Reminiscences of the Occupation by John Bisson
I lived with my family in Rue du Pont Marquet, St. Brelade; living in the country was a great advantage as we could grow our own vegetables to supplement our meagre food allowances. Not far from our house we had a plot of land on which we grew carrots. One morning a group of Russian prisoners from a nearby camp passed by under the guard of two German soldiers. As they passed our carrot plot, the temptation of food was too much for them as they were starving. In one swoop they cleared the complete crop, but who could blame them?
On another occasion, my brother and I were returning home 30 minutes after curfew (curfew being 10 pm.) when we spotted some Germans, who were billeted in a house near our garden, just about to hop over our fence to steal some pumpkins which we were growing.
We shouted out, You `raus!" (Go away), knowing they were in the wrong, they did so, but we waited and watched and sure enough they came back again. Again we shouted "You `raus!", only to receive the reply "You `raus, or we'll shoot!". Obviously we obeyed but the Germans left empty handed. We could have reported them to their commandant, but as their discipline was so strict that they would have been sent to the front line as a punishment, we decided not to.
St. Helier residents were not nearly as fortunate as country folk as they could not grow anything. and when they had meat, for example, it was only a few ounces (unless they knew a farmer). It was dreadful to see them, as they were walking skeletons with pale drawn faces. Red Cross parcels were desperately needed for them.
In the country we could glean corn from the fields; at one time we collected 4'/4 cwt. which we took to the mill where the owner would grind it into flour. He wanted only payment in cigarettes, fortunately we were allowed 10 each week, and could barter with these.
Two or three evenings a week, I would cycle to St. Martins, 9 miles each way, to visit my girlfriend whom I subsequently married! I would meet up with my brother on Pont Marquet Road using a quiet whistle as a signal between us to be sure neither of us was a German soldier but if we heard the sound of boots approaching we would immediately hide in the nearest field until the Germans had passed. One night. my bicycle broke down after curfew. In a state of panic I knocked on the nearest Jerseyman's door and he gave me his son's bed for the night as he was away at war
On another occasion, I approached a policeman who told me he could let me sleep in a cell, but as I did not like that idea he suggested I go to a guest house in Belmont Road Fortunately, on both occasions the premises were on the phone and I could call my family and tell them all was well
My fiancée and I decided to get married in 1944, had we known the war was going to finish in 1945. we would have waited! Nevertheless, two days before the big day, I was stopped by a German guard as again I was out half-an-hour after curfew. My heart sank, but fortunately he only fined me one mark on the spot and warned me that it would be five if I did it again.
On another occasion I wanted to visit a friend who was not well. He lived at the end of a lane at the bottom of La Marquanderie Hill, St Brelade. Halfway down the hill the road was covered with green moss as there were springs at the side (they have since been capped); it was always wet and slippery which meant I had to cycle on the wrong side to avoid it. Much to my horror, I rode into a German soldier who was round a corner and knocked him over! I tore my trousers from top to bottom and the soldier must have felt sorry for me as I was not punished.
I had an egg in each pocket for my friend which were, of course, very precious, but both eggs were unbroken! I was being watched over for sure that day! I had to borrow my brother's suit that evening to go out, as clothes were scarce and I had no other trousers, it was unfortunate that he was quite a bit taller than me, but no-one noticed.
The children used to follow trucks and open the canvas flaps at the back to steal bread - also in Le Riches car park there were cow sheds with a loft over and the children found a German cache of food up there: quite a lot disappeared!! But who could blame them?
In the country the pigs had to be registered, but farmers always had an extra one hidden away Somehow the Germans thought this was happening and decided to investigate. One farmer had just killed an "illegal" pig, but he had not had time to cut it up, when he heard the Germans were coming. He had a spare bedroom so he popped the pig into the bed, covered it up and when the Germans arrived he greeted them and said, "You can come in but the old lady has just passed away this morning" They declined and politely went on their way.
You had to be imaginative to eat well. We boiled sea water until there was only salt left, and sugar beet was boiled and compressed for sweetening. Also parsnips or sugar beet was scraped down into tiny pieces and dried to be used as a substitute for tea; we had milk in it if we had any.
Even the Germans were starving by the time the Liberation came as all they had to live on were issued "Iron rations".
Many people used hose pipes for tyres on their bicycles, but I never did. I bartered for a needle and twine and sewed my tyres together as they wore down. I also had tyres from another bicycle and managed to get right through the Occupation like that. The needle was the type used for upholstery and is still a treasured possession of Mrs Bisson's.
A young lad was called before the Germans, and while he was waiting to be interviewed he spotted a list of names of people who had been named as having a crystal wireless set. He put it in his pocket and fled, finally giving it to a police constable. A lot of people were spared punishment by this brave act.
On our Wedding Day, it was difficult for me to get to St Martin's from St. Brelade as there was no petrol for cars. Mr. Pitcher had horses in St. Helier, but it was too far to send them for us, so my father brother, Best Man and myself cycled to St. Helier, went by pony and carriage to St. Martin's Chapel. were married, went back by pony and carriage to St. Helier for photographs to be taken and then back to St Martin's for the reception at my wife's family home.
The meal had to be in two sittings as there were so many guests. the people of St Martin's were marvellous. I was accepted as one of them A reception with no food - not on your life! Food appeared from nowhere as everyone had got together and brought milk, cake, eggs - even butter - and we had a wedding cake made from corn I had gleaned from the fields. The meal was Rabbit Pie with vegetables, it was wonderful! Everyone had been so kind, even today 50 years on I am still grateful to them!
