Nazi Occupation (of) the Channel Islands – Channel 4

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The five year Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands was something which never seemed to be talked about very much, but has, deservedly, received much more coverage in recent years. I first came across it in fiction – in the Chalet School books, which see the school temporarily set up shop in Guernsey in 1939 but then flee to England in 1940. They very much focused on people leaving in the face of Nazi occupation, and some people did indeed do that, including many children who were evacuated to the British mainland (a lot of them to Stockport or Bury). However, most of the Channel Islanders stayed and endured the occupation, and this programme, presented by Tony Robinson, was about what life was like for them.

The Nazis seem to’ve been keen to try to make a good impression in the Channel Islands, especially in 1940 when they must have genuinely expected that soon they’d have been in control of the United Kingdom itself. However, they didn’t. Locals were forced to work on their building projects and, horrifically, slave labourers were brought in from Poland and Ukraine. 250 Channel Islanders who worked against the Nazis were deported to prison camps, some of which were concentration camps, and 29 of them died there. There was also horrible evidence of some people betraying their neighbours.

It’s horrific to think that this was going on within the British Isles … but what struck me the most was the apparent lack of resentment that more wasn’t done to liberate them sooner. After D-Day, the Channel Islands’ food supply lines (i.e. from France) were cut off, and it was decided to … well, effectively to try to starve the Nazis out. That, however, meant that the Islanders were starving too. It wasn’t until New Year’s Eve 1944 that the Red Cross were allowed to take food in, and it wasn’t until the day after VE Day that British troops arrived. In the horrific wider context of the Second World War, it’s understandable, but the fact that the Channel Islanders don’t seem to hold this against the British government is nevertheless very admirable.

Now, as Tony Robinson pointed out, the physical signs of Nazi occupation, and the commemorative statues and the museums relating to the Occupation, are major tourist sights – and, whilst that’s strange, it’s important, because it is so important that we never forget what happened. This happened in the Channel Islands, British Crown dependencies, part of the British Isles. It’s a story not nearly as widely-known as it should be, and one which must never be forgotten.

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