Tomahawk Films’ New Year..

A very happy and contented New Year to all of the fantastic and most loyal customers of the Tomahawk Films’ WW-II German Archive that we have around the world and indeed to the ever-growing band of kind and enthusiastic collectors & students of military history now regularly reading our Blog and are beginning to contact us either to share welcome snippets of information or just telling us they are enjoying what we post from time to time here on the Tomahawk Film’s website…

I must admit, (though my friends & colleagues in the business already know it to be fact, sadly), that being the Luddite that I am, I’m so much happier with just a word-processor to write on; so that having to finally launch ourselves into the modern era of ‘social media’ and leave behind the old Tomahawk Films catalogue mail-order business, (that has served us so well over 27 years), has become a bit of a shock to my system… it’s sad, but I know it has to be done!

Albeit still so embarrassing when I watch a tiny tot happily & confidently typing on a lap-top or using the latest mobile phone with all its latest apps & gizmos with such aplomb… makes me feel a right klutz)! Then I content myself with the thought that said tot could not write and produce a 50 minute WW-II TV documentary..but then again, knowing my luck these mega-bright little sparks probably could.. and judging by some current TV output..actually do!

But I find it really worrying that there is now such a cultural divide (or should that be a cultural apartheid?) opening up between those of us over 50 and those under.. and, yes, I am the man that shouts at World’s Strongest Man contests on the box when the commentator says a competitor is ’1.8 metres high and weighs 128kgs’. Excuse me? Speak English man not some strange continental Euro verbiage.. I can imagine a man at 6” 6” weighing 26 stone..but everything else… just forget it!

However persisting with my desire…well it’s not my desire but everybody else’s it seems, (thanks Malcolm!), I actually spent over 6 hours yesterday at our local IT company hopefully, and finally, sorting out the Tomahawk Films website and ensuring that its upgrade to a new, firmer foundation and with a change-over from Card Net (Lloyds Bank’s credit-card clearing bank) to the more global Barclaycard, goes seamlessly. If it does then within the next few weeks the our distinctive German archival website will both have a more secure footing to stand upon and be an easier, more customer-friendly & ultra-secure experience for those German music & film footage fans that generously want to continue buying our rare German archival products via the website and having Barclays accept their welcome Visa & Master card payments on our behalf, (alongside our continued usage of PayPal of course).

If that wasn’t enough (smelling salts Daphne!) I then went through an intensive couple of hours being shown the rudiments of Twitter, Facebook & You Tube, (thanks to the aforementioned Malcolm, who is our great mate Malcolm Moore who runs the excellent Mist of Time on-line & battle re-enactors militaria operation up there in Yorkshire and who is ‘our man in the north’ (along with felllow friend Anthony at Militaria.net) as it was Malcolm that finally convinced us here at Tomahawk that we have to embrace the new social media..or die.

Sadly it is a case in fact that one of the downsides to our fabulous success of our German Archive as we enter our 28th year of operation is that we are a regular target for the myriad rip-off merchants in Europe, Russia and North America who still appear to be sitting in their back bedrooms copying our CDs on a home computer then offering the contents on–line as if it were their own (or passing it off as genuine Tomahawk Films products) or worse simply banging it all up on You Tube without asking our permission. Indeed infamous US pirate even went to all the trouble of copying our distinctive red cardboard covers and placing our ripped-off material on several well known American on-line auction and book sites, but I think a ‘phone call to the right ears disabused him of that notion, hopefully he is now out of business..well we can hope I suppose!

Some youngsters seem to view my generation who’ve been in Film & TV a life-time (so do actually have a small clue as to what we talking about..well sometimes!) as dinosaurs; however for some reason there is a new breed of techno folk coming through now who either have no understanding of the concept of Copyright..or simply care even less and it is really galling when you do a regular Google test to check where our German Archive sits within their listings.. only to find those rip-off merchants are actually ranked higher than our bona fide archive..frustrating in the extreme!

