The First Months
The First Months
There was a big crowd down at the North End of Marine Drive, - a big crowd braving the raw, biting wind which blew in across St.Aubin's Bay. This annoyed me, because when I feel cold I feel my age. Besides, a wind like that had no business blowing at that time of year. We had come to Jersey twenty years before hoping that it would always be warm in May.
The Lieutenant Governor was speaking now. He would shortly unveil the plaque "To the Men and Women of Jersey who Suffered In the World War 1939-45". I turned my head slightly. Mattie, my wife, stood there, gently shivering despite the heavy fur coat she wore, listening intently to the speech. (Could it be that woman has the greater power for sustained concentration?) Absently, I looked out over the promenade, watching a scarcely discernible sun shine grudgingly on the grey - buff shape of Elizabeth Castle out in the Bay.
Was it a sense of occasion which caused my mind to wander? Mattie might have put it down to a perverse determination on my part not to concentrate on the proceedings. But, I thought, why should I? As early as my somewhat incriminating days as an under-graduate at Cambridge I had vowed that when I became an old man I would indulge in at least one privilege of advanced age, - that of thinking and doing exactly what I chose to do on the spur of the moment, irrespective of time or place. Perverse? Perhaps. But remember one thing. Both the young and the old can afford the luxury of an undisciplined mind without having to take the consequences. In my years as tutor in economics, first at Manchester then at the L.S.E., I was confronted on many occasions by worried, intense undergraduates trying to grapple with the problem of having extreme ideas on the one hand and the laudable if impracticable desire to accept the consequences of those ideas on the other. Here's where the old have it over the young. They realise, unless they are self-delusive, that the question of responsibility does not arise.
I found myself trying to relive the outstanding incidents of the Occupation. My thoughts lacked coherence and my growing suspicion that my memory was failing was confirmed. My recollections of the greater part of those tense, drab, debilitating years with their occasional moments of humour and horror were now largely an amorphous blur, without sense of time or shape. Yet one or two incidents, particularly of the most memorable early months, were as clear as if they had occurred yesterday.page 4
Neither my wife nor myself had any previous connection with Jersey or the other islands before we retired there in 1936 to escape the English winter. We soon felt at home, however. I think I can fairly say that both Mattie and I have always had a certain penchant for making friends. She because of her rare combination of vivacity and gift for understanding. Me possibly because of my disinclination to talk shop ... We settled into a small bungalow at Greve d'Azette. My desire to vegetate and grow hot-house tomatoes was soon thwarted when Harry de la Hay, the Bailiff of the island, persuaded me to sit in as economic adviser on a committee trying to persuade the Jersey potato growers to take precautions against the Colorado Beetle Scourge which threatened to invade the island. Harry assured me that my duties would be light. For my own part, though I had only been in retirement a little over a year, I had soon realised the truth of Louis XIV's maxim that there is no harder labour than idleness. It was thus with ill-disguised enthusiasm that I accepted. It never occurred to me, of course, that my association with the Colorado Beetle Committee would lead to my participation in events the likes of which had not been seen by the cloistered island community in 200 years.
