A Hero Overlooked by History – British Resistance in the Occupied Channel Islands in World War Two

German military band marching past Lloyds Bank on The Pollet, St Peter Port at Guernsey. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source

British policemen, ‘bobbies,’ on Britain’s Channel Islands during the Second World War could certainly identify with Sam Riley, a Scotland Yard detective struggling with the morality of working with the Nazis in the BBC drama SS-GB. They had to live with it.

The Channel Islands were occupied by Germany for five years from 1940.

German officials in Guernsey and Jersey ordered them to work as normal as Jews sought refuge by hiding, curfews were mandated, identity cards were introduced and locals compelled at gunpoint to collaborate.

However, there was resistance.

Sgt. Fred Duquemin of Guernsey Police was horror-stricken.  His defiance almost placed him in Belsen death camp.

They started by irritating the invaders with flashing torches at their positions and relocating military vehicles.  Later they applied Victory symbols and stole German food, giving it to deprived islanders.

Fred and his 16 colleagues were caught and tried in May 1942.  The remainder of the force was monitored closely by the Nazis.

His daughter Rose Short, 83, revealed for the first time how her father was cruelly questioned and beaten until he confessed.

He was given a two-and-a-half-year hard labor sentence, but he wound up serving three years until liberation in 1945, she said. The Germans had to wait weeks for the bruises to heal before they could try him.

Rose did not have to witness the nightmare of her father’s trial.  In 1940, aged seven, she was evacuated to Stockport, Cheshire, with her mother, Nellie, sisters, Thelma, 14, Ruby, three and brother, Steve, 13.

She said her parents were given one day to decide whether they would be evacuated. They arrived in Stockport in the middle of the night.  It was raining and they did not know if Guernsey or her father would ever be seen again. He remained at the request of the officials.

About 24,000 left the islands, but 70,000 remained to see Germany march without opposition into Britain’s oldest possession.  London believed it was not possible to defend them and left the island governments to fare as best they could.

A British policeman holds the door of a staff car as Major Albrecht Lanz, the first German Kommandant of Guernsey and Jersey, alights outside his Headquarters (Kommandantur) at the former Channel Islands Hotel on Glategny Esplanade, Saint Peter Port, Guernsey. Copyright: © IWM (HU 3616). Photo Credit

Clocks were moved one hour ahead to Berlin time, and traffic was ordered to drive on the right.  British bobbies went door-to-door arresting Jews who were later taken to their deaths.

Rose recalls the day her father returned from imprisonment in April 1945 with his skin nearly hanging off his face due to his privations.

He was met in London, but none of the family recognized him.  He was wearing an old raincoat with a cord rather than a belt and had a bag of Red Cross supplies and a prison blanket.

He never recovered from the ordeal.

Fred rarely talked about his nightmare and passed away from cancer nine years later at age 65.

Diaries penned by Rose’s late brother provided greater insight.

One entry recalls that when Fred returned to Guernsey, he expected to return to policing and was sure he would get his job back and have his pension rights reinstated. The diary adds the local authorities refused. He died almost ten years later, a bitter and taciturn man.

Paradoxically, Rose’s widowed mother received £2,300 in compensation — from Germany.

Rose said it is not hard to know why no meaningful resistance was mounted during the occupation. She can sympathize with people’s reluctance to resist the Nazis after hearing her father’s story.

But she also struggles to understand why some island officials went along with the dictatorial regime.

The police were asked to make a list of Jews, she said. There was a dilemma: they did not want to grovel to the Germans, but some of them did. Some of them were complicit. And they were never pardoned.

The Germans forced the government to register the 30 to 50 Jews in the Channel Islands. Six Jews were registered in Guernsey.  All were gassed at Auschwitz except for four.  On Jersey, 22 islanders died after being forcefully sent to camps and prisons, Mirror reported.

Rose said Winston Churchill was a notable man in many respects, but they felt that he had deserted them, adding that what her father did makes him a hero overlooked by history.