Jersey’s wartime experience
The Second World War, fought between September 1939 and August 1945, drew in nations, territories and countless communities across the world, led to the deaths of millions and impacted the lives of untold hundreds of millions more.
The scourge of this terrible war swept over and engulfed Jersey, leaving it and its inhabitants changed forever. Islanders trapped by enemy occupation between July 1940 and May 1945 faced menace, restrictions and deprivation at home with some suffering deportation, imprisonment and even death in Nazi camps on the Continent.
Others experienced a different form of war, driven effectively into exile by the threat of occupation, they endured five long years away from their homes, many facing the threat of enemy attacks on civilian and military targets, including merchant shipping,
For a further large group, the whole or part of the Second World War was spent in the armed forces, serving across the world and battling on land, sea and in the air to first resist then defeat the enemy.
Roll of Honour
Many Islanders died as a result of their wartime experiences - both while in the military or living as civilians.
In 1982, the States of Jersey agreed to create a roll of honour recording their sacrifice for perpetuity. In November that year, a scroll bearing 463 names was ceremonially placed on top of the Cenotaph in The Parade, held in a sarcophagus alongside another roll bearing the names of those who died in the First World War. A copy of this ‘Official’ Second World War Roll of Honour was also mounted and displayed in St Helier’s Town Hall, where it can be seen today.
Creating the ‘official’ roll
Compiled from research and through public appeals, the ‘official’ Roll of Honour was created to record Jersey’s wartime losses on a list that was as accurate as possible at the time. Understandably, the process was not able to capture every name – archival records show that three, at least, were put forward just too late for inclusion.
Other ‘rolls’ containing a list of Jersey’s Second World War casualties have been subsequently created - one in the Jersey Archive, and a later electronic version. These include some additional names to those shown on the ‘official’ roll, presumably discovered through later research. A recent examination of wartime Evening Post newspapers, and, more significantly, searching the Commonwealth War Graves Commission online Debt of Honour Register, reveals yet more Jersey Second World War casualties that would have qualified for the ‘official’ roll had such facilities and records been available at the time of its compilation.
The purpose of this document is not to replace or revise the ‘official’ roll – that honoured memorial rests secure and unaltered within the Cenotaph. This is an updated and augmented list of Jersey’s Second World War casualties, based on analysis of existing records and research into other available sources. That research has also allowed the addition of more individual detail where known, to create a list similar to that commemorating the Island’s First World War sacrifice. This includes recording the casualty’s full name wherever possible, their rank and military unit (where relevant) and date of death.
Its production also presents an opportunity to record for completeness names of those not added to the Official Roll of Honour, but whose deaths during the Second World War are forever linked with Jersey. These include Allied servicemen dying in the seas or air around Jersey and subsequently buried on the Island, Allied servicemen involved in Jersey’s liberation who lost their lives while in the Island and those unfortunate foreign workers brought to the Island who died while labouring for the occupying forces.
For clarity, this cannot be considered a complete list of the Island’s Second World War casualties - other individuals worthy of recording surely existed and may come to light from time-to-time. As their names become known this document can be updated and a new version created.
Jersey’s Second World War: a summary history
The war begins
The outbreak of war on 3 September 1939 was a sombre moment for the people of Jersey - distressing memories of the First World War, which had only ended 21 years earlier, lingered painfully in many minds. That devastating conflict had resulted in the loss of more than a thousand local lives – having to make the same sacrifice again seemed almost unthinkable.
The potentially different nature of this new conflict was also a cause of understandable anxiety for Islanders. Aerial bombardment of civilian targets had emerged as a threat during the inter-war years and been demonstrated with graphic potency during the recently concluded Spanish Civil War. In common with communities across Europe, Jersey spent the late 1930s preparing for possible air attacks by digging air raid shelters, establishing aid posts and issuing gas masks. The fervent hope was such things would not be needed - but no one could be sure in the early days as the Island adjusted to the reality of wartime conditions once more.