The May morning of the unveiling ceremony took my thoughts back to the same month of 1940. It had been a good early potato season that year. Our only trouble was lack of shipping. One morning, shortly before Dunkirk, a group of angry potato growers gathered down town in Royal Square. From all over the island they had brought their crops ... stocky, cloth-capped small farmers from the L'Etacq, with their horse-driven wooden carts; prosperous farmers from St.Lawrence with their shining new V8 trucks; Harry de la Hay's neighbours from Swiss Valley .... There they were, their easy-going self-centred world circumscribed by such activities as the vraic festival, the annual stud-cattle show, and the potato harvest. Now they were annoyed. They stood there in the Square huddled in grumbling groups; the L'Etacq crowd were muttering away in old Norman patois; the men of St.Lawrence, with clenched fists, shouting themselves hoarse, periodically shuffling in and out of "The Major Pierson" to relieve their thirst; the Bailiff's neighbours were impatiently watching the door of the Royal Court. Where were the ships? Eventually old Harry emerged from the Royal Court to remind them that there was a war on,and that shipping was very scarce. Normally he would have been in his element. A farmer himself, he was only really at home when presiding at a cattle show, or when displaying his prize gelts to his friends, among whom he could fairly include at least half the island's farming population. He belonged to that breed of squires with a common touch, and the de la Hay family had been in the forefront of island affairs at least since the Civil War. He looked an im-page 5pressive figure, standing on the running board of one of the trucks to address the crowd. One saw a craggy heavily-built figure clad in plus fours, with a tweed waistcoat covering a rotund belly nourished for 68 years with rich Jersey bacon, butter and cider. Harry's somewhat elongated face spoke of gregariousness and good cheer and there was an engaging twinkle in his eyes. His mouth betrayed a man who liked what he knew; - a man who would act predictably with a lethargic competence so long as no unfamiliar problem arose. Here was a product of a kindly environment, where life formed a series of pleasantly recurring cycles with little variation to protrude upon this predictable pattern. I remembered wondering that day in the Square as I watched Harry in his folksy manner, addressing his fellow farmers, just how he would react to something entirely outside his previous experience. His performance prompted my suspicion of this character flaw. For Harry was having great difficulty in convincing the crowd of the realities of the situation. Perhaps I am being unjust, for all of us during that spring of 1940 were struck by a feeling of unreality. Only a few weeks before I had seen an advertisement in the "Manchester Guardian" for Jersey as "the ideal resort for wartime holidays this summer". Within a month we were to hear the German guns booming across from Normandy.
The Lieutenant Governor's speech was taking longer than I thought. I caught a reference to the memory of "the late Bailiff, Mr. de la Hay, upon whom so much of the burden of the Occupation had fallen". I looked around the assembled crowd. Many of the old protagonists were present ... Cotonou, Arbiniere, de Roche, Wilmot, even old Bichelles, now nearly crippled with arthritis.
The afternoon of June 19, 1940, came back vividly to me. I had been asked to attend an informal meeting, out at the Bailiff's farm, of various leading citizens of Jersey, including several members of the Royal Court and the Deliberative States. The war had at last become a reality. Dunkirk and Paris had already fallen, and the tide of the Third Reich was now covering Normandy. Charbourg had been occupied only the day before. On the morning of the 19th the islanders received, in stunned and unbelieving silence, the first news of the British Government's decision not to defend the Channel Islands.
Harry's farm was in the north end of Swiss Valley; a pleasant three-mile drive from Greve d'Azette. As I made my way up the long oak and plane-lined drive to the homestead I glanced appreciatively at Harry's prize Jersey stud bulls. The animals rhythmically munching the luxuriant grass, the high well-tended hedgerows, the gently-swaying trees and the low page 6sun-basked hills beyond, prompted me for a minute to forget the seriousness of the task ahead. My momentary escapism was interrupted by the demanding sound of a horn from behind. Through my rear vision I could s ee old Cotonou glowering impetiently at my ageing slow-going Morris ahead. He could not, of course, pass me on the drive, and it was with much amusement that I eased the pressure on my accelerator. The Germans night be on our doorstep and Cotonou might own half the island, but I was damned if I would give him quarter. Not unnaturally he appeared displeased when we finally drew level on the lawn in front of Harry's house. Alighting from his car with a speed which could only mean agitation for a man of his seventy-odd years he looked, as he brushed past me with a curt nod, like nothing so much as a vulture in moult. He was fastidiously and expensively dressed, carrying a homburg and black gloves in his hand. But this finery did little to soften the claw-like hands, the covetous gimlet eyes, the long bald dome-shaped head and the mouth like the thin edge of an axe.
