Bernard Holley, the man who kept the radios working

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The young Bernard Holley

My interest in the field of wireless was noticed by my schoolmaster in my last term at Vauxhall School. Before the end of term he took me to Halkett Place to a wireless shop. After interviews I was accepted by the wireless firm of W H Cole at 61 Halkett Place, much to my joy. I was full of anticipation, little knowing that my first job would be my one and only job for 65 years.


I began my apprenticeship on 2 January 1938 and was enjoying every minute of my work until the Occupation changed everything. When the Occupation began, I an another man were left high and dry but we continued under the guidance of an administrator who had been appointed by Mr Cole. All deliveries stopped for a time, but the shop was kept open, including the service department with only myself to take charge of all wireless repairs.

After the Germans arrived, cars and vans were eventually taken over by them. Coles’ four vans were taken from us and only one was seen again after the war. We had a trailer made to attach to our carrier cycle so that we were able to make some deliveries in and around the town.

We soon sold out of wireless sets as the troops were allowed to purchase anything they wanted with some of their occupation marks, specially printed for the islands. We took away many sets, especially portables, from their place on display in the shop, after several of the troops came in and purchased five battery portables all at once. We preferred to sell to our local people.

Our customers were obliged to bring in their wireless sets for repair from outside the town as our trailer was too heavy to go into the country, especially up any hills, but everyone managed somehow. Listening to English stations was forbidden.

German order

June 1942 brought the dreaded news, which hit us hard at Cole’s: all the wireless sets belonging to the population had to be handed in to parish halls and other places. We at Cole’s had to send all our sets, including all spare parts, to de Gruchy’s store in New Street. We had no new sets, only second-hand ones and many old ones, which were really scrap items.

I did not sent in our current spares, only those that were old and obsolete. The others I hid under the floorboards in the workshop and also in the plinth, which surrounded the showroom. We converted most of our customers’ radiograms to play records only. Taking off the wooden side panel of the cabinet, I would reattach the five leads with crocodile clips to their appropriate connections and the news could be listened to, after which it was all disconnected, the wooden panel replaced, and it was back to a gram for records only.

Bernard Holley in later years

This wireless confiscation order put paid to our business at Cole’s, but the shop remained open for electrical work and accumulator charging. We continued charging batteries because we began making lamps with them.

After all the wireless sets had been confiscated, we had a visit from a German officer and two soldiers with rifles slung over their shoulders; it certainly looked official and serious. They had orders to search the premises at 61 Halkett Place and immediately proceeded to do so without any further explanation. They searched every part of the premises. even toilets and cupboards, but found nothing, as there was nothing to find. Without a word they walked out of the shop. They certainly didn’t know of, or find, our wireless spares in the shop plinth and under the floorboards in the workshop. If they had it would have meant prison or perhaps deportation. We breathed a sigh of relief.

An unwelcome customer living with her young son in Union Street, who was quite often seen about town on the arm of a German Officer, came into the shop one afternoon and asked me to sell her a small wireless so that she could listen to the news. I replied very firmly that all our wireless sets had been confiscated and taken to De Gruchy’s store in New Street. She said she was a customer and suggested that I might have a spare one round the back that I could let her have, to which I replied:’Definitely not. If you really want a wireless set, then you go to College House and ask the Kommandant, he may let you have one.’ She promptly left the shop.

This was one customer which we didn’t want, even though I used to go to the house in Union Street with batteries every week before the Occupation, This had obviously been a trap but she was too well known for that to work.

'Sewing machine' repairs

At this time, due to the confiscation of all wireless sets, some of our customers whose sets had broken down came to the shop, some rather nervously, obviously wondering how to broach the subject of their set’s breakdown. I soon put their minds at rest saying I would call and look at their ‘sewing machine’. We always emphasised that we didn’t do German work as a couple of other dealers did.

I just had to be careful, but people’s wireless sets had to be repaired and kept working so that they were able to listen to the news and the progress of the war, and later the invasion of D-Day. Generally the wireless was brought out onto the kitchen table, probably so that I wouldn’t see or know the hiding place, but as far as I was concerned it was also easier to execute the repair which was the only requirement and my only concern.

Due to the electricity being cut off most of the day, at times I worked on at six o’clock to repair some of the wireless sets which had been brought into the shop via the back door in Waterloo Lane, stopping for a meagre snack, and then back to work until about 9 pm, keeping the windows well blacked out.

An advertisement for Cole's

One Sunday morning I cycled all the way from home in Sandybrook to Leoville, St Ouen, to a farm along the main road; a very long cycle ride, especially with a load of wireless spares in my Black Market Bag. I was introduced to the farmer who required my services be a relative, as we had made a previous arrangement.

The farmer had collected six wireless sets which required attention from friends in that area. Having arrived safely, not meeting too many Germans, I was invited to dinner before starting work. It was the best meal I had had for many a day: soup, pork and potatoes with all the vegetables, and then a pudding to round it off.

Wirelesses in loft

Then to work – we climbed the wooden stairs to the loft of this large farmhouse. This loft was floored and provided a good storage space. Under the roof close to a skylight stood a rough bench and several wireless sets, all needing attention, hidden under a tarpaulin.

One-valve wireless sets began to make their appearance and were appreciated by people who had sent in their sets to comply with the German orders. The BBC signal was very well received by these crystal sets, very low volume but very distinct. We produced about 90 of these sets and customers who could provide headphones or even telephone earpieces were the lucky ones.

The telephone company was very helpful to anyone asking for old telephones or earpieces, knowing full well the reason for asking.

With the electricity turned off a lot of the time, I was obliged to take the various parts home and used a soldering iron heated in the meagre fire to assemble these crystal sets, usually sitting on the mat in the glow of a candle or paraffin lamp, waiting for the soldering iron to heat up.

Having completed several sets the previous evening I had them in my Black Market Bag the following day on my way to work as usual on my bicycle, when someone coming the other way called out:”Jerries ahead.” They were again searching for black market goods; they did this from time to time. I immediatedly made a U-turn and went over Tower Road to get to work and fortunately everything worked out all right and I got to work safely with the crystal sets for several customers.

Hundreds of Islanders had hidden their wireless sets, which kept us informed and in touch with the progress of the war, so boosting the morale of everyone.

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