Any enemy attacks that might have been directed towards Jersey during the pre- Occupation period would have encountered a location poorly equipped to resist. Cash- strapped and complacent, Britain had made little effort during the inter-war period to prepare the Island for any future conflict. Quite the opposite. Previously existing forces and defences had been run down or removed. Aside from a handful of regular soldiers, by September 1939 only a much-reduced Jersey Militia existed to offer any resistance. This small force of around 250 lightly armed volunteers dutifully took up station in Fort Regent on the outbreak of war, nevertheless, despatching troops to guard key positions around the Island and waiting to see what would happen next.
The Phoney War
What did happen next was the so-called ‘Phoney War’, which lasted from September 1939 until April 1940 and during which both sides carried out only limited military ground fighting in Western Europe. It was a period of nervous watching and waiting, while the British in particular assembled forces for the expected battles to come.
Britain had started the war with a small professional army formed principally from volunteer soldiers. The growing Nazi threat had led to a rethink, and the partial introduction of compulsory military service, or conscription, in May 1939. This became fully compulsory upon the outbreak of war, with hundreds of thousands called-up to join the armed forces. The States of Jersey extended this military service obligation in September 1939 to local men aged between 18 and 41, though procedural wranglings with the British Government held up local implementation. It was not until April 1940 that the first Islanders received summons for military medical examinations, although no one would be processed and dispatched to start training in the UK before the Occupation started.
Despite the delay in conscription coming into force, there were thousands from Jersey serving in the armed forces during this early war period. Many were pre-war soldiers, sailors and airmen who had chosen a military career like generations of loyal Islanders before them. Others had volunteered for the services after the outbreak of war - determined not to wait for the compulsory summons. Around one thousand signed-up in the local army recruitment office before May 1940, with many reaching the front by that time.
Another group of Islanders were already there, serving in the French armed forces during this early wartime period. France had longstanding military service laws that extended to its nationals living abroad, including members of the Island’s French community. Many of their families originally came to Jersey for work within the agricultural industry but settled and integrated into the population. Some chose to retain French nationality – which meant compulsory military service and recall to the French armed forces upon the outbreak of war.
Limited military activity during this period meant that Jersey losses were fewer than later in the war, with around 19 men dying while serving between September 1939 and April 1940, mostly through natural causes or as a result of accidents. Among those lost in action, however, were two killed when the battleship HMS Royal Oak was sunk by an enemy submarine in Scarpa Flow in October 1939; and two dying when the destroyer HMS Jersey, which had been adopted by Islanders, was torpedoed in December.
Fall of France and evacuation from Jersey
After enduring a bitterly cold winter on the Continent, many Islanders – whether serving in the British or French armed forces – fought in the whirlwind campaign that began with Germany’s invasion of France and the Low Countries on 10 May 1940. Outmanoeuvred by new ‘lightning’ military strategy and tactics, the Allies were swiftly defeated, driven back and trapped. Only the large-scale naval evacuation from Dunkirk saved the British Army from total destruction and staved off complete French downfall ... for a few weeks.
A subsequent German offensive began in early June 1940 and rapidly finished matters, with France surrendering and any remaining British forces being withdrawn from ports, including St Malo, just 40 miles from Jersey. The evacuation from Dunkirk saved the British Army in late May 1940 but cost thousands of lives, including many from Jersey.
The whole 1940 Western European campaign had been a disastrous start to the war for the Allies, with a calamitous defeat, France’s surrender and thousands of servicemen killed, including at least 34 men from Jersey. These dramatic events forced the British Government to confront the Channel Islands’ strictly limited defensive capabilities and a decision to evacuate British forces followed.
All regular troops departed, along with the Lieut-Governor, Major-General James Harrison, who left on 21 June, handing over his local duties to Bailiff Alexander Coutanche. Following appeals from the Island, the British Government sent ships to evacuate civilians wanting to leave for the mainland, and around 6,500 people out of a population totalling 50,000 departed.
On 28 June those who remained faced the full horror of war for the first time as German planes bombed and strafed La Rocque and the area around St Helier Harbour. Eleven people were either killed instantly or died later in hospital from their wounds. Messages subsequently dropped from German aircraft threatened further and heavier attacks if the Island did not immediately surrender. Shocked and cowed, the States agreed and on 1 July 1940 enemy troops arrived at the airport to begin the Occupation.