We were the last to arrive. I looked around the substantial homely drawing room noting those of the gathering who could be expected to be vocal. Besides Cotonou, generally considered the island's wealthiest businessman, a jurat on the Deliberative States and a life member of the Royal Court, there was Arbiniere, the suave but persuasive and efficient Procureur de Roi and a leading barrister in St.Helier; seated immediately opposite him was de Roche the Avocat, a man with an ability to garb an innate shrewdness and opportunism with an appearance of rustic simplicity. On a sofa in a far corner of the room sat the old Vicomte, Bichelles, his squat legs crossed and his expressive spatulate hands playing absently with a gold watch chain. He reminded me of an ancient badger in its den awaiting its prey. Age had imposed physical passivity, but had given as compensations an infinite patience and a bear-trap mind. Widely read and mentally alert, Paul Bichelles possessed the fluidity of outlook of a man twice his age; he enjoyed exchanging provocative views with me on some of the finer points of Keynesian economics. Already middle-aged during the Great War, he had served in Northern France, and had no love for the Boche. In this, as in many other respects, he resemled the tiger, Clemenceau. He beckoned me, and I sat myself beside him on the sofa. "Before we are through the next few days", he muttered, "the Bailiff is going to curse his decision not to retire last year."
Harry was standing close to a heavy table near his great page 7stone fireplace, as if groping for support. They say a cock crows best in its own back yard but this case was an exception. With a supreme effort he was trying to quell the shake in his voice as he outlined Whitehall's scheme for evacuating all troops and those civilians who wished to leave. Jersey had not known invasion since 1781, and had never before surrendered without a fight. Now it seemed the door to the chicken run was to be opened to the fox without so much as a squeak. I felt a deep compassion for the man standing there. The familiar world, which he had served adequately and honourably in twenty years of peace was about to fall around him like a deck of cards, and fate had decreed that he should preside over the process. I remembered Chamberlain's speech on September 3, 1939 when he said that the War spelt the end to everything he had worked for and held dear.
"All civilians who wish to leave Jersey will be told to register their names at the Town Hall tomorrow", he said. "Preference will be given to those born outside the Channel Islands."
"Is Your Honour counting on the arrival of sufficient ships to evacuate all those who wish to leave?" asked Arbiniere, the Procureur.
"All remaining troops are to be given priority over civilians", replied the Bailiff. "Besides I cannot answer your question until I have the list of names tomorrow night."
I could see that old Cotonou, already choleric when he arrived, was now clawing away at the arm-rests of his chair, his mouth tight and quivering. When he sprang out of his chair and stood there pausing momentarily for effect I knew we were in for trouble.
"I firmly believe", he hissed, "that we could not possibly be in a more miserable situation than we are at this moment. Not only has London deserted us, but we now appear to be calmly accepting the fact that the majority of our women and children are to be left on the island to be ravished and murdered by the Boche. Are we men with guts or are we a crowd of ageing mares put out to grass? Never in our island's history have we given up without a fight. It seems a bleak reflection on the competence of us all, and not the least of the Bailiff, that we are sitting here on our fat backsides like quivering jellies talking of arrangements which should have been made months before. The British Government, from whom we have a traditional right to expect protection has left us exposed to looters and rapists, and now we are told the troops are to be withdrawn at the expense of our civilians".page 8
He paused again. Cotonou enjoyed the centre of the stage, and had always had a keen sense of the dramatic. "We must immediately demand that the War Office keep the troops here and send us further aid. If they refuse we will show them that our home guard won't stand idly by and let the Germans ride roughshod over our island."
It took a minute for the audience to recover. Did I detect a slight look of satisfaction on Cotonou's face? Bichelles had once told me of Cotonou's father, a redoubtable domestic tyrant held in respect by the whole island, and in fear by his family, particularly his son. All his life Cotonou had tried to ape his father, and this, I felt, was the root of such outbursts of aggression as this.
His words were not without their effect on some of the gathering. In fact, as one by one his supporters leapt to their feet to develop his argument it appeared that he had carried the meeting.
De Ville, a farmer from Vinchelez de Bas was a veteran of the Great War and his opinions carried weight. "I for one will not be driven off my land by the Krauts", he boomed, banging the table with his fists. "We have a home guard, we have bullets and explosives. At the very least we can make ourselves useful by blowing up the port, the forts, the airfield and all main roads!"
A deep effect was made on the meeting by Viner, leader of the small Jewish community in St.Helier "I intend to be sure that my wife and children are on the first evacuee ship", he said. "We know what will happen to the Jews when the Gestapo arrive. But I am also a Jersey citizen, and will be prepared to stay if you decide to fight it out. We all realise that we can delay the Germans at the most a few days. But should we not, for our own self-respect, at least make a gesture of resistance?"
