Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940–45 by Gilly Carr, Paul Sanders & Louise Willmot - review by Bernard Porter

Bernard Porter

No Man is an Island

Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands: German Occupation, 1940–45


Bloomsbury Press 375pp £25.99 order from our bookshop

The Second World War has always been a sensitive topic for Channel Islanders. The Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles occupied by the Germans and their inhabitants came up with hardly any serious ‘resistance’ at all, as that word is generally understood and by comparison with, say, those of occupied France, Norway or Denmark. Several Channel Islanders actively collaborated with the enemy, as was the case in those other countries and even in Britain itself, but virtually none of them took up arms or plotted in any significant way against the occupiers, a course of action that might have given them and their descendants some retrospective pride. One of this book’s coauthors, Gilly Carr, whose family roots are in Guernsey, set out on her research, as she confided to a local newspaper, ‘furious’ at this reputation and determined to set the record straight. Fury is perhaps not the best emotion with which to approach historical research. In November 2010 the Guernsey Press anticipated her findings with the unambiguous headline ‘Cleared at Last’. In the event, Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands, to which the three coauthors each contribute several chapters, doesn’t quite justify that verdict, or, I would say, anything close to it. It does, however, provide a revealing picture of how a not very heroic people – probably like most of us – managed to cope with the difficult circumstances of a basically irresistible enemy occupation.

To expect much more of the islanders was perhaps unreasonable. The Channel Islands were all but abandoned by the British government during the first year of the war as not worth holding on to, demilitarised apart from a few shotguns and skimmed of most of their fighting-age men.

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