The defence of Britain
Among those evacuated from Jersey during the chaotic final weeks in June 1940 was the Jersey Militia, led by its commanding officer Lieut-Colonel Henry Vatcher. The small unit embarked on the ss Hodder, after volunteering for overseas service, and landed in Southampton on 21 June to be mustered into the British Army as 11th (Royal Militia of the Island of Jersey) Battalion the Hampshire Regiment.
Sent to the Isle of Wight, just over 200 men of the original contingent were soon augmented by hundreds of other Islanders who, after evacuation, had joined-up and been sent to serve with the unit. The role of those serving in the Jersey Militia Battalion, and that of hundreds of other evacuated Islanders enlisting at this time, was the defence of Britain.
Having overcome France, German forces prepared for the next logical step in their plans – conquest of the British Isles. Any realistic chance of success required control of the skies, and failure to defeat the Royal Air Force ended the immediate invasion threat. The pivotal Battle of Britain, fought between July and October 1940, involved many Islanders serving in the air force and cost the lives of at least five of them. The thwarted German air force now turned its destructive attention towards British factories, installations and cities, launching an aerial bombardment campaign expected to destroy civilian capacity and willingness to continue the fight.
The Blitz, as it was known, lasted from September 1940 to May 1941 and impacted on many of those recently evacuated from Jersey. After disembarking in south coast ports holding their few carried possessions, the evacuees had faced an uncertain future in June 1940. Although free from the enemy’s clutches, many now found themselves living in unfamiliar and disconcerting locations with little contact with those left behind in Jersey. The British Government settled some of these displaced Islanders among communities across the north of England, in places such as Bury, Manchester, Oldham and Wigan. Others, perhaps with pre- war connections through family and friends, found homes in locations familiar to them, including some of the country’s larger cities.
Those choosing places such as Bristol, Portsmouth, Southampton and, above all, London, soon found themselves under sustained enemy aerial bombardment as a new phase of warfare began. Many Islanders experienced its horrors and at least 22 lost their lives during the Blitz, some while sheltering from bombs, others while serving in the auxiliary civilian fire and air raid precaution services.
As the evacuees adjusted to their new life outside Jersey, in the military or as civilians, Islanders who had remained behind were coming to terms with unwelcome enemy occupation. Some things remained the same, or at least preserved a semblance of continuity with life existing before July 1940. The Germans insisted that a civilian government stayed in place, led by Bailiff Alexander Coutanche, who chiefly exercised power through a slimmed down executive cabinet called the ‘Superior Council’. Its members focused their attention on addressing the most pressing challenges created by the changed situation facing Islanders, including ensuring continued availability of healthcare, a functioning labour market and the provision of essential services. Food and fuel took on a particular importance, following the severing of access to traditional UK-based supply routes. Alongside efforts to produce more locally, a joint Channel Island Purchasing Commission was established in France to secure vital supplies.
Bailiff Coutanche also managed to instigate a much welcome two-way message service between those in the Island and friends and family who had left, facilitated through the International Red Cross in Switzerland. Though strictly limited in word count, and painfully slow, it allowed reassuring communications with the outside world at a time when other fundamental privileges were being lost or curtailed by the occupying forces. German control was exercised through official orders or proclamations setting out new rules governing those local matters in which the enemy saw it necessary to become involved. In the early Occupation period these were somewhat confined - establishing curfews, for example, requisitioning motor cars, restricting the use of fishing boats, banning the activities of unions, societies and other associations. More sinister were various orders directed at Jersey’s small Jewish population, requiring them to register, display signs in Jewish-owned shops and report financial dealings.
One significant restriction created by the Germans soon after Occupation began was the establishment of a ‘Military Zone’ around the Island’s coast, with special restrictions placed on civilians living there, entering or leaving. Concerns about potential Allied incursions led to thousands of landmines being sown around areas of the zone considered vulnerable, which, although signposted, resulted in alarming injuries to unsuspecting civilians and one person losing their life. Enforcing restrictions within the Military Zone also led to the first direct death at the hands of the occupying forces - in February 1941, Germans soldiers patrolling in St Ouen’s Bay shot and killed one Islander found breaking curfew rules.