These techno-herberts may be highly advanced in all forms of on-line technology but none of them seems to have grasped the simply concept of Copyright and that if somebody else has that Copyright you simply do not rip it off and post it or advertise it on-line as yours…I think these folk must wear strange glasses that make the words ‘on-line’ translate into ‘free to plunder’… and the on-line authorities seem to care not a jot..well that has to change if there is any justice!

One of these companies passing themselves off as ‘professionals’ have simply lifted our rare and original Kriegsweihnachten Christmas Carols CD (that took me 2 years to source and produce), changed the running order, replaced our distinctive cover and, bold as you like, have it offered on their website as ‘legal downloads’ with some obscure German name appended to the recording to make it look as if they have legally acquired the rights….I think not!.. and in fact I’m not sure they would understand the meaning of the word legal if it hit them in them face. Certainly, and as mentioned before, Tomahawk Films does not offer any of our material as digital downloads as happily, (at least for now) our myriad customers still want our complete archival albums on CD and in an attractive sleeve.. (or the real enthusiastic collectors as I tend to call them!) Perhaps ‘digital’ is not the way forwarded as everybody once blithely predicted..indeed look at the newly burgeoning vinyl market with new material being released onto record..who’d have thought it

Sadly as I increasingly make my way through the business world I see there is precious little honour left in business dealings any more (though with wonderful exceptions inall  the people Tomahawk deals directly with in terms of sale & supply!). I suppose with the pirates, where there is a buck to be made from somebody else’s endeavours, then honour is an alien concept, which is really tragic!

But let’s not get down about the dishonest ‘herberts’ infecting the internet and just be thankful for all the good people out there..to whit, thanks to Malcolm, Craig at our IT company CT Central, my director-cameraman Nobbie and his girl-Friday Harriet, Tomahawk are now about to take the fight to the pirates and ne’er-do-wells by opening our own YouTube account so we can legally list and offer some our archive’s music as tasters of the original material to be found in our archive via the Tomahawk Films website… likewise we will open up a Facebook account to keep ourselves updated and see what’s what in the wider world outside of our production offices here in Hampshire..

I have to say that Twitter is the one that I am least convinced by at the moment as what do you say that can be of any meaning in however few characters you are allowed.?. What can you actually say that might be of some importance to anybody else? Since last evening I have started to follow Jeremy Clarkson, BBC ‘Top Gear’ stalwart and a journalist I admire greatly, (though not for his motoring columns as cars, sadly, do nothing for me), but his weekly newspaper columns about life in general are some of the funniest ‘laugh out loud’ musings I have ever seen and happily are now available as delightful book collections, which I read avidly and highly recommend!

For my money, Jeremy is consistently quite the funniest and irreverent writer currently in print,but watching & reading his exchanges yesterday with a female journalist (who I suspect might be London’s Mayor Boris Johnson’s feisty magazine-editor sister) it all seemed quite inane and not really worthy of taking up any of their valuable time and I thought, er why?

The gist of the tweets seems to a bit of slagging for his most impressive Q17 Arctic Convoy documentary that went out last week and was in fact one of the finest war-time documentaries I have seen of late (after the recent Goering: A Career) and I urge you all to take a gander if you get the chance. Jeremy is just a sublime & confident presenter of such war-time docs as his very evident patriotism shines through and his admiration for the veterans he is talking about certainly adds a very personal touch to the programme.

But returning to his ‘tweets’ of yesterday I sort find all these rather unedifying to have such little spats played out in public.  These are bright people so why do they need twitter..something I am still musing about with Tomahawk. Just why do we need a place to leave inane one-liners when we have our website and our Blog through which to express ourselves more fully? .I cringe even more when certain ‘loved up’ couples in the media seem to play out their entire romance on Twitter of the edification of others and I feel like shouting ‘oh do get a room you two’..!

