The Channel Islands were the only part of Britain to be occupied by Germans in World War Two, and today, 30th June, marks the 75th Anniversary of that occupation. To commemorate those dark times, Jersey Heritage, with the help of the Channel Islands Family History Society, has digitised the German Occupation Registration cards for Jersey.
On June 30th 1940 the residents of the Channel Islands were unlucky enough to become the first British citizen under the rule of foreign invaders since 1066. Churchill had been quite open about the fact that he thought defence of this territory would be impossible once Germany took over France, and he moved all troops out of the area before the enemy could arrive. Many Islanders took up the offer to leave their homes and shelter in Britain – including every single person who inhabited the island of Alderney – but some chose to stay, while others, including German-born occupants, were not offered the chance of refuge. Just 60,000 residents were left when the German troops finally moved in.
It seems likely that those who chose to remain did not have a clear idea of what they were in for, as life under German rule was no joke. At first things weren’t too horrendous on the surface of it, since Hitler admired the British and had instructed his troops to treat them with respect. According to the Reader’s Digest’s ‘The World at Arms’, the local governments were left in charge of the day-to-day running of the islands’ affairs, though they had to run all decisions past the German Commandant. Of course, there were curfews and rations, and all press outlets and movie theatres suddenly began churning out German propaganda, the currency and street names became German, and nobody was allowed to leave the island. The authorities advised cooperation with the troops, and it wasn’t until the Germans demanded that everybody be registered under the ‘Registration & Identification of Persons Order, 1940’ that things took a turn for the worse.
The cards logged a person’s name, maiden name, address, place and date of birth, marriage state and occupation. Each card was accompanied by a blue form that contained extra information not on the cards, including colour of hair, colour of eyes, physical peculiarities and military service. Names of children under the age of 14 were noted on the back of the father’s card, and each adult’s photo was attached to the front. The German authorities had their own copy of each record. The man shown on the sample registration card with this blog, included courtesy of Jersey Heritage, is Harold Le Druillenec. He was one of only two British survivors when Bergen-Belsen concentration camp was liberated, the other being fellow Jerseyman Frank Le Villio. You can read his story here: http://www.theislandwiki.org/index.php/Harold_Le_Druillenec. On the card, he is listed as having been born in St Ouen, Jersey, on 5/8/1911, and his residential address is given as Westdean, Langley Avenue, St Saviour. His occupation is listed as 'school teacher', and he is shown to be a married man.
Unbeknownst to most islanders, the register was partially a ruse to find out which people on the island were Jewish, and an Inspector Sculpher was also set to compile a list of the religions of resident aliens in August 1940. According to ‘The Jews in the Channel Islands during the German occupation 1940-1945’ by Frederick Cohen, eighteen individuals registered as Jews in both Bailiwicks, the majority of whom survived the war, with probably the actual numbers of Jews in total being between 30-50 in total; in February 1943 most (but not all) were deported to German concentration camps.
In all, the number of various ‘undesirables’ removed to Germany came to about 2,000. Crimes were tried by German courts, and those trying to help friends or relations to hide were dealt with most severely, as were those who were openly hostile towards the occupiers and those who tried to listen in to or pass on unapproved war news. Hitler, paranoid that the islands would become a key focus of the Allied invasion, put a great deal of money and slave labour by Polish and Russian POWs into fortifying the islands until they were nearly impenetrable, especially Alderney. Being remote and completely deserted, this territory was deemed perfect for use as a prison, and three labour camps, not to mention one concentration camp, were set up there. You can read more about the ‘fortress island’ in our previous blog (https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/blog/2014/06/30/on-this-day-1940-german-occupation-of-the-channel-islands-home-to-the-only-concentration-camp-on-british-soil).
The elaborate defences proved useless in the end; although several small raids were mounted on the islands between 1942-3 (each of which the islanders were punished for), largely to gain information on German defences to facilitate the planned Allied landings, Churchill had absolutely no intention of trying to free the Channel Islands. He knew they would be too difficult to hold indefinitely, and besides, he didn’t want to risk widespread civilian casualties. So, after D-Day, the islands remained firmly under German rule; not only that, but supplies from France were cut off, leaving both occupiers and residents starving. The island people had never been in worse position, and only drops of Red Cross packages, some of which were hoarded by German soldiers, kept them going towards the end of the war. Finally on May 8th 1945 surrender was discussed, and on May 9th it was signed and sealed aboard the destroyer Bulldog. Admiral Friedrich Hüffmeier and his 27,000 soldiers laid down their arms, and the Channel Islands were officially free for the first time in over 5 years. It took much longer for the distrust between fellow islanders, some of whom had collaborated or turned informant against their mates, while others had done their best to undermine the German rule, to fade, and still longer for the German defences to rust or fade in the sea air. Over the course of the war, 700 people had died on Alderney.
If you know the name of your Jersey relative, you can search for them among the 30,000 German Occupation Registration Cards digitised on the Jersey Heritage website here: http://catalogue.jerseyheritage.org/features/german-occupation-registration-cards/. The search is free, but to download the relevant record you’ll pay £5 per record, or £30 for an unlimited annual subscription. The blue cards have also been digitised and should come up in the search; to buy an individual form is £3.30, or again the subscription allows unlimited downloads. The other set of records you can peruse on the site is the full list of people evacuated from the islands, the lucky ones who missed those turbulent years under German rule but applied to come back to their homes when the war was done. Peruse the Bailiff’s Chambers Liberation Files here (B/A/L42): http://catalogue.jerseyheritage.org/collection/Details/archive/110000787?source=descendants. It is hoped that, in future, the lists of military crimes tried on the island, the Occupation- Sentences and Prosecutions by the Field Command and Troop Courts collection (D/Z/H6) will also be digitised: http://catalogue.jerseyheritage.org/collection/Details/archive/110007792?source=ancestors, but for the moment the only way to view these, and many other exciting records, diaries and accounts of the occupation is to visit the archives in person. See what they have to offer here: http://catalogue.jerseyheritage.org/. For more information or help searching the archives, email firstname.lastname@example.org or telephone +44 (0)1534 833300.
Meanwhile, similar German Occupation Registration Cards exist for the island of Guernsey. Find out what’s available for those with Guernsey relatives here: http://www.gov.gg/germanoccupation.