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Every year, on the 9th of May, Guernsey celebrates the day that the Channel Islands were liberated from almost five years of German occupation during World War Two.
Liberation Day is an important public holiday in the Islands’ calendar, marked by a church parade and service at the Town Church in St Peter Port at 11am, a Liberation Day Cavalcade of WWII vehicles and pre-1945 classic cars, and various markets and music events that culminate late in the evening with a celebratory firework display above St Peter Port harbour.
The Channel Islands endured five years of occupation by Nazi Germany following the Fall of France in May and June of 1940. On June 19th the British government took the decision to demilitarize the Channel Islands and evacuate those who wished to leave. In total almost half of Guernsey’s population was evacuated to the United Kingdom along with, eventually, almost the entire population of Alderney whilst almost every resident of Sark electing to remain. Those islanders who stayed behind knew that invasion by the Germans was almost inevitable, and on Sunday June 30th Guernsey was occupied by a force led by Major-Doktor Albrecht Lanz who went on to became the islands’ first German commandant. In 1941, following Germany’s invasion of Russia and the opening up of an Eastern Front, Hitler ordered the construction of the Atlantic Wall and the fortification of the Channel Islands which Hitler believed would be a key target as a prestigious and strategically important victory for the Allies. During the course of the occupation the islanders endured starvation conditions and harsh punishments for supporting or engaging in acts of defiance and resistance. It wasn’t until the end of the war that the Channel Islands were eventually liberated, having been placed under the command of a fanatical Nazi, Vice-Admiral Huffmeier, who was determined to hold out until the bitter end and who, it was believed, may ignore orders to surrender and fight on alone. With the German High Command having surrendered on Monday 7th May and orders being issued for all active operations to cease at one minute past midnight on Wednesday 9th May, at 3pm on Tuesday 8th May 1945 the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill announced news of the surrender.
“Active operations will cease at one minute after midnight tonight and our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed today.”
The following morning, shortly after dawn Generalmajor Heine, the second-in-command of Germany’s forces on Guernsey, signed an unconditional surrender aboard HMS Bulldog and at 8.45am the first advance party of British troops landed at the New Jetty, thus liberating the island.
Two weeks later Jurat John Leale, who had been President of the eight-member emergency Controlling Committee responsible for the Bailiwick’s administration and dealing with the Germans for much of the occupation from December 1940 until liberation, presented his report to the States of Guernsey, which was subsequently published. It covered in exhaustive detail the work and negotiations undertaken by the committee in their attempts to administer the islands under occupation and ensure the wellbeing of the islanders and included the following concluding paragraph that serves to this day as a reminder of the true value of freedom:
“From the Occupation of this Island by Germany forces, grim though the experience has been, we have all doubtless learned salutary lessons. But there is one that I think we have been taught above all others and it is this: Never in the past have we valued liberty as we shall value it in the future.
If that thought dominates our political, social and industrial lives, then good may yet come out of evil. If because of our trials we realise, as we have never realised before, the meaning of freedom to the human spirit, then those cruel years from 1940 to 1945 will not after all have been wasted, but, on the contrary, out of the wreckage of the weary and seemingly useless years, we shall have rescued, and indeed refined that conception of life which alone entitles us to bear the name of men.”
The Reverand Sir John Leale
This year marks the 71st anniversary of the islands’ liberation. Guernsey’s Liberation Day festivities run from Friday 6th of May through to Liberation Day itself on Monday 9th May. A full itinerary of events, including details of special bus and park ‘n’ ride services on Monday 9th can be found on www.guernseyliberationday.com.
Images reproduced with kind permission of The Guernsey Event Company Ltd.