The Bailiwick of Guernsey is one of three Crown dependencies of the United Kingdom. Separated from the Dukedom and Duchy of Normandy by and under the terms of the Treaty (or Peace) of Le Goulet in 1204, the Bailiwick comprises the inhabited islands of Alderney, Guernsey, Herm, Jethou, Lihou, and Sark together with many small islets and rocks situated around 49°35′N 2°20′W. in the English Channel. These which fall into three separate sub-jurisdictions: Guernsey, Alderney and Sark. Together, the bailiwick has a total area of 30 square miles (78 square kilometers). A bailiwick is a territory administered by a Bailiff. The Bailiff of Guernsey is the civil head, and presiding officer of the States of Guernsey, but not of Alderney or Sark. He is the head of the judiciary of the Bailiwick. The jurisdiction is not part of the Commonwealth of Nations. However, defense and most foreign relations are handled by the British Government. The administrative center of Guernsey is located at St. Peter Port. The two Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey together form the geographical grouping known as the Channel Islands.
The name “Guernsey”, as well as that of neighboring “Jersey”, is of Old Norse origin. The second element of each word, “-ey“, is the Old Norse for “island”, while the original root, “guern(s)“, is of uncertain origin and meaning. It could be from the latinification of the word “Kvern“, or “mill”, in old and new Icelandic and Norwegian, meaning “mill-island”.
Around 6000 BC, rising seas created the English Channel and separated the Norman promontories that became the bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey from continental Europe. Neolithic farmers then settled on its coast and built the dolmens and menhirs found in the islands today. During their migration to Brittany, Britons occupied the Lenur islands (the former name of the Channel Islands) including Sarnia or Lisia (Guernsey) and Angia (Jersey). Traveling from the Kingdom of Gwent, Saint Sampson, later the abbot of Dol in Brittany, is credited with the introduction of Christianity to Guernsey.
In 933 AD, formerly under the control of William I, the islands came under the control of William Longsword, having been annexed from the Duchy of Brittany by the Duchy of Normandy. The island of Guernsey and the other Channel Islands formed part of the lands of William the Conqueror. In 1204, France conquered mainland Normandy — but not the offshore islands of the bailiwick. The islands represent the last remnants of the medieval Duchy of Normandy.
Initially there was one governor, or co-governors working together, of the islands making up the Channel Islands. The title “Governor” has changed over the centuries. “Warden”, “Keeper” and “Captain” have previously been used. The Bailiff stands in for the Governor, or more recently the Lieutenant Governor, if the latter is absent, for a short term or for longer, for instance during the five years of the German occupation of the Channel Islands. The Lieutenant Governor of Guernsey is the Lieutenant Governor of the Bailiwick of Guernsey and, being the personal representative of Her Majesty, has usually had a distinguished military service.
Originally the local courts in Guernsey were “fiefs” with the lord of the manor presiding. Before 1066, a superior court was introduced above the fiefs and below the Eschequier Court in Rouen and comprised the Bailiff and four Knights; the court heard appeals and tried criminal cases.
Otton de Grandson, then the Governor of the Islands, delegated the civil powers to two separate bailiffs for Guernsey and Jersey before he went on the Second Crusade to the Holy Land in 1290. This can be assessed as the date of first creation of the two Bailiwicks.
During the Middle Ages, the Guernsey was a haven for pirates that would use the “lamping technique” to ground ships close to her waters. This intensified during the Hundred Years War, when, starting in 1339, the island was occupied by the Capetians on several occasions. The Guernsey Militia was operational in 1337 and would help defend the island for a further 600 years. In 1372, Guernsey was invaded by Aragonese mercenaries under the command of Owain Lawgoch (remembered as Yvon de Galles), who was in the pay of the French king. Owain and his dark-haired mercenaries were later absorbed into Guernsey legend as invading fairies from across the sea.
In the mid-sixteenth century, the island was influenced by Calvinist reformers from Normandy. During the Marian persecutions, three women, the Guernsey Martyrs, were burned at the stake for their Protestant beliefs. During the English Civil War, Guernsey sided with the Parliamentarians. The allegiance was not total, however; there were a few Royalist uprisings in the southwest of the island, while Castle Cornet was occupied by the Governor, Sir Peter Osborne, and Royalist troops. In December 1651, with full honors of war, Castle Cornet surrendered; it was the last Royalist outpost anywhere in the British Isles to surrender.