Hard on the heels of Viner came Cotonou again. "I am glad there are some men left on this island. If those in charge cannot handle the War Office or Whitehall, and are prepared to treat this business like a Sunday School picnic I suggest that they resign Immediately."
"Shut up, Cotonou!"
Slowly Cotonou turned around to face old Paul. The Vicomte began to speak very slowly, measuring each word.
"I am an old soldier and I know the meaning of War. What is more to the point I have seen the effects of war on defenceless civilians. Most of you gentlemen have had the same experience.page 9
I ask, - no, I implore, you to think coolly and reasonably on what this means. Remember too, they are your own wives, your own children and grandchildren, who will be involved this time, not some poor unfortunates in the Pas de Calais, or the Borinage for whom you can only afford to feel a passing sympathy. To win wars, or to save many more lives, non-combatants must on occasions be sacrificed. But in our case what would be gained? You talk extravagantly, - many of you with the highest motives - of blowing up roads, forts, and the like. The price you will have to pay will be reprisals against yourselves, your families and your property. Make no mistake, an enemy that can sweep across France in a matter of days will be stronger than [unclear: you]
"I cannot believe that by realistically refusing to indulge in heroics we are abrogating our self-respect as men. The situation would be entirely different on the battlefield, for there the consequences of taking needless risks are normally borne by the individual alone. Here, however, we must put our duty to our families above all else. We are directly responsible for 50,000 people and such 'gestures of resistance' place their safety in jeopardy. There will only be time and space to evacuate a few thousand of these at the most, as His Honour well knows."
"I must apologise to Mr.Cotonou for so rudely pouring cold air on the warmth of his eloquence. But he must realise that in this emergency 'those in charge' includes every man in this room. We have no time to indulge in factions. No question of 'handling' the War Office or Whitehall arises. We must accept their decision. England faces invasion itself and cannot afford to waste troops on what at the best would be another Dunkirk, and at the worst a wholesale slaughter. We are on our own now, to bargain with the Occupation force when it arrives as best we can. What small strength we can muster will derive from our unity alone. And I hope that the Deliberative States tonight will sustain the Bailiff in his most difficult task by declaring their unqualified confidence in him."
At this point Brigadier Wilmot rose to his feet for the first time. Wilmot, honorary constable for the parish of St.Owen, and the only other non-native Channel Islander in the room besides myself, had retired to Jersey in the 1920's after service in the Sudan, India and Northern France. In the past I had tended to dismiss him as one of pukka type found snoring under "The Times" in any of the more crusty London clubs. One might expect him to threaten to reach for the nearest rifle over the mantlepiece and challenge all comers in such a situation as this. In fact he was to reveal some of the qualities which must have made him a first class officer in his time.page 10
He agreed with the Vicomte, that the War Office was justified in withdrawing the troops and that any talk of defending the island was unrealistic. "We have no heavy guns, and very limited supplies of ammunition; Elizabeth Castle, Mont Orgueil, and our other forts are largely museum pieces. Moreover, almost all our young men have long since gone. That leaves a home guard comprised of old men with little more than pitch forks to defend themselves. To organise a guerilla force for sabotage work would be equally unrealistic. Our island is sufficiently small for reprisals to be one hundred per cent effective, and it would be almost impossible to hide a single man in the hills from a determined pursuer. Our last line of escape, the sea, is, as you all know, closed.Nearly all our small boats have been sent to St.Malo and Dunkirk. Furthermore, the position of Jersey and the other islands makes us of little strategic importance to Hitler. You can rest assured that the occupation of the Channel Islands will be largely of psychological value to him."
Now it was de Roche's turn. By this stage it was fairly clear that the meeting was in agreement with him when he said, "We have no alternative but to collaborate with the Germans and hope we receive fair treatment in return. We do not know what is ahead. All we know is that we are in no position to make a conditional surrender, and any concessions can only come from the other side."
The Vicomte and I stayed on at the Bailiff's request after the meeting had dispersed. Harry, worn out by his effort to appear in control of proceedings during the meeting, had now slumped back in his chair, staring mutely at a portrait of Sir Phillip de Carteret above the fireplace.
