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Channel Islanders resist German occupation in WWII, 1941-1945
The Channel Islands, two British territories, fell under German occupation in 1940 during WWII. The Islands politically took on a policy of “passive cooperation.” Fearing a German monopolization of oil, Britain interned German civilians living in Persia in 1941. In retaliation, German soldiers deported 2200 Channel Islanders to internment camps in Germany and France. The majority of deported were English born males between the ages of 16 and 70.
There was no organized resistance movement, possibly due to the separation of the islands or the density of German troops, roughly one to every three civilians. The majority of resistance was passive and included minor acts of sabotage such as working slowly, sheltering and aiding escaped slave workers, publishing underground newspapers and listening to banned BBC radio broadcasts. When the Germans finally learned that civilians listened to the BBC, the radios were confiscated.
Channel Islanders took part in the V sign campaign, a resistance movement that spread across Europe. V stood for victory and the repeated symbol was supposed to make Germans feel surrounded by a hostile resistance army. “V” was painted over German signs and on houses, a reminder of island solidarity. The symbol was incorporated into art and everyday objects as well. It was engraved in cups, stitched in clothes and embroidery, and hidden in paintings. Intern Monty Manning cut his beard and moustache into a V shape. One woman used Red Cross string to create a V on the sole of her shoe, making a V footprint as she walked. The V took on an aural connotation as well; the opening chords of Beethoven’s 5th symphony were played before resistance news broadcasts, clapping hands and hammering became covert signs. These subtle acts of resistance were passed over by German guards but were tremendous morale boosters for Channel Islanders. The risk was not small however; people served prison time for painting V signs.
In 1941, Edmund Blampied designed banknotes issued by the State of Jersey. When folded in a specific way, the design revealed a V symbol. He created a series of postage stamps in 1942 which hid the initials “GR” for “Georgius Rex,” symbolizing loyalty to Britain and King George VI.
Artists Claude Cahun and Suzanne Malherbe created rhythmic poems, criticisms and anti-German fliers from BBC reports. They then distributed these by placing them in the pockets and on the chairs of German soldiers and throwing them into cars and windows. In 1944 the pair was arrested and sentenced to death, although this sentence was never carried out.
The first large-scale demonstration against deportation was in 1942 Guernsey. Two hundred people spent a night singing patriotic songs. That very day, crowds marched in St. Helier, Jersey, carrying banners with slogans such as “Churchill,” and “England.” German occupiers arrested fourteen men for the protest, some protesters serving up to a month in prison.
In 1943, soldiers began a second round of deportations, this time targeting WWI officers, Jews and “undesirables,” those who had spent time in prison for resistance. The prisoners continued the V campaign and other symbolic forms of resistance until occupation ended in 1945.