A Travellerspoint blog

Jersey under occupation

Jersey day two, part one

View Brief visit to Jersey April 2018 on ToonSarah's travel map.

A change of plan

Rainy morning in St Helier -
view from the hotel restaurant

We started the day with a good breakfast at the hotel, in the Harbour Room restaurant which, as the name suggests has good views over the marina. A shame then that those views were marred by grey skies and rain.

The plan today had been to visit the famed Jersey Zoo, but given the disappointing weather we decided on Plan B, a trip to the War Tunnels. We caught a bus from the nearby bus station, number 28, after a brief delay due to a problem with the bus, which refused to start. A replacement was soon brought alongside and we left only five minutes late.

The journey to the tunnels took about 15 minutes. On arrival we paid the £13 adult fee and in addition to our tickets were given a gender appropriate ID card and told to look out for ‘our person’ among the photos and information boards.

Replica ID card, Jersey War Tunnels

The Jersey War Tunnels

The extensive network of tunnels was dug during the occupation of Jersey by the Nazis during World War Two, from 1940 to 1945. It was designed to allow the German occupying infantry to withstand Allied air raids and bombardment in the event of an invasion. The Nazis used more than 5,000 forced and slave workers from nations across Europe to dig this complex over 50 metres underground. They lived in harsh conditions, although how they were treated seems to some extent to have varied according to nationality, with the Russians suffering worse treatment than, say, the Spanish or Dutch. My assumption is that this was because the Russians were actively engaged in fighting the Nazis while some other nations had surrendered and been occupied.

Replica of hospital

In 1943, the tunnels were converted into an emergency hospital.

As you walk through the tunnels different display areas each tell one aspect of the history of the island during that period - the British decision not to defend the Channel Islands, the difficult choice facing the islanders, who had only 24 hours in which to opt either to stay or be evacuated, life here under German occupation and eventual liberation on 9 May 1945 - a date still marked each year by a public holiday. The following more detailed descriptions of each section of the story below are taken from the Jersey War Tunnels website, but the photos are of course all my own:

To Leave or to Stay?
As the UK announced that it would not defend the Channel Islands, residents were faced with an impossible choice - to stay and face the unknown enemy or to go, leaving behind families, friends and possessions.

Display describing the experience of some who chose to leave

First Contact
As German troops arrived in their thousands, Jersey was firmly under the jackboot. Discover those uncertain days as the occupied learned to live with their occupiers.

Our hotel under Nazi occupation - the German German Naval HQ

The Paper War
With little physical resistance to deal with, it wasn't long before the German command began interfering in daily life. Its main weapon - a formidable bureaucracy, generating new laws and orders on a daily basis.

Rules for islanders under Nazi occupation

Daily Life
As restrictions and shortages increased, daily life for islanders became more difficult. This recreation of a Jersey home during the occupation gives an insight into the make do and mend mentality that kept residents going throughout these dark years.

1940s house

Whispers & Lies
Under occupation, accepted realities change for good. In a small community where trust is everything, can neighbours and friends still be trusted? Whispers and Lies gives you an idea of how things change when huge strains are placed on the bonds that hold people together.

Cooperation & Resistance
Nothing is as it seems and choices are hard to make. And how do you resist when you have no weapons? Examine the dilemmas faced by everyone during the occupation, from the UK government to the island's leaders and islanders in their daily lives.

OT Gallery
This impressive interactive exhibit will reveal more about this prolific engineering organisation, its methods and the people who, willingly or not, worked to build Hitler's Atlantic Wall and changed the face of Europe forever.

The Unfinished Tunnel
Men toiled with picks and shovels, loading rocks into trolleys and pushing them back up to the tunnel entrance. In the semi-dark and the damp, with the constant fear of rock falls, this back-breaking work went on in 12-hour shifts. You experience it all through an interactive audio-visual experience in the unfinished tunnel itself.

The unfinished tunnel

Fortress Island
Far in excess of their military significance, the Channel Islands used one twelfth of the reinforced concrete of the entire Atlantic wall. Had the Nazis deployed these resources more reasonably, they could have doubled the strength of the Atlantic wall and had a profound effect on the Allied advance.

Telegraph station

Under Siege
After D-Day, the Channel Islands were cut off from all supply routes through France. The last year of the occupation was characterised by hunger and desperation.

Desperate Times
In the final months of Liberation, Islanders became desperate. Food shortages were acute and with no knowledge of when the war would end, the Island entered its darkest times.

1940s kitchen

Air Raid Shelter
Step inside a replica air raid shelter to get a feel for the conditions, noises and bleakness of the situation faced during World War II.

Discover the event that islanders will never forget: 9 May 1945. Finally, after five years of occupation, British forces arrived to free the Channel Islands. Scenes of happiness and relief characterised this most wonderful of days, which is still marked by a public holiday and celebrations today.

Liberation celebrations

As to the people on our ID cards, we found them both. Chris’s man, Clifford Cohu, was one of many islanders who did what they could to resist the occupation. When war broke out he was rector of St Saviour. With three of his parishioners he acquired an illegal radio set (German authorities had banned their use by islanders).

Replica ID card

The Island wiki tells his story:

‘The set was owned by John Nicolle, a farm labourer; Arthur Dimmery, a gardener, was the set's "guardian" - he was responsible for digging it up and reburying it after use; Joseph Tierney, a gravedigger at St Saviour, typed up the information; and Cohu, who also performed chaplaincy duties at the General Hospital, provided information about the course of the war to various patients. Cohu was also known on at least one occasion to ride along the Parade in St Helier shouting the news. …

Cohu was arrested on 12 March 1943, and on 9 April the case came to trial. … Cohu was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment for "failing to surrender leaflets and [...] disseminating anti-German news". Other people caught at the time normally expected to serve between 2 and 6 weeks: the harshness of the sentence reflected the severity with which the authorities viewed the conspiracy. Given the length of the sentence, Cohu was deported from Jersey in July 1943.

