9th May is celebrated as Liberation Day thoughout the British Channel Islands. On 6th June 1944 the greatest ever sea born invasion had been launched on the beaches of Normandy; we know it as the D-Day landings. Not since 1588 had the British Isles faced such a threat to our freedom. In 1944 the Allied forces were invading the Normandy beaches to liberate occupied Europe from the Nazis. In the 16th century Elizabeth I had managed to avoid outright war with Spain even though there was a 19 year unofficial engagement between 1585-1604. In the summer of 1588 Philip II threw the might of his Armada against England determined to invade and impose Catholicism on a nation that now had its own religious identity in the Anglican Church. In June – a mere seventy plus years ago – despite the weather forecast being bad, the Allies launched a massive attack on Hitler’s defences in Normandy. A storm had cleared through providing a brief weather window. With the weather being so unpredictable Hitler did not believe the Allies would make a move until the conditions were far more favourable. Clearly AH’s lack of imagination and self-belief in his own ‘military genius’ meant he was unable to put himself in the mind of the Allied leaders.
In 1588 Philip II had many similar ambitions to that of the Nazi leader. Spain was the dominant world power having claimed many of the new lands being discovered as the planet was explored by the Spanish. Hitler had infamously declared the Third Reich would last a thousand years. During the years 1939 – 1944 the Nazis had imposed their tyrannical philosophy by occupation and military might across most of Europe. For me, it is apparent that the ambitions of the fanatical Nazi leaader were very similar to that of King Philip II of Spain in 1588. Philip was determined to return England to the Catholic Church and it was his Grande y Felicísima Armada or Armada Invencible, which translates as The Greatest & Most Fortunate Navy or Invincible Navy, that was to be the vehicle to bring his soldiers to English soil. Then, as in 1944, the English Navy was key to the defence of keeping the British Isles free from foreign invasion. There are various Tudor wrecks off the coast of the Channel Islands, but I am not aware that any of them are Spanish. There is a legend that the Pater Noster reef is so named because you can hear the ghosts of the Spanish sailors saying their “Our Father” as their ship foundered. The tides in this area are treacherous so it is unlikely that there will be any marine archaeology to prove or disprove the existence of any Spanish ships.
I was brought up on the Channel Island of Jersey, which was occupied by the German forces from June 1940 until 9th May 1945. My stepfather was a teenager and he and many of his friends did everything they could to make life difficult for the occupying forces. He told me that there were some playing fields where the German soldiers would drill and train, stripping down to vest and pants to do their exercises, leaving their uniforms folded neatly at the perimeter of these fields with Lugers placed on top of their neat piles of clothes and their rifles leaning against the hedge. One of the stories I prised out of him was how he, and several others, crept along the road side of the hedge and reached through taking various items of clothing, a boot and several of them lifted Lugers. Had they been caught, they would probably have been sent to the camps for stealing these pistols. Some years ago I was taking some friends to the Jersey War Tunnels and as I was reading the names of those who were sent to those terrible camps I realised that one of my school friends was named after an uncle who had been sent to Dachau for owning a crystal radio set. The Germans’ legacy is visible in these war tunnels and the concrete defences all built by slave labour. It is amazing just how much concrete was poured into the islands and makes me wonder why? Perhaps AH thought Churchill would attempt to defend them in 1940 despite Churchill declaring that would not be the case.
The muffled krumpff of the big guns could be heard in the Channel Islands when the D-Day landings commenced on 6th June 1944, and during the ensuring days when the Allied forces pushed through Normandy. There was an attempt by 10 youths to escape the island by canoe across the 15mile stretch of the Channel. Only one of canoes made it and those who had to swim back to the island came ashore to find the German soldiers waiting for them. They were sentenced to solitary confinement with the possibility of a firing squad at the end of that term. The two who made it to France were taken in by a French farming family and fed omelettes. The diet of these two had been so severely restricted during the Occupation and the richness of this seemingly simple dish was too much for their stomachs! This scroll was made by Philip Noel, one of those arrested for trying to escape the island after the allied landings. The signatures are of all those who ended up being arrested for various escape attempts. It is chilling to think that, if the D-Day landings had been delayed everyone of these young men would have either been deported to the camps, like those who had been caught distributing anti-Nazi pamphlets or for owning a crystal radio set.
Being brought up with these stories and surrounded by the concrete edifices erected by the occupying forces inspired me to write The Walls of Truth as a commemoration to all those who fight for freedom. I am proud that my short story was accepted to be included in the library at the Yad Vashem Holocauast Museum in Jerusalem.
8th May is VE Day in England and the rest of Europe. In the Channel Islands the German High Command did not surrender until noon the following day, so Channel Islanders celebrate our Liberation Day on the 9th May. I will never forget all those who died so that we may speak as we wish, worship freely and live without fear. May their sacrifice never be forgotten.