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Hitler’s British Isles

Hitler’s British Isles

Duncan Barrett
ARRSE Rating
4 Mushroom Heads
In 1940 people of Great Britain waited for the Germans to invade with the intention of occupying the British Isles as soon as their attempt at bombing the country into submission had succeeded. That invasion never happened because of the resistance put up against the bombing campaign. Further south the Channel Islands although not technically part of the British Isles, being Crown Dependencies, rely on the British for their defence. That defence was not forthcoming so the Germans invaded and occupied all the Channel Islands. For the Germans it was a coup and also provided facilities for Naval craft such as E-boats.

A lot of people were evacuated and all British troops removed to Britain before the arrival of the Germans. At the beginning the German occupation did not seem too arduous but as time went on the German attitude hardened and was not helped by the seemingly inept raiding forces of the British. However the Channel Islands became somewhat isolated following the Allied invasion of Europe and conditions deteriorated to the point where people were starving.

All this has previously been written about but Duncan Barrett spent several months on the Islands interviewing many people and this book is the result. Although the majority of the people he listened to were older he has not collated the interviews as a series of revelations but rather written in the form of a book or diary which recounted many of the things which happened and those involved.

The book starts with an Introduction covering the way in which all British troops were to withdraw from the Islands followed by a short chapter describing how it was decided who would stay and those who would be evacuated. Once the lieutenant-governors had left the bailiffs of both Jersey (Alexander Coutanche), and Guernsey (effectively Attorney General Ambrose Sherwill), became the leaders of the relevant civil servants. Meanwhile, Sark although looked after by the Bailiwick of Guernsey, was effectively ruled by “the Dame”. Sybil Hathaway. This was apparently due to an ancient feudal system which had never been seen as necessary to repudiate. Alderney also came under the Bailiwick of Guernsey but the whole population, apart from a couple of dozen, decided to leave and evacuated to England.

The first inklings of the intentions of the Germans was the bombing which preceded the invasion and here some of the effects are graphically described, including the attacks by German aircraft on cars, lorries and shipping in and around the Islands. Once the Germans had arrived the narrative indicates that although the invasion had started relatively amicably, it was not long before more and more restrictions were placed on the islanders while the occupiers seemed to be treating it as a model of how the United Kingdom would be treated following the envisaged invasion.

It is interesting to read of the efforts of both Coutanche and Sherwill in their dealings with the leaders of the German occupiers, although it is made quite clear that there were some Germans at all levels who displayed some form of sensitivity towards the Islanders while others who epitomised the “jackboot” society of the German authorities. Needless to say, there was some fraternisation and those involved were dealt with in various ways after the liberation. Throughout the book there are instances of resistance and other incidents with some of the punishments awarded involving prison and concentration camps on the mainland of Europe. There are also tales of those who helped the forced labour, people who had been introduced from Europe by the Germans as effectively slaves, building defences against any invasion.

What was not expected was the starvation and deprivation which was to occur and there are many descriptions of just how desperate the situation was for so many people who were actually starving. This was the situation following the Allied landings on the mainland of Europe and both occupiers and the occupied found that life was to become more difficult when they were left isolated from all contact or supplies from either the Allies or the Axis.

The book is informative and well written in a format which is easy to read and, although not necessarily factual in historical terms, is interesting. The maps before the Introduction indicate the relative distances involved with sufficient detail to enable readers to be able to ascertain what was where in terms of the related stories and in the centre of the book are some eight pages of plates with photographs actually taken at the time. Generally it is interesting and worth reading, giving some indication of what life may have been like if the Germans had actually invaded the United Kingdom.

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