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15 October 2014
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A Child's War: The German Occupation of Guernseyicon for Recommended story

by derbycsv

Contributed by 
People in story: 
Peter Le Prevost, Hedley & Margery Le Prevost (parents, deceased)
Location of story: 
Guernsey, Channel Islands
Background to story: 
Article ID: 
Contributed on: 
13 June 2005

This story was submitted to the people's war site by Susan Stowe of the Derby action desk on behalf of Peter Le Prevost and has been added to the site with his permission. The author fully understands the site's terms and conditions.

The occupation of the Channel Island lasted from 28th June 1940 until 9th May 1945. The years were long, bitter and agonising. We all lived on a knife edge, not knowing from day to day what would happen next, always in danger and appalling difficulties in the long struggle for the very survival of life of our family and community. As we who grew up during the period reflect, my thoughts return to the Island and my boyhood experiences. To this end, I would wish to share a few anecdotes with you.

I well remember the actual Liberation Day, 9th May 1945. The town of St Peter Port was thronged with people, who had made every effort to be at the harbour in order to greet our saviours, "the British Tommies" our liberators. We saw the large landing craft in the harbour, and I with the other children, were rowed out to it, where we were given sweets, chocolate and fruit. All these items were unknown to me except for the chocolate, which I recognised having already sampled some from the Red Cross parcels with which we had previously been issued. The orange-coloured, round ball that I received split when I dropped it on the pavement, and of course failed to bounce back as I had expected it to! My parents taught me how to peel and eat it - bliss! I realised then that oranges are not toys.

After the initial greeting of our liberators, and cheering them as they marched along the harbour front, my parents, brother and I were following the crowd, all in an exuberant mood, when my mother spied a sailor from HMS Bulldog and recognised him as her cousin from the Isle of Wight. After a joyful reunion with loads of hugs and kisses, he informed us that my Grandmother had died three years earlier. Isolated as we had been, we were not to know, and this news marred our day and resulted in our leaving the Island a few months later, so that my mother could nurse my aging grandfather.

My early recollections of the occupation are still vivid in my mind, even though I was a young boy, born 26th March 1938. I have memories of watching slave workers being beaten by German soldiers, slave workers marching/staggering along the road, seeing snails on boulders, breaking ranks and fighting each other, with the fortunate ones devouring snail flesh and shell complete. It must be realised that these unfortunate prisoners were starving and in a far worse state than we were.

Whilst living in a cottage in L'eree, my father obtained a cow who we named Ruby. In accordance with the occupiers' ruling that all livestock must be registered, Ruby was kept tethered up in our large garden, and milking was carried out by mum. A large percentage of the milk yield was surrendered to the Germans. Some time into the occupation, the cow disappeared over night. My father reported the theft/loss to the authorities who searched our cottage and grounds but no traces of Ruby were found. By this time food stocks were low, but after a little while strange unidentified pieces of 'something' appeared on our plates, along with the boiled potato peelings and other scrapes my mother had obtained for us. Bread made from horses' oats and saw dust sometimes featured in our diet. Ruby had in fact been spirited away to my uncle's farm after curfew, a very dangerous thing to do, as my father would have been shot had he been caught, but he was willing to chance his luck. Ruby was slaughtered, and the meat doled out to trusted friends and family. I was told about this after the war when I asked my parents about Ruby's disappearance.

Food became very scarce. Shops were empty, and people were unofficially bartering for food, clothing, and the few remaining pairs of shoes. If they were wealthy enough they could buy goods on the 'black market', which I am given to understand was a very lucrative market at the time.

Unfortunately, my father, a cartier by profession, lost one lorry in the initial bombing of the harbour by the German Air Force, and the remaining vehicles were subsequently commandeered. He was forced to drive one of them for the military - not a case of 'will you?' it was 'you will'. No compensation was ever paid for the loss of his vehicles or livelihood.

In September 1942, my brother was born. I remember his christening, which took place at St Peter's in the Wood Parish Church. In accordance with the German ruling, public gatherings were also attended by the military. The congregation thought that the German on duty was unable to understand or speak English. At the point in the service when the vicar enquired, "What do you name this child?" the reply was "Winston for Churchill, and George for the King", the soldier had a fit and went berserk. He understood our language and was definitely not amused!

At school, when we were healthy enough to attend, we received lessons in the German language and taught by the Germans, the lessons included propaganda about the war etc. As all parents do, they asked me what I have learnt at school that day. I would answer their questions, but it did seem strange that when I told my parents that Adolf Hitler was a great leader who would rule Great Britain some day soon, nothing was said, but I received a clip round the ears. I never praised the man again. I also realised that had my parents said that Hitler was evil, I would unthinkingly have reported these facts to my military teacher. I now dread to think of the outcome - the wisdom of a child.

I know that I have always been unlucky with pets. During the middle period of the occupation food became even scarcer for us. I owned two cats who were somewhat feral. We were unable to feed them from our meagre scraps. My mother, to earn some food, took in washing for two decent army sergeants. One evening the Germans delivered their laundry to our home, and as usual the conversation turned to food, and the relevant shortages. My parents informed them that our two cats had disappeared. It transpired that Mickey and Ginger had been eaten that evening by the military billeted in the local hotel! By that stage of the occupation, rabbits, cats, chickens, and some dogs had been stolen and eaten by the military and slave worker prisoners. The story of my missing cats was mentioned a few years ago when I had cause to telephone the hotel previously mentioned, requesting a brochure, tariff and sample menus. The receptionist asked my name and address. When I told her my name, she enquired if I had been or was a local. I told her 'yes' and informed her that during the war I had lived two hundred yards away from the hotel, and how my cats had been stolen by the Germans. Quick as a flash the young lady informed me that the standard of food had improved since then!

Although the period of the occupation was fraught with dangers, starvation, and the horrors I witnessed as a young boy, I am reminded that the trials my parents faced were traumatic, and of the sacrifices that were made by them. I know what it feels like to cry myself to sleep because I was so hungry, and to have to go without because indeed the cupboard was bare! What little food was available to us was portioned by my mother, giving my brother and I the larger shares in order that we might live.

There are other anecdotes that I remember. I was beaten by soldiers three times, going blind through starvation, six Germans living in the front room of our house, the arrival of Red Cross parcels which saved us, but who knows, I may write the stories some time in the future.

I look forward to celebrating Liberation Day in Guernsey. Who knows what my thoughts will be as I proudly march along the harbour front, chest out, medals polished, acting as an escort to the regimental standards which will be on parade.

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This story has been placed in the following categories.

Childhood and Evacuation Category
Rationing Category
Resistance and Occupation Category
Channel Islands Category
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