Vera Hopper's Occupation album
During the German Occupation it was forbidden to keep diaries, although many islanders paid no attention to the Germans’ rule and privately and secretly logged the progress of the war in Jersey.
Several of those diaries have been published over the years, and an album which is part diary, part scrapbook, has recently surfaced and is due to go on sale as an unpublished work during 2016.
One thing which makes this work stand out is that it was signed in the aftermath of the war by both the wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Army head Field Marshal Montgomery.
The album was compiled by Vera Winifred Orwyn Hopper, born in Gateshead in 1889, and at the time of the German invasion in 1940, an unmarried resident of Grosvenor Street, St Helier.
It is a remarkable piece of history, stuffed with wartime occupation artefacts including newspaper clippings from the Nazi-censored Channel Islands press, orders issued by occupying Nazi forces, stamps issued during the German occupation, German currency, Vera Hopper’s German identity card, notes on hardships suffered, including clothing, food, health, and deportations of families to Germany, wartime correspondence, and accounts of postwar recovery. The documents within span June 1940 to September 1948.
In December 1946 Miss H0pper wrote to Churchill at the House of Commons asking him to sign her album and having received a positive reply it was sent to him and returned with his signature the following month. The letters she received from Churchill’s private secretary are included in the the album.
It is somewhat ironic that Churchill did not sign in the position she requested, but at the beginning of the album, at the upper right corner of the message from the King announcing the strategic withdrawal from the Channel Islands that precipitated their Nazi occupation.
This was a decision Churchill made very early in his premiership, and for which he bore ultimate responsibility, so it is interesting that he chose to sign there.
In June of 1940, only a little over a month after Churchill became Prime Minister, his Chiefs of Staff recommended that the Islands, which could not be defended, be demilitarised, effectively ceding the territory to Nazi Germany.
Churchill reportedly opposed this recommendation, saying that it was ‘repugnant’ to abandon British territory which had been in the possession of the Crown since the Norman Conquest. Nonetheless, the Chiefs of Staff defended their conclusion and Churchill deferred to them.
Once made, it was a decision to which Churchill steeled himself, refusing several suggestions throughout the war (from Stalin and Montgomery, among others) to devote precious military resources to retaking the Channel Islands.
Churchill had been forgiven in the islands in the heady days after the Liberation and his reference to ‘our dear Channel Islands’ in his VE Day broadcast, for what was seen by some islanders as his personally abandoning them to the all-conquering German army in 1940.
But as time passed, news emerged of his refusal, soon after D-Day in 1944, even to contemplate any relief for a population nearing starvation, after the Channel Islands were isolated from mainland Europe. This was encapsulated in a handwritten note on an internal document saying ‘Let them starve!’.
He presumably meant the occupying Germans, but had it not been for an international effort, independent of the British Government, to send Canadian food parcels for civilians on the Vega, life would have been considerably harder for islanders, many of who came to decide that Churchill was not their hero.
Montgomery’s signature in the album is dated 24 May 1947. His visit to Jersey in late May was recorded in new clippings included in the album.
The album contains 245 pages, leather bound and with the title Under Two Flags 1 July 1940 – 9 May 1945.
While the album generally recounts hardship, patriotism, and resilience, among the most interesting items is an unsigned and undated hand-corrected portion of a typed sheet that is decidedly reflective: “The idea of the ‘Hun’ or ‘Boche’ has faded from our minds, and most of the Islanders feel a sense of regret that these tall, well-built fellows, more like the English than any other race on earth, should be enemies.”