Jersey’s German Occupation Museum…

Whilst the German Underground Hospital up at St Lawrence is the island’s most famous Occupation attraction, there is actually another superb military museum in private hands which you must definitely visit when you are next on Jersey, especially if, like me, you also have a great interest in that island’s German Occupation during the Second World War…

Owned by Jerseyman Damien Horn, and located down on the long St Ouen’s coast road, this wonderful museum is sited in an absolutely fabulous 10.5cm casemate bunker that was originally built by German Organisation Todt engineers and Forced Labour drawn from the occupied territories across Europe and was set right into the concrete sea wall, which in turn was a part of the massive defences that formed part of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall defences.

This particular bunker was primarily constructed for beach defence and housed a 10.5cm First World War Schneider carriage-mounted artillery piece, which the Germans had captured in France during their rapid Blitzkrieg and bought to Jersey to add to the fortification weaponry. It was crewed by a German naval Marine-artillerie unit of 12 men; 8 permanently on duty whilst 4 were rostered off, and when on duty they actually lived in the bunker, known as Resistance Nest Lewis Tower, (after a nearby Victorian Martello tower), and when off-duty were billeted in a locally commandeered house.

The museum was officially opened on 29th of May 1989 by the Constable of the Parish, Arthur Queree, after three months of concentrated rubbish clearance to clear the way into the bunker. Following an internal paint-job, the repair of electrics and the building of cabinets to display initially two collections, Damien’s incredible German Occupation artefacts and a British collection owned by his former partner in the museum venture, the Museum was up and running…

Now in sole ownership of St Ouen’s Bunker and full to overflowing with wonderful & exciting Occupation artefacts, like many youngsters born on these beautiful British Channel Islands, Damien was aware of the vast numbers of concrete German fortifications dotted around this relatively small island, (measuring just 9 miles by 5), from an early age.

Also like many of those youngsters before him, Damien set out to track down and uncover the one ‘over-looked & undiscovered bunker’ that would still contain, he hoped, an Aladdin’s Cave full of German steel helmets and hidden Luger pistols and so forth, but again like those previous keen ‘bunker-hunters’ he too was unlucky in his search for the collector’s ‘Holy Grail’

However, undeterred, he resorted to asking anybody & everybody on Jersey if they had any Occupation treasures still tucked away in an attic or an outside shed somewhere… and helped by the fact of his father knowing most of the locals, he soon found himself the lucky recipient of a number of wonderful items donated to his growing collection, including several German steel helmets, three radio sets…and an example of the famous and fabled Enigma de-coding machine…

As his growing collection of items had a direct connection to the German Occupation of the Channel Islands of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark & Herm, so he became more and more interested in the personal paperwork of the soldiers actually stationed in the islands’ garrisons, such as their Soldbuchs & Wehrpasses, along with highly personal  and very illuminating photo albums. From such documents and photos Damien found it a really engrossing past-time through which he could trace a Wehrmacht soldier’s war-time progress across Europe and then find out where and when he actually served in the Channel Islands…

Today Damien boasts a varied and exciting German helmet collection (now a fairly scare item of kit unlike 30 years ago when they were still pretty much everywhere), and also a German firearms collection which, being a member of his local gun club, can still be used; so it is not unusual to see a Luger or a Walther P38 pistol being fired on the club’s butts. He is also the owner of both a licensed M.P. 40 machine-pistol and a heavy M.G. 34, (a type of which would have been fired from the entrance slit of his St Ouen bunker to deter any attackers), and these two distinctly-Germanic infantry weapons can also be seen and heard) on Jersey’s firing range periodically.

Of great personal interest to me are some of the musical instruments and accoutrements used by the German army & air-force bandsmen stationed in Jersey during the Occupation and Damien graciously agreed to appear in my book The Military Music & Bandsmen of Hitler’s Third Reich 1933-1945 showing his superb example of a Luftwaffe Tuba that was left behind at the surrender of the German garrison in May 1945.

But tearing myself away from Damien’s captivating bunker, some 15 years ago he also acquired the rusting wreck of a Stoewer R200s radio car, (the last German vehicle left over from the Jersey Occupation), which was shipped to Jersey sometime in 1940 by the German occupying forces. Though there is no known history or photographic evidence of the car during the war, the first known photographs of it were taken shortly after the surrender in May 1945 when, along with another Stoewer and other German garrison vehicles, it was parked up at Springfield Stadium in St.Helier and was sold at auction on the 2nd of November 1945 for the princely sum of £50.