Britain on the defensive
Despite concerns of the occupying forces in Jersey, Britain’s ability to attack or retake its former Channel Islands possessions was limited during the early war years. Although unable to secure total victory in 1940, Germany and its Axis partners remained mostly on the ascendency between that year and the middle of 1942. Britain, on the other hand, was mostly forced to act defensively, intervening where possible, but crucially focused on protecting its vital overseas empire and lifeline global links as the war spread its dark shadow out from Europe and across the world.
The Mediterranean and its surrounding lands became an early focus of military attention. Here the initial enemy was fascist Italy led by dictator Benito Mussolini, who was determined to not just emulate German military success in Europe but also conquer a new ‘Roman Empire’ centred on the Mediterranean. An Italian invasion of Egypt was a failure, however, as was an attempt to gain control of British colonial territories in East Africa, a campaign that ultimately cost the lives of at least four Islanders. In Greece, Italian troops fighting alongside Germans were more successful, overrunning that country, driving out a British expeditionary force and leading to the deaths of at least ten Islanders in battles fought on land, sea and in the air.
German and Italian forces also saw considerable success in North Africa between Many Islanders were among British troops serving in the unsuccessful 1941 Greek campaign early 1941 and mid-1942 as battles swung back and forth across the Western Desert in a campaign that not only pitted men against their enemies but also against the incredibly harsh conditions encountered. The fighting there reached a decisive point in the second half of 1942 at El Alamein, a railway halt not far from the important city of Alexandria. After defeating enemy attempts to break through towards the Suez Canal, the British won a significant victory over German and Italian forces in November, by which time at least 14 Islanders had lost their lives fighting in North Africa.
Italian submarines also participated in the naval campaign to defeat Britain through blockade, fighting alongside German U-Boats, aircraft and surface raiders to intercept and sink merchant ships bringing vital supplies and materials to and from the British Isles. Among the many Allied lives lost in relentless sea battles fought between the start of the war and the end of 1942 were at least 39 Islanders, including five men killed when the battleship HMS Hood was sunk in action against its German opponent Bismarck in May 1941.
If British fortunes were on the ebb around the Mediterranean and in the Atlantic in late 1941, disaster was about to strike in the Far East. Alongside attacking the American fleet at Pearl Harbour in December 1941, Imperial Japanese forces also invaded British Malaya that month and swiftly advanced down the Malay Peninsula to threaten Singapore. Although nearly 100,000 British troops defended that island, a smaller Japanese force was able to invade, overcome defences and force a British surrender, a fate also suffered by those defending the colony of Hong Kong. These disasters and wider 1941 and 1942 Far East campaigns cost the lives of at least eight men from Jersey.
Less well-known campaigns involving islanders during the war’s early years include a series fought in the Middle East. Britain had a complex history of involvement in this part of the world, with strong strategic emphasis on ensuring access to the region’s valuable oil fields and the vital Suez Canal. Maintaining control meant defeating an Iraqi revolt against British presence in 1941 and battling Vichy French forces for control of Syria and Lebanon in the same year. In 1942, British forces invaded Iran in response to its apparent German sympathies, removing the country’s government and installing one more sympathetic to Britain. In these campaigns and while garrisoning the region, at least nine Islanders would lose their lives during and immediately after the war.
The middle Occupation years
The 1942 invasion of Iran had far-reaching consequences for occupied Jersey, or more specifically for a group of Islanders caught-up in a tit-for-tat response to Britain’s decision to intern German nationals found in that country. An enraged Adolf Hitler ordered the same treatment for British nationals in the Channel Islands - a move that resulted in the deportation of over 6,000 men, women and children from Jersey to internment camps in southern Germany. Most remained there for the rest of the war, and while not directly ill- treated, sickness and accidents led to at least 23 deaths among the internees by June 1945.
While those Islanders avoiding internment may have counted themselves fortunate to remain at home, the reality was they would have to endure increasing shortages and steadily tightening enemy restrictions during the middle Occupation years. A vital flow of supplies from France, the fruits of the intensive programme to increase agricultural yields and efforts to extract energy from local sources such as peat were unable to prevent a progressive decline in available food and fuel. For those who could afford it, a high- priced ‘black market’ flourished for hard-to-find ‘luxury’ items such as chocolate, tea and sugar. For impossible to find essentials, Islanders turned to innovation - garden hose replaced worn out bicycle tires, wooden-soled clogs became the footwear of choice, clothes were turned inside out to wear again, and paper reused in schools. In view of petrol shortages some vehicles were converted to run on gas while wood gleaned from across the Island became a staple for household cooking and heating.
Islanders also needed to adjust their lives to the growing stream of restrictive orders issued by the occupying forces. Created to limit freedom of choice, reduce risk of sedition or escape, to supress information or force actions, most were grudgingly obeyed or tacitly ignored. Overtly refusing to follow orders or being caught breaking rules could have serious implications, as an increasing number of Islanders discovered as the Occupation years wore on. Arrests, trials and imprisonment became commonplace, with minor transgressions dealt with locally and more serious offences leading to prison in France.
The consequences for those judged as committing the gravest violations were grimmest. Islanders ended up within the Nazi prison, punishment and concentration camp system, living, labouring and dying in the worst imaginable conditions. A list drawn-up after the war contains the names of 21 who lost their lives in Nazi hands after being deported. Harshness and cruelty were not limited to unfortunate imprisoned Islanders – from 1942, such behaviours became commonplace in Jersey, too, as the occupiers set about forever transforming the once peaceful Island.
If the German mandated military zone had been the first step towards limiting Allied access to the Island’s coast, what followed from 1942 onwards was an extraordinary effort to convert Jersey and the other Channel Islands into impregnable fortresses. Having lost the strategic initiative following an unsuccessful invasion of the Soviet Union, Hitler was determined to hold onto the only parts of the British Isles in his possession. The huge construction programme required a workforce capable of building the complex network of concrete bunkers, anti-tank walls, gun emplacements and tunnels.
The labour arrived from across Europe and further afield – conscripts from France and the Low Countries, forced labourers from Spain and North Africa and slave labourers from Eastern Europe. While all were subject to harsh German discipline, those in the last category in particular suffered considerable maltreatment. Just over 100 foreign workers died in Jersey of disease, in accidents and through cruelty, to be buried in the Strangers Cemetery at Westmount.
Turning the tide of war
While Britain was on the defensive during the early war years the only weapon feasibly capable of significantly striking back at Germany lay in the hands of the Royal Air Force. From 1940 onwards RAF Bomber Command despatched growing numbers of men and aircraft to attack targets throughout Germany and across enemy-occupied Europe. Limited in effectiveness at first, the RAF gradually developed in capability and capacity to the point that it was capable of dispatching a thousand or more heavy bombers to devastate enemy cities and installations. The cost of success in terms of airmen’s lives was high, including at least 45 Islanders killed while serving in Bomber Command between 1940 and 1945.
Increasing maritime military strength and diminishing enemy capabilities permitted the Royal Navy to also shift to a more offensive role during the mid-war years. In the Mediterranean British warships, submarines and naval aviation overcame earlier challenges to sweep the Italian fleet from the seas. On cold northern waters the Royal Navy battled German naval units to ensure convoys carrying vital supplies to the Soviet Union got through. Success came at a price, however, including the loss of at least 60 Islanders while serving on Royal Navy warships between 1940 and 1945.
Raiding forces were also sent across the English Channel to intercept enemy coastal shipping, including the light cruiser HMS Charybdis on the night of 22/23 October 1943. Her loss off the Brittany coast along with destroyer HMS Limbourne resulted in the deaths of over 500 seamen, with the remains of 38 coming ashore in Jersey and being buried at the newly created St Helier War Cemetery in Howard Davis Park. Before her sinking, HMS Charybdis had taken part in Operation Torch – the Allied invasion of French North Africa. It began in November 1942 with British and American troops landing in Morocco and Algeria to overcome limited French resistance before advancing into Tunisia. There they encountered significant opposition from German and Italian forces, leading to a challenging six-month campaign needed to overcome enemy resistance which cost the lives of at least 16 Islanders.
