Magazine article History Today

'You and I Will Eat Grass ...': As the Rest of Britain Gears Up for the Sixtieth Anniversary of VE Day on May 8th, Peter Tabb Describes the Last Moments of the German Occupation of the Channel Islands, Where the End of the War Came Twenty-Four Hours Later

Magazine article History Today

'You and I Will Eat Grass ...': As the Rest of Britain Gears Up for the Sixtieth Anniversary of VE Day on May 8th, Peter Tabb Describes the Last Moments of the German Occupation of the Channel Islands, Where the End of the War Came Twenty-Four Hours Later

Article excerpt

ON MAY 8TH, 1945, GERMANY surrendered unconditionally but a day later 60,000 British citizens faced the prospect of naval and aerial bombardment by their own side as the commander-in-chief of the German-occupied Channel Islands demanded instead an armistice and had the force to bark up his demands.

The Islanders would have been unavoidable 'collateral damage' as the victorious Allies contemplated subduing the most heavily armed and defended part of the Atlantic Wall, one which had not been breached following D-Day.

Vizeadmiral Friedrich Huffmeier proclaimed: 'We will eat grass before we surrender!' Meanwhile, the men of British Army Force 135 waited on board two Royal Navy destroyers, HMS Bulldog and HMS Beagle. The vessels hove to within range of massive German ordnance; as far as the Germans were concerned a state of war still existed, and the commander threatened to start shooting.

The Channel Islands are proud of their status as Crown Peculiars which makes them nominally ruled by the British monarch (as Duke of Normandy) but not by Westminster and are fiercely independent even of each other. Between 1940 and 1945 they endured an occupation which turned these peaceful, agrarian islands into fortresses with forced and slave labour.

On June 20th, 1940, with France subdued, Berlin had ordered the capture of the British Channel Islands as 'necessary and urgent'. After a single bombing raid ten days later, German pilots landed at the Islands' airports and found local dignitaries ready to surrender to them. The terms, dropped from aircraft two days earlier had been accepted by the authorities who, without guidance from the British Home Office, had to cope with enemy occupation as best they could.

On July 1st, the Germans landed in force. Soldiers occupied the town hall and post office in Jersey and Government House in Guernsey. Within two days forces had also landed on Alderney and Sark where the redoubtable Dame (a fluent German speaker) greeted the occupiers as uninvited and hopefully very temporary guests. In a matter of days, 150 square miles of British territory had been occupied, without the loss of a single man, for the first time since the Middle Ages.

The occupiers explored their prizes that only a matter of days earlier had been welcoming summertime visitors. The lack of resistance and the wary but polite local population suggested that an invasion of mainland Britain could be a similar walkover.

Tile Germans were well disciplined; many spoke good English and intended to prove that they were not at all the barbarians who had been reported as having rampaged across Europe. For the invaders there were surprises too. Hitherto they had been used to authorities fleeing and leaving chaos behind. In the Islands the infrastructure survived, the governments still functioned and the civilian heads made it clear that their people would only look to them, not the Germans, for governance.

Meanwhile the German propaganda machine was busy; pictures of soldiers conversing with British 'bobbies' and a German soldier buying a 'Smiths Jersey London Diploma ice cream' were sent home for publication as proof that parts of Britain had already fallen under German hegemony: for mainland Britain it was just a matter of time.

However, after September 1940, the Islanders glumly realised that their invaders, whose plans to invade mainland Britain had been thwarted by the Royal Air Force, were now likely to cling tenaciously to the few parcels of British soil they already had. …

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