Denis Vibert was determined to get away from Jersey after the Germans arrived, and made his first attempt in November 1940. He failed on this occasion, which in some respects was a good thing, because by the time he eventually made it to the English coast the following autumn, he was able to produce a much more detailed account of life in the occupied islands.
He was desperate that his reports should not be traced back to him and his family in Jersey, and they were marked with clear warnings:
- THE INFORMATION CONTAINED IN THIS DOCUMENT IS FOR PRIVATE INTEREST ONLY AND MUST NOT BE USED FOR PUBLICATION IN ANY FORM WHATSOEVER.
- IT IS ABSOLUTELY ESSENTIAL THAT NO MENTION SHOULD BE MADE IN MESSAGES TO JERSEY OF THE NAME OF DENIS VIBERT OR OF HIS ESCAPE
The unsuccessful attempt
In November 1940 the first attempt was made to escape. It was an effort by rowing, and in view of the necessity of being out of sight of Guernsey in daylight he had planned to row from Jersey to certain rocks south of Guernsey on the first night, with the intention of hiding there during the succeeding day. This first part of the adventure was successful, but unfortunately the wind changed the next day and it was impossible to continue the journey the following night. He waited four days but the conditions did not change. During this time he developed influenza, and finally he decided to abandon the attempt and return to Jersey.
The return was not uneventful as his boat was wrecked and he had to swim a quarter of a mile to shore. His absence had not been discovered by the Germans.
The successful effort
Early in 1941 the Germans gave a week's notice ordering all boats to be brought to certain harbours in order to have them under control. It was necessary, therefore, to obtain some craft at that time. He managed to obtain a small 8-foot boat which he hid at his house. Two outboard motors were obtained and the necessary petrol was procured by siphoning it from a German lorry. The boat and equipment were duly smuggled to a prepared place on the beach.
The attempt was made on a night in the autumn of this year. Conditions were satisfactory and a successful getaway was made. The first bit of bad luck occurred just after leaving; two German E- boats passed about 100 yards away and although he was not seen, the wash half filled his boat making his little store of food uneatable. He rowed some four miles out to sea before making use of the outboard motor. He drank all his water supply that night.
By day-break he was some 15 miles west of Guernsey and he proceeded to replenish the petrol tank. At this stage the sea was rather choppy and water got into the engine making it unserviceable. He then proceeded to fit the spare engine but had the misfortune to let it fall into the sea.
He rowed for three days, sleeping part of the nights. He had no food or water. On the evening of the third day he had reached within two miles of Portland Bill when a British Destroyer picked him up.
After the rush period of the evacuation consequent upon the occupation by the Germans, many landlords found themselves deprived of rents from houses which had been leased to evacuees. Some creditors also found that their debtors had left without settling the amounts due by them.
Some of these landlords and creditors proceeded to obtain powers to distrain or sell the furniture or other effects of their tenants or debtors. In many cases, however, friends of evacuees got together to appoint an administrator in order to protect their affairs. The lawyers did a "roaring" business.
During the period prior to and immediately after the occupation there was a run on the shops. The German soldiers also carried out systematic purchases and the military authorities commandeered stocks held in warehouses.
Within about two weeks after the occupation stocks in the shops had been exhausted.
On Friday 28 June 1940 the Germans bombed Jersey. Two houses at La Rocque were damaged and three people were killed. The Havre-des-Pas slopes of Fort Regent were hit, and a stick of bombs was dropped on Norman's, which was gutted, Le Sueur's, and Raffray's buildings, and in one of the little bays where yachts were kept, smashing some of those.
More bombs were dropped on the Southern Railway, Victoria Quay, where most of the casualties were caused, although very little material damage resulted. The planes then went on to Guernsey and on their way encountered the Guernsey life-boat which they machine gunned, killing the coxswain's son. After dropping bombs in Guernsey they came back over Jersey and dropped bombs which fell on the Pomme d'Or, the Star, and the Yacht Hotels. The Pomme d'Or was badly damaged and the others slightly damaged.
Air raid alarms
During the next two days aeroplanes passed constantly over and around the island, apparently on reconnaissance. Air raid alarms were frequently sounded, and although no more bombs were dropped, the public were extremely alarmed. On Sunday 30 June 1940 a few leaflets addressed to the governing authorities of Jersey were dropped, demanding the surrender of the island, and requesting the authorities to signify their consent to surrender by exhibiting white crosses on the Weighbridge, and the Royal Square, and by putting white flags on the buildings. These orders were complied with.