Cohu was taken first to the Fort d'Hauteville at Dijon, then to Saarbrucken in December 1943. By March 1944 he had reached Preungesheim, near Frankfurt-am-Main, where he was kept in solitary confinement and forced to work. Food and heating were both inadequate.

Cohu's wife Harriet … was informed that on 30 August Cohu had been released to an internment camp at Naumburg-am-Saale, near Leipzig. This was in fact untrue: Cohu had been sent on to Straflager Zöschen, where he arrived on 13 September 1944. A Czech, Premysl Polacek, witnessed the beating that the enfeebled Cohu received at the hands of the SS guards, who singled him out as der Englischer. Weakened by this he contracted dysyntery and died on 20 September 1944, aged 60.’

My Lucie was a French artist who was sentenced to death by firing squad for leaving inflammatory notes on German staff cars but had her sentence commuted to life imprisonment on the intervention of the Bailif (the governor of the island who had been left by the British with the unenviable role of running the island under the Nazis).

Display board mentioning Lucie Schwob

Later I found out more about Lucille Schwob online and it turns out she was a fascinating woman. She was born in 1894 in Nates, France, to a Jewish family. She was sent to school in England, and later the Sorbonne University in Paris, where she started to experiment with photography, mainly self-portraits. She adopted the pseudonym Claude Cahun, deliberately non-gender specific. At the age of 17, she met Suzanne Malherbe, a graphic artist who worked under the name Marcel Moore [also mentioned on the display board I photographed]. Moore became her lover and companion and, later, her half-sister, after Cahun’s father married Moore’s widowed mother. During the 1920s they lived in Paris, collaborating on various written works, sculptures, photomontages and collages.

Replica ID card, Jersey War Tunnels

The following is based on the Wikipedia article about her, with minor grammar and factual corrections (the latter based on other sources):

In 1937 Cahun and Moore settled in Jersey. Following the fall of France and the German occupation of Jersey and the other Channel Islands, they became active as resistance workers and propagandists. Fervently against war, the two worked extensively in producing anti-German fliers. Many were snippets from English-to-German translations of BBC reports on the Nazis' crimes and insolence, which were pasted together to create rhythmic poems and harsh criticism. The couple then dressed up and attended many German military events in Jersey, strategically placing the fliers in soldiers’ pockets, on their chairs, and in cigarette boxes for soldiers to find. Additionally, they inconspicuously crumpled up and threw their fliers into cars and windows. Moore spoke fluent German, a secret kept from the Nazis. The leaflets were written as if written by a German officer and signed ‘The soldier without a name.’

In many ways, Cahun and Moore's resistance efforts were not only political but artistic actions, using their creative talents to manipulate and undermine the authority which they despised. Cahun's life's work was focused on undermining a certain authority; however, their activism posed a threat to their physical safety.

In 1944, Cahun and Moore were arrested and charged with listening to the BBC and inciting the troops to rebellion. But it took some time for the trial to take place as authorities found it hard to believe that old ladies, which is how they presented themselves, could take on such a resistance. The death penalty was finally commuted to imprisonment. They were freed when the island was liberated from German occupation in 1945. However, Cahun's health never recovered from their treatment in jail, and they died in 1954. She is buried in St Brelade's Church with her partner Marcel Moore.

We would probably not have visited the tunnels were it not for this morning’s rain, and we both found them absolutely fascinating, so we ended up being grateful for the bad weather! But after walking through the tunnels we emerged to improving weather, so we had a coffee in the café then took the bus back to St Helier. It was time to revert to Plan A and visit the zoo after all. But as this is becoming a long page, and I took lots of photos at the zoo in addition to these at the tunnels, I think I will finish here and save the zoo for the next entry ...

German tank at the entrance

Posted by ToonSarah 05:57 Archived in Jersey Tagged islands history museum war_and_peace world_war_two

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Serendipity personified. But how does 1940 picture of the house show a 'make-do and mend' mentality? It looks pretty normal to me. I do remember WWII - I was almost 8 years old when it ended.

by greatgrandmaR

I guess the house mock-up was all in the detail - display boards explained how they made coffee from (I think) parsnips and recycled curtains into dresses, and so on.

by ToonSarah

Thanks for the explanation.

by greatgrandmaR

A fascinating piece. I never had any idea of how Jersey fared during WWII.

by Nemorino

An excellent account Sarah. Not what people go to Jersey to see necessarily, but a must in my view

by Easymalc

Great piece Sarah & I have enjoyed my visit there last year as it gives so much detail account on how people on the island survived.

by Galaxy31

Thank you Don, Malcolm and Angela. It's lovely to hear from those who've enjoyed my efforts here :) I agree Malcolm that this is a must, having been there, but with only a day and a bit to see the island we would probably have missed it had the weather been better! And Angela, you are spot on - it's the level of detail about ordinary people that makes it so fascinating.

by ToonSarah

Fascinating history! If we were ever to visit this island, a visit to the War Tunnels Museum would be a definite 'must see' for us. Similarly, the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C., also presents an Identity Card - Booklet, with a Holocaust victim/survivor's photo and short biography, to each visitor. Nice blog, Sarah!

by starship

Thanks Sylvia :) I also saw this idea used at the In Flanders Field Museum in Ypres. It really helps you to engage with the real people affected by the history.

by ToonSarah

What an interesting day already. I would love to visit and experience the tunnels. I am absolutely clueless when it comes to this part of history. I really like to know if it were only Dutch or if there were Belgians as well.

by Ils1976

I think there might well have been Belgians Ils - I think there would have been people from most of occupied Europe

by ToonSarah

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