Personal recollections of the Occupation

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Occupation memories


A panel from the Occupation Tapestry

A set of personal recollections of the Occupation, added to the site in 2020

Radio under the curate's bed

I wonder how many people can claim to have heard of the surrender of Italy under the curate's bad. This happened to me.

All day I had heard rumours of very good news and, knowing the curate had a wireless, decided to visit him. I was greeted by the lady in whose house he lived and explained my errand. The said he was out, but to my surprise led me upstairs to one of the bedrooms, explaining that the set was no longer in the dining room as it was getting too hot there.

We went into a bedroom where there was a large four-poster bed. She crawled underneath it and I followed. After about five minutes came the welcome news – the surrender of Italy. Suddenly the door burst open. We thought we had been betrayed. But it was only the curate. I don't think I'll ever forget the look on his face when he saw two heads pop out from under his bed as he prepared to crawl in to hear the news.


German soldier and Russian PoW

We Jersey farmers did not suffer as much as other islanders as regards food. We could (although under supervision) retain for our own use milk, potatoes, wheat etc. This enabled us secretly to help others less fortunate, including Russian PoWs – in fact we harboured one.

Towards the end of the war a German soldier came into the yard just as the Russian was going outside. The German, pale, thin and hungry, asked him if he could have the rotten apples dumped in a basket. The Russian came indoors and asked us if he could give him the food he was going to have for his meal, adding: 'I have known what it is to be hungry myself'.

We gladly agreed and the German soldier was most grateful and said: 'Good for me when the war finished'.

'Good for me, too,' replied the Russian

Little did the soldier realise that he was speaking to a Russian PoW, whom we had clothed,. And who had learnt that 'Love is better than hatred'.


Two forced moves

We had been turned out of our home just two weeks before the first Christmas of the Occupation and moved into a small house at First Tower.

Then, just before Christmas of the second year, an officer came to our house and informed us that it would be requisitioned by the German Commandant, and we were to move out in a week.

My mother, who was not one to be perturbed by an officer of an occupying force, said to him:'How is it that you turn us out of our home for the second time, when on your arrival in Jersey you promised that if we ceceived you peacably, our lands, homes and property would be solemnly guaranteed?'

The officer looked straight at her, placed his hand over his heart and, with a little bow, replied: 'Madam, that was another Commandant.'


Leaflet discussions

It was September 1944 and following some initial contacts between the Jersey Communist Party and some anti-Nazi soldiers, it had been agreed that Les Huelin and I should meet a German soldier called Muelbach at the Grosse Lager at Georgetown, to discuss further the duplicating of leaflets by us for this group of soldiers calling for a mutiny of the garrison.

There were many locals working at the Grosse Lager, so it was reasonably easy to walk through the gate and approach the hut we had been told to walk into. We were both pretty tense as we were not at all sure that we were not walking into a trap.

The discussion took all evening, again because there was quite a bit of verbal fencing on both sides before trust was established and a good working arrangement arrived at.

But when Les and I left thehut to return to the main gate, it was locked.

It was undoubtedly only seconds before we turned back to the hut, and to Muelbach's apology for forgetting the time and production of a key. But I still remember those few seconds seeming like a lifetime.


Left behind

My father had given help and advice to a young countryman who had supplied the money for a group of four to buy a boat and supplies in order to escape from the island. The day before the vitalnight he came to say 'goodbye' and was given letters to post to relatives in the UK should his attempt prove successful.

Imagine the family's alarm when, at about 4 o'clock the next morning there was a hammering at the front door and there, still wearing his escape kit and with his share of survival provisions still strapped to his back, was the same young man.

It was a dry night but he was soaked to the skin. What had happened? 'We got the boat out of its hiding place and down to the sea,' he explained. 'The others climbed in and I agreed to wade and push until it was floating well. Then they heaved on the oars and left me standing – the bastards.'

He dared not shout, but decided to make his way to the nearest friends' house – ours. Later, dried out and warmed up, he admitted that, instead of him hiding until well after morning curfew, his action might have had the whole family arrested.



Early in 1945 I was caught for a curfew infraction. Reporting at the Occupying Forces headquarters I was told I would be sent to jail. But in case I was keenly anticipating the fact, they added that so many of my fellow islanders were in prison that I would have to wait an indefinite period before serving sentence.