Wars against France and Spain during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries gave Guernsey shipowners and sea captains the opportunity to exploit the island’s proximity to mainland Europe by applying for letters of marque and turning their merchantmen into privateers. By the beginning of the eighteenth century, Guernsey’s residents were starting to settle in North America. The threat of invasion by Napoleon prompted many defensive structures to be built at the end of that century. The nineteenth century saw a dramatic increase in the prosperity of the island, due to its success in the global maritime trade, and the rise of the stone industry.
The first postal service on Guernsey took place using mail sent with captains of packet ships, using agents in the England and in the islands for the end delivery. The cost was normally 3 pence. To facilitate the collection of post, the first pillar boxes in Britain were introduced in the Channel Islands as an experiment in 1852.
During the First World War, about 3,000 men from Guernsey served in the British Expeditionary Force. Of these, about 1,000 served in the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry regiment formed from the Royal Guernsey Militia in 1916.
For most of the Second World War, the Channel Islands were occupied by German troops. Before the occupation, 80% of Guernsey children had been evacuated to England to live with relatives or strangers during the war. Some children were never reunited with their families. The occupying German forces deported over 1,000 Guernsey residents to camps in southern Germany, notably to the Lager Lindele (Lindele Camp) near Biberach an der Riß and to Laufen. Guernsey was very heavily fortified during World War II, out of all proportion to the island’s strategic value. Life for the civilians on the island was very difficult, especially after June 1944 when the island was under siege. German defenses remain a lasting reminder of those times.
The first postage stamps printed for use in Guernsey were issued in 1941 during the German occupation of the island during World War II.
During the late 1940s the island repaired the damage caused to its buildings during the occupation. he tomato industry started up again and thrived until the 1970s when it hit a sharp, terminal decline. Tourism has remained important. Finance businesses grew in the 1970s and expanded in the next two decades and are important employers.
In the 1950’s. Guernsey used British regional stamps marked specifically for use in Guernsey but valid for postage throughout the United Kingdom. Guernsey has issued its own stamps since the creation of Guernsey Post on October 1, 1969.
In 1983, the first stamps inscribed Alderney were issued, since then regular sets of stamps for use in that island within the bailiwick have been issued. Unauthorized local post stamps have appeared for the islands of Herm, Jethou, and Sark over the years.
Scott #32 was issued on May 9, 1970, the high value in a set of four commemorating the 25th anniversary of the liberation of Guernsey from the Germans. The 1 shilling, 6 pence photogravure stamp, printed in dark brown and bistre is perforated 11½. It pictures Brigadier Alfred Ernest Snow reading the proclamation of King George VI on the steps of Elizabeth College.
The Channel Islands had been occupied during World War II by German forces from June 30, 1940. Considered not defendable by the British government, the islands were demilitarized and some civilians were given the opportunity to evacuate to England before the German forces arrived. The island leaders and some civil servants were asked to stay in their posts to look after the civilians in their care — 41,101 remained on Jersey, 24,429 on Guernsey and 470 on Sark. Alderney had just 18.
Apart from undertaking a few commando raids, the islands were ignored by the British government until June 1944 when additional attacks on German shipping and radar units took place. To avoid starvation of civilians, permission was given for Red Cross parcels to be sent to the islands during the winter of 1944-45. Liberation would have to wait until the end of the war in Europe.
Early in 1944, Brigadier Alfred Ernest Snow was appointed to command Task Force 135, the code name given to the liberation task force. Snow was 46 years old and had served in India and Burma between the wars; he was awarded an OBE when a Major with the BEF in June 1940. A small HQ structure was created to look into the planning. On May 10, 1944, Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Force (SHAEF) sent a report to Southern Command stating that in the event it became necessary to capture the Channel Islands, this would be undertaken by 21st Army Group, after which Southern Command would take over. The plan could be amended to suit either the German evacuation of the Islands or the German surrender on the Islands. Alderney was to be bypassed as it was not believed there were any civilians on the island.
The code name was changed to Operation Nestegg on August 11, 1944. Plymouth was chosen as the embarkation port and the planners of Task Force 135 moved their HQ from the New Forest to Cornwall. In August 1944, the German Foreign Ministry made an offer to Britain, through the Swiss Red Cross, that would see the release and evacuation of all Channel Island civilians except for men of military age. This was not a possibility that the British had envisaged. The British considered the offer, a memorandum from Winston Churchill stating “Let ’em starve. They can rot at their leisure”, it is not clear whether Churchill meant the Germans, or the civilians. The German offer was rejected.
Not knowing when the force would be needed, a code word W-Day or warning day when the operation was given the go ahead by SHAEF was established and a timetable from then, W+1, W+2 etc. was established until C-Day, the first landing day, with C+1, C+2 etc. for follow up days. A decision was made to involve a number of Channel Island people in the planning, as their local knowledge would be invaluable. The interrogation of any islanders who managed to escape the islands by boat, especially those in 1944 provided much-needed intelligence.
Needing to land in both Jersey and Guernsey on the same day involved additional shipping and men, three battalions each of 700 men, plus engineers, were now needed. Suitable beaches for landings, such as St Aubin’s bay in Jersey and L’Ancresse in Guernsey, were selected. Unloading in an area with a 33-foot (10-meter) rise and fall of the tide had to be planned. Surrender terms were drafted. Prisoner of war facilities would be needed. The airports would be opened for transport planes to land.
Administrative tasks would be given to No 20 Civil Affairs Unit including the responsibility to bring 200 tons of food, clothing and medicines in on C-Day. Everything the islands needed from pots and pans to 1.1 million sheets of toilet paper were sourced. The British Government gave the force commander authority under the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act 1939 to make regulations, any new laws passed by the Civil Governments in the islands would need Brigadier Snow’s approval.
Civilians would not be allowed to leave the islands without a permit. English currency would be provided, with £1,000,000 in notes and coins brought to the islands to enable people to exchange Reichsmarks back into sterling. A distribution of free “treats” including tobacco, chocolate and tea were planned. Longer term plans were made for the removal of PoW’s, mines and weapons and the bringing in of food sufficient for 2,750 calories a day for three months for the civilians as well as fuel and goods, including 15 months worth of clothing rations which would be made available to purchase through the island shops.
There was no rush to liberate the islands. The Germans were prisoners of war who did not even have to be guarded. Because of the shortage of infantry, troops allocated to Task Force 135 were being sent to join the main army fighting in Europe.
During September 1944, British aircraft dropped leaflets printed in German over the islands almost every night, then on September 22 an unarmed air-sea rescue high speed launch HSL-2632 traveled from France to a point near St Martin’s point off Guernsey, arriving late and not finding any German ship to meet them, they proceeded to St Peter Port harbor under a white flag, met by E-boat S-112 which was not aware of the proposed meeting. A message was sent ashore but the opportunity for a discussion was refused. The HSL-2632 sailed off to England, being fired at by an 8.8-centimeter (3.5 inch) battery on Alderney who were not aware of the attempted peace mission.
It was around this time that agreement was given by the Allies to allow the International Committee of the Red Cross to send a ship with Red Cross Parcels to the islands to reduce the risk of starvation. The first ship would sail in mid-December. A few more leaflet dropping missions were undertaken, with no visible sign of success, possibly because it was impossible for the soldiers, trapped on an island, to desert.
In December 1944, a rehearsal for Operation Nestegg from W-Day to C+3 was undertaken. Over 6,100 troops were gathered and briefed, supplies loaded onto vehicles and ships, vehicles then were loaded onto landing ships and men were boarded. The Jersey force with 200 vehicles and 804 tons of supplies were landed at Paignton while the Guernsey force with 340 vehicles and 800 tons landed at Brixham. Realism continued with a few fanatic “enemy”, some in plain clothes and civilian women favoring Germany were met onshore. There were 12 minor injuries and a barn was damaged by a bulldozer. Lessons were learned, such as the discovery of a shortage of cooks, and applied to the Nestegg plans. A second exercise in late February was undertaken with no problems, as was street fighting in bombed out streets in Plymouth. A third exercise, scheduled for mid-May was canceled.