"You will have to stand by me all the way", he said very slowly, "because I cannot do this alone. I was never meant for a job like this, but I can't resign now. De Roche was right. We'll have to collaborate. But I keep asking myself what name our grandchildren will give us."
The strains of the national anthem closing the unveiling ceremony brought me back to the present. A brief round of courtesies and Mattie and I were driving home through the narrow unpretentious winding streets of St.Helier. Mattie remarked that I might have at least gone through the motions of listening to the speeches, instead of standing there like a verger listening to the same sermon for the third successive week. This was her way of asking where my thoughts had been and we plunged into a mutual recollection of the eleven days between June 19 and July 1 when Jersey surrendered to the Germans. Our overriding memory was one of confusion and page 11chaos. I remembered my trying to persuade Mattie to return to England with the evacuees and her emphatic refusal. We both recalled joining most of the populace of St.Helier down on the pier to watch the first evacuee ship sail. There were the inevitable heart-wrenching scenes as families parted company, those who had to leave carrying all their belongings they could cram into the regulation one suitcase per person. Some boarded the ship, then decided not to leave after all. Many of the evacuees had to leave their furniture, silverware, clothes and pets with neighbours. This was a time when friendships were put to the severest test. By the end of the week there were Nearly 500 unoccupied houses in St.Helier, already largely stripped by neighbours or by thieves. The police were nearly all engaged in supervising the evacuation. Shopkeepers closed down and boarded up their windows; abandoned cars lined the quayside, and untended cattle roamed the streets. As the panic and confusion subsided the town appeared to return to some semblance of normality. Then on Monday the 24th the first German planes were spotted, flying high overhead; on the following day they swooped low over the chimney pots of the town apparently to create an atmosphere of alarm. We organised air raid squads. The morning of the 28th was fine and cloudless. I was walking along the sands in the inner harbour. It was low tide and I was checking mooring facilities for what few small boats remained. The s ands were not deserted. I could see an elderly man walking a fine-looking St.Bernard dog; a young mother sat sunning herself while her infant children made sand castles; an old woman was taking the airs. The populace had not been forbidden on the beach, but were warned to stay near to some shelter. Suddenly a group of planes flew in from the direction of the sea. They were flying very low this time. I yelled for everyone to take cover. A spray of machine gun bullets glazed over the stone pier out ahead. I dived under the hull of a small yacht lying high and dry about 12 feet away. I lay there gasping for breath, watching long thin clouds of sand and splintered shells rising within a fraction of a second as the machine gun's fire punctured the beach like a giant lethal sewing machine running through thin cloth. Then the deafening roar of the planes gave way to the more muffled sound of bombing up in the town. Then came the sound of horrible piercing screams; I sprang to my feet and saw a few yards away the old lady writhing in agony, her intestines perforated with bullets; the young mother lay stunned and spreadeagled across the dead body of one of her children; the other child lay, miraculously untouched, partly buried in sand; the old man lay dead, face down in the wet sand, and alongside him was the corpse of his dog, blood oozing in profusion from its mouth.
On the morning of 1 July an ultimatum was received, ordering white crosses to be painted at certain spots on the island, and all public buildings to be decked with white flags. "If page 12these signs of peaceful surrender are not observed", it read, "heavy bombardment will follow." Harry de la Hay, now sworn in as Civil Governor, lost no time in complying with the instructions. That afternoon the first German force landed at St.Peter's airport. The silent crowd in Royal Square saw them received by a man who appeared to have aged twenty years in the short space of two weeks. Mattie and I agreed that this man was unrecognisable as the Harry we had known so short a time before.
The day after the unveiling ceremony an item in the "Jersey Evening Post" provided a further stimulant to my recollections. It read:
"Major-General Hartmut von Sparrenburg, formerly Commandant of Jersey 1940-1944 and of the Channel Islands as a whole 1943-44, was released from Bremervorde internment camp today. It is understood that he will join his wife in Hamburg, where they will make their home. Major-General von Sparrenburg was recalled from the Channel Islands late in 1944 for alleged complicity in the bomb plot against Hitler."
