Let Go
An Unused Ticket

A Little Brown Envelope

This is a lovely time of year in Jersey in the Channel Islands - it's where I call home.

It's a time when colours are bright and the sunshine is beginning to warm us all up.

And it's also an important time, historically.

So much so that I'm going to do something a little different this week for my 'One Day at a Time' blog.

Let me explain.

On Sunday this coming weekend it's May 9th, a very important day in the calendar for Jersey, Guernsey and a couple of the other Channel Islands.

It's 'Liberation Day'!

If you're not already aware, during the Second World War (1939-1945) the islands were invaded and occupied by German Nazi forces - the Channel Islands were actually the only parts of the British Isles to be occupied by the enemy. 

The Occupation began on July 1st 1940 but it was the culmination of months of anticipation.

If you know your history you'll know that war in Europe broke out on September 1st 1939, beginning with the German invasion of Poland. The United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany two days later. The conflict would, of course, ultimately become global, but first Hitler was intent on taking over the whole of Europe.

After a period known as the 'Phoney War', eight months at the start of the war when relatively little happened in the way of conflict but during which Germany laid its plans, Nazi troops began to flood across the continent and gradually encroached on France. On May 10, 1940, they  invaded the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium in a 'blitzkrieg' (German for “lightning war”) and then their sights were set on France.

By the end of May 1940 many thousands of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and other Allied troops were cornered in or near a small coastal town in the top most northern point of France near to the border with Belgium, and between May 26th and June 4th 1940 during what has become known as the Battle of Dunkirk (Dunkerque)  an estimated 338,000 Allied forces were evacuated from Dunkirk, across the English Channel to England, as German forces closed in on them. The massive operation, involving hundreds of naval and civilian vessels, became known as the “Miracle of Dunkirk”.

On June 22nd 1940 France surrendered, or at least agreed to an Armistice with German forces and that came into effect after midnight on June 25th.

Now, if you're not aware, Jersey and the Channel Islands is actually VERY close to France. The islands sit in the Bay of St Malo, and Jersey is the nearest to the French mainland - just 14 miles (or 22 km) away. On a good day from Jersey's East Coast we can see not just the French coast, but even houses and wind turbines on the French side of the small channel which separates us. 

For Hitler, taking the Channel Islands was a big deal. First, it was really close to France and now his army had the mainland, it wasn't much of a stretch to get to the Channel Islands.

But second, taking Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark would be a PR coup and, he hoped, strike fear into the hearts of the British people and their government in London, headed up by Winston Churchill.

Remember, this was all when Hitler was in the ascendant, he seemed 'unstoppable' as he raced through Europe and was now almost in waving distance of the British mainland from northern France and the Low Countries. It's reckoned he thought invading the Channel Islands would be a signal that he was on his way!

Certainly when the islands were occupied on July 1st 1940 the Nazis took advantage of the situation, releasing film and photographs of the Nazi flag flying from government buildings, pictures of a British policeman opening a car door for a German officer.

The truth is, the Occupation of the Channel Islands was not the step into mainland Britain, and there was no battle because the islands had been demilitarised. 

In May 2019 while working at BBC Radio Jersey I began a fascinating project in partnership with the Jersey Archive, part of Jersey Heritage, in which the experts there selected 50 objects from the collections in the Archives and the Jersey Museum through which we told the story of the Occupation and Liberation of Jersey.

The series ran from May/June 2019 through to June 2020 and we produced 50 short features each one focussing on one object from the collections that tell us a specific story about that part of our history.

The features ran every Friday morning just after 0830 on the BBC Radio Jersey Breakfast Show. I loved doing this series and I learnt so much. Each of the features is on the BBC Radio Jersey website under 'Breakfast' or various presenters, but Jersey Heritage/Archive also placed each feature on Vimeo - the whole series is there!

So, all this week I'm going to bring you one of the objects as we make our way towards Liberation Day on Sunday May 9th. Yes, we received our freedom from occupation the day AFTER Victory in Europe (VE) Day on May 8th.

This year we celebrate 76 years of Liberation ... the series was made to mark the landmark Liberation75!

So let's begin with Object Number 1 ... and an inconsequential note on the back of a little brown envelope.

Object 1 ... little brown envelopeLet's go back to the spring and early summer of 1940, and for weeks there had been rumours and fears that the Germans were on their way. Jersey's government and the islanders looked across the water, listened intently to the BBC news and were aware of Hitler's surge across Europe. 

There were questions here and in London -  would the island be defended, or left to it's own devices? What would happen if the Nazis did make it across the stretch of water from France? Would there be street battles? Bombings? 

Some people had already decided to leave their island home, but others waited to see whether occupation could be avoided.

There was much speculation and uncertainty, but on June 19th 1940 the States of Jersey, the island's government, was eventually made aware of what the British Government were planning.

The information which sealed the island's fate is contained in a simple note on the back of an envelope, scribbled down by the Lieutenant Governor of the time (the Queen's representative in the island) during a telephone conversation with London.

It confirmed that the British Government had decided NOT to keep troops based in the Channel Islands. The islands were to be 'demilitarised' ... effectively opening the door for the German Nazi troops to invade in their own time.

As Stuart Nicolle, Senior Archivist at the Jersey Archive explains, it's a little note which changed the course of Jersey history ...

50 Objects - No.1 from Jersey Heritage Vimeo on Vimeo.


If you want to listen to this on the BBC Radio Jersey website - click on the link below

James Hand - 50 OBJECTS - the story of Jersey's Occupation and Liberation 1940-1945 told through 50 objects held by Jersey Heritage - BBC Sounds- Object 1 - May 9th 2019

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