On Sunday evening, 30th June 1940, Guernsey was occupied by the German Forces. At 6 a.m. on the following day they landed in Jersey. There was no opposition. No one who experienced it will ever forget the feeling of depression with which we awoke... Our beloved Islands in the hands of the enemy, dreading what the future might hold, conscious of our complete isolation, we realised with sinking hearts that life would be totally different, but how different none could guess.
-- Rev. S. E. Beaugie, M.A.
Island at War is set against the fascinating historical events of the German occupation of the Channel Islands - Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Herm and Sark -- between 1940 and 1945.
The islands -- including the film's fictional setting of St. Gregory -- were the only British territory to be occupied by the Nazis during World War II. The film's story focuses on the German invasion, and how island life was irrevocably changed overnight.
Realizing occupation was inevitable, some islanders and many local children were evacuated just before the German invasion. They vacated their homes, businesses and schools and headed for the harbor with all the possessions they could physically carry. With very few boats available to take them to relative safety, children and Jewish inhabitants were prioritized, and set sail for the unknown. About 30,000 people of a total population of 104,000 evacuated the islands.
On June 15, 1940, one day after Paris surrendered to the German army, the British government announced that the Channel Islands were of no strategic importance and would not be defended. Unaware of this decision, the Luftwaffe bombed Jersey and Guernsey, killing 44 people. Guernsey was occupied by German forces on June 30th, Jersey on July 1st, Alderney on July 2nd and Sark on July 3rd. Many thousands of German military personnel came to the islands during the years of occupation.
Those islanders who stayed suffered extreme deprivation. The hostile Nazi command was intent on imposing its way of life on the Islands. The private use of cars, for instance, was banned and the best vehicles were quickly requisitioned by the Germans. As a consequence, the islanders' were limited to bicycles and walking. Villages and towns were given German names, clocks were set to Central European time and social groups could only meet by permission of the German High Command.
At first, the German soldiers were an intriguing spectacle. Often tall, handsome and blonde, stripping off on beaches and at swimming pools, the German soldiers were delighted to be staying on an attractive, sun-drenched island. The islanders saw them as the enemy, but couldn't help being fascinated by their looks and behavior. Some island girls even risked the wrath of their families and became romantically involved with the Germans. Inevitably, this was to have devastating consequences.
With occupation, the lives of the islanders changed drastically. Occupation was to have an emotional and dramatic effect on day-to-day existence. Long curfews, food shortages, no contact with the young children evacuated to the British mainland, no Hollywood or British movies at the local cinema and a ban on radios inevitably stirred up distrust and led to discontent and resistance.
With the uneasy peace came a number of attempts to escape. However, for every islander who was successful, there was another who wasn't. A number of youths drowned and many were arrested and sent to German concentration camps. Most never returned.
In 1944, when Allied invasion seemed imminent, the Germans had a vast underground hospital built in Jersey by forced laborers from throughout conquered Europe -- refugees from Spain and Morocco, and Polish and Russian prisoners of war. Originally planned as a bombproof artillery barracks and ammunition store, this complex was never completed; it was converted into a casualty receiving station in the weeks leading up to D-Day.
After the D-Day landings, the Channel Islands were left in German hands while the Allies pushed forward to Germany, and it was only the arrival of the Red Cross supply ship Vega which brought urgent relief from starvation conditions.
The anticipated invasion never took place; the island's occupiers surrendered on May 9, 1945. Today, the German Underground Hospital houses a museum of the German Occupation of Jersey.
In the Channel Islands, as elsewhere in occupied Europe, there was undoubtedly some collaboration with the enemy just as there were examples of individual heroism and personal sacrifice. The vast majority of Channel Islanders endured the five years of Occupation with stoicism and resignation. They could do little else. Most of their men folk of fighting age had been evacuated in 1940 and were contributing to the Allied effort. Hitler was obsessed with his possession of the Channel Islands and poured entirely disproportionate resources into their occupation and fortification. Active military resistance would have been futile.
-- Sir Philip Bailhache, Bailiff of Jersey
The Occupation | The Channel Islands | Recreating the Past
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