Interested in World War II history? Then read on to hear about the huge impact the war had on the Channel Islands, where it shaped the islands and their residents, leaving a lasting legacy both emotionally and literally.
On 28th June 1940 St Peter Port's harbour and tomato trucks were were targeted by Germans who'd mistaken them for a convoy of troop carriers. The air raid killed 33 islanders and injured a further 67. The German's were unaware of Guernsey's demilitarised status that had began on 19th June, when the British Government decided to effectively leave the Channel Islands undefended. Prime Minister Winston Churchill was reluctant to lose control of the Crown's old possession but the islands offered no strategic benefit to Britain. Two days after the first air raid German troops arrived and the German flag was raised. As a result, a quarter of the island's population including around 4000 school children were evacuated to the UK.
It was one of the most significant and fascinating periods of Guernsey's history when it was under German Occupation for almost 5 years until May 1945. Troops went about heavily fortifying Guernsey, building new reinforced bunkers as well as adapting existing fortifications. Today there remains plenty of evidence of their stay with the headlands still punctuated with the bunkers and imposing fortifications, and plenty of museums which recreate those dark days.
Each year on the 9th May the residents of Guernsey celebrate Liberation Day, the anniversary of the Germans departing the island at the end of the war, and when evacuees and soldiers were reunited with their families. The occasion is celebrated with parades and fireworks.
Dotted along Guernsey's West Coast you will find an array of bunkers and observation towers, gun-site emplacements have been restored and you can wander around Pleinmont Observation Tower which is a five-story tower which was used by German forces from 1942-1945 which has been restored with original rangefinders and has information boards throughout. It is £3 per person and open April to October on Wednesdays and Sundays from 2pm to 4pm. You can also squeeze into a tower which hasn't been restored, it is dank and dark, eerie and creepy. You climb the concrete stairs in near darkness before peeping out of the watch tower 'windows'.
In the North of the island you can visit Fort Doyle which was built in the early years of the 19th century. During World War II the occupying German forces heavily fortified the area with three coastal defence guns, anti-aircraft guns and mortars.
Fort Hommet is a fortification on the Vazon Bay headland, the fortifications date back to 1680, in 1942 the German forces constructed bunkers and casemates. The Germans loved their concrete, as it was a fast an easy method of construction, the harsh grey is in contrast to the other eras of construction where local stone has been used, walking around Fort Hommet you can visibly spot this.
Clarence Battery/ Cows Horn
Constructed in 1780, Clarence Battery was built as one of the original outer defences of Fort George, Guernsey’s major military headquarters in the late 1780s. It was the island’s principal fort during the French Revolution and home of the German Luftwaffe early warning system during World War IITwo. The battery had a guard room, gun pivots, ammunition lockers, shell stories and artillery stores. Some of it still remains, though some alterations were made by the Germans during the occupation. The Cows Horn as it known by the locals is located near the Underground Military Museum in town, the site boasts remarkable views of all the other Channel Islands (on a clear day).
The grounds of Vale Castle stem from the Iron Age, and the castle that we see today dates from around the 15th century. During the Second World War the German occupying forces fortified the castle and the surrounding area, remains of which can be seen today, again by the thick concrete landmarks.
German Military Underground Hospital
The largest construction in the Channel Islands at 7,000 square metres, the underground hospital was hewn out of solid rocky by slave worked who had been captured by the German forces. It was built underground as not to be seen by overhead aircrafts, seeing the area was also used as an ammunition store. You can visit this truly eerie site for £3.50, opening times vary throughout the year, check with Guernsey Information Centre for full details.
La Vallette Underground Military Museum
This museum covers Guernsey's military history, including World War One and the German Occupation of the island from 1940 to 1945 during World War Two, as well as the island's own militia. Set inside tunnels that were built by German forces as a fuel storage facility for their U-boats, it offers a wide variety of exhibitions and displays. Entry is £6 pp and the Military Museum is open from March to mid- November from 10am-5pm.
German Occupation Museum
The German Occupation Museum provides a unique insight into life in Guernsey during the occupation. The museum is complete with an authentic recreation of an occupation-era street, exhibitions on maritime history, and Second World War fortifications. Open daily April - October with restricted times in November- March and is priced at £5pp.
As mentioned, Liberation Day is celebrated on 9th May each year, commemorating the Islands' freedom from the German Occupation during World War II. Liberation Day continues to be an important day in the history of the Islands with a wide range of entertainment and activities, parades and fireworks.
Guernsey Air Display
The Guernsey Air Display, formerly known as the Battle of Britain Air Display has been an annual fixture in the Guernsey calender for over 40 years. The air show is free to watch, just find yourself a good spot to view the impressive array of military aircrafts both historical and modern day, watch the Spitfire, fighter jet and aerobatics display alongside the amazingly talented Red Arrows. This event remembers and honours those who served in the Royal Air Force during World War II and in particular the pilots and crews who served in the Battle of Britain from June- October 1940. Good spots to watch the display are from the Cows Horn, or the towns seafront.
*Some of the information in this post was obtained through the Visit Guernsey website, and for that I am thankful.