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Channel Islands Occupation, Events & Attractions

Undeniably the Channel Islands we see today have been left with a strong legacy from its occupation by German troops during World War II. The coastlines of all the islands are dotted with war bunkers and fortifications which show the lengths Hitler went to to build his Atlantic Wall defences. The story of the Occupation is fascinating. Why did these tiny islands, such as jewel in the British crown, lie undefended during the war? For an answer and to find out more about how each island was affected during the war, take a look at our Jersey, Guernsey and Alderney Occupation pages.

Liberation of the Channel Islands

Today, all the islanders have a Liberation Day holiday, celebrating their final return to freedom and remembering those who gave their lives for it. Each island has bunkers and fortifications available to visit, with many having been restored. Take a look at our Channel Islands Occupation events and attractions guide below and come and find out just how the legacy of war has shaped these islands:

Channel Islands Occupation Attractions

Jersey

The Jersey War Tunnels and Underground Hospital may sound a daunting prospect but this is where the history of the Occupation really comes to life. From the moment you take your first steps into the underground tunnels, the sights, sounds and atmosphere of the war come to life. Coupled with the Channel Islands Military Museum and a visit to the award winning Occupation Tapestry, you can really understand Jersey’s position.

Guernsey

Guernsey’s German Occupation Museum is a good place to start but Guernsey has been lucky enough to have a special interest group, Festung Guernsey, involved in the restoration of many of its war bunkers, forts and batteries, which are open to visit at certain times. La Valette Military Museum and the German Underground Hospital are fascinating, as is St Jacques Naval Headquarters where German Naval transmissions took place.

Alderney

Closest to France, Alderney was the most fortified island during the war. With all its residents evacuated, the Germans moved in swiftly and housed forced labourers there in four camps, Lager Sylt being the most famous. With 5 artillery batteries, 22 anti-aircraft batteries, 3 walls and 13 strongpoints, the islanders returned to utter devastation and land mines. Alderney was also the last to be liberated. Today Alderney celebrates ‘Homecoming Day’ on 15 December as a marker of when evacuees returned. Visit the island museum and enquire at the tourism shop for more details.

Sark

Sark’s famous Dame, Sibyl Hathaway, refused to acknowledge the arrival of German troops and ordered the inhabitants to stay. Her indomitable character saw her greeting the occupied forces as if they were guests! The Heritage and Occupation Museum tells of Sark’s experience with troops outnumbering island dwellers by two to one.

Herm

Largely untouched by the war, Herm escaped with just one battery but was used for a German propaganda film, depicting The invasion of the Isle of Wight.

Occupation and Liberation events

Jersey learnt it was to be liberated on 8 May 1945 when Sir Winston Churchill announced that ‘our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed today.’ However it wasn’t until 9 May when HMS Beagle was seen in St Aubin’s Harbour that the majority of islanders realised they were free. Today Jersey and Guernsey celebrate Liberation on 9 May, Sark on 10 May and Alderney on 16 May with 1940’s themed events, services of thanks and street party style entertainment.

Walking guides to the Occupation

Get fit and learn about the Occupation! A series of self-guided walks are available online from Visit Guernsey and Visit Alderney. Throughout the summer months Jersey walking guides offer a series of walking talks:

  • 4 May – 10 September

    Occupation to Liberation, Sundays 10.30-13:00, St Helier.
    Take a guided walk around the Harbour in St Helier and learn about the impact the Occupation had on Jersey. Cost £5. Contact martinwalton@hotmail.com

  • 6 May – 16 September

    Living with the Enemy, Tuesdays 10:30-12:45, St Peter
    Concentrating on life under occupation, this walk incorporates a look at German trenches and finishes at The Jersey war Tunnels. Cost £10. Contact tom.bunting@localdial.com

  • 7 May – 28 September

    Behind Enemy Lines, Wednesdays/Sundays variable times around 19:30-21:30, St Helier
    Travel back in time and learn about events leading up to and during the Occupation. Cost £10. Contact petewebb@localdial.com

World War I

Not forgetting this year sees the centenary of World War I, Jersey will be marking the event with two exhibitions later this year:

  • 3 August – 30 November

    Jersey and the Great War – 12 voices. An exhibition reflecting individual stories about World War I.

  • 2 October – 26 November

    ‘Remembering’ exhibition at The Harbour Gallery, St Brelade. A free exhibition of art with a World War I theme.

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About the author

Posted by Christina

Christina's early memories include boarding a plane to visit Kuwait at the age of two and taking big family holidays in Scotland, Cornwall and France. After enjoying time teaching in London and Holland and marrying into a family spread from Ireland to the Channel Islands and America, it is no surprise that along with husband Julian they trekked around the world when three of their five children were small. Christina now runs the family company and writes and helps with the Travelsmith web and social media sites. Email: christinaclark@travelsmith.co.uk