Music in the German Occupied Channel Islands 1940-45…

As the generous readers of my Blog for Tomahawk Films will have realised, the German Occupation of the British Channel Islands between 1940 and 1945, is, alongside my passion for the German Soldier Song and the Military Music of the Third Reich, (an important & integral part of both my own and indeed Tomahawk’s personal & professional life, in addition to producing my television documentary Channel Islands Occupied), still something I love writing about, at the drop of a hat..!

So I thought I would also pen another Blog combining the two and write something on the history of the German military musical presence in those beautiful islands between 1940 and the occupying forces’ surrender 1945 and have actually subbed the ‘Channel Islands Occupation’ chapter from my book The Military Music & Bandsmen of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-45 as it offers some corking original archival photographs!

Sadly, Tomahawk Films and I have decided not to republish this ‘mighty tome’, for though it has been incredibly well received.. thanks to all that bought a copy..the  enormous cost of re-printing is such that we have decided not to funnel such another huge amount of money into books as that it is not our core business..

However as many fellow military enthusiasts (and indeed fellow lovers of these Crown Dependent pieces of heaven), already know, the Channel Islands were the only British soil to be occupied by the forces of Nazi Germany during the Second World and make for one of the of the most amazing stories of the Second World War.

By dint of this, during that Nazi occupation there were actually 2 German military bands stationed on the two main islands (out of the total eight Channel  Islands): one drawn from the army:  Pionierbattalion 15, garrisoned on Guernsey, and the other being provided by the Luftwaffe’s 40th Regiment, Flak Artillery, which primarily performed on Jersey.

The story of that Second World War occupation offers the incredible imagery of WW-II German Musikkorps performing on British soil alongside other rare and almost unimaginable images of German Forces on British soil and this sadly over-looked story is a historical study all of its own when it comes to the Second World War…

When the entire German garrison across the five main Channel Islands ultimately surrendered in 1945, their musical instruments, song books and many musical accoutrements were left behind intact and can be seen today on display in some of the superb island occupation museums. In addition, with the recent location of a number of rare photographs of these German military bands actually performing on British soil, it is possible to take a ‘then and now’ look at them and witness those instruments being played during the occupation:

The Channel Islands are some of the most beautiful, peaceful and evocative to be found anywhere in the world, but it wasn’t always that way, and a half century ago the picture told a very different story..:

In the first months of the Second World War, following Hitler’s lightning war against Poland, an uneasy peace settled over Europe, and to the Channel Islanders the problems on the continent seemed another life away. Besides, what would Hitler want with the Channel Islands anyway?  However, in the spring of 1940 aircraft of the Luftwaffe began to appear in the skies above the islands, and the authorities introduced the first air-raid precautions; then on May 10th 1940, as Hitler launched his forces against the Low Countries and the BEF began its retreat to Dunkirk, it was just a matter of time before France fell and Adolf Hitler’s eyes would then turn to his next target… Britain!

On June 19th 1940 the British government announced that the defence of the Channel Islands was no longer justified and withdrew the garrison; just 3 days later, France surrendered and fearing German invasion to be imminent, some 34,000 Channel Islanders left for mainland Britain, leaving a total population of 50,000 to face the unknown. But far from showing disinterest, Adolf Hitler knew that capturing a piece of Britain would not only provide excellent propaganda but give him an additional base from which to launch his air and sea attack on the British mainland.

Wrongly advised by German Intelligence that the islands were still heavily defended, 6 fully-laden Heinkel IIIs set a course from their bases in Northern France on June 28th and, mistaking a line of tomato lorries for a troop convoy, bombed Guernsey’s St Peter Port harbour, killing 30 civilians, before flying on to strafe St Helier in Jersey, killing a further nine islanders.

Then on June 30th the German bombers returned, dropping written ultimatums demanding the unconditional surrender of all islands. Later the same day a lone reconnaissance Dornier 17 landed at Jersey’s airport, the pilot, 25 year-old Luftwaffe-Leutnant Richard Kern, having the dubious honour of becoming the first German occupier setting foot on British soil.