Landing near Airport
The leaflets also demanded the officials of the Island to be at the Airport on the following day to meet the Germans on their arrival. On 1 July the Germans commenced their occupation by making a landing in a field near the Airport. Shock troops who were landed then proceeded to the Airport to ascertain that it had not been mined or fortified in any way. Thereafter further German Junkers transport planes landed at the Airport with German military officials and troops.
They were duly met by the Bailiff and others and were driven to town in motor cars, where the Germans took up office in the Town Hall which remained their Headquarters for about two months. The headquarters are now at Victoria College House.
The Germans then proceeded to make a proclamation, which was published in the papers, giving a list of rules and regulations with which the public would be obliged to comply, for example, a curfew at 11 pm, the surrender of armaments, that the German military were to be respected, etc, and saying that if these rules and regulations were observed the property and liberty of the people would not be interfered with. The interior of the Freemasons' Temple was wrecked, however, and everything of value taken away.
People were required to have identity cards with their photographs inside but, owing to the shortage of photographic material, this could not be enforced.
The States of Jersey continue to function in the normal manner. The Germans do not interfere with their rule of the Island provided the authorities conform with the requirements of the Germans. There are still the honorary and paid police besides the German military police.
The Police Court sits as usual, and the procedure has not altered. The States sit in session and set up new departments (previously called committees) as and when required. Such laws as they make require the sanction of the German Commandant.
The first problem which faced the States of Jersey was that of the grave danger of unemployment, and in order to tackle this problem schemes were devised for building and widening roads, and making, for example, a pavement on either side of the Five Mile Road. Hundreds of men were being employed, and a new road was started on the north of the island, but recent demands for labour by the Germans has held up this scheme.
The Germans are using more and more labour in the making of fortifications, extending the Airport, and building a new road to the Airport, with the result that the unemployment problem which faced the States has been more than solved by the German demands, and had now resolved itself into a shortage of labour, particularly for agricultural purposes.
Policy of co-operation
It appears to be the policy of the States to co-operate with the German military authorities, and they have actually been thanked by the German Commandant for their co-operation.
All forms of rationing are controlled by the States and individual members have been known to take advantage of their position to obtain supplies in excess of their legal rights.
The Bailiff of Jersey has shown up very well during all this trying period and it is believed that his upright attitude with the Germans has averted many possible unpleasant situations.
The States are obliged to supply all labour free of charge according to the requirements of the Germans. They must also provide the hotel and billeting accommodation and food. Consequently Income Tax has risen to 4/6 [22 and a half per cent] in the £. Local rates have also risen to between three and five times.
There are now two currencies circulating in the Island: British and German. The mark is given the value of 2s 1d or approximately 9½ to the pound.
Owing to the gradual disappearance of silver from circulation, mainly due to German soldiers taking the coins away as souvenirs, the States have been obliged to print 2/- [two shillings, or 10p] notes. It is expected that further denominations of silver will also be printed.
Some essential food and supplies are purchased from France. The French will not accept sterling and it has been necessary to build up credit in French francs. This has been done in the following manner: In February 1941 the Germans requisitioned all serviceable cars in the Island of the year 1935 onwards. The cars were for export to the mainland [France]. The States paid the car owners in sterling and the Germans paid the States by giving an equivalent credit in French francs. Similarly, when the 1941 potato crop was sold to the Germans for export to northern France, the same financial arrangement was carried out.
Where people had regular incomes from England the Banks are advancing up to two-thirds of their normal income.
At the time of the occupation the farmers had already planted their tomato crop and, realising that there would probably be no market, they wished to plough them in. The States promised, however, that they would buy the crop and under the compulsion of an order, the farmers were obliged to carry on with the growing. This promise was not fulfilled, with the result that the farmers were left with the crop on their hands. Each farmer is told by the States exactly what to plant and how much to grow under threat of having his farm confiscated.
The programme which was mapped out for 1941 resulted in the area used for potato growing being restricted to about one sixth, the balance being used for wheat, oats, barley, etc., the object being to make the Island as self-supporting as possible. The water mills are being put into running order to grind the wheat, etc.
During the potato season of 1941 the Germans bought potatoes for their troops in northern France. In view of the large quantities which have been sold it is feared that there will be a severe shortage this coming winter. As a result of the States' mismanagement of the calculations of requirements for 1941, insufficient vegetables were grown, with the result that there is a shortage. It is expected that this will be rectified next year.
