Beautiful Love Story: Young British women who fell in love with German soldiers stationed on the island

Photo: Studio Canal
Photo: Studio Canal

An upcoming movie is set during a dark time in Britain’s history. Starring Lily James of Downton Abbey fame, “The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society” tells the tale of Guernsey Island in World War II when the Germans invaded it and the other Channel Islands, and Britain sent no aid whatsoever.

The Nazis controlled the islands for five years while Britain did nothing. Close to starving without the food supplies from their own country, the islanders survived on a desperate diet that included potato peel pie and blancmange made out of red moss from the beaches. They used bramble leaves and ground roasted parsnip when they ran out of tea and coffee.

But the focus of the film is another subject entirely – young British women who fell in love with German soldiers stationed on the island. Many of them were left with babies when the Germans surrendered and the occupiers left.

Photo: Studio Canal
Photo: Studio Canal

According to Madeleine Bunting, a historian, and author of The Model Occupation, the German soldiers liked sunbathing on the beaches wearing as little clothing as was publicly acceptable.

According to Bunting, the older, more conservative women were “horrified” at the Germans’ lack of decency. But the younger ladies were intrigued by these bronzed, muscle-bound young men.

That the soldiers had more food and were able to purchase perfume, stockings and other gifts didn’t hurt either.

Besides, most of the young British men were away serving in the army. And the Germans didn’t look like the enemy when they weren’t wearing uniforms.

The locals called the young ladies who got too close to the enemy “Jerrybags.” Still, some of the young ladies managed to find true love with a German soldier.

Photo: Studio Canal
Photo: Studio Canal

Dolly Edwards was one of those ladies. She fell in love with German signaller Willi Joanknecht. When the war ended, they were the first Anglo-German couple to get married. That got them a ban from returning to Guernsey.

Dolly was 14 when the war started. She was supposed to be evacuated with the women and children, but she missed the last boat out, so she stayed with her aunt.

Three days later, the Germans attacked. German planes killed 34 locals.

On June 30, 1940, the Germans invaded the islands without a single shot being fired.

Three years later, Dolly was accused of stealing a loaf of bread from the shop where she was employed. She was jailed in Lille, France, for four months. She was then shipped with slaves to help build bunkers and fortifications along the Guernsey coast.

Photo: Studio Canal
Photo: Studio Canal

Willi was on the same boat returning from leave. He recognized her as the girl who had watched him playing soccer and who stuck her tongue out at him every time he looked at her.

Willi then brought Dolly above deck and gave her coffee and food. He started to teach her German, and she taught him English as their relationship developed.

In spite of her family’s concerns, Dolly refused to stop seeing Willi.

After D-Day, the Channel Islands were blocked off from France. Churchill still refused to send supplies in an attempt to starve the German’s off the island.

By Christmas, the islanders were starving to the point that the Red Cross sent them relief packages.

Photo: Studio Canal
Photo: Studio Canal

According to Duncan Barrett, author of Hitler’s British Isles, the Germans were reduced to eating cats, dogs and raw vegetables they dug up from gardens. But they did not eat the Red Cross packages.

On May 9, 1945, Guernsey was liberated.

Just before that date, Dolly gave birth to a boy she named Tony after a woman called Antonio that Dolly said had saved her life in prison.

The German soldiers were sent to POW camps. Dolly managed to get to the dock and hold baby Tony up for Willi to see as he sailed away.

Dolly had no idea where Willi would be sent in Britain, but she went to Britain anyway to start her life while she looked for him.

Photo: Studio Canal
Photo: Studio Canal

By coincidence, she ended up in the same place as Willi. She took a job, and Willi was working in the fields next door.

In 1946, they received their license to marry, even while Willi was still a POW.

After Willi was released, they found that the mayor of Guernsey had forbidden them to return, so they settled in Britain. They had four more children together.

Willi passed away in 2015 after 68 years of marriage. Dolly died last year.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE