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Jersey Festival of Words: Duncan Barrett, Hitler's British Isles

Features | Published:

By Tania Targett

Duncan Barrett spoke to more than 100 Channel Islanders in preparation for writing his book

AS time forces the Occupation years from living memory, author Duncan Barrett said he sought to preserve the stories from Jersey, Guernsey and Sark by speaking to over 100 people in preparation for his book Hitler’s British Isles.

The English author’s speciality is writing about historical events from ordinary people’s point of view and his book on the Occupation follows forays in other Second World War topics in GI Brides and The Girls Who Went to War.

While some of the testimonies are familiar, he told an audience at Jersey Arts Centre Saturday morning, that many of those he interviewed had never spoken about their experiences before. And while tales of the Occupation are better known in the islands, in England many people are not even aware that it happened.

His book is tailored for a mainland audience but nonetheless fascinating and he said he was interested in the ‘small dilemmas of life under Occupation’.

Islanders were forced with a snap decision on whether to evacuate when the British decided, following a bombing raid that killed 11 in Jersey and 33 in Guernsey, that they would not defend the Channel Islands. Three days later the Germans arrived.

Bob Le Sueur told the author, he remembered women talking about getting home and barricading the doors as so many Island women would be raped that night. But in the early days, the Germans played out a ‘Model Occupation’ and were generally polite. Islanders then had to figure out how to live with an enemy who attempted to wear a friendly face.

Many told him that fathers who had fought in the First World War were stricter with their families about interactions with the occupiers. One told him of an incident when his father had refused to shake a German’s hand. The soldier had passed over his loaded gun saying he knew he would not shoot him. ‘I don’t want to shoot you either,’ the soldier told him. ‘I am a farmer.’

But as the war progressed, the regime became gradually more repressive and the Germans’ horrific treatment of Todt workers disgusted many locals. Conditions worsened for all.

And after D-Day, islanders felt abandoned when their liberators failed to turn up for another 11 months. One Guernsey woman recalled how it chafed to hear Churchill on the radio talking of ‘our dear Channel Islands’. ‘He couldn’t care less if we all died,’ she said.

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