I don’t know whether it is a ‘showbiz thing’ that these folk have to always been seen in public or cannot live their lives without somebody commenting about them…Malcolm & Nobbie have both told me that Tomahawk being on Twitter, (plus the aforementioned You Tube & Facebook), will all help keep Tomahawk Films in the public eye and so keep us right up in the Google rankings, above the very people trying to rip us off..So if it is for the good of the company then we will give it a go..but I can already see Twitter will be the first of these social media to fall by the wayside for Tomahawk Films, as who is going to be sitting in his bath, say, and be interested in the fact that we have just acquired a new German signalhorn for the archive?

Actually that said, I’ll now completely contradict myself and thank John for contacting us having read my Blog relating to such signalhorns & German Bugles to say that he has recently bought a Max Glass-marked example and do we know of the company?… We certainly do for Max Glass (left) was one of the main manufacturers of such signalling instruments and was prolific in distributing them…but oddly Max Glass was also a typewriter-producing factory and was probably as well known, if not more so, for such German Schreiber machines.

Indeed our good pal Shawn over in Texas very generously gifted us an original invoice (Rechnung) dated September 1st 1939 that he picked up recently as issued by Max Glass from Klingenthal, one of the major musical instrument production areas of Germany (also a ski-jumping town I believe?) during both the years of Imperial Germany and the Third Reich. We just missed adding another Max Glass to the archive over Christmas so must ask John if it was indeed his good self that managed to purchase this bugle from a dealer..it had a small waffenampt stamp to the garland, (something I have never seen before so am keen to hear more about that). However our signalhorn collection continues to ebb & flow..as we speak we are awaiting one from Holland and two from Germany but the Christmas back-log seems to have all 3 still in its grip.. so we must be patient!

However back to the social media and it will just remain to be seen if Tomahawk launching itself on to such platforms will be a success or indeed a damp squib…I must admit I have certainly enjoyed writing the Tomahawk Blog which is now just over a year old…though sometimes the ‘old grey matter’ runs a bit dry and it is not always easy to come up with something new opine on…that is why occasionally there are 3 or 4 Blogs in a couple of weeks or nothing for a month. However it is good to see that since we started Blogging the hits to our Tomahawk Film’s website have actually doubled. So we know you guys out there are finding us..and thank you so much for that..great to know we are not sitting in the dark, wittering to ourselves!

On that front, sad news to report that over the Christmas holidays I heard from the family of former Ober-Kanonier Helmut Zimmerman of the 319th Artillery Regiment stationed in Guernsey, (and whom I wrote about in my Blog and magazines articles A Guernsey Gunner’ returns) passed away on Boxing Day and I would like to extend my deepest condolences to his family. Helmut was a wonderful man whom I was pleased to know and spend some time with over in Guernsey… as with many terrific, German veterans he always had a twinkly smile and a warm greeting and was a much loved friend of Guernsey.

So in being able to share both happy & sad news I can see social media does have its part to play in keeping everybody involved & interested in this specialised field of military study & collecting and to that end I welcome any Blog readers contacting me via the Tomahawk Films website to either say ‘hello’ or share any information or comments about anything I may have written here..or indeed any world war two television documentaries you may have watched & enjoyed that I may have missed? Having spent the bulk of my professional career in the film, TV & sporting outside broadcast world, I am still a sucker for a good TV documentary and still enjoy watching them & writing about them, so please feel free to make contact with me, it’ll be great to hear from you…!

Meantime wishing you all a great year of study & collecting in 2014… Tomahawk certainly did much better in 2013 than expected on sales of archival CDs, DVDs & Books so perhaps the Recession is finally lifting its heavy hand from backs & our wallets… here’s hoping!  

           Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2014

Guernsey’s Victorian Fortifications…

It is a little remiss of me when writing about Fortress Guernsey and all of the terrific work undertaken by this historical initiative in the late ’90s under the leadership of my good friend and former boss at the Guernsey Tourist Board, Deputy Director Major Evan Ozanne, not to have ever touched on the earlier Victorian Fortifications of the 7 islands making up the Bailiwick of Guernsey…

For almost as important in the engrossing history of these sun-soaked islands as the German Occupation is the story of the earlier fortification building programme that took place in the late 1700s to combat the ever-present threat of an earlier invasion, this time by the French, (our on-off friend & enemy down the years), as these attractive of Anglo-French islands were literally right in the firing line between our two countries.

