18th December 1973

Occupation government head, Alexander Coutanche, dies

When German forces invaded the Channel Islands, they left much of the day to day administration of the territories to civil panels. In Jersey, the panel was the Superior Council, overseen by the Bailiff, Alexander Coutanche.

Born in St Saviour, Coutanche had been educated at Victoria College, and briefly practiced law in Jersey before the outbreak of the First World War. Underlying health issues made him ineligible to fight so he played his part by working in a munitions factory.

Election as a Deputy

His political career began in 1922 when he was elected a Deputy for St Helier, and Solicitor-General three years later. Promotion to Bailiff came in 1935, when Coutanche was 43. He could not have known at the time what the promotion would have meant, as France was still a free country and there was little prospect of the Channel Islands being subsumed into the Reich. He oversaw the opening of Jersey Airport in 1937 but the clouds of war were by then gathering and, in 1940, the first German troops arrived.

Firm but fair

In line with his instructions from the mainland, he told Jersey residents not to resist the German invasion. Nonetheless, he was far from a push-over. He made sure Jersey’s Jewish population was not forced to wear the yellow star that was imposed upon it in the rest of occupied Europe, and he pushed hard for appealing to the Red Cross when, in the closing months of the war, food ran dangerously short.

Coutanche was awarded twice after the war. The first was in 1946, when he was knighted and, 15 years later, he was made a life peer upon his retirement from the role of Bailiff. As Baron Coutanche of St Brelade, he was entitled to sit in the House of Lords.


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