On April 30, 1945, Adolf Hitler died. German flags in the Channel Islands were flown at half masts and Union Jack flags were being sold openly in the islands. The Bailiff in Jersey appealed for calm.
Plan Prophet, the landing in Guernsey and Plan Moslem in Jersey, were given the “stand to” warning on May 3, 1945, making May 4 W-Day. Formation badges were issued; the shield was based on the three leopards of Jersey and Guernsey coat of arms as used by Edward I of England. Stencil formation signs were painted on the vehicles. Equipment and stores started to move from depots as far away as Liverpool. W+1, W+2 and W+3 came and went. On W+4, May 8, 1945, the day Europe celebrated the end of War in Europe, vehicles were being loaded. Press men came aboard on W+5 just before the leading ships sailed.
In the islands of Guernsey, Jersey and Sark, the anticipation of the end of the war in Europe was at a fever pitch. The authorities were trying hard to suppress the civilians’ urge to hang out patriotic flags as they did not want to provoke German retaliation. The Germans were very nervous about their future.
On May 7, the Bailiff of Jersey went to the prison and his request resulted in 30 ”political prisoners” being released. Also on W+3, a message was transmitted by Southern Command in the clear to the German commander in the Channel Islands telling them that ships would arrive shortly to accept their surrender. The German reply was that they only took orders from the German command.
Everything changed on May 8. The Germans released all other political prisoners — British, French and American prisoners of war and all German prisoners — held in the islands. Bunting and flags were put up in the streets. Radios, which had been banned for years upon pain of imprisonment, were produced in public, connected to loud speakers and tuned in to the speech given by Winston Churchill at 3pm where they heard him say:
Hostilities will end officially at one minute after midnight tonight, but in the interests of saving lives the cease fire began yesterday to be sounded all along the front, and our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed today.
The crowds were cheering and jubilant. The island newspapers had published that peace had been declared. Allied flags and bunting flew everywhere. But where were the British?
Very late on May 7, Southern Command had tried again by radio. The German commander replied to the British radio message confirming the British ships would not be fired upon. Two destroyers, HMS Beagle escorting HMS Bulldog, sailed at 09.45 on May 8 with an advance party, codename Omelette.
Arriving off the south west coast of Guernsey, four miles (6.4 kilometers) south of Les Hanois Lighthouse at 14.00, the ships were met by a German minesweeper. A junior German officer came aboard HMS Bulldog telling the assembled British that he was only empowered to negotiate surrender terms, not to sign them. Details of the surrender terms were handed to the German and he departed, as did the British ships as they would not be given safe conduct to remain as the general ceasefire would operate only from midnight.
Receiving a message from the Germans agreeing to a meeting at midnight on May 8, the ships returned to the same south west coast location off Guernsey and a German minesweeper M4613 came out to meet HMS Bulldog. The German second in command, Generalmajor Siegfried Heine, came aboard and went to the wardroom. Asked if he would accept unconditional surrender he replied The ships sailed slowly around the coast to St Peter Port.
Eight copies of the formal terms of surrender were signed on the quarterdeck using a rum barrel as a table, with civility and polite bows. At 07.15 on May 9, 1945, HMS Bulldog with the help of a German pilot anchored off St Peter Port.
All German flags would be lowered and German ships would be sent out to pick up British troops and land them on shore. The initial Omelette force of four officers and 21 men, including four Guernseymen, landed at 07.50 to be greeted by a town decorated in red, white and blue and thousands of cheering malnourished islanders singing, amongst other patriotic songs, Sarnia-Cherie. Lieutenant Colonel Stoneman set up his HQ in the Royal Hotel. At 11.00, Stoneman and his small party went to the Royal Court house where they met the Bailiff of Guernsey, Victor Carey and Jurats. A Union Flag was ceremoniously hoisted.
Brigadier Snow had transferred to HMS Beagle and sailed on to Jersey, leaving HMS Bulldog anchored off St Peter Port, where a local fishing boat paid them a visit, swapping with the naval crew German souvenirs for chocolate and cigarettes.
HMS Beagle arrived off Jersey at 10.00 hrs with another set of surrender documents to be signed. It had been done this way in case a German officer did not have authority over both islands and because of the rivalry between the two islands. Two naval officers, Surgeon Lieutenant Ronald McDonald and Sub Lieutenant R. Milne, were met by the harbormaster who escorted them to his office where they hoisted the Union Flag, before also raising it on the flagstaff of the Pomme D’Or Hotel.
The Bailiff of Jersey Alexander Coutanche had already received a phone call from the British HQ in Guernsey when at 10.00 hrs HMS Beagle arrived and radioed for a German ship to meet them. A Kriegsmarine tug, FK01 sailed out, but without the Jersey commander on board. It was noon before Generalmajor Heine with the Bailiff of Jersey sailed out to HMS Beagle. After the Germans had signed the surrender documents at 14.00 and had lunch, the civilians returned with pockets full of bars of soap and tobacco to Jersey, overtaken en route by a launch carrying the first Jersey Omelette troops, five signalers.
The Royal Air Force made an appearance, with flypasts by Mosquitos at 13.00. The Jersey population had been told to be in Royal Square at 14.00, however the whole event was delayed. It was 14.30 before the first group of fewer than 30 Omelette men, including Jersey-born men, landed and marched to the Pomme d’Or Hotel where a massive crowd awaited them, Jersey girls being free with kisses and everybody exuberant which slowed the troops to 100 yards an hour. The swastika flag was removed and a Union Flag was draped from a balcony of the hotel which became the Task Force 135 HQ under Lieutenant Colonel Robinson, who made a speech to the crowd.
The Germans were told to remove all troops from a circle of one mile (1.6 kilometers) around the center of St Helier, except for the hospital and guards on ammunition and weapon dumps. The flag flying over Fort Regent changed to the Union Flag at 17.00. British soldiers handed sweets to children and commented on how thin the islanders looked.
A large landing craft LCI(L)-130, carrying 200 additional Jersey Omelette personnel, including six Jersey men, arrived at 17.00 just as another fly past, this time by Royal Canadian Air Force Mustangs crossed St Helier. They scattered into small groups to take command of the town.
The Red Cross ship, SS Vega was in the harbor having recently arrived with the latest supply of Red Cross parcels for the starving civilians.
The main part of the Guernsey Omelette, comprising 160 men, who landed from a landing craft, LCI-103 at 14.15 hrs. Many more people had come to the town to see them, church bells were ringing and the British soldiers were given flowers. The Germans had started clearing obstructions from the airport and disconnected sea minefields. Twenty-two German officers were allocated to work at the British HQ to assist. Germans were appointed as drivers and took British soldiers in their cars to various locations, such as the airport.
Both islands were told the main force would arrive on C+3, Saturday May 12, when there would be fitting ceremonial events in the presence of Brigadier Snow.
HMS Beagle sailed back to Guernsey, leaving HMS Cosby anchored off St Helier. HMS Beagle anchored off St Peter Port and HMS Bulldog sailed with Brigadier Snow back to Plymouth.
During the afternoon and evening of 9 May, on both islands, several young ladies were roughly handled by local men and women who had previously seen them in the company of German soldiers, as were other people who were considered quislings. A few people, including Germans, were arrested. There were a few injuries, mainly caused by children playing with German guns.
It appears that the first place liberated in Jersey may have been the British General Post Office Jersey repeater station. Mr. Warder, a GPO lineman, had been stranded in the island during the occupation. He did not wait for the island to be liberated and went to the repeater station where he informed the German officer in charge that he was taking over the building on behalf of the British Post Office.
On May 10, the liberation of Sark — Operation Marble — took place earlier than planned due to reports of unrest amongst the Germans when a large fire was sighted and nobody was answering the telephone. At 16.00, the German ship FK04 was taken and sailed across to the island with a small number of British troops. Landing safely, they were met by Sibyl Hathaway, the Dame of Sark, who explained the bonfire was a celebration. Meeting the German commander at his headquarters, surrender documents were signed at Rosebud Cottage after which the Germans were told to surrender weapons and start removing mines. The ship returned to Guernsey at 21.00 leaving the Dame of Sark in charge of the 275 German soldiers until May 17 when most were removed.