Though a greater part of my responsibility as Media Consultant to Fortress Guernsey, (often working alongside leading Alderney-based fortifications expert Colin Partridge), was to write, report & broadcast on the German Occupation side of the story and indeed to bring over as many documentary-film makers, fellow broadcasters and travel journalists as possible to show off this unique aspect of Guernsey’s formidable & fascinating history, so too the incredible Victorian Fortifications were a major part of our combined endeavours when promoting the military historical background of Fortress Guernsey to an intrigued outside world.

For almost 2,000 years in fact Guernsey and its 6 satellite islands of the Bailiwick  possessed considerable strategic importance in the defence of Britain and by virtue of its special relationship to mainland Britain as a Crown Dependent territory, Guernsey was to eventually find itself covered with myriad fascinating earthworks, forts, Martello towers, gun-batteries, arsenals & watch-houses, all built principally to resist the threat of invasion… and obviously long before the rise of the Third Reich and Hitler’s lustful eyes on these stunning islands, (though interestingly enough all those years later many of the subsequent German fortifications were actually built upon, or added to, these previously early constructed and very sturdy Victorian fortifications.)

The catalyst for the earlier defensive positions can be traced back to the American War of Independence in 1775 as 3 years later in 1778, France declared its support for the American colonists in their struggle against the British Crown..and the Channel Islands, despite the presence of a powerful Royal Navy, lay very close to an increasingly aggressive France.Indeed in May 1778 the Governor of the neighbouring island of Jersey wrote to the British Secretary of State in London recommending that a programme of  coastal defence building should begin in the two larger Channel Islands (i.e. Jersey & Guernsey).

So it was that in August 1778, approval was given for the construction of 15 fortified towers and with the importation of a large force of labour, (later echoed in the 1940s when the Germans brought in slave labour for their building programme), by March 1779 all 15 were complete and ready for action. The French had actually drawn up plans for the full invasion of the Channel Islands, though mercifully this did not materialise, nevertheless it was decreed that Guernsey’s defences be further strengthened. So it was that from 1803 onwards three large Martello Towers were built at Rocquaine Castle, Fort Sausmarez and at Houmet Point, all of which were to have additional German fortifications added to, (or on and indeed over), during the 1940-45 Occupation of the Bailiwick.

However, of the original 15 Victorian Loophole Towers built in 1778-79, just 12 now remain in Guernsey, one of the most important of these being Rousse Tower in the north of the island overlooking Grand Havre. Designed primarily to prevent the landing of enemy troops on nearby beaches and, on stretches of coastline where more than one tower was erected, Rousse and the other towers were positioned to provide overlapping fields of fire from their light 1-pounder cannons.

Musket-fire could also be directed down on invading forces through the loop holes whilst from a position on the roof the later addition of a 12-pound cannonade could fire grapeshot. Heavier guns on these batteries were subsequently added and this allowed the towers to actually engage enemy ships up to a range of some 3000 yards.

Rousse was actually constructed in 1804 on the site of a former small battery already sited on this ‘achingly beautiful’ headland and by 1816 it boasted three 24- pounder cannons and two smaller 9-pounder cannons and, on a base of Portland stone imported over from Dorset, the larger guns were mounted on inclined platforms to help with the force of the cannon’s recoil, whilst the smaller cannons were sited on the flat so they could be easily manoeuvred to fire on the advancing enemy through the embrasure openings on the rear wall if required.

Although the British Government maintained a permanent military garrison in the islands, there were actually insufficient troops to guard all of Guernsey’s wide-open sandy beaches, so this task was delegated to the Guernsey Militia. Recruited at the age of 16 and transferred into the Reserve at 45, they remained on standby by for call-up right up to the age of 60, and though there were weekly drills & parades, they were not paid… and even had to provide their own Militia uniforms until the British Government began furnishing them from 1782 onwards.

