The Cotentin Bay will commemorate, in June 2019, the 75th Anniversary of the Normandy Landings, in Carentan, Utah Beach, Ste Mère Eglise, Sainte Marie du Mont, etc. On June 6, many commemorations will take place in the presence of different Heads of State. Along with the last veterans, presidents and ministers from around the world will respond to the invitation of France and the major media will cover the event. The international ceremony will take place in Courseulles-sur-Mer, in the Canadian sector of Juno Beach*.
The forgotten of June 06, 1944: the Channel Islands
Located on the opposite of the west coast of the Cotentin, the Channel Islands are composed of eleven small islands, the main ones are: Guernsey, Jersey, Alderney and Sark. These islands belong to two independent baillages: Guernsey and Jersey. The archipelago covers about 220km² in total. We speak English and patois (mixture of old French and English totally incomprehensible for a tourist).
On May 10, 1940, German troops invade France, which will be submerged in 1 month and 12 days! From May 23, 338 000 British soldiers (and 125 000 French soldiers) embark painfully in the Dunkirk pocket, thus avoiding the total annihilation of British troops. Cherbourg falls on June 19, 1940. Alexandre Coutanche, governor of Jersey, and Ambrose Sherwill, bailiff of Guernsey, inquire at the beginning of June with Great Britain to know if the islands are threatened, what measures are to be considered and, especially, they must be evacuated. But the islands do not appear to be politically and militarily important to Winston Churchill, so War Office and Home Office encourage them to only demilitarize the islands. The authorities of the Archipelago demilitarize the islands on June 18th and English boats are available to residents who wish to be evacuated to England. On June 28, 1940, the Germans invaded the Channel Islands; it was the operation "Grüne Pfeile" (Green Arrow): not being aware of the demilitarization of the archipelago, they unnecessarily bomb the ports Guernsey and Jersey.
The Channel Islands under the German occupation
Half of the population of Jersey leaves the island between June 18 and 28, Alderney empties completely of its inhabitants, but only a quarter of the inhabitants of Guernsey embarks for England. The relations with the occupying forces were at first courteous and, as elsewhere, some engaged in an evident collaboration but, soon enough, the Germans showed themselves in their true light and the relationship between islanders and German troops changed profoundly with the appearance of a passive and obscure defense to defy the occupiers **. In October 1941, Hitler ordered to transform the Channel Islands into "Gibraltar of the Channel" with the construction of the Atlantic Wall. In order to bring prisoners from elsewhere, 4 concentration camps are built on the island of Alderney. They are linked to the Neuengamme camp in Germany and exploit several thousands prisoners of war, mainly of Russian and Polish origin, forced to collaborate with the Germans in the construction of blockhouses fortifying the Channel Islands. These prisoners are abused, savagely beaten and often executed for no reason. Of the 40 000 identified workers, there will be only 245 at the end of the war..
The forts, built in the 15th century and reinforced in the 18th century to serve as defenses against the French, are reused by German troops as a base for many blockhouses, hideous but extremely effective, if they could have served against an Allied landing (which didn’t occur). Life under the German occupation quickly became heavy, because of the many bans that were instituted and the isolation of the islands, occupiers and occupied population being quickly exposed to the same difficulties: the food comes down to turnips and potatoes (of which one saves even the peelings), the pets, which had not been killed, are eaten or stolen by hungry soldiers, etc. The occupation style radically changed in 1942 with the arrival of the Gestapo and SS soldiers. The German presence is estimated at about 37 000 during these five years throughout the archipelago.
While Normandy was liberated for nearly a year, the Channel Islands had to wait for the capitulation of German troops to finally celebrate, on May 9, 1945 (one day after the rest of Europe!), The Victory to which they participated by the engagement of their inhabitants alongside the allied troops and by the sacrifice of many islanders in German concentration and work camps.
* This aspect is the subject of the book of Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer and the film that followed « The Guernsey literary and potato peel pie society ». https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HTDNGv61-Dk
Photos credits Alain Establier