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A Teenager in Jersey during the German Occupation, 1940-45

by agecon4dor

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Archive List > Childhood and Evacuation

Contributed by 
agecon4dor
People in story: 
Mrs Winifred White (nee Le Poidevin)
Location of story: 
Jersey, Channel Islands
Background to story: 
Civilian
Article ID: 
A4453247
Contributed on: 
14 July 2005

This document was submitted to the People’s War site by a volunteer from Age Concern, Dorchester on behalf of Mrs Winifred White, and has been added to the site with her permission. Mrs White fully understands the site’s terms and conditions.

“I was 15 in 1940 when the Germans occupied Jersey where I lived with my parents, a brother and two sisters. We heard an announcement over our local radio station to pack all our possessions and catch the boats waiting in the harbour, because the Germans were coming. There was only standing room and the boats were packed like sardines; some mothers with babies in their arms trying to get off the Island. Not everybody wanted to go; many didn’t want to leave their homes, businesses and farms. We queued for a whole day on the quay and didn’t get on a boat. The whole family tried to go. We were turned away because it was getting dark. We queued the whole of the next day to go on a Corvette (the kind of boat being used) until late afternoon. We were told that the Germans were already coming into the channel just off Jersey and were stopping the boats. Before we could leave some German planes came overhead and started firing at the queue. We all ran towards the first building for shelter which was the abattoir. They were killing pigs. The pigs were screaming and the blood was running down the gulleys and we all crowded in. We were terrified; we were teenage kids aged 17, 15, 13 and 12. We all came out eventually and somebody in authority led us away and helped us to get back home. We lived about 4 miles away from the harbour. We listened to the news on the wireless. The Germans landed in the harbour and at the airport.

We used to hear the planes flying over, droning loudly, throughout the war. They were both sides flying to France. The Germans commandeered hotels, shops and homes where people had escaped to England, to billet their troops. They used ballrooms, clubrooms and halls – anywhere.

A lot of brave mothers were asked by the Island doctors to hide the escaped Russian and other slave labourers who were working on the Island. The doctors delivered the food for them and usually brought them in the middle of the night. These men were hidden between the rafters in the attic of our house. Us teenagers used to meet in one another’s houses before the curfews and stay overnight. We used to belong to a Mission Hall that was a sort of youth club, but we had to be home by 8 pm. We used wind-up gramophones – there was no electricity. We burned candles that my father made out of tallow and pieces of string. We had a cooking fire out in the garden. The ration was a bucket of tar, which you queued for at the gasworks, and a bucket of coal dust that you mixed with soil or sand and made into brickettes, which we dried in the sun before burning.

We children went down to the beach and brought sea water home in any vessel we could find. Mum would put it into a shallow baking tin and let the water evaporate – that was how we got our salt. Dad used to make soap out of tallow, because no soap was available. We had no gas, no electricity. We had to go all round the woods collecting firewood, which Mum used on the open fire outside for cooking our food.

The Germans used to come round to the houses demanding teenage children to work for them, so my father made a big sign saying “Dressmaking Orders Taken” and put the sewing machine in the window. People started to bring old sheets and blankets and asked me to make working shirts for their husbands, or dressing gowns from old blankets and lumber jackets for the boys out of old army blankets. So, by being a dressmaker I avoided being taken by the Germans.

Mother was English, so the Germans would have taken her away if she did just one thing wrong, eg hiding the escaped slave workers. Father used to say, “She has run away” when the Germans came, and she used to go to stay with friends and eventually come back.

We were starving. Dad had a vegetable garden and Mum had rabbits. Mother used to take us girls to gather nettles, bramble leaves for tea - anything we could eat. Dad used to put cloches over the dandelions and bleach them, and we would eat it like chicory. Dad used to make a coffee out of ground sugar beet after the sugar was extracted.

The cat’s whisker for our crystal set was kept under the lid of my sewing machine. When the Germans came we always said to them, “Dad’s in the bath and Mum’s gone to visit a neighbour”. The German, always in twos, said, “We come back”.

The German occupation took our youth away. All we thought about was survival. We never went out alone and we had to get off the pavements to let the Germans pass. We were terrified to do anything wrong.”

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