Then came the first Ju-52 transports ferrying the advanced troops who, believing Britain was only days from invasion, settled in quickly under strict orders from Hitler (who still hoped for a settlement with Britain) to treat all islanders with respect. Nevertheless, communications between the islands and mainland Britain were immediately severed, batteries of flak-guns were sited, slit trenches dug and all Union flags were hauled down and replaced by the swastika’d Reichkriegsflagge.

Whilst German Military Forces under the command of Feldkommandantur (Field Command – FK) 515 co-operated with the local government and police forces, all Channel Island affairs now fell directly under the command of Berlin, thus beginning six years of what Guernseyman Frank Stroobant was to call a ‘benign occupation’.

With the invasion of Britain abandoned, Hitler feared the Allies would launch an all-out attack to recapture the islands, and they soon began to reverberate to the sounds of shovels & concrete mixers as plans for their defence from air and sea attack were put into operation. Using forced labourers from Eastern Europe under the direction of the Organisation Todt (comprising German civilian technicians & labourers), massive flak and coastal gun batteries were built across the three main islands, turning them into the most heavily fortified part of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall…

Guernsey & Jersey were initially garrisoned from July 1940 by units attached to the German 216th Infantry Division, plus Machine Gun Battalion No.16 on Guernsey and Panzerjäger Battalion No. 652 on Jersey. However, with Hitler’s attack on Russia, the 216th was earmarked for the Eastern Front, and in the Summer of 1941 the 319th Infantry Division (who had already seen action in Poland and France) was ordered to the islands to take over the defence of Guernsey & Jersey, whilst the 83rd Infantry Division was sent to Alderney. The 83rd Division then found itself despatched to Russia at the end of 1941, and the 319th took over the garrisoning of all three main islands.

Alderney, with its civilian population having been totally evacuated by the German military, was an unpopular posting, so FK-515 ordered a 3-month garrison rotation with army units from Guernsey and Luftwaffe flak units from France, though Kriegsmarine units, (for some reason), were exempted from this rotation.

Mobile armour was provided by 17 captured French Char-B tanks on Jersey and 19 to Guernsey under the command of Panzerabteilung 213, whilst anti-aircraft firepower arrived in the shape of Luftwaffe Flak Regiment No.39 on Guernsey and No.40 on Jersey. The Kriegsmarine initially oversaw command of all army and naval coastal artillery batteries from March 1941, until they merged in 1943 to form Heeresküstenartillerieregt (Army Coastal Artillery Regiment) 1265.

As the war slowly turned against Hitler, his Naval High Seas Fleet found itself confined to their harbours in Germany by increasing Allied activity. As a result, the Kriegsmarine presence in the Channel Islands mushroomed, as surplus German naval manpower from Kiel, Hamburg and Wilhelmshaven was transferred in to boost the size of the garrison. Indeed Jersey’s last Kommandant was a senior Kriegsmarine officer, Vice-Admiral Huffmeier.

At the height of the Occupation in May 1943, some 26,800 German troops garrisoned the islands: 13,000 on Guernsey, 10,000 on Jersey & 3,800 on Alderney, including the Army Mobile Anti-tank Battalion 450; Luftwaffe Long Range Reconnaissance Group 123 & Fighter Group 53; Army Ost-Bataillon 823 & 643 (captured Georgians who changed sides and the Russian Army of Liberation); SS-Baubrigagde 1 and the  Kriegsmarine’s 2nd Patrol Boat Flotilla & 24th & 46th Minesweeping Flotillas.

Additional units included fortress construction battalions, bridge, railway & airfield construction companies, combat engineers, medical, veterinary, field-police, signals, customs, field- post and the Reichsarbeitsdienst and NS Kraftfahrkorps…

In fact an incredible assortment of manpower was crammed into the relatively small space of the three main Channel Islands, plus Sark, and all needing some form of entertainment in their off-duty hours; to this end the island’s civilian cinemas provided one form of distraction, as did the soldier’s own ‘clubs’, the Soldatenheime (Soldiers’ homes) in St Helier and St Peter Port.