With a force of some 2,500 to 3,000 men in the Militia, Rousse Tower was manned by a Sergeant and 20 men under the command of a Captain, who was also responsible for 3 other identical batteries sited across the headland

Men allocated to this duty also had to continue their normal day-job as farmer, fisherman or quarryman, however they were allowed to appoint ‘substitutes’ for when the day job was more pressing and at these times it was not unusual for the soldier’s wives or their children to stand in. But eventually this led to abuse and many derelictions of duty when men supposedly on duty… but were anything but!

As a part of Fortress Guernsey’s remit, Rousse Tower was given a superb make-over and in addition to the construction of life-size models then placed inside the tower to illustrate life within in the late 1700s/early 1800s, after a great deal of effort a number of original cannons were sourced and, after proofing in Chatham Docks in England, were sited on accurately reproduced carriages. Now these are proudly on display at this beautifully restored Victorian site.

On my recent trip back over to Guernsey I was delighted to once again pop up to Rousse and happily note that the Tower, (seemingly falling yet again into a state of some disrepair on a previous visit, despite all the work that Fortress Guernsey had originally invested on it), was now looking really ‘ship-shape & Bristol fashion’.. a real sight for sore eyes in fact!

It was a real delight to spend some time here once again, this time with my dad, taking in the magnificence of this Loophole Tower, now some 230 years old, fully restored to its former glory as it is a truly wonderful testament to the Victorian art of military fortification; and something that the German military designers & engineers either consciously or subconsciously copied some 160 years later when it was their turn to further fortify the Bailiwick from 1941 onwards, (after their invasion the previous year), and the island’s unique German gunnery range-finding towers began to rise at their coastal locations…

Now following Major Ozanne’s earlier lead & persistence in the late 1990s, Rousse Tower is deservedly back on Guernsey’s list of States-maintained historical sites and with further island investment and continued work on the site in 2006, this important landmark attraction can rightly said to be of the finest restored Loophole Towers anywhere in the Channel Islands. So to all involved…well done and bravo!

Finally, whilst just finishing off this latest Blog, a number of readers kindly contacted me to say that they had been enjoying my piece entitled ‘A Soldier’s Grave’ concerning ‘Douglas’ Small’s final resting place in my local village churchyard and my musings as to whether the Commonwealth War Graves Commission had learned of my periodic maintenance of his grave and added it to their official cleaning list as a result?

Well I am delighted to say that a fellow villager, Reg, came forward to say that he and his wife had seen a van in the churchyard when out on one of their regular rambles that bore the legend ‘Commonwealth War Graves Commission’ on the outside and when they approached the team, they were told that the CWGC now comes to our churchyard every two years to give the soldier’s headstones a make-over…

Back then Reg was unaware of my tie to Douglas’ grave so wouldn’t have been able to ask the cleaners if it was indeed them that had given his headstone a thorough make-over, but as his is now a clear white marble, (as opposed to the ‘grey concrete’ when I started to clean it in 1999), I feel I can conclude that the CWGC have indeed added ‘Douglas’ to their list. A very happy outcome for me as we approach this Sunday’s November 11th Remembrance ceremonies and then, next year, the 100th anniversary of the beginning of the First World War and the subsequent opening of the Hazeley Down Army Pre-Embarkation Camp here in my beautiful village of Twyford on the River Itchen.

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

 

Channel Island Slave Labourers ’40-45

Amidst the jaw-dropping beauty that are the islands of Guernsey & Alderney today, it is sometimes hard to take on-board that during the German Occupation between the years 1940 & 1945, in addition to the hardships suffered by the islanders cut-off from the mainland and subject to German military law, another group of individuals were finding these times even tougher and often unimaginably so. These were the German’s political prisoners shipped into Alderney as slave labourers from various parts of Occupied Europe to work on the planned programme of heavy fortification of these stunning British islands under the Third Reich’s military engineering arm, the Organisation Todt.

