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ISLANDERS AT WAR

- ON THE FRONT LINE -

Down the centuries Jersey men and women have signed up to defend Britain in times of conflict. Jersey contingents served in the two world wars of the twentieth century. And in the second of those war came to the Channel Islands – the only British islands to be occupied by Nazi Germany.

In June 1940, Jersey played a vital role in rescuing soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force trapped in St Malo as German troops swept through France. Responding to a call from the Admiralty, local boat-owners set sail for France to take part in what amounted to a ‘mini Dunkirk.’ The heroism of those who sailed south was later recognised by the British government in the permission granted to the St Helier Yacht Club to wear the defaced Red Ensign.

 

For eighty years this was a story about soldiers, so it was remarkable to find, in 2022, that among the human cargo of one motor yacht was a group of civilians. The story of the Weindlings changed our understanding of the events of June 1940.

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In the summer of 2022, Irene Probstein’s emotional return to Jersey included a lunch given in her honour by the St Helier Yacht Club which culminated in her telling the whole story of the week in 1940 when she and her family fled Belgium ahead of the Nazi invasion.

Production of this feature was enabled by the generous support of Irène Weindling Probstein and Suzanne Weindling Burakoff in memory of Samuel Weindling and Claire Weindling, Irène’s parents and Suzanne’s grandparents. Owing to their good judgement and brave devotion they brought their family safely out of the imminent danger posed by the German occupation of Belgium and France when they passed through Jersey to freedom on that crucial day in June 1940.

The part Jersey played in the evacuation of troops from St Malo is well-known. But interviews with those who took part, recorded for a Channel Television documentary series Summer 1940, have recently been re-discovered and digitised. They include the testimony of Victoria College PT teacher and volunteer lifeboatman, Reg Nicolle, who captained the little boat Peirson.

Bill Coom captained the Desirée and never forgot the spectacle of the Royal Engineers destroying the lock-gates at St Malo to deny their use to the Germans.

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In France, on the night of Sunday 16th June 1940 Paul Reynaud’s government fell and a new government was formed under Marshal Pétain, the hero of Verdun. His ministers agreed to seek an armistice with Germany.

On the morning of Monday 17th June, General Charles de Gaulle, refusing to accept an armistice, left Bordeaux for London to rally the Free French. His aeroplane stopped in Jersey to refuel.

 

That night, Britain’s prime minister, Winston Churchill, made a short broadcast on the BBC in which he could not deny that the news from France was very bad.

Thanks to the efforts of staff at ITV Channel, we can see the three episodes of Summer 1940. Produced in 1980 to mark the fortieth anniversary of these momentous events, they contain the testimony of many of those who were there; eyewitnesses to history.

Summer 1940 CTV Programme 1
Summer 1940 CTV Programme 2
Summer 1940 CTV Programme 3

There is always time to remember. With the launch of the feature film Dunkirk in 2017, Islander Clive Kemp was persuaded to talk about his experience of living to fight another day…

“I can see it now…there was just mayhem” 
- Clive Kemp

Leo Harris’s father, a successful garage owner, brought his wife and two sons to Jersey from Edinburgh before the Second World War to escape the threat of German bombing raids. He opened the Marina Hotel at Havre des Pas - which is how the Harris family came to be trapped in Jersey when German troops arrived in July 1940. Leo and his older brother, Francis, saw the Occupation through the eyes of youngsters but things turned serious in 1944 when Francis was imprisoned for helping himself to a German rifle. He was not released until Liberation Day, 9th May 1945…

How did Jersey men and women react to occupation by German troops from 1940 to 1945? Those in charge knew they had to be careful about upsetting the occupiers for fear of reprisals on the local population. Others, especially youngsters, wanted to take more direct action. To find out more follow the 'Resistance Trail' below...