However, it befell the lot of the two military bands of the Luftwaffe and the Heer to provide light relief for both the German garrisons and the civilian population alike, and their concerts, many in the open-air, proved to be very popular, so much so that one wartime occupation edition of the Guernsey Evening Press in July 1943 ran a terrific story on Gerhard Anders, Obermusikmeister of Army Musikkorps Pionierbataillon 15:

“Thousands of Sarnians visited Candie Gardens on summer evenings last year to listen to the German Regimental Orchestra under the direction of Gerhard Anders.

Obermusikmeister Anders is himself a personality and  our music critic ‘Jubal’ contributes a pen-picture of this gifted composer & musician, who intends to honour Guernsey with a composition on the island..”

Meet Bandmaster Gerhard Anders

“He is young, genial; has bright eyes that flash with the genius of music and in the two years he has been with us in Guernsey, training his accomplished military band of 30 musicians, he has acquired English, to make himself understood, thus adding another language to his German.

Bandmaster Anders was the conductor of Berlin’s Operetta Theatre Orchestra of 80 musicians before the war, and his name is known throughout Germany as that of a young composer rising to fame. The upheaval of our time finds him writing band scores and composing music at his residence, ‘Cote des Vauxlaurens’, Cambridge Park, or conducting his devoted band at Les Cotils for two hours each morning in all genres of music”.

‘Jubal’, goes on to write (in very quaint English as if the Guernsey patois was his first language and English second) that Anders was always noting down ideas for future scores in a series of little blue books that were always to be seen ‘peeping out of his tunic pockets’ and that his army band, Pionierbataillon 15, had ‘over a  thousand pieces in their repertoire to choose from’.

However, whilst Anders was said to ‘find joy in helping Guernsey musicians in providing strings for their orchestras’, ‘Jubal’ (aka William ‘Billy’ Vaudin, the Guernsey Press’ chief reporter), noted that he ‘found great difficulty in obtaining suitable quality manuscripts for scoring’ as the on-going occupation resulted in a lessening of German and French supplies to the military garrison.

The long awaited relief of the Channel Islands, expected after the Allied invasion of Normandy, failed to materialise; instead the battle of France raged on and with the fall of St Malo the first of 600 wounded German soldiers arrived for treatment in the German underground hospitals on Guernsey & Jersey.

Meanwhile the Allied advance continued across North-West Europe and the islands were effectively by-passed; islanders and Germans alike were now cut-off and facing a very tough winter of 1944/45, existing on near-starvation rations and managing to hold on just long enough until the arrival of the Red Cross ship SS Vega in December 1944 with desperately needed food and supplies.

The final Allied drive into Germany continued and the death knell of the Third Reich was eventually sounded when on May 8th 1945 the Royal Navy’s HMS Bulldog and HMS Beagle left Plymouth to rendezvous with the Germans off Guernsey’s St Peter Port.

The islands’ Kommandant, Vice-Admiral Huffmeier, initially held out for an armistice, but on the following day, May 9th 1945, capitulated and surrendered the German military garrisons of Guernsey, Jersey and Alderney without a shot being fired!  (Incidentally the ‘bristling’ young Nazi officer pictured sitting, right, here in the surrender signing aboard HMS Bulldog, was later believed to have rejoined the new post-war German Bundesmarine, eventually becoming a very senior German Naval attache working within NATO!)

Meanwhile the musical instruments and sheet music of Guernsey’s army and Jersey’s Luftwaffe bands simply remained in their billets as the musicians themselves marched into captivity; after liberation, the islanders soon found them, and they were subsequently distributed to various island orchestras such as the Boys’ Brigade and Salvation Army bands in the following first months of peace.

On Alderney, however, a number of bandsmen found themselves prisoners-of-war and held back to help with the massive mine and defence clearance operation that took place in the years immediately following the island’s liberation. This was a most hazardous undertaking and sadly several former German garrison members were killed whilst attempting the recovery of many hidden mines & booby-trap bombs; but this task was finally accomplished and in 1947 the remaining German POWs performed a concert for the island’s returning civilian population.

Nothing is known of the fate of Heeres-Obermusikmeister Gerhard Anders, (though the Guernsey Press’ music critic & organ music aficionado, Billy ‘Jubal’ Vaudin, retired from the newspaper in 1948… and died in 1955 at the age of 73).