On the other side of the world, men from Jersey were also battling hard against enemy forces in the Far East. Following their 1942 victories in Malaya and Singapore the Japanese had turned on British forces holding Burma and driven them back to the very border of India. Here, the British Army, consisting mainly of imperial forces raised in India and Africa, managed to form a defensive position and prevent the Japanese advancing further. Something of a stalemate followed, with little movement throughout 1943 as both sides laboured in demanding tropical, hilly and jungle conditions to gain an advantage. Fighting along with disease would continue taking a toll, nonetheless, including the lives of at least ten more Islanders by the end of 1943.
The home front
Among those committed to overseas fighting were many Islanders who had previously served with 11th (Royal Militia of the Island of Jersey) Battalion the Hampshire Regiment. Mindful of the potentially tragic consequences of sending ‘Pals’ units formed from men of the same community into battle, the British Army decided to retain 11th Battalion in the UK for the entire war, fulfilling a home defence role and carrying out training of men ready for dispatch to front line units. Home service was not without its risks - several ex-Jersey militiamen died while with 11th battalion. They were among at least 39 Islanders who lost their lives while serving in the UK through illness and from accidents during the war and immediately afterwards.
Other Islanders continued to lose their lives in the UK through enemy aerial attacks. A renewed German bombing campaign in 1942 targeting Britain’s historic cities, such as Bath and Exeter, killed several more Jersey civilians, with others later dying when German V1 and V2 rockets began striking southern England. By the war’s end, the grim total for Islanders killed by enemy action in the UK reached at least 36.
Alongside accepting the risk of enemy bombing, evacuated Islanders were expected to contribute to British efforts on the ‘home front’. For some this meant long hours working in wartime factories or engaged in other essential labour. For others it was about volunteering for air raid precaution duties, or service in the Home Guard or working for a branch of the civilian medical and aid services. For just about everyone it was a time of hardship, often putting up with poor housing conditions, local rationing and limited government support.
While communications with friends and family in Jersey were restricted to short messages through the Red Cross, efforts were made to keep evacuees in contact with each other. The Jersey Society, which existed in London before the war, was instrumental in this, along with ‘Channel Islands Societies’ established in the many northern English cities in which Islanders had settled.
After victory in North Africa, Allied forces launched a seaborne and airborne invasion of Sicily in July 1943 and after capturing that island, pressed on to invade mainland Italy, precipitating the downfall of the country’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. It had been British Prime Minister Churchill’s hope that Italy would provide an easier route towards the German heartland than a cross-Channel invasion. Regrettably, any optimism was badly misplaced, with the subsequent Italian Campaign proving one of Britain’s most challenging and costly as the Allies laboured to cross rivers and climb mountains in the face of tenacious enemy resistance. From its commencement in 1943 to conclusion in May 1945, at least 38 Islanders died while serving in Italy or on its surrounding seas.
Failure to achieve a decisive breakthrough via Italy meant the long-planned cross-Channel invasion taking place, with Allied troops landing in Normandy on D-Day, 6 June 1944. After the success of that remarkable endeavour, weeks of challenging and costly fighting to break-out from the Normandy bridgehead followed. By the time this finally happened in August 1944, there had been heavy British casualties. At least 21 Islanders lost their lives in the Normandy Campaign. After victory in Normandy, Allied forces advanced to liberate most of France and Belgium in a lightening campaign emulating Germany’s 1940 achievements. Yet as autumn descended, stretched supply lines and stiffening enemy resistance slowed and then halted the advance, with a difficult early winter as German counterattacks sought to turn the tide. It was costly fighting, with at least 13 Islanders dying in Western Europe as a result, between September 1944 and February 1945.
