May 1945 - The last days : extracts from the Reverend Ord's Occupation Diary
The Library is very pleased to hold a copy of this precious record of the Island's most difficult time. At the end of the Diary the Reverend Ord muses on the nature of the relationship of the Islanders with their German occupiers and thanks God for His mercy.
Sunday, May 6th. Just as people were going to Church news began to spread that the capitulation of the German forces in Norway and the Channel Islands was expected in the next day or two. Most people believe this week will set us free. Yet there is no knowing what the fanatical 'Admiral' may do. After dark one of our planes dropped more leaflets. They have been coming down almost daily (in German for the troops, with pictures and maps). Always they are brought to me at the manse.
May 7th. At the intermediate School this morning (where I am now teaching Divinity), most children seemed to have leaflets telling of the surrender and shewing pictures. In their excitement people vied with each other in imagining how things would end, even to saying that it was over for us in very fact. But of confirmation there was no outward or visible sign. Next it was said that Jurat Leale was waiting for official word that the surrender had been arranged. Mr Churchill was to make a speech all round the clock. Groups of people stood about in the streets and discussed the various suggestions. As the day wore on young people began to bring out red, white, and blue insignia—a little like putting the cake before the bride had signed the register. Then came powerful reaction—the 'Admiral,' who is in Jersey at the moment, had ordered resistance to be maintained. This appeared to be confirmed by work starting at the airport where obstructions were multiplied. Mines were put in the beds already awaiting them at cross-roads and at other points. I saw a squad of soldiers carrying them from point to point. About 4 p.m. it was being said that the 'Cease Fire' had been ordered but it was not clear if this applied to the Channel Isles. Yet many thought it did and began to take it for granted that all was over. It was rather surprising to note that this assumption evoked no special excitement, let alone hysterical 'Mafeking.' Probably as people had been bitten before, they were now prone to be cautious. Not till 8 p.m. did the firm news come through that the UNCONDITIONAL SURRENDER had been signed at Rheims and that the Prime Minister would speak at 3 p.m. tomorrow. Throughout the British Empire, Wednesday would be a public holiday.
May 8th. Those who yesterday were so cock-a-hoop about the end having come, had a great disappointment today. A hitch seemed to have occurred. General gloom prevailed. The 'Admiral' was actually going to resist. Depression reached its lowest. Then, suddenly, all was changed in a flash. A broadsheet was issued from the offices of the Guernsey Star.
THE WAR IS OVER FOR GUERNSEY. GERMAN OFFICERS INFORM THE BAILIFF OF SURRENDER. HISTORIC STATES MEETING AT MID-DAY TODAY.
The announcement read as follows:—
The people of Guernsey were informed that they were at liberty to listen to Mr Churchill’s speech at 3p.m. if they were able still to do so. Flags might be flown after that time. 'At 10 a.m. today, Korvetten Kapitän Reich and Baron von Aufsess called on the Bailiff of Guernsey at this Chambers at the Royal Court House. Jurat John Leale, President of the Controlling Committee and his Secretary, Mr. Louis Guillemette, were also present. Kapitän Reich said that the war was over in the Channel Islands as well as elsewhere. He said that Mr Churchill, the British Prime Minister, was making a speech at 3 o’clock this afternoon and that the German authorities had no objection to the hoisting of flags after the speech.'
The Royal Court House was crowded long before noon to hear the Proclamation and thereafter flags began to appear. The entire atmosphere had changed; everywhere were signs of joy and thankfulness but, as yet for a while, no demonstrations. This was probably owing to the fact that the transition from fear of stubborn and calamitous resistance to realization of liberty and the lifting of the nightmare of fear had been so sudden. As the afternoon wore on, the streets filled with citizens whose expression was that of people awaking from a long nightmare sleep to find themselves in a world of reality unbeset with evil dreams. Schoolchildren were naturally off their heads with excitement. In school I took a brief service and spoke a few words to them at the request of the Headmaster.
And now we wait for the coming of our people to take over. The Germans are still to be seen strolling about but not in the more crowded parts. People are behaving with commendable dignity. There has been no booing and no attempt to molest our former guards. No-one knows when our people will arrive. Perhaps they may be waiting in the vicinity till the lapse of some set time limit. It is a good thing to see civilians swarming in places from which they have for so long been debarred. Germans go about gravely, though some shew clearly that they, too, are thankful for a peaceful solution to the problem. One was actually seen wearing a red, white, and blue rosette! It is now our time of testing. Many hard things have been said in these pages about the German Occupation and the German Military, though I have sought always to judge individuals as they manifested their character. People find it hard to withhold some degree of feeling for a prostrate foe. It is not in British nature to hate to order, or indeed, no matter what the provocation, to hate for long. Mingled feelings there are, undoubtedly, but most people have been learning to discriminate as we do with regard to strangers of our own race. After five years of Occupation we could hardly have done otherwise. The formula still holds good; treat every man circumspectly till you discover his nature, then treat him accordingly.