Time passed. I began to wonder if I'd been forgotten. But whether I was to be confined in Gloucester Street or not, another quite different form of confinement was certain. Evidence of this was visible when, two months later, I was again summoned. Alarmed at the idea of confining a person who would have to be confined while being confined, they told me to go home again and wait until called for.

But before that happened, Liberation Day arrived. Five weeks later I was duly confined, but not by the Occupying Forces.


Flooded macaroni

The French barge with eight holds berthed at No 5 in the Harbour. I boarded and received the manifest and noticed that No 3 hold contained macaroni packed in 2,000 paper bags.

The hatches were removed and, to my amazement, it was flooded with sea water. The macaroni was just visible and had changed into a pulp. I phoned Food Control and received instructions to tip it into a store on the New North Quay. This massive pudding was grabbed out into lorries and tipped into the store, and looked for all the world like a mountain of snow.

Next morning at 8 o'clock I arrived at the store and noticed a slimy mass of dough oozing out of the front door. Going to the back of the store, a similar sight greeted me. Slowly and with difficulty I slid the door open and could not believe it – spread over the entire floor of the store was a sea of macaroni about two inches deep.

Eventually it was cleared up and went to fatten someone's pigs.


Commando raid

On Boxing Night 1943, when the majority of the islanders were asleep, four British Commandos silently crept up from a small bay called Petit Port, on the north coast of the island. Tension and expectancy were there as the men, faces blackened, made their way up the steep cliff, skilfully evading the land mines.

Reaching the top of the cliff, they noticed in the hollow of a nearby meadow, streaks of light coming from a blacked-out window. A knock at the door brought both the farmer and his dog to their feet.

The door was opened and the men pushed their way in. Immediately realising they were among islanders, they fired questions at the household but were advised against attempting to raid the nearest German anti-aircraft battery. Returning to the awaiting British submarine, they took an Evening Post and German Occupation money as evidence of having landed in Jersey.

Ironically, not 200 yeards away, two young men were scheming to escape from the island. Little did they know that transport was on their doorstep.


Colloquial English

The internees were being transferred from Dorsten, in the Ruhr, to Biberach, in Wurtemburg, a train journey of about 48 hours.

The german interpreter, who spoke good colloquial English, was trying to get the milling, chattering horde on to the train, but was not finding it easy. They crowded round, clamouring to be put in a compartment with their particular friends, or complaining that they were being separated from their families.

He did his best to cope, but finally lost patience and exploded: 'You must go in this compartment, you won’t go in that compartment. You want me to put you all in the compartments youo want. Damn and blast it all. I cannot do it. Will you get on the bloody train!'

We got on the bloody train.


Whistle sabotage

Outside the Abattoirs, the locomotive was belching smoke and steam. The German driver was oiling the vital parts, waiting for the ceremony of opening up the railway to the west by driving the train through a tape across the line.

A dais had been erected outside the Harbour Office and resting on the silk cover was a silver whistle. At that time nobody was about, so I took it off and stuffed a small piece of paper down the end and returned it.

In due course squads of troops arrived and drew up on each side of the dais. Then a car swung around the corner and the Commandant alighted and mounted the platform.

The driver waited patiently for the 'blast off'. The Commandant addressed his troops. Then he picked up the whistle and blew. No soun d. The officer looked up, horrified. He blew again, turning purple in the attempt. No sound. In disgust he threw down the whistle and, with a shout and a wave of his hand, ordered the driver to proceed.


Son's killing

It was on the morning of 11 October 1844 – my husband's birthday – that the Gestapo came to my door. Bluntly they said that my son, Douglas, had been shot and killed.

With three of his friends he had been trying to escape from the island in a boat. Three miles out a strong current and heavy seas caught them. They tried to head south, but were drifting north, finally beaching at Anne Port. Suddenly a stream of bullets were fired at them, killing Douglas.

His three friends were made to carry his body to the sea wall and they were then marched away and put in prison, where they stayed until the war was over. Meanwhile I was made to appear before a German court three times and ordered to pay a heavy fine. This I refused to do, saying that I would go to prison, instead. In the end they let me go, promising that I would be jailed when the war was over.

Then they let me go home to my two young children, with memories … memories which will remain to the end of my days.


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