20 Facts About the Nazi Occupation of the UK's Channel Islands
20 Facts About the Nazi Occupation of the UK’s Channel Islands

20 Facts About the Nazi Occupation of the UK’s Channel Islands

Shannon Quinn - February 16, 2019

20 Facts About the Nazi Occupation of the UK’s Channel Islands
Miriam Jay’s gravestone (left) and her at a party (right). Credit: BBC

8. Miriam Jay Was a Jewish Woman Who Hid In Plain Sight

Miriam Jay was a Jewish woman who live on the island of Guernsey, and she worked as a secretary for an insurance broker. When she was given the opportunity to leave the island, she refused, saying that she needed to continue working for her employer, even though she knew that the Nazis had a reputation for killing jews. Somehow, she managed to stay alive during the give years of occupation, even though other Jewish people were deported and sent to concentration camps.

According to the BBC, a German man named Advocate George Ridgway was living in Guernsey since 1935. When the Nazis took over, he went on to write the islands new Anti-Semitic policies. He was responsible for collecting the religious information from all of the island’s citizens, and sent at least three Jewish women to Auschwitz. Miriam Jay was his girlfriend, and the two lived together. Despite knowing that she was supposed to be deported to a concentration camp as well, he kept her identity a secret, and she managed to escape an untimely fate.

20 Facts About the Nazi Occupation of the UK’s Channel Islands
Russian prisoners who were forced into slave labor in the Channel Islands. Credit: TheIslandWiki

7. The Germans Brought Over 16,000 Slave and Forced Workers

The Germans wanted to build underground bunkers, hospitals, and concrete bunkers on the edges of cliffs, but they needed their men to defend the island, and they could not afford for their soldiers to do back-breaking construction work. So, they imported over 16,000 prisoners of war to do those jobs for them. Most of these laborers were from the Soviet Union.

Slaves from other concentration camps were brought in on ships. They were wearing rags, because they were never given a new change of clothes, and they were skin and bone from nearly starving to death. Even though British citizens could see them working on a daily basis, they were not allowed to give food or help these prisoners, because this was considered a sign of resistance. And the punishment for resistance was either getting shot on the spot, or being deported to a concentration camp. When the war was over, a memorial was erected to remember the lives of the slaves who had been lost on the Channel Islands, even if no one knew the names of these men.

20 Facts About the Nazi Occupation of the UK’s Channel Islands
Louisa Gould having fun with her two sons. Credit: TheIslandWiki

6. A Woman Named Louisa Gould Tried to Save One Of The Slaves

Louisa Gould was a shopkeeper who lived in the parish of St. Ouen, on the island of Jersey. She decided to stay during the occupation so that she could keep the store open for the citizens who were left behind. She secretly kept a radio in her home, so that she could hear the news from England, and she was a member of the Channel Islands Resistance Movement.

In 1942, she rescued a Russian slave who had escaped named Feodor Polycarpovitch Burriy. She successfully hid him in her shop until 1944, and told everyone that he was her friend named “Bill”. One of her neighbors ratted her out to the Nazis, and Burriy managed to escape before they could raid her home. Unfortunately, the Nazi officers found scraps of paper where Burriy was practicing his English. When Louisa Gould was caught, and sent to the Ravensbruck concentration camp. She died in the gas chambers in 1945, mere months before World War II was over. But the story of her bravery and kindness towards a fellow human being were not forgotten. Her story is memorialized in museums around the world, and she was posthumously given the award of “Hero of the Holocaust”.

20 Facts About the Nazi Occupation of the UK’s Channel Islands
Two British women relaxing with a German soldier. Credit: TheIslandWiki

5. Women Who Associated With German Soldiers Were Ridiculed

While many of the British citizens wanted to ignore the Germans, it became clear that these were just normal guys. Many people knew that there was no way of knowing just how long the occupation would last. Some believed that it may be forever, and life needed to keep moving forward. It should be no surprise, then, that there were romantic relationships between English women and the German soldiers. Many of the young English men were fighting in the war, so there were plenty of single young women to go around. There was also a huge benefit to dating a German, since they had access to all of the best food and supplies.

Some women were with the enemy as a temporary fix for loneliness and hunger, while others genuinely fell in love. No matter what their reason may have been, these women were called traitors on both the islands and the mainland. They earned the nickname “Jerry Bags”. There was a rumor that as many as 800 women living in the Channel Islands were sleeping with German soldiers, but that number has been grossly exaggerated, and most believe that the number was closer to 200. Even years after the war was over, people still spoke negatively about these “Jerry Baggers”.

20 Facts About the Nazi Occupation of the UK’s Channel Islands
Women with blonde-haired toddlers gathering food rations in the Channel Islands. Credit: TheIslandWiki.org

4. Hundreds of Children of Nazi Soldiers “Disappeared” from the Channel Islands

Since hundreds of women had relationships with Nazi soldiers, it should be no surprise that plenty of half-German children were born out of wedlock in the Channel Islands. There were 174 recorded births of Germany children, but some speculate that the true number of half-German births could have been as high as 700. Women were ashamed of their half-Nazi babies, and many of them would have at-home births to keep them off the record.

Women who were not married were not required to put the name of the father, so they simply left the birth certificate blank. Many of the children “disappeared” into orphanages, or sent away to live with other families. There were rumors that since the Third Reich wanted to create a perfect Aryan race, some of these children were taken into custody and brought over to Germany. Despite being ashamed of these illegitimate children, there are some women who managed to hold their heads high and raise their children as British citizens, despite the whispers going on behind their back.

20 Facts About the Nazi Occupation of the UK’s Channel Islands
British officers Onboard the HMS Bulldog with Kapitänleutnant Zimmermann signing Germany’s surrender of the Channel Islands. Credit: Wikipedia Commons

3. In May 1945, The Islands Were Finally Liberated

In May of 1945, World War II was finally over, and Adolf Hitler was declared to be dead. British planes flew over the Channel islands, and people cheered, raising the “V for Victory” everywhere. Despite knowing that the war was truly over, an overzealous German Lieutenant Zimmerman refused to give up the islands on behalf of the Nazis. He tried to ask for an armistice, rather than a full surrender. But under threat of death, he finally handed over the control of the Channel Islands back to the United Kingdom.

The German soldiers who were left behind were forced to clean up the landmines on the beaches, to ensure that no British citizens were putting their own lives in danger to clean up the beaches. Finally, people could walk near the ocean, fish, and enjoy living in a vacation area once again. The King and Queen of England both visited the island to thank the people for staying strong, and they were met by cheering crowds. There was a parade, and people were extremely happy to finally be part of the United Kingdom again. For many people who survived the occupation, their lives were completely ruined, and would never be the same. Many people filed lawsuits against the German government, demanding compensation for their losses.

20 Facts About the Nazi Occupation of the UK’s Channel Islands
The Nazi tunnels have been turned into a museum. Credit: JerseyWarTunnels.com

2. Today, Channel Island Citizens Want to Preserve The History of Occupation.

Even though the Nazi occupation was a dark time in the history of the Channel Islands, locals who stayed behind to defend their home are incredibly proud of the fact that they survived living with the enemy for five years. This is why they never tore down the Nazi bunkers, and chose to repurpose them, instead. Many of the structures above ground that were created by the Nazis have become restaurants and cafes, while others were preserved as museums. Today, it is possible to take a tour of the underground Nazi tunnels and bunkers. Even their incomplete underground hospital was left exactly was it was, complete with beds and uniforms hanging in the closet.

The modern-day Channel Islands Occupation Society has a huge group of historians and volunteers who work together to comb through old records and artifacts to discover any new information that may uncover. They are also passionate about sharing the stories of the occupation with students and tourists, hoping that they can pass down the history to every new generation.

20 Facts About the Nazi Occupation of the UK’s Channel Islands
This sign was put in front of a store after British people were liberated from the Germans. Credit: TheIslandWiki

1. The Channel Islands Occupation Is A Look Into An Alternate Universe

History buffs love to ponder the “what if” questions about the many different things that could have happened before, during, and after World War II, and authors like Philip K. Dick have made their living writing about alternate history. And since they struggled so much after Dunkirk and the London Blitz, it is understandable that British people breathed a huge sigh of relief that the Nazis did not actually manage to occupy England.

Today, the story of the occupation of the Channel Islands is still fascinating to a lot of British people, because it is an example of what would have actually happened to England if they had lost to the Germans. People don’t really have to imagine it, because they could see a real example of what really happened in real life. We can be thankful to know that it never actually became a reality.


Where did we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

Red Cross ship saved Channel Islanders from WW2 starvation. BBC. 2014.

The Guernsey Jew who hid from the Nazis in plain sight. Rob Byrne. BBC. 2017.

Defending Jerrybags. Colin Smith. Prospect Magazine. 1997.

The Bitter Years (Documentary). ITV Channel. YouTube.

The True Story of Louisa Gould. Jersey.com

Discover Jersey’s Occupation Story. Jersey.com

Occupation Life. BBC.

Guernsey files reveal how islanders defied Nazi occupation. Stephen Bates. The Guardian. 2010.

Alderney Camps. Wikipedia.

Walking through History: Nazi Occupation The Channel Islands. Channel 4. 2015.

How Jersey’s Nazi children disappeared. JoJo Moyes. The Independent. 1996.

Operation Ambassador. Wikipedia.

Cambridge Ideas – Forgotten Heroes. Cambridge University. 2010.