The stock of cattle is on the increase as there is no normal export trade. The Germans have bought for export a few prize cattle only.
The rationing, as it was known before the occupation by the Germans, was extended to other commodities and became more severe. In due course of time the rations were reduced, and in many cases where stocks ceased to exist these items disappeared from the market altogether.
Supplies from France
Some essential supplies are obtained from France, where two or three buyers have been sent from the Islands. The French do not like to sell but are forced to do so by the Germans. The position reached by the autumn of 1941 may be briefly summarised as follows:
The Germans require butter to be made for them from the milk with the result that milk has to be rationed, the allowance being half a pint per person, although more is allowed for childen. The Islanders get very little of this butter as most of their ration comes from France.
Weekly ration per person
- 2 oz butter (Note: no other fats)
- 1 oz tea (this is likely to disappear shortly)
- 2 oz sugar
- bread: men, 4½ pounds; women, 4 pounds; children, 3 to 3½ pounds (the bread is rather grey, and is made from rye or bran and sometimes from crushed beans). Men engaged on heavy work may have 1½ pounds extra.
- meat: There is no fixed ration, but it is generally about fivepence [about 2 pence] worth per week
- cigarettes: 10 per man, and occasionally 1 ounce of tobacco.
Very infrequently there may be a small amount of Camembert cheese or some other little extra, or perhaps a small ration of oat or bran flour, or a little semolina. When grinding of the local harvest has begun the ration of bran and oat flour will be weekly, but it is unlikely that the bread ration will be increased, although the bread will be of better quality. There is no soap or salt, and no other foodstuffs whatsoever can be purchased. Vegetables are not rationed. Food prices are controlled and are very reasonable. The grocery bill, excluding vegetables, for a family of six amounts to less than 10 shillings [50 pence] for a week. There are no sweets, cakes, jam, etc., but children have once had a ration of 1 pound of jam. For those who are engaged on work for the Germans there is an additional ration of 1 pound of bread per day, and half a pound of butter per week. Blackberry leaves are being used as a substitute for tea, while baked parsnips are being made to take the place of coffee. Rabbits and chickens are being kept by a number of the Islanders.
Electricity is rationed. Although there is plenty of light no power is allowed. Electricity in Jersey is produced by diesel oil plants and as the diesel oil is being provided by the Germans there is no immediate prospect of any shortage in this respect. The lighting position for people in the country is very difficult as they cannot obtain paraffin or candles. Gas is very severely rationed and is expected to run out shortly. The stock of coal is finished.
Trees may not be cut down except by permission of the States. The wood is rationed by them at the rate of one hundredweight per fortnight and is supplemented occasionally by a little peat which is obtained from St Ouen's Bay and Gorey Marsh. To obtain this ration of wood the States are obliged to fell a great number of trees in the Island.
There are no useful clothes left for sale in the shops and shoe leather is running out. Wooden soles are being used instead of leather for repairs. Boots, shoes and clogs of very poor quality are being imported from France.
The States have arranged for the manufacture of a few woollen garments at "Summerlands", khaki wool being obtained from France. There are no socks or silk stockings, and there is no longer any thread for sale. The tailors are busy "taking in" clothes as many people are losing a great deal of weight.
Barter and black markets and scarcity values
A barter trade has sprung up and there are frequent advertisements in the "Evening Post" offering to exchange items such as a pair of shoes for a pound of sugar. Shops will also display articles to be bartered for which they charge a fee of one shilling [5 pence].
In the so-called black market people with money can still buy certain things, for example, one hundred pounds has been paid for a sack of sugar, 30 shillings [£1.50] to two pounds for 50 cigarettes, four pounds for a pound of tobacco, two pounds ten shillings [£2.50] for a bottle of whisky, and ten shillings [50 pence] for a pound of butter.
A bicycle has been known to fetch as much as £30, horses between £100 and £200, and a pony usually valued at £12 has been sold for £80.
The Germans allow the Island a small quantity of petrol and it is the business of the States to ration it as they think fit. It seems that their first consideration is the allocation of petrol for the use of individual members. Doctors and utility services are allowed a small ration. The farmers, however, complain bitterly that the allowance of petrol which is made to them is grossly inadequate, and that it is insufficient to carry out the necessary ploughing.
It is possible to obtain a car for a wedding if permission is asked but never more than two cars are provided. A few buses still run on some services although very infrequently, and horse-drawn bus services have been introduced. There is one operating between Val de la Mare and Town once every Saturday. Captain Benest runs a service to the east of the Island and also a daily one in Town.
