Leslie Sinel worked for many years in the production department of the Evening Post (later the Jersey Evening Post), where he rose to the position of composing room manager before his retirement.
He is best known for keeping a detailed day-to-day diary of life during the German Occupation, which was published soon after the war. Because of his position within the island's only newspaper to publish through the Occupation, he was well placed to know what was going on in the island and, unlike many diaries published since, his is not a record of personal and family activities but of the life of the island itself. As such it is a unique resource for historians and those interested in the war years.
A very modest man, Mr Sinel never sought any personal credit for the diary, and it does not even bear his name as author - just the initials 'LPS' on the preface.
A fascinating insight into the life of the man who spent many years in voluntary positions, including in the Honorary Police of St Saviour, was given in a Desert Island Discs style interview with Beth Lloyd on BBC Radio Jersey, and a recording of that interview is now held by Jersey Archive, which includes a transcript in its online catalogue. The following is an edited version of that transcript.
Born in St Helier in 1906. Involved with people around. “You knew everybody in the district; different today”.
His father was a saddler and used to do jobs at different farms. He got to love horses. There were not many vehicles around. In 1920 no one on the Evening Post owned a private car. The newspaper was distributed by horse. In 1910 two delivery cars with open sides were introduced so that delivery people could throw the paper out of the car.
Went to the Jersey National School, a church school. “It was difficult but I accepted it”. Jersey-French was not taught in schools but French was taught. The headmistress Miss Bennett was tough but she taught everybody how to read and write.
Childhood holidays coincided with the potato season and he worked at T and J Moor and the Great Western Railway. At 14 he joined the Evening Post after his father got him the job, and started as an apprentice printer.
Newspapers were the only means of communication at the time. The Evening Post was printed at 3.30 so people could catch the train from Snow Hill to Gorey at 4 o'clock. In 1920 it took 3 hours to print 7,500 newspapers. Today 23,000 can be printer in 45 minutes.
Newspapers were dropped off at each station both east and west. It was exciting to go on the train as a child. “It was sad but inevitable that the railways went when buses were brought in”.
Tourism in the summer of the 1920s and 1930s was not comparable with today. People used to stay longer. St Brelade was popular for tourists.
In the 1930s he became a proof reader at the Evening Post and wrote some articles, but he never had an ambition to become a journalist, working mostly on the printing side.
“Newspapers today are good quality but reporting is 'muck raking' now. There is a good variety of media today. It is the modern way of life.”
He spent 15 years as a Constable’s Officer and Vingtenier in St Saviour and 21 years in St Helier as a churchwarden and on the Welfare Board and on the Battle of Flowers' Association and Jersey Eisteddfod.
As an honorary policeman he got fed up with the job at the time of the prowler; stayed out watching farms at nights. When the Queen came he did Government House duty all night.
He never wanted to leave Jersey but did some travelling on the Continent. He lived in St Helier and St Saviour. There is not the same parochialism today.
First buses here-used to run through Bagot-used to call it the 'Orange Box'. The JMT and Red Band Bus, opened up the island; created more movement in the island. 1925-1930s-motor cars increased in number.
Second world war: The Germans swept across France getting closer to Jersey. “We hoped nothing would happen but thought it would. Government realised it was impossible to defend and pulled out. The Germans took the island. There was no alternative, no question of resistance. We couldn't have sabotage during the Occupation: where could you go? There would have been repercussions on other islanders.”
He had a guilt complex. He felt that if he'd gone away he may have been able to do something, but if everybody had left the island it would have been destroyed. He decided against evacuation - two of his family left but the rest stayed. He continued to work at the Evening Post which was censored by the Germans, but the staff used to resist.
On the surface they looked to be agreeing with them but were resisting. He was asked to put an article in the newspaper but he took three days off and burned it.
During the Occupation he worked on a farm in the afternoon; used to get some extra food, and learned how to make sugar beet syrup. Meat was scarce although he used to get some on the black market. It used to be expensive but nothing compared with the price today.
He used to listen to the radio every morning until 9 - every hour on the hour and when he left the house people would tell him the news - everybody knew it. He used to type out three copies of the news; he took one to Captain Robin of Petit Menage, one to the Evening Post and kept one. Many people listened to the radio but he would have been prosecuted for disseminating the news. He also used to find out news from German soldiers.
Liberation: “I can't talk about it without emotion”.
He has enjoyed life since the war and is now retired but very active. He enjoys writing about historical and local events. He would have liked to have been a teacher.
Jerripedia founder and editor Mike Bisson knew Leslie Sinel well, after he joined the staff of the Jersey Evening Post in 1969. He recalls:
- "Leslie was a charming gentleman and, in the days when the composing staff treated all journalists, never mind the new recruits, with a disdain verging on total contempt, he was helpful to me as a young reporter from the day I joined. I wish I had had the interest in, and understanding I now have, of the Occupation years in those early days, and had been able to draw on Leslie's unparalleled experience to develop that knowledge.
- "But perhaps my abiding memory of Leslie was on a Tuesday morning, following a bank holiday weekend, a year or so after I first knew him, and when I was responsible for allocating the weekend news to various pages of the newspaper. This had strangely been the prerogative of the composing department, something Leslie had learnt to live with but never fully understood; and to me as an over-enthusiastic young journalist suddenly given new responsibilities with next to no training, seemed totally at odds with what I believed to be the logical processes.
- "I approached him in mid-morning to ask where a particular item was to be placed, and he replied gently but firmly:'You had better decide, Mike, because I'm *!**!*d if I know how I'm expected to squeeze all this holiday weekend rubbish into the !**!**g paper today.
- "I think the relationship between the composing room and the editorial department changed (I hope for the better) from that moment onwards. I certainly recalled it in later years when it fell to me as managing director to eliminate the compositors' roles in the production of the newspaper in favour of a computerised system."
- The German Occupation of Jersey, 1946
- Jersey Through the Centuries, 1984
- Swastika over Jersey, 1958