19th June 1940
Demilitarisation of Jersey begins
News of the Channel Islands’ occupation was slow to become official – indeed, only when Berlin-based newspapers announced a successful invasion did it become widely known on the mainland. However, the government had been planning for just such an event, first working to demilitarise the islands, which began on 19 June, and then to evacuate the local population from the following morning.
Military equipment withdrawn
At the end of July, it was being discussed in Parliament. Mr Ammon, MP for Camberwell North, explained how “only a few days before the evacuation, military equipment and armaments were being poured into the Islands. These were then withdrawn. Only a week or two before the evacuation several hundred airmen were being sent there for purposes of training. Suddenly there was a very violent change, and we fled from the Islands – the Governor being the very first to move, by the by, leaving the Islands to the civil authorities and, largely, leaving the unfortunate people to their fate.”
Ammon wanted the Home Secretary to explain why better arrangements for the evacuation had not been put in place – but the Home Secretary failed to attend the House of Commons to provide any answers.
Mr Ammon went on to quote from the Jersey Evening Post of 19 June, in which was written, “shipping facilities are being provided by His Majesty’s Government for the immediate voluntary evacuation to the United Kingdom of women and children. Similar facilities will also be available for men between the ages of 20 and 33 who wish to join His Majesty’s Forces and, so far as accommodation permits, for other men.”
A previous response from the Home Secretary was also quoted, in which he explained that “demilitarisation commenced on Wednesday 19th June and was announced in the Jersey States on the same afternoon by Major-General Harrison, the Lieutenant-Governor. This announcement was reported in the local Press, the ‘Evening Post’ on the same evening and the ‘Jersey Morning News’ on Thursday the 20th. I suggest that this was as good as broadcasting the news as far as giving information to the Germans was concerned.”
Germany apparently unaware
However, as has frequently been reported, the lack of any official notification to Germany that the Channel Islands had been demilitarised is often blamed for the devastating attacks that the Luftwaffe carried out on St Peter Port and St Helier in advance of landing, which cost lives in both Guernsey and Jersey.
On 17 August 1945, following the Channel Islands’ liberation, the matter returned to the Commons. Mr Ede, then Home Secretary, was asked to make a statement about the occupation, in which he revealed that “on 19th June, 1940, His Majesty’s Government regretfully came to the conclusion that for strategic reasons it was necessary to withdraw the armed forces from the Channel Islands, and, as a consequence, the Lieutenant-Governors were also withdrawn. The Bailiffs of the two Islands were instructed to discharge the civil duties of the Lieutenant-Governors and to stay at their posts and to administer the governments of the Islands to the best of their abilities in the interests of the inhabitants whether or not the Bailiffs were in a position to receive instructions from His Majesty’s Government. The other officers appointed by the Crown, including the Law Officers, were also instructed to remain at their posts. As regards the civil population His Majesty’s Government decided that those inhabitants who wished should be given an opportunity of leaving and transport was sent to the Islands for the purpose on the afternoon of 19th June, 1940. As a result some 10,000 persons left Jersey out of a total population of 50,000, and about 18,000 left Guernsey out of a population of 40,000. Among those who left the Islands there was a large proportion of women and schoolchildren and of men of military age who came to this country to join the armed forces. It may be of interest to the House to know that out of a total population of less than 100,000 no less than 10,000 Channel Islanders have served or are serving with the armed forces.”
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