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The Jersey Schoolboy's story

The German occupation of Jersey in the Channel Islands
by Brian Ahier Read

Brian Read as a boy I was a schoolboy of 12 years old in Jersey in June 1940. We lived by the seaside in the town of St Helier, the capital of Jersey, a small island in the English Channel about 20 kms from the coast of France. The people are mostly English-speaking but the Island has its own government and is not part of the United Kingdom.

When the German army occupied France in June 1940 the people of Jersey thought at first that the Germans would not be interested in such a small island and that in any case the island would be defended by British forces.

Paris surrendered to the Germans on 14 June 1940. A few days later the British government decided not to defend Jersey.

About 40 small ships were sent to the island on 21 June and about 10,000 people out of the population of 60,000 left their homes and crossed the English Channel. Most disembarked at Weymouth. They had very little money, suitcases with only a few possessions, and nowhere to go. Many were put on trains by government officials and sent to towns in the north of England. On 1 July 1940 a German warplane dropped three copies of a letter written in German on to Jersey. The letter said that unless white crosses were painted in the main square and white flags were flown from buildings the island would be attacked.

My father worked for the Post Office. The Post Office staff were told that a ship would arrive to take them away but no ship came.

I remember hearing about the German letter asking for white flags. Some people thought that it was enough to put white flags only on large buildings such as churches and schools but many people were frightened that their house would be attacked if it did not show a white flag. My mother hung a sheet out of the window. The weather was warm and sunny.

Usually in weather like this there were many British holidaymakers on the beaches and in the town but on 1st July there was hardly anybody to be seen in the streets. I remember walking to the centre of the town to visit my friend Ronald but when I got to the house I found the curtains drawn and nobody in. A woman in the house opposite opened her window and shouted, "They've all gone. They've evacuated."

I ran back towards my home but as I passed a large hotel (called the Ommaroo) a taxi pulled up and three German soldiers carrying rifles and other kit got out and went into the hotel! It was the first time I had ever seen a German soldier. Curious to see what would happen I waited on the pavement on the opposite side of the hotel. More taxis came along. They had come from the airport. More soldiers went in to the hotel. None of them spoke to me.

I went home, telling my mother very proudly that I had seen German soldiers. But she remained indoors, saying that she did not want to see any. Later that afternoon my father came home from the Post Office. He was in a bad mood. "We're all German now," he said. "Goodness knows what's going to happen to us. They've cut all the lines to England." He told my mother and me that three German officers had come in to the Post Office during the afternoon and had gone to the room where he worked with the teleprinters (machines used to send telegrams).

"They were very polite and shook hands with us when they came in," he told my mother. "But we had to do what they said as they were all carrying guns." My father had been told that he must disconnect all the machines. At the same time all the telephone lines to England in the telephone exchange were cut. From now on nobody in Jersey was able to telephone outside the island or to send any kind of message out of the island.

Brian Ahier Read
17th September, 1997

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