My first meeting with von Sparrenburg took place some six months after the surrender of the Channel Islands. It was about 8.30 in the morning and,I was in the process of leaving for town for a meeting of the Finance Committee, one of eight similar bodies set up by the Deliberative States, with German permission, to deal with the essential departments of the island's life during the Occupation. A heavy sound of boots on the front doorstep and a sharp knock left no doubt as to our callers. I opened the door to find Oberleutnant Koessler, the Commandant's A.D.C. With a courtesy we had come to expect of our new overlords I was informed that "Generaleutnant von Sparrenburg wished to see me if this was convenient". On the drive to Government House, where the Commandant had taken up residence, I assembled my thoughts and tried to work out the reason for this "invitation". "Whatever the reason I was determined to take the opportunity of pressing our claim for certain essential supplies, the lack of which had been the worst aspect of the Occupation so far. The fears of Cotonou and others that the Occupation would bring an orgy of rape and atrocities were entirely unfounded. Even De Ville was forced to admit that the German troops were among the best disciplined and orderly he had seen. The Commandant dealt with sporadic acts of plunder and attempted rape with swift ruthlessness. In the previous week two of his own troops had been caught looting a house on the outskirts of St.Helier. There followed a brief interrogation and trial; then they were shot. Apart from the shortage of tea, drugs and other essentials, the islanders suffered most from the restric-page 13tions imposed by long series of official proclamations which appeared, declaring a curfew and forbidding the possession of firearms, sale of spirits, the use of private cars and the like. Perhaps the hardest of all was the closure of all communications between Jersey and the other islands.
The presence of large numbers of military police and plain-clothes Gestapo made us realise that Hitler attached an importance to the Channel Islands out of all proportion to their size and strategic value. We learnt later that he had an intense interest in his new "protectorate" on the Channel Shore - the only piece of British territory he ever occupied. He called it his "glasshouse" and boasted of his "model administration" in the islands. Because of this, and the fact that we never failed to co-operate with the Germans provided their demands were fair and reasonable, our position until 1942 was entirely different from that of the rest of occupied Europe. Many people do not believe me when I tell them we were permitted to say prayers for the welfare of the British Royal Family and for the British Empire in church. More important, the Germans allowed the essential committees set up by the States to function without interference. However, we were continually harassed by demands which were to become more and more unreasonable in the latter part of the Occupation. We were weighed down from the beginning by a mass of new problems. Work had to be found for those formerly engaged in the tourist trade; the need for keeping children off the streets placed great strains on the diminished teaching staff and accommodation; several hundred people formerly dependent on pensions from England had to be provided for; the whole system of agriculture on the island had to be changed, for now that English supplies were cut off we were forced to grow our own food or face starvation; under the terms of the Hague Convention the expenses of the Occupation force had to be paid for by the states; the black market had to be kept within bounds.
Some of the island leaders reacted to the Occupation in unexpected ways. The Bailiff had surpassed all expectations in dealing with the Germans. One by one he resisted the German demands with surprising tenacity. In his near impossible task as buffer between the Occupation Powers and the civilian population he never spared himself, though his efforts were to cause his premature death. Cotonou had wasted no time in making himself agreeable to the commandant despite his sabre-rattling at the meeting out on the Bailiff's farm. If the Commandant was the judge of men he was reputed to be, Cotonou would be given very short shrift.
The car came to a sharp halt outside the massive stone page 14walls of Government House. I was ushered into the Commandant's office through a long gauntlet of heel-clicking guards and aides.
"Herr Readhead, Herr Kommandant"
Von Sparrenburg, alone in the room was standing against the substantial oak desk until recently the personal property of the former Lieutenant Governor. He was clutching a bunch of papers, his arms folded, pensively gazing at his shining jack boots. A balding, tall man of late middle-age his manner indicated a distaste of office work. I noticed the medals on his chest - the Iron Cross (first class), the Deutches Kreuz, the Diestauszeichnung, the Pour la Merite, evidence of a long career as a combat officer in the Wehrmacht. The cut of his jaw spoke of a man of iron, and One who was accustomed to instant obedience. He would place little value on human life if tactics demanded its sacrifice. When the Bailiff protested to him against the bombing and machine gunning of civilians during the days immediately prior to Jersey's surrender he had merely shrugged his shoulders. This was a military incident, and there the matter ended for him. Despite the protests of the Bailiff and the States, he had summarily handed over the remaining Jews in St.Helier to the Gestapo. Among them was Viner, who failed to get away in time. He later went to the gas chambers at Buchenwald.