On C-Day, May 12 (W-Day +8), Guernsey’s Operation Prophet envisaged landings at L’Ancresse bay and in St Peter Port. At 08.30, the first LCA, docked on Baker Red the Castle Cornet breakwater. Their objective was to secure Castle Cornet, a fortified German strongpoint, commanding the harbor approaches. A stream of LCAs came ashore to Baker Green, the White Rock pier and Baker Red; their jobs were to secure the German defenses in the harbor area. There were not many civilians to be seen, but within a short time, people began flocking into town, shouting and cheering. British military police kept them clear of the harbor piers.[
People were astonished to see LST-516 enter the harbor at 09.00 and nose between the Old Harbour entrance, to await the fall of the tide. Troops moved through the town securing buildings that had been German HQs, including the Crown Hotel, the Grange Lodge and telephone exchanges.
Phase III started at 09.20 landing a further 257 men, followed at 09.40 with another load of men, including MI5 officers, the press, signals and engineers. The soldiers landing were ignoring the civilians and concentrating on the set military objectives, moving further away from the town, securing Fort George, the waterworks at Kings Mills and L’Ancresse common, bicycles helping troops to move quickly.
Yet another official surrender took place at 11.00 when Brigadier Snow accepted the formal surrender of the German garrison at the Crown Hotel. At L’Ancresse Bay, access to the beach was achieved. In town, the audience was amazed to see DUKW amphibious vehicles swim ashore and drive onto the land, then at 13.40 the doors of LST-516 swung open and pre-loaded lorries drove out over steel slats laid over the mud and up the slipway to the enthusiastic crowd.
Brigadier Snow, accompanied by various dignitaries and with the band of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry (DCLI) paraded through town, collecting a civilian following went to Elizabeth College at 14.00 where some 2,500 people witnessed the raising of the Union Flag and an official address including the proclamation from King George VI was read out.
Brigadier Snow then left Guernsey and sailed to Jersey where at 18.00 he participated in a further historic proclamation reading in the Royal Square, where in 1781 a battle had taken place, resulting in the defeat of a French invasion force. Speeches and the message from the King were read out once again. Snow had been accompanied by the DCLI band who played the National Anthem and stirring marches, resulted in much audience singing.
By C-Day +4 (May 16), the liberation of the Channel Islands was complete and the tidying-up and reconstruction of the islands was beginning. The period of military government lasted until August 25, 1945, when new Lieutenant Governors in each bailiwick were appointed.
The Germans had not tried to demolish any facilities. Even so, innumerable problems would need sorted, from paying compensation for requisitioned assets, and damage to houses, furniture, greenhouses and businesses during the occupation; taxation of war profiteers, including those involved in the black market; considering whether people should be prosecuted for crimes committed during the occupation and others who should be publicly praised for their actions; regenerating the growing and tourist industries; and paying off the massive public debts, Jersey owed £5,960,000 and Guernsey £4,232,000.
The population would shortly be experiencing problems with tens of thousands of evacuated and deported civilians — especially children, many now grown up and realizing their parents did not know them — returning to the islands, followed by the men in demob suits. There were sick, both physically and mentally, who never recovered from the experience. Rationing would continue until the mid-1950s. Guy Fawkes parties into the 1960s dressed guys in German uniforms.
The last Germans, including those on Alderney, would leave on May 20, joining the 400,000 German PoW’s in Britain — except for 1,500 in Guernsey, 1,300 in Jersey and 500 in Alderney who were retained for essential clearing up. On May 23, a small group of Wehrmacht soldiers were found on the Minquiers reef, they had been forgotten and wanted to surrender.
The King and Queen flew to Jersey and then Guernsey for brief visits on June 7. The food for lunch for the Royal couple and guests comprised tinned steak and kidney pie and tinned fruit, the same as the German PoWs and British soldiers were eating.
The first evacuees would start to arrive on June 25. Alderney residents would have to wait until December before their island was safe enough to return to with 35,000 mines removed. The houses had been very badly damaged.
In December, a number of honors would be awarded with the two Bailiffs and Jurat Leale being knighted, four CBEs and a number of OBEs and BEMs were also awarded to civil servants and civilians.
Castle Cornet was presented to the people of Guernsey in 1947 by the Crown as a token of their loyalty during the two world wars.
May 9 is a public holiday in Guernsey and Jersey. For some islanders it is a chance to party, for others a day of quiet remembrance. Liberation was an end for some and a beginning for others.