With sorrow the British people heard the news that, following demilitarization and partial evacuation, the Channel Islands had been bombed by Nazi 'planes and then occupied by enemy detachments. Some account of the invasion is given below, and in page 51 is an eye-witness account by a citizen of Jersey.
Since 1066 the Channel Islands – then part of the dominions of William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy – have been attached to the British Crown. For nearly 900 years the islanders, despite their French speech and their many peculiar ways and ancient privileges, have been among the most loyal of English subjects. Once or twice the islands have been taken by the French, but today it is the soldiers of Hitler who lord it over Jersey and Guersney, Alderney, Sark and their girdle of rocky islets.
There was much blowing of trumpets by the Germans over their first capture of British territory. The announcement was made in the shape of a special communiqué of the German High Command, broadcast after the rendering of the Nazi battle song "We are off to fight against England," and it read as follows: "On June 30 the British island of Guernsey was captured by a daring coup de main by detachments of the German Air Force. In an air fight a German reconnaissance aeroplane shot down two Bristol Blenheim bombers. On July 1 the island of Jersey was occupied by surprise in the same manner."
There was nothing daring about the capture, however, nor was there anything in the nature of a surprise. None of the islands is farther than thirty miles from the French coast, and as soon as northern France was overrun by the Nazis it became obvious that the Channel Islands might be invaded at any moment. Considerations of prestige and of sentiment might have demanded that the islands should have been defended against hostile attack, but to do so would have meant the detachment of forces – military, naval and air – which might well be better employed elsewhere. None the less, it must have been with a heavy heart that the authorities took the decision to abandon to the enemy territory which was as English as any in England.
In the last week of June it was decided to demilitarize the islands and to evacuate a considerable part of the population. The Royal Guernsey Militia and the Jersey Militia were disbanded, and so, too, were the recently formed detachments of Local Defence Volunteers. The people were told that if they wished to leave for England they had only a few hours in which to pack, as boats were already waiting at the ports to take them across Channel.
During the next few days the customary placidity of the islands was rudely shattered. Houses which had been homes for generations were left in a shuttered abandonment. Potato and tomato fields were ploughed up, and though many of the great herds of Jersey and Guernsey cattle were shipped across the water, many, too, had to be destroyed. Motorcars driven to the ports were offered for sale at £1 apiece, but not a purchaser was forthcoming. Many a shopkeeper about to leave for England gave away his goods, and in the public-houses drinks were to be had for the asking. As there was no room on the boats for pets, the dogs and cats were shot, and so great was the run on the vet's services that the owners had to line up while their dumb friends were dispatched.
Of the total population of rather more than 90,000, some 25,000 sought safety in England. For the most part the refugees were young men of military age, women and children. They were evacuated by a motley collection of vessels, which included trawlers, potato boats, and even a coal boat, and had to face a passage which even to Weymouth took twenty-four hours, and many of the vessels had only ship's-biscuits and water on board.
For the majority of the islanders, however, the ties of home were too strong to be severed with such suddenness, and in their resolve to stay on their were supported by the example of many of the leading members of their little communities. Thus, the Jersey States of Parliament announced that "we are remaining at our posts to carry on our duties, and we are all of us keeping with us in these islands our wives and families." In Guernsey, the King's Procureur told his people that he would inform the Nazis when they came that the Islanders had no arms and would offer no resistance, and would ask that their enforced submission should not be abused; and Mrs. Hathaway, Dame of Sark, similarly intimated that she was remaining in her diminutive domain.
By June 28 the evacuation was practically completed and the islands had been demilitarized, but this latter fact did not prevent the Nazis from delivering a murder-raid. So for a space the Channel Islands become German.