Another side to the Commandant was revealed at the St.Helier primary school prizegiving, when he insisted on presenting the prizes, participated vigorously from the sideline in the sports events, and granted the children a day's free holiday.
The farmers saw him as a squire at heart, not unappreciative of their problems. On one occasion he ordered a shipload of super-phosphate, which kept them in fertilizer for the duration of the war. He developed a liking for the local Jersey cider, and sent samples to friends all over the continent.
Despite his moments of informality the Commandant would stand no transgression on his authority. The Gestapo, whom he regarded with ill-disguised contempt, kert strictly within their own territory, after a series of stormy scenes, which were soon common knowledge to the whole island. This factor undoubtedly made the Occupation more bearable.
The only Channel Islander who ever succeeded in putting Sparrenburg in his place was Dame Harries of Sark. The day after the occupation of Guernsey a German motor torpedo boat landed at Sark, and a party announced itself at the Dame's page 15house. In a somewhat tense scene in her drawing room lasting ten minutes, (during which the German officers were pointedly not asked to be seated), Dame Harries reprimanded them for trampling over her lawns; she told them she regarded their stay as very temporary, and that they would not be received in future without express invitation from her, or formal communication from the Commandant. A few days later, Sparrenburg went over to Sark himself: before his audience with the Dame was through he had apologised for his officers' "lack of taste".
As I entered his office the Commandant beckoned me to sit down.
"Mr.Readhead, I have intended to make your acquaintance for some time. Jersey is fortunate in having the services of a man with your grasp of financial problems." His conversation continued in this agreeable tone. He surprised me by telling me of his early interest in economics. "I spent three years studying the subject at the University of Halle, though I was an indifferent performer", he said. A foil mark on his cheek told me that his University career had included more than economics. He moved across the room and I noticed for the first time his slight limp. As if anticipating my curiosity, he told me that he had been wounded during the break through at Gorlice under Von Mackensen in 1915. This led on to a very nostalgic recount of his life with his Panzer corps on the Russian front. "Now", he said, thinking aloud, "I have an island of old people, children, and a few cows." There appeared the suggestion of a smile on his face. "You see, Mr.Readhead, I am no more at home in my present role than your Bailiff is in his."
There followed a long discussion on the work of the finance committee and of the introduction of reichkreditmarks into the island currency. I pointed out the evil possibilities if the Jersey monetary system was over-inflated by German Occupation currency. He listened conscientiously but said there was little he could do to regulate its inflow.
when I came to the question of essential supplies he listened with some impatience. He had heard the same arguments many times before. He said,however,as I was leaving, "I fully realise the attitude of your islanders to our presence and I am alive to your difficulties. But you must realise that I am suspended between my duty to my men, your demands, and instructions from Berlin. I can only assure you that I will do the best I can".
The Commandant kept his word. Though he had on occasions page 16to enforce harsh orders from Berlin he undoubtedly saved Jersey from many of the hardships and horrors suffered by other occupied countries.
Fortunate though we were in many respects, the Occupation became progressively less bearable. Our wireless sets were taken away in 1942. This was followed by an order for the deportation to Germany of all non-natives of the Channel Islands, though my wife and myself were not included. Worse was to come. Slave labour was imported to build up fortifications on the island. The half starved inmates would sneak out in the night to rob and, if need be kill. They created a reign of terror in the island until the German garrison was strengthened to keep them in control. They placed further strain on our dwindling resources. For the last eighteen months we faced semi-starvation. The island was stripped of its trees to provide fuel. We came to dread the winters, run down as we were through lack of food and warmth. Just as pernicious was the drabness of life, our diet unvaried, our movements inhibited, and the small amusements and other compensations which constitute the border line between living and existence denied to us. Were it not for the arrival of a Red Cross ship in the last months I doubt whether we would have survived. The one of our number who had borne the heaviest burden did not survive. Harry died in 1942. Perhaps this was for the better. For to have lived to see the condition to which his island was reduced by 1945 would have been the final ignominy.