Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Living with the Enemy

Posted by jonathanfryer on Sunday, 28th July, 2013

Living with the EnemyGerman Occupation Channel IslandsWhen I was a boy the Headmaster of my little primary school was always talking about the War. To him it was so fresh, though his patriotic fervour was by then targeted mainly against the Communists — and especially “Red China” — than against the Germans. I do remember him proudly stating that Britain stood alone from 1940, and was never occupied, unlike most of the Continent. Of course, as I was soon to discover on a childhood visit to Jersey, one part of King George Vi’s realm, the Channel Islands, had been occupied and memories were very much alive. But is only through reading Roy McLaughlin’s Living with the Enemy (Channel Island Publishing, 2010) that the reality of almost five years of that Occupation has sunk in. It began in a fairly civilised way, though civilian casualties from a German bombing raid just before the German air force landed could probably have been avoided had London not decided to hide the fact from Berlin that the Islands had been demilitarised, i.e. all the few armed forces withdrawn. Some civilians had seized the opportunity of evacuation, too, though most stayed. On Guernsey the population would undoubtedly have had an easier time of it had London not sent in locally-born spies who were rumbled. There was some very low-level resistance in the Islands, such as hiding radios after they had been banned by the German authorities, but in general the two sides suffered each other without too much hostility. The Dame of Sark famously had the Germans in for tea and got them to sign her visitors book. Things deteriorated when a labour camp for slave workers, mainly from Ukraine and other parts of the Soviet Union, was set up and conditions were brutal. A concentration camp on Alderney, almost the whole of whose native population had decamped, was even worse. The final months of the Occupation were the worst, as food and fuel supplies had run down and the bitter winter of 1944-45 took its toll. The local population did receive food parcels from the International Red Cross — which an enlightened German administrator made sure did get to the locals rather than German troops, some of whom were by then subsisting on limpets, rabbits and cats. Roy McLaughlin’s book is in three distinct parts, the first mainly based on testimony from the Islanders, the second giving the background, and the third based on testimony of Germans who were there (27,000 were shipped to England as POWs at the end of the War). For many readers, including me, the most fascinating sections of the books are the black-and-white photo plates, many of them German propaganda pics of life in the only occupied bit of “England”. Riveting stuff, well told, as one would expect from an old BBC and Fleet Street hand.

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