Later Occupation years
The Allied invasion of Normandy and subsequent campaign liberating most of France had critical consequences for Jersey. Following the capture of St Malo by American forces in August 1944 the Channel Islands were effectively cut-off, limiting any opportunity for resupply for both the German garrison and civilian population. An Allied decision against attempting an invasion left Jersey and the other islands isolated and under virtual siege conditions. While there may have been no plan for a direct assault, the later Occupation period did see an intensification of military activities on the seas around Jersey and in the skies above. Now closely situated in nearby France, Allied forces probed, harried and in some cases attacked Jersey-based German forces and installations. There was an increased loss of life as a result, with casualties from both action and accidents, mainly among US navy and air force personnel. Some remains of those lost came ashore in Jersey, leading to the burial of 13 American servicemen in the new St Helier War Cemetery (the remains were removed in 1946).
Alongside changed military circumstances, Germans and Islanders had to come to terms with the new challenges brought about by Jersey’s now isolated situation. While obtaining sufficient supplies for both military personnel and civilians had been difficult for much of the Occupation, after August 1944 there was no possibility of supplementing local food and fuel stocks from external sources. As the winter months loomed, deprivation and even starvation threatened – unless help could be found from outside the Island. Protracted and laborious negotiations began between German forces, Allied representatives and the International Red Cross on finding an acceptable way to provide relief.
Some Islanders decided against waiting for the outcome. With Allied-controlled France just 14 miles away, they decided to take their chances slipping across the narrow seas to safety. Individually, or in small parties, scores sought to escape from the Island’s east coast, willing to make the risky night-time crossing in wintry conditions. Most succeeded, but not all. As many as ten may have lost their lives while escaping, mostly during this later Occupation period, but some earlier while attempting to cross the Channel to England.
For those Islanders trapped in Jersey, the situation would change dramatically when negotiations led to agreement that supplies could be sent into the Island. At the end of December 1944 the Red Cross ship ss Vega arrived in St Helier Harbour having already visited Guernsey. She brought a rich consignment of supplies for hungry Islanders, and, perhaps equally important, reassurance that the outside world had not forsaken Jersey.
Advance to victory
While those in Jersey coped with these late war challenges, other Islanders were participating in the final Allied advances to victory. In the Far East, British forces had gained the upper hand after defeating major Japanese offensives towards India between March and June 1944 in desperate fighting at Imphal and Kohima. By 1945 a reinforced and resurgent British 14th Army – the ‘Forgotten Army’ – was driving the enemy back across Burma, capturing the country’s capital, Rangoon, in May 1945. While final victory was close, fighting would continue for a few more months, helping to edge up the number of Islanders losing their lives in the Far East in 1944 and 1945 to at least 14 before the war’s end.
After enduring the difficult winter on the defensive, Allied forces in Western Europe resumed their advance early in 1945, pushing German forces back to and over the Rhine. Large scale offensives in March saw British and American armies cross this major river barrier and drive into the German heartland. While they faced an increasingly weakening and disjointed enemy, fanatical pockets of resistance remained a threat across the country, continuing to inflict casualties among the attacking forces. Crushed between the advancing Soviet Red Army in the east and Allied armies in the west, and after the fall of Berlin and Hitler’s suicide, Germany finally agreed to surrender in May 1945, ending the war in Europe. Deaths among Islanders fighting in these final campaigns totalled at least five.
Liberation and post-war
Jersey’s Occupation ended on 9 May 1945 when British liberating forces landed at St Helier Harbour following a German surrender. They were greeted by joyous crowds, determined to celebrate the end of a trauma lasting nearly five years. The liberating force remained in control until August 1945, responsible for removing the Germans, clearing the vast stocks of arms and ammunition that had been brought to the Island, and re-establishing the civilian institutions.
By August 1945 many Islanders who had left before Occupation started, or who had been deported to Germany, returned, along with the first demobilised members of the armed forces. Not all service personnel could come straight home, many being required to remain among the troops occupying defeated countries and territories across the world. Losses among Islanders serving in the armed forces would continue from illness and accidents, adding at least 35 more names to the Island’s roll of honour before the end of 1947, the date officially considered to be the end of the Second World War.
August 1945 was also the month when Japan agreed to surrender unconditionally following the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and a Soviet declaration of war. The decision mercifully ended the need to invade the Japanese home Islands, which would have surely cost even more Islanders their lives. On 2 September 1945, a Japanese delegation signed the instrument of surrender aboard an American battleship moored in Tokyo Bay. The Second World War was over.