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LIVING WITH THE GERMANS — Clothes shortages and riding your bike on the wrong side

by Guernseymuseum

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06 May 2005

One of the many things during the occupation was that you couldn’t go into shops and buy things, like clothes, for example. What people did, and you usually found this in the local paper, somebody had a large shirt for exchange for a pair of trousers, or so on and so forth. So clothing was almost worth its weight in gold. Anyway, one day, a friend of ours who lived in St Andrews wanted a shirt. My mother had a shirt that she didn’t need and I was given instructions to go and deliver this shirt into rural St Andrews. I was cycling along, and went as far as Les Cornus, St Martins, and I took the lane to the left that works its way towards the German Underground Hospital. Of course at that time we had to cycle on the right-hand side of the road, and the horse and carts had to go on the right, everything had to go on the right-hand side of the road. I was going along there on the right-hand side of the road, then I suddenly thought: “Oh, sod this, I’m going to cycle on the left.” So there I was, cycling away on the left, when the road suddenly goes downhill. It sweeps down at the bottom, and goes up the other side, and there was a high hedge on both sides in those days. I was going merrily down on the left-hand side, but what I didn’t know was that there was a German soldier on his bike coming down the other side of the hill on the right-hand side!
Well, I think the inevitable happened, we collided right at the bottom, I always knew this old German soldier, because he used to cycle his bike and mumble to himself as he rode along. I think he used to be sort of a messenger, delivering messages from one company to another.

Anyway, we collided down the bottom there, so I quickly got up and ran up the hill and hid in a gateway, where I could look down and see what he was doing, and he was in a furious, absolute rage. He picked up my bike, hurled it against a granite wall, with the farmhouse behind, hurled it against there, then all of a sudden he grabbed hold of the tyres and started pulling at the valves and releasing the air from both my tyres. And then he saw my packet with the valuable shirt inside it, and I thought: “Oh, good heavens, no”, you know, “please don’t take that, because I’ve been given instruction to….” Anyway, he didn’t even open it up, he just hurled it over this hedge into this farmhouse garden. Then he sort of rubbed himself down and picked up his bike, more mumbling and grumbling, and I saw him riding up past me, and when I thought the coast was clear, I went down to pick up my bike. Both tyres were flat, so I put it against the wall, and I went to the back door of the farmhouse, ( you can always tell Guernsey people, they always go to the back door, anyone who goes to the front door, they’re not a ‘Guern’)! Anyway, I went to the back door, and knocked on there and asked the lady: “Do you mind if I go into your garden and pick up a package”.
“Yes”, she says, “by all means”.
So, off I go, the package was there I picked it up and off I go; I had to go another two hundred yards, I had to push my bike, of course, and I got down there, handed over the valuable shirt to the person it was intended, and then asked if I could borrow a pump for my bike. A young chap came along; he said: “I’ll pump it for you”, he said. So, but he looked very surprised when he saw that both tires were flat, anyway, he didn’t say anything; he pumped them up, and I cycled home. When I got home, my mother said: “Did you deliver the package?” I said: “I certainly did”, and that was that. I never told her what had happened in the meantime.

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