Indeed it is this and the tragic fate of three Jewish Guernsey women that still provides a sad and at times slightly murky undercurrent to this most intriguing of war-time stories and the facts of the matter are often further muddied by the sheer sensationalism that still often surrounds the fates of these poor unfortunate slave labourers. Stories, some repeated in print as if Gospel, that usually, (and to the intense annoyance & utter distaste of those of us trying to reflect the accurate story) involved slave labourers being ‘brutally murdered by their German guards or OT overseers and either thrown into the concrete foundations of the gun emplacements, towers & underground tunnels or being flung from the high cliffs on Guernsey & Alderney’s coasts!’

These along with many similar sensational stories are continually being dreamed up by budding historical authors and then oft-repeated by conspiracy theorists; however whilst it is beyond dispute that over 100 slave labourers did die in the course of the construction of the massive concrete fortifications that Hitler decreed be built across the Bailiwick to secure these islands from a British counter-attack, (and the conditions under which they were held & worked in were often extremely unpleasant), such on-going stories of wholesale slaughter of these prisoners is pure fantasy and certainly not helpful when viewed in a historical context.

However to return to the story of the 3 Jewish women on Guernsey, (Marianne Grunfeld, Auguste Spitz & Therese Steiner), who were eventually to be transported to Germany and their fate in the concentration camp of Auschwitz-Birkenau sealed, German Occupation Museum proprietor Richard Heaume MBE has a small room at his famous museum dedicated to this darker side of the German occupation. Here, in addition to having on display a pair of the evocative blue & white striped concentration camp suits as worn by the slave labourers, he also commissioned a special display some years back by talented mainland sculptor Jennifer Anne Snell, a former Channel Islander herself.

The actual sculpture itself is a very evocative design of 3 suitcases, something that many island deportees, both those evacuated from the Bailiwick to the mainland in 1940 and those later sent to Biberach internment camp in Germany later in the war, will instantly recall and remember. Seeing this very simple memorial in his small room, (which is sparsely decked out like the original cell of the old island prison at in St James Street in St Peter Port), displayed alongside the infamous concentration camp suits is certainly a most thought-provoking moment. As such a visit to Richard’s Occupation museum in the Parish of Forest would not be complete without spending a contemplative moment or two in this ‘cell’ to see the dark side of German military rule in WW-II.

Sadly elsewhere on the island a most embarrassing & potentially insulting act was to later take place which I personally still feel a great sadness over in as much as I believe it was always politically-motivated and should never have happened. During the years that I worked as Media Consultant to ‘Fortress Guernsey’ under the superb leadership of Major Evan Ozanne, (in the wake of my television documentary Channel Islands Occupied), we were always more than aware of the Slave Labour questionAs such it was something all of us involved in this specific aspect of Channel Islands war-time history trod very softly and very sympathetically around…

Indeed a part of my media spokesman’s job was to ensure that UK and International journalists and film-makers coming to Guernsey would tell the correct story and not run away with the ‘Sunday tabloid’ sensationalist stories about the aforementioned labourers being killed and thrown into the fortifications’ footings etc.. and many’s the time during my 5 year tenure that I had to ‘ride shot-gun’ on an unfolding magazine story or film to ensure this did not happen..!

As a part of our work, it was deemed a priority by Major Ozanne that a roll-call of all slave labourers that died in the Bailiwick under German Occupation finally be remembered and so, in league with the Royal British Legion-Guernsey and the island’s Occupation Society, (and following much research by Major Ozanne himself), eventually a list of 110 known foreign workers from former German military medical records was drawn up and he set about contacting the Embassies in each of the countries representing these workers.

Following a lengthy diplomatic process, a gold & granite plaque was commissioned in 1999 and unveiled amidst an emotional ceremony on White Rock in St Peter Port’s harbour, a service that I was honoured to be invited to. With the 110 traced names finally honoured in front of many Ambassadors & Charges d’Affaires from the countries involved, members of the press looked on and duly reported this hard won-achievement.

However it was all to end in an embarrassing farce thanks to the complaint of one man, a former Dutchman then living on Guernsey, who maintained he was a forced labourer working for the Organisation Todt on Guernsey & Alderney… a matter that has, alledgedly, never truly been established by the relevant authorities and with certain island politicians merely accepting his word without ever going to the trouble of ascertaining his exact bone fides in this matter!

