Friday, 18 April 2014

The Nazis in Guernsey

Okay, this post brings me closer to the present than most of my pieces, and even though I don't find the modern period of history as interesting as the rest of it, the relatively recent events of World War II are impossible not to look at when discussing the island of Guernsey.

Items such as these, scattered about Guernsey, are a stark reminder of the occupation.
Britain prides itself on having not been successfully invaded since 1066 (if we discount the propaganda-labelled 'Glorious Revolution' of 1688 that is), yet this is not entirely accurate for all of the British Isles...

As I mentioned in my previous post about Castle Cornet, the Channel Islands - as part of the Duchy of Normandy - have always belonged to the English (and later British) Monarchy - longer than England itself! It was therefore with great reluctance in early June 1940, that the British military forces withdrew from these small sunny rocks. After great confusion, an evacuation for the civilian populace was also offered, with all boats and ships made available for the exodus.

What was on offer was not great for the islanders - many of which still spoke their native Norman-derived Patois - relocation to a strange country, with no promise of a roof over their heads, and no mention of food or money. It's hardly surprising many chose to stay. Some boats became full, some you had to line up to register for a whole day to find a place; these further details put more people off travel, and some who had set out to leave returned to their homes instead, only to discover they had been stripped of all belongings by friendly neighbors. In Guernsey, only seventeen thousand out of a total forty-two thousand left (for Jersey it was even less).

The whole affair had been covert to the Germans occupying the coast of Normandy opposite. They attacked Guernsey with bombers on the 28th June 1940, seeking military targets. They actually managed to blow up a chain of tomato lorries instead, killing forty-two islanders. After that they just walked right in, and remained for the rest of the war. The islands were occupied even a year after the D-Day landings - which took place on the French coastlines nearby.

For the Nazis, Guernsey became an integral part of the Atlantic Wall, with vast Russian artillery guns, able to sink ships many miles out to sea.

One of many gun emplacements along the cliffs of Guernsey.
A Russian gun, captured by the Nazis, relocated to Guernsey - part of the Nazi Atlantic Wall.

Climbing the tower of a Nazi bunker, Guernsey.

Some of the bunkers have been left in their original state...

Walking or driving around the Channel Islands, it's hard to dismiss the scars on the landscape built by slave-labour: mostly poor souls from the Soviet Union, or French Jews. Gun turrets, bunkers, radar towers etc... Some are disguised now into the landscape as raised flowerbeds, or hidden by bushes, or clad in stone (my own bathroom is actually a bunker built on the side of our six hundred year old cottage - a gun nest lies at the bottom of the garden too).

The greatest - and most horrifying - structure in the Channel Islands is the Underground Hospital in Guernsey. seven thousand square metres of tunnels and rooms, hewn into solid granite. It has an eery atmosphere unlike any other... Here are some pictures:

The forested entrance is reasonably unassuming.

A build up of calcite on many of the electrical fixtures.

Even in somewhere so horrifying, there is life...

A crude map of the massive complex.

The escape hatch, and part of the air conditioning system.

Hospital beds. Apparently the air was so poor, all soldiers with injuries - their wounds just festered...

Through the keyhole of a locked door.

Uniform left behind.