Immediately after the auction the German military registration plates were removed as per the auctioneer’s instructions and it was driven home by its new owner Mr Langlois of the St Brelade camp-site where it was totally de-militarised The front & rear blackout/convoy lights were removed along with the rifle clips and the shovel rackets were also taken off. The 3rd rear seat was also taken out to turn it into a pick-up truck and it became a very useful run-around on the camp-site for a number of years where it helped ferry visitors luggage around the site.

Sometime in the 1950′s it was acquired by Harrington’s Garage in St Brelade and used  as a tow-truck but when it finally gave up the ghost it was simply dumped at the side of the garage. Many locals interested in the German occupation story tried to buy this rusting old field-car, but to no avail. However in April 1990 after many years of it sitting unprotected in the open air, Mr. Harrington decided to give it to Damien.

Restoration began in early 1991, and most of the original fittings that had been removed were actually found after many hours of searching in the old sheds and out-buildings of the shortly-to-be-demolished campsite; even the jack that had been thrown into a hedge in the mid 1940s!

Luckily for Damien the engine from the second Stoewer at the 1945 auction sale had also somehow found its way to Harrington’s Garage and was still sitting under his old work bench and this was also acquired for the spare parts that it would be able to provide. Meanwhile parts that were missing from the car which could not be found locally on Jersey were eventually tracked down in various countries on the continent including, Germany, France and Norway.

Tragically the car was almost totally wrecked from the years standing outside in the open air, but every part was sandblasted, painted & reassembled and all the mechanics were gone over with a fine tooth-comb and repairs made where necessary and as many of the original car parts had been kept, happily they could repaired, rather than have all new parts made.

Many hundreds of hours’ work went into the rebuilding of this last fabulous German-made survivor of the Occupation and happily the majority of the work was completed in time for it to take part in the 1995 50th Anniversary Liberation Cavalcade, where it rightly won the trophy for ‘Best Restoration’.

Since then work on the Stoewer has continued and now it is in almost exactly the same condition as it was when it first came over to Jersey in 1940, complete with restored military radios and antenna and, as a member of Jersey’s Military Vehicle Club, it can now be seen out and about on the island’s roads, with Damien at the wheel and son Sebastian in the passenger seat.

But returning to the bunker, you only have to enter this beautifully restored case-mate full of so many exciting items of militaria on display to see what a wonderful job Damien and his team have done. It must surely be every collector’s dream to own such an original German bunker that was fully crewed and full serviced during the war and to now have it to house your own personal collection of Occupation artefacts and open to an amazed public..!

As a former collector myself, I don’t think it gets any better than this…and on the several occasions I have had the pleasure of visiting Damien’s bunker collection I have always been excited & captivated from the moment I passed through the outer door to see everything seemingly where it should be where. Even though the post-war scrap drives in the 1950s saw many such bunkers completely stripped of their heavy metal doors and the inner workings & furnishings, Damien has scoured Jersey to find original replacement doors & gas lock equipment and so forth so that his restoration of this German bunker is complete & original and he should be extremely proud of what he has achieved.

To this end, with Jersey’s Underground Hospital now focussing more on its hospital wards & air-raid shelter, I think I am right in saying that Damien Horn’s bunker is now the only dedicated Occupation Museum displaying all aspects of German & civilian artefacts and though many Jersey visitors will naturally & rightly make a bee-line to the re-named Jersey War Tunnels, I also urge all visiting collectors & enthusiasts to also head for Damien’s Bunker at St Ouen as well… you most certainly won’t regret it!

In fact Damien tells me that he has also recently acquired some of the Underground Hospital’s surplus Occupation items…  however one of his newest and most exciting new additions is an actual German light Flak 38 anti-aircraft gun along with all the different tools and accessories that would have been needed to fire and maintain this distinctive gun. Again showing great ingenuity, Damien has now recreated an anti-aircraft position similar to the many examples which the German Occupiers had built around the Island to defend the larger gun positions from air attack.

Personally for me, a welcome visit to Damien’s incredible bunker is always one of those rare treats when visiting Jersey and Tomahawk Films are therefore, perhaps unsurprisingly, absolutely delighted that his stunning museum continues to be the only outlet on this pretty channel island that is both playing and selling our collection of Third Reich music to visitors; so effectively allowing this stirring Nazi-era military & civilian music to actually ‘come home’ and be played in the islands’ myriad bunkers and mess-rooms, exactly as it would have done during the war-time German Occupation years of 1940 and 1945!

Damien’s restored German case-mate right down on the shore-line at St Ouen is also a very important outlet for our ‘Channel Islands Occupied’ DVD, telling the story of the German garrison in the Islands between 1940 and 1945… and I couldn’t think of a more perfect Jersey setting for my German Occupation television documentary..!

 Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013