned to their countries.
With the ending of hostilities, control of the German military cemetery passed from the Standortkommandantur to the Imperial War Graves Commission. One of their first acts was to transfer the 16 German coffins buried in the Rectory garden across the road, to the main cemetery. These were reburied where space could be found — along the walls and paths. The Rectory garden had been prepared for a further 245 burials providing for a total of 449 in the whole cemetery.
At the same time the swastika, which formed the central part of the Iron Cross design of the memorials, was painted out, but only on these 16 reinterments.
The normal German practice for erecting their memorial crosses is to do so at the foot of the burial plot and not at the head. When these crosses were later removed by the War Graves Commission they were replaced by the standard white cross of the British military, at the head.
An extract from the Evening Post of 16 January 1948:
- "Work is in progress at the German War Cemetery at St Brelade for the purpose of bringing it into line with all war cemeteries under the care of the Imperial War Graves Commission, whether at home, on the Continent, or abroad. The wooden crosses have been removed and the ground levelled prior to fresh grass being sown. When the grass has grown, the crosses will be replaced on the graves but at the head, and not at the foot of each grave as is the German custom."
In 1960 all the Channel Islands authorities were approached by the Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgraberfursorge – the German equivalent of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. They wrote on 23 September of that year of the previous year's agreement between the United Kingdom and the Federal Republic of Germany to grant all possible facilities to the War Grave Commissions of each in respect of the dead:
- "In the course of creating a final and dignified place of rest for all German war dead in Great Britain we intend to have those German war dead buried in the Channel Islands, exhumed and reburied in the Military Cemetery, Mont de Huisnes, Manche, France ... (and there being no objections) ... we hereby approach the Royal Court of Jersey to give their consent to the exhumation of the German war dead, and to their transfer to the German Military Cemetery, Mont de Huisnes."
It was decided that, apart from those at Fort George, Guernsey, all German Military war dead should be transferred to Mont de Huisnes, close to Mont St Michel.
Lord Coutanche, Bailiff of Jersey, wrote to the German War Graves Commission, on 14 July 1961, as follows:
- ”Permission is hereby granted to the German War Graves Commission (Volksbund Deutsche Kriegsgraberfursorge) of Kassel, Germany:—
to exhume the bodies of German nationals buried in the Parish of St Brelade in the Island of Jersey, and particulars whereof are set out in the Schedule hereto, and to remove them out of the Island for reburial in a Military Cemetery in France.
- ”The said exhumation shall be carried out in the presence of the Constable or of one of the Centeniers of the said Parish of St Brelade, under such conditions and with such precautions as the Parochial and Sanitary Authorities shall deem necessary, and appropriate from the points of view of good order and public health, and subject to the making of previous arrangements with the Ecclesiastical Authorities concerned.
- ”The said removal shall be carried out under such conditions, and with such precautions as the Constable of St Helier and the Harbour Authorities shall deem necessary and appropriate from the points of view of good order and public health.”