Most of the road signs are in German and the system of driving on the right hand side of the road is in force. In this connection a certain amount of difficulty has been encountered with horses. Most people cycle and many have trailers attached for carrying things.
The number of troops in the Island has varied from about 1,000 to 15,000, the largest number being there in July 1941. At the time of escape there were approximately 7,000. The morale of the German troops at the time of the occupation was extremely high, and they talked of the war being over in a month or so. Since that time their morale has steadily declined and today is very low. The German soldiers are grousing about being away from home for so long and are apparently becoming war weary. The German officers are very brutal to their men and discipline is very severe.
It appears that the RAF bombing of Germany is having a serious effect on the troops, especially when they hear of death or injury to their relatives. It has been gathered that the new high explosive bomb which we are dropping on Germany is having terrific effect, the concussion actually killing people within a radius of a quarter of a mile. The soldiers do not appear to like the Russian War.
The bombing of Brest, which is more than a hundred miles away, has on many occasions rattled the doors and windows of buildings in Jersey. This gives some indication of the extent of the concussion. The naval bombardment which was carried out on Cherbourg could be seen and heard in Jersey.
The German troops are housed in the hotels and large houses, and are constantly on the move. It would appear that they are brought to Jersey for a partial rest. The Pomme d'Or Hotel has recently been repaired and is now the headquarters of the Naval Command.
The Airport has been used by the Germans as a bomber base. In September 1940 as many as 50 Dornier planes were taking off to carry out daylight raids on England. More recently about a dozen Junkers bombers have been stationed there. The Germans have proceeded with a large scheme of extension, carrying the north-south runway to the valley which lies north of the racecourse. The barracks were blown up in order to complete this work. On the east side of the Airport buildings a farm has been demolished and the runway carried to there. New concrete runways are being made.
The German soldiers are behaving themselves and there is no question, for example, of civilians having to step off the pavements to allow soldiers to pass. There is no molesting of women.
- Crowds are not allowed to gather. Church life carries on provided no political sermons are preached. The German authorities put a notice in the paper to the effect that in Church the people were allowed to pray for the King and Queen and the British Commonwealth of Nations.
- The "Evening Post" is still published although controlled by the Germans, but the "Morning News" is no longer printed. Some of the messages sent from England are printed in the "Evening Post". The periodical called "The Islander" is still published.
- Islanders are allowed to listen to the BBC broadcasts, but such is the effect of German propaganda and our news service that they think that we are also badly off for food and that the bombing has been much worse that it actually has been. There are no dry batteries for radios but accumulators can still be bought.
- Dances are forbidden. At least two cinemas are open during the week, most of the pictures being German ones or German propaganda. They have English captions. A few English pictures raked up in France have been shown.
- There is low-water fishing; boat fishing is only permitted to a few under armed escort, the fishermen having to keep within 300 yards of the patrol boat. There are five French fishing boats stationed in the harbour to fish for the Germans.
- The people are keeping surprisingly healthy, although many are losing weight. The people who suffer most are the working classes.
- There is an infrequent boat service to France and between the Islands, but Islanders may only travel for business reasons and by obtaining a permit from the Germans.
- The west wing of St Ouen's Manor has been burnt through carelessness.
- There is no liquor of any description other than a little French wine and cider. There are no razor blades and the open-blade razors are being used.
- During the last year there has been the longest drought, and the wettest month (August 1941) for about fifty years, while the greatest gale ever known was experienced.
Guernsey and Alderney
It is understood that conditions in Guernsey are very similar to that of Jersey. They have larger supplies of fuel, but there has been no tea for about six months. Salt has been obtained from sea-water and a supply has once been sent to Jersey. The Island is very heavily fortified.
Two hundred Guernsey workmen have gone to Alderney to grow wheat. This island is said to be the most heavily fortified.
It would appear that life has proceeded quietly and without untoward incident. The Germans have had no need to apply compulsion as they appear to have received all the assistance that they have asked for. For example, when three hundred labourers were required for work on the Airport extensions about nine hundred applied.
There has been no instances of "shootings" excepting in one unfortunate case of a party of young Frenchmen who landed in Guernsey, singing the Marseillaise, under the impression that they had reached the Isle of Wight. They were brought to Jersey, the military headquarters, and shot.
It is obvious the food situation is very serious and it remains to be seen to what extent the Island can be made self-supporting.