At 6 p.m. it was announced in London that no news had been received from the Channel Isles. At 9 p.m. groups gathered wherever wireless sets were available, to hear the King’s speech. After some of us in the offices of the Guernsey Star had stood to listen to King George, we spontaneously sung the National Anthem with the windows wide open. This, after five years of denial. No one dreamt of acknowledging the curfew and we got home at a quarter before midnight, passing lines of German lorries which the troops were busily loading. The men seemed really content with their changed fortunes.
May 9th. During the night for the second time the Island was swept by searchlights from our naval vessels in the surrounding waters. At first it was thought two battleships and a cruiser were coming to effect the takeover. By the light of day these resolved themselves in to two destroyers. From one of these a small boat put off and entered harbour at 8 a.m. A wonderful reception met those who first landed—only a small token force—and these were kissed and hugged and shaken by the hand. Autograph hunters had a field day. Later in the day the RAF began to circle the Island and the knowledge that they were really our own and were not to be molested brought home our freedom perhaps as clearly as anything yet. Just as the Germans in 1940, they roared overhead but it was just the sound of machines piloted by friends. A local man said to me: 'It takes you back to the early days of 1940, don’t it? BUT IT DON’T MAKE NO ‘EADACHE!' The Blampieds came to tea and we celebrated by opening a tin of nectarines preserved during five years for this very occasion. In the evening we went to see what might be seen. When we came upon the men who had landed, their ruddy cheeks and glowing health was a revelation. We had always believed Goebbels a liar when he spoke of the hunger in Britain. No more drastic contrast could be observed than that between British and Germans in Guernsey today. More troops had come in during the afternoon and by the end of the week some 3000 will be here. The Germans are to be removed next week. Yet we have only a handful of our men here, is it possible that some nests of fanatical Nazis will perpetrate acts of folly?
Today we drew another Red Cross parcel and we are to receive seven pounds of bread a week instead of five. Full cream milk is already being delivered. Electric and water supplies are likewise restored. My wireless which was silent when electricity was cut off is now in service in the study thirty yards from where the feldgendarmerie used to stand at our gates.
May 12th. .. And now, today, Saturday, May 12th, the convoys were to be seen from our balcony lying on the Roussel while others, as yet invisible to us, were already loading in the harbour. All Guernsey seemed to be making its way to the White Rock. Wonderful inventions of war-time came rolling out of the mouths of the special landing-craft or whatever they are called, to the amazement of all of us who have to begin to learn what the outside world is like. We make comparisons with the equipment of the Wehrmacht, so unpleasantly familiar to us, and find new grounds for pride in the skill of our race. Already our engineers are exploding mines round our coasts. Loud reports follow each other at intervals. Already a fair part of Vazon Bay is clear. A bunch of Russian prisoners billeted in Câtel parish were denied food because they refused to work for the Germans. One of our people made a German motor him into Town where he arranged for rations to be sent at once and the Russians are rejoicing in their new-found freedom. But, talking of the Russians, a dreadful disclosure has just been made. Here in sunny Guernsey, the Nazis had set up two concentration camps—one in Vale and the other in Petit Bôt—where people have been tortured. We now understand the reason for the imprisonment of a brave Salvation Army woman, Mrs Ozanne,1 who went to the Kommandatur to protest against the treatment of prisoners, in quite early days, whose cries resounded in the vicinity. Had this horror been divulged to us previously we should have had one more nightmare to fight down. It is quite probable that some of our people who simply disappeared came to their end in these killing yards.
The day is as perfect as could have been wished. We walked along to Cambridge Park where the men assemble for distribution as they come up from the boats. ... It is interesting to question these men, who are very ready to talk about England and her agony these years past. They, too, have their questions for us, some of them not easy to answer. For example, a Naval Lieutenant asked what we thought of the German attitude to us. I hesitated before answering. How to answer in a handful of words? How express the light and shade of this Diary in a simple statement?
Another discovery is being made by the Islanders. Had the German surrender been delayed by ever so small a margin, this force was on tip-toe to expel the enemy at whatever cost. For months they had been in training especially for house-to-house fighting. It was just such possibilities that depressed me so greatly last weekend. That we were spared an appalling massacre of troops and civilians, and even of Germans, is providential indeed, and we can only give God thanks for His great mercy towards us.
The Reverend Ord's Diary, covering the entire Occupation, is unpublished and available to read in the Library, along with other similar diaires both published and unpublished.
1 See Richard Heaume, Marie Ozanne, Channel Island Occupation Review, 23 (1995), pp. 79-81, and, for example, Paul Sanders, The British Channel Islands under German Occupation, Jersey Heritage Trust and Société Jersiaise, 2005, pp. 118-19. A YouTube film about her has been produced by the Salvation Army in Guernsey.