Major Ozanne takes up the story..: “The plaque was unveiled & blessed by the clergy, but some time later a former O.T. worker Gilbert van Grieken complained that 10 German workers we had honoured also had headstones at the Military Cemetery at Fort George. With the exception of one named Berganski and another who died at sea, the 8 remaining bodies were commemorated in the German cemetery, but we don’t know whether these men were O.T. overseers or German nationals coerced into working for the military against their will”.

Such was the negative publicity generated by Mr van Greiken that the States capitulated and ordered the removal of the plaque leaving a blank wall down at the harbour. We then waited in vain to see if a new memorial would be commissioned by the States commemorating all-but-the 10 German names Mr Greiken objected to, or whether the confirmed German forced labourer Mr Berganski and the worker lost at sea would be the two lone German names left on a new plaque, possibly with the addition of a Luxembourger who later came to light!

However, all these various parameters notwithstanding, the permanently unanswered question remains in my mind as to how such an important war-time plaque commemorating so many innocent men on Guernsey and which had been consecrated by the clergy and officially unveiled in a ceremony with full diplomatic courtesies being extended, could simply have been removed from public view without a thorough official investigation beforehand..?

So it appears Mr van Greiken lodged a complaint and, (is the way of the world these days), the civil servants jumped straight into action on the say-so of one man, whose war record, it now transpires, is open to some speculation or interpretation! So act first then ask questions later…except it seems no questions ever were!

As Major Ozanne put it: “I regret the plaque was removed because of insular attitudes as in the end, who is to judge? I personally believe that all of these men honoured were either forced or cajoled into working for the Germans; now all of these workers names have been removed on the accusations of just one man…how can this be just? Hopefully whatever the eventual outcome of the plaques’ removal a decision will eventually be made as to what form a replacement memorial will take and indeed how the remaining 102 of Guernsey’s known dead foreign labourers will be honoured as per the original hopes of Fortress Guernsey, the Guernsey Branch of the British Legion and the Occupation Society back in 1999”… but some 15 years, on we are still waiting..!      

           Copyright@Brian Matthews 2013

Liberation Day in the Channel Islands…

May 9th…and a very happy Liberation Day to all of my good friends in the beautiful Channel Islands, a day, I must admit,  that suddenly creeps up on me here on the mainland, but nevertheless a day when I think so longingly about being over there once again in the beautiful Bailiwick of Guernsey;  either having a splendid lunch with my two great pals, Evan & Ian, both former senior figures in the Guernsey Tourist Board, or with my agent and my ‘Guernsey Mum’ Molly Bihet, or meeting up with Richard at his Occupation Museum, or if  I’m lucky enough, nipping  over to neighbouring tiny Alderney for a wonderul afternoon of cliff-walking high above a foam-flecked sea with the wind in my hair and salt air on my lips..

I am only 40 minutes away by air from Southampton airport but without a seat already pre-booked and an office-full of Tomahawk Films’ work high on my list of priorities here in my little village of Twyford, it might as well be a million miles away.  Don’t get me wrong, I am very privileged to live in this pretty little farming village as I do, but my love for the beautiful Bailiwick just means that on some days the terrific pull of those beautiful Crown dependent islands upon my heart is almost too great to resist… and sometimes it is so great I almost physically ache to be back over there again on God’s Own Island..!

But back to the topic of Liberation Day and most people over here on the mainland actually don’t usually know or are even aware that May 9th is a national holiday on Guernsey & Jersey at all!

I omit the stunning and most northerly island of Alderney as that gorgeous sister island to Guernsey said goodbye to all of its it civilian population in 1940, with the incoming German garrison becoming the only inhabitants of the island between the years 1940 and 1945. So it was that those evacuated Alderney folk only returned after the war, on December 15th 1945, and so today this is now their island’s holiday… known as ’Homecoming!’