However, a footnote to the German occupation of Alderney was heard by myself in the early Summer of 1998, when Hans Schiffer, a former Kriegsmarine signals teletype operator at the former German Naval Signals Headquarters at St Jacques in St Peter Port, Guernsey, returned as the guest of honour at the opening of the newly refurbished bunker (and HQ of Guernsey’s German Occupation Society), under the island’s former ‘Fortress Guernsey’ initiative that I helped publicise:

During the celebrations, Herr Schiffer was heard to mention, when being interviewed on the possible whereabouts of former German service personnel based in the islands during the Occupation, that he had recognised one of the former Luftwaffe musicians he had previously seen performing for the troops on Alderney actually playing in a jazz-band in Düsseldorf in 1958… who’d have thought eh?

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

The Guernsey Liberation Medal…

Over recent years observers watching the November Veteran march-pasts at the Cenotaph in London have spotted a new medal with a rather brightly coloured ribbon appearing on the blazers & jackets of some of the former proud old soldiers taking part in this annual Act of Remembrance…  and subsequent investigations have revealed it to be the Guernsey Liberation Medal that was first struck in 1995 and issued to the surviving members of Allied Force 135, the soldiers who originally liberated the Bailiwick of Guernsey on May 9th 1945 after 6 long years of German Occupation…

On May 8th as the German forces laid down their weaponry, the islanders broke out their hidden radios to hear Winston Churchill announce that “our dear Channel islands would once again be free.”.  Meanwhile the Destroyer HMS ‘Bulldog’ had sailed for Guernsey waters under the code-name ‘Operation Nest Egg’, to drop anchor on May 9th just off St Peter Port’s harbour.

The official surrender by Germany’s Major-General Heiner then took place aboard Bulldog, after which a lone Royal Naval LCI sailed into the harbour and the entire German garrison of some 10,000 men handed over the reins of command to just 30 British artillerymen and the initial joy at deliverance from German Occupation on that sunny day in May 1945 has never been forgotten and today May 9th is enshrined in as ‘Liberation Day’, an official holiday across all of the Channel Islands.

But what of those young British soldiers who originally came ashore on that wonderful day in 1945?  This was a question that ex-pat Guernseyman John Richards, (a former advertising executive living in Hampshire), had often pondered  but  not knowing just how many Vets might even still be living, he joined forces with former Deputy Director of Guernsey Tourism (and a former officer in the Hampshire Regt), Major Evan Ozanne Ret. and the pair began a painstaking hunt across some 42 countries in an effort to trace those original members of Force 135.

As they were doing so, sketches for the design for an original Liberation medallion were being made, incorporating the 3 Guernsey Lions to the front of the medal and the legend ‘Operation Nest Egg. Fiftieth Anniversary of Liberation .Task Force 135’ on the obverse; with a suggestion that the ribbon be two yellow vertical lines on a red background in representation of the colours of the Bailiwick of Guernsey and redolent of the triangular badge worn on the battle-dress shoulders of the liberating soldiers of Force 135.

Final designs were subsequently submitted to London medal makers Toye, Kenning & Spencer and the official Force 135 Liberation Medal, to be worn on the right breast, was born.

By now John Richards & Evan Ozanne had located some 210 veterans from the original 1945 Operation Nestegg’ and, on Liberation weekend in 1995, a number of them were invited over to Guernsey to be presented with their medallion by the Bailiff of Guernsey, Sir Graham Dorey, whilst those unable able to make the trip were officially presented with their medallions in their home towns, as a small but heartfelt token of gratitude from the people of Guernsey to those young soldiers who came ashore on that joyful and emotional day in 1945..

I am very grateful to be able to say that I too now own one of these rare & striking medallions, for once all of the veterans had been presented with theirs, Major Ozanne generously gifted me the last one as a token of thanks for my 5 years work with Guernsey Tourism’s Fortress Guernsey initiative and helping to tell the story of Guernsey’s Nazi Occupation during the years 1940 and 1945.  It is now very proudly on display here in the production offices of Tomahawk Films...

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013