The Channel Islands are a collection of islands that make up an archipelago located in the English Channel close to the french coastline. The Channel Islands are administered as two individual bailiwicks, namely the Guernsey Bailiwick and the Jersey Bailiwick. Today the bailwicks are British Crown dependencies but neither is included within the United Kingdom or the European Union.
During the Second World War, the islands were the only British Isles to be occupied by German forces. The occupation started in 1940 and lasted until after VE Day in 1945 and conditions for much of this time were grim for the islanders. More than 2,000 Channel Islanders were deported, many Jews being sent to concentration camps. Resistance by islanders caused harsh acts of retribution and accusations of locals collaborating with the occupiers fractured several lives, families and friendships. Considerable amounts of slave labour were brought to the islands from eastern europe and Russia to construct substantial fortifications, many of which remain today.
The British anticipated the invasion and, being unable to mount a credible defence, opted to demilitarize the islands by June 1940. The Lieutenant Governors were finally withdrawn on 21 June leaving local administrations to continue to govern despite impending military occupation.
German troops first landed on the isands on 30th June 1940 and the occupation was complete by early July. Partial evacuations had taken place, particularly among the young men who had already travelled to join British forces. Around 6,500 from a population of around 50,000 were evacuated from Jersey and about 17,000 out of 42,000 left Guernsey. Most of the population of Sark remained behind but virtually the entire population of Alderney departed before the occupation.
The almost total abandonment of Alderney probably lay behind the german decision to build concentration camps on the island to house around 6,000 prisoners. Of these, more than 700 lost their lives during the camps operations. It is unknown to this day how many imported slave workers died in the Channel Islands during the occupation as all documentary evidence was destroyed before liberation.
The British Royal Navy attempted to blockade the islands at various stages of the war but the most determined effort followed the D-Day landings on mainland Normandy during 1944. Food was scarce for the Channel Islanders throughout the occupation but never more so than during the later stages when hunger became widespread starvation. Eventually, after protracted negotiations, humanitarian aid was allowed on to the islands delivered by the Red Cross supply ship Vega during December 1944.
Jersey and Guernsey were eventually liberated on 9th May 1945, the day after VE Day but the German garrison on Alderney refused to surrender until May 16th 1945 making them one of the last remnants of the Nazis to lay down their arms in Europe.
Evacuees from Jersey and Guernsey began returning in June 1945 but the population of Alderney was unable to make their return for a further six months partly due to the special circumstances that surrounded that islands occupation.
After Liberation extensive reconstruction led to an upturn in the islands economies. Immigration increased and tourism developed rapidly. As the island legislatures eventually reformed the non-party governments embarked on many social programmes which gained further momentum as income from a rapidly expanding offshore finance industry developed in the sixties.
Given this dark period in the Channel Islanders history, it is perhaps unsurprising they chose to stay outside of the European Economic Community (now the European Union) when the UK joined in the 1970s. While the populations of many cities across the UK had sheltered from Hitler's aerial blitz, only the Channel Islanders actually experienced the harshness of wartime occupation.
As a footnote to the story of the occupation, Guernsey became the only part of the Royal Mail to officially sanction the BISECTING of postage stamps due to severe shortages. For a while the postal authority on Guernsey officialy allowed two penny stamps to be BISECTED diagonally and each part used as a (1d) one penny stamp. Envelopes and Postcards bearing these BISECTED stamps are now eagerly collected by philatelists.
These BISECTS were valid from 24th.December 1940 and kept in use until the occupying authorities arranged for locally produced stamps to be printed on 22nd.February 1941. The Guernsey 1d local issue went on sale 18th.February 1941. The bisects were then no longer valid for postage.