I have been fortunate enough to spend a number of exciting Liberation Days on Guernsey, not least when I originally launched my documentary ‘Channel Islands Occupied’ on the 45th Anniversary  of the Bailiwick’s liberation and I can happily confirm that  the buzz, excitement & general happiness upon those anniversary days is quite something! So heaven knows what it actually must have been like when the Bailiwick was actually liberated from German occupation for real by a British army artillery unit on May 9th 1945 , just a day after the final surrender of all German Forces across Europe on May 8th

Looking at the superb and evocative Warworks 35mm Liberation newsreels I was able to include in my documentary, (a superb b&w ’moving snapshot’ of the that emotional day), you can see how the bubble burst for the islanders and the ensuing explosion of untold joy and a light in the eyes of the Guernsey people when, from radios that suddenly appeared from deep hiding and put out on widows, was heard Winston Churchill declare to the world: ‘our Dear Channel Islands would soon be free’..

From all corners of Guernsey people who had spent 5 long years living under Nazi occupation, (which though rightly deemed ‘benign’, was still certainly tough) descended en masse down into the streets onto the quay of St Peter Port. Here they watched a small infantry landing-craft with just a couple of dozen British artillerymen of Force 135 ferried in from the Royal Naval fleet now at anchor outside of St Peter Port Harbour (including HMS Bulldog upon which the official German surrender had taken place) come ashore.

At my documentary’s climax you can see the massed crowds lining the street to gives these ‘liberating Tommies’ a true heroes’ welcome as they marched up from the harbour into the town…the people finally free from their yoke of occupation. Meanwhile the Warworks newsreels captures the moment that the troops comprising the German garrison on Guernsey were ordered to lay down their rifles and side-arms and remain in their barracks until such time as their new status as prisoners of war could be confirmed and arrangements for them to be marched down to the sea shore. Here the larger tank landing ships would be coming ashore to load them up and transport them over to Weymouth and thence on to the POW cages near London and the Home Counties.

Whilst the islanders were ecstatic with joy at their deliverance, what would have been going through the minds of the German soldiers, (many tens of thousands of them), must have been a mixture of relief that the majority of them had survived the war, (and that ever-feared posting to the Russian Front), whilst feeling trepidation at what might be coming next and indeed what of their homeland: were their families still intact, were their loved ones still alive..whose towns and villages had been over-run by the Americans & the British…and whose were now in Russian hands? Now was a tough time for many German prisoners…especially for some that had fallen for lovely Channel Island girls and were now being parted…heart-breaking love stories in their own right, that would be later recaptured in compelling TV documentaries, like Passionate Productions’ truly wonderful ‘Jerry Love’ looking back to those tumultuous & often heart-breaking days…

Meanwhile on May 9th 1945 across the Channel Islands the joy amongst the civilian population, was unconfined and one can only imagine how it must have felt to now know that as an islander, safe with British troops in amongst you, you could do and say what you wanted? Far from living under constant German watch and tight regulation you were now free go where you wanted and, knowing that, begin to notice and benefit from now on from the slow, but steady influx of food and supplies after that terrible, deprived winter of 1944/1945… plus then there was the growing expectation of the returning evacuated family members, shipped to the British mainland ahead of German occupation in 1940… life must have seemed so heady as to be almost unbelievable!

I know from taking to Molly, who was a child of the occupation, just what a magical day it was… indeed her lovely little book ‘A Child’s War’ was and is still a major read by visitors to Guernsey and the island’s school children alike. It lays out in great detail just what it living under German military rule must have been like, whilst her subsequent books also document the joy and elation of the Liberation and the fact that they survived the Nazi occupation of the only British soil that Hitler managed to get his hands on…

So the next time May 9th comes around, if you have a spare minute or two to stop in your busy life and quietly reflect for a moment, just think how important this May Day Bank Holiday actually is to so many wonderful British people now living quietly & peacefully just 80-odd miles off the English south coast down there in the Channel Islands… for them, this really is one Bank Holiday that’s worth celebrating!!!

Copyright@ Brian Matthews 2013