Alderney Homecoming 75th anniversary marked

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Media caption,
Those who returned found devastation

Alderney has been marking 75 years since the first residents returned after the island was evacuated in 1940 ahead of the German Occupation.

The occupying forces heavily fortified the island and built three forced worker camps and the only concentration camp on British soil.

The Homecoming on 15 December 1945 saw the first families arrive home - seven months on from the island's liberation.

A service and a re-enactment were held as part of the commemorations.

Courteney Benfield, who took part in the re-enactment, said: "It's important we never forget something so big like this because it affected so many people's lives in so many different ways and it still does to this day."

The island had essentially been turned into a "fortified camp" with "very few spaces" not covered in "military detritus", local historian Colin Partridge said.

Image caption,
Some re-enactors said it was important to remember the sacrifices and determination of the returning islanders

He said beach obstacles, barbed wire and more than 30,000 mines were removed with the defence works "equalling or exceeding those in Guernsey or Jersey".

Mr Partridge said around the end of November 1945 application forms for returning were sent to the islanders who had been evacuated across the UK.

The aim, he said, was for the first group to include those who could fulfil "vital posts" including farming and essential services with 104 islanders selected.

Others returned in staggered groups throughout 1946.

They were fed and housed communally while they worked to make their homes liveable again.

Doris Curth, who returned in June 1946, remembers the old iron beds and itchy grey blankets they were given and the basics including "things like cups and saucers, but nothing ever matched".

Image source, Alderney Museum
Image caption,
Islanders lived communally when they first arrived while they worked to restore their homes

She said "we were grateful we were given all this stuff" and she enjoyed working on the communal farm.

Joyce Buckland, who was among those to return in January 1946 also worked on the farm, said she was in a group of teenagers who used to enjoy exploring the German fortifications and tunnels.

She said they asked for five-celled torches for birthdays and big balls of strings to help them explore the living quarters and murals on the walls.

Ms Buckland said there was a "maze of tunnels" under Alderney and "there were more chairs and tables down there, than up here".

When their explorations were discovered the British Army sealed the entrances to the tunnels.

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