An Occupation Diary by Dorothy Monckton
Dorothy Monckton used to live at Portelet Cottage, St. Brelade. She kept a diary during the Occupation. It lists the various rationing and hardships she and her family and friends had to endure during the German Occupation. Here follows a few extracts of interesting stories from 1940
July 29th 1940 - On Monday evening, July 1st, the first Germans arrived by air and were seen going into St. Helier by bus or motor, the taking over to be at 7 am. on Tuesday July 2nd, at the airport.
A good story is told of an ice-cream vendor. who, when at the top of St Brelade's Hill, saw two German soldiers corning along the Corbiere road and waving their arms at him - since he had no idea Germans had landed - he left his ice-cream tricycle and fled down St. Brelade's Hill in a panic. Returning after some lime with caution. he found his goods intact, only two cornets gone and two shilling pieces lying on the top and no sign of the Germans!
The week after the bombardment we were a using our cars, but only had one gallon a week and the first orders forbade any private cars being on the road. Other orders were the alteration of time – an advance of another hour to European time! So now I have to get up at 4.30 GMT to get to the 8 o'clock service, and one feels like a naughty child being sent to bed by broad daylight!
17th August 1940 - Major Manley told us a good story yesterday. The man who sweeps out the Forum after the last performance is allowed a permit to be out after curfew. When going home one night he was stopped by two German soldiers who demanded the reason for his being out after curfew. He replied that he had a permit, and putting his hand in his pocket to produce it, found that he had left it in his other coat. "Well, your name?" they asked. "Oh, Churchill." He replied. At that they were very wrath and spoke of ''insult" etc.. etc., and hauled him off to the Commandant. "Well, what is your name?" he asked, when the soldiers had explained the insulting conduct of the man. "Oh, Churchill," he replied again. At that everything happened! The Commandant was still more enraged and insulted and the victim was marched to the police station to be imprisoned When there, his outrageous conduct was set forth to the police officer, who then replied calmly, 'I know the man well, and his name is Churchill."
13th August 1940 - About the row at the Forum (cinema in St. Helier) on Sunday night. I hear the audience at the late performances are generally rowdy. but this time the result was a severe censure from the Commandant.. It seems that they cat-call and sing popular songs when bored and on this occasion, being bored by the German news-reel which they could not understand. they started their usual row and singing, and just as Hitler appeared on the screen they happened to be singing "Run Rabbit Run"! At that, a posse of German soldiers got up and clattered with their heavy boots to the chief culprits. Of course, they stopped singing at once but the song broke out in another part. Round trooped the soldiers. and again silence, only to be broken by the yelling of the song at another spot. More energetic movement on the part of the Germans and a cessation of singing there and the "Run Rabbit Run floated down from above in the gallery No wonder the Commandant issued the order that such unruliness must cease or else the picture house would have to be closed'
20th Sept. 1940 - Leaflets - I think three times - have been dropped on the Island by the RAF. So far I have only seen no 1 with part of Churchill's speech of Sept.? details of world-wide gifts for the RAF the Free French Army. bombing of Germany, help from the US and a message from then King- "The Queen and I desire to convey to you our heartfelt sympathy in the trials you are now enduring. We earnestly pray for your speedy liberation knowing that it will surely come. George, R.I." and pictures from the Star, the Evening Standard, and Punch. the latter of a man being directed on his way by the "Messerschmidt, the two Dorniers and the 1st Junkers". Also facts and figures about the relative strength of the English and German air forces. From all this one gathers that England does not know that we are allowed now to use our wirelesses. 28th Oct. 1940 - Local paper orders all owners of cars to take them into town, where they will be sold to the Germans, for the buying of food from France for us by the States. who will have to pay the owners in sterling, getting German money from the Germans and changing it into French money for the food! The latest Germans who have come over seem a rougher lot, and their driving is furious. witness the constant breaches in the walls and the patches of broken glass along the roads and the state of cars and lorries, with mudguards bucked, etc.
9th Oct. 1940 - Deputy Le Quesne, who is head of the labour department, is constantly being ordered to send men- twenty or fifty, say - to some spot to do a job of work for the Germans. Last week an order came for thirty men to go down at once to the wharf to unload a consignment of flour just come in from France. He went down himself to see about it, thinking that a large lot of flour must have arrived. When he got there he found the ship and in the open hold, thirty sacks of flour only. So, beckoning to two men on the wharf, he took off his coat, and with their help the thirty sacks were loaded up in about fifteen minutes. Meanwhile, the German Marine Officer in charge stood on the side of the wharf wringing his hands in despair and saying, You should not do such a thing, Mr. Le Quesne, in your position. You should not do such a thing, you really should not!"
The Scraggy Hen by John Le Bas
One day a member of the Honorary Police came and told my father we had to supply a chicken (fowl) to the German Forces. My father, who was elderly, refused, but I said I would take one to them to save us getting into trouble. The collecting point was "La Maisonette" near Woodbine Corner and it was there that I took the scraggy hen.
That evening, the Constables Officer came to say that we could come to collect the fowl again, it was not an official order from College House, just some German Officers having a party. We collected the hen, but a few days later it died.
A couple of weeks later, the Constable's Officer called again and told us we had to supply another chicken and that this time it was an official order from College House. In view of what had happened before. I decided not to take any more chickens to Woodbine Corner for collection by the Germans.
That afternoon at about 4 p.m., two German staff cats drove into our yard at Rose Farm. The first car carried a German Officer and his batman, the second four German soldiers. The Officer and his batman got out and came knocking on the door of our house.
The batman, who spoke perfect English asked why we had not supplied a chicken as ordered. I told him what had happened on the last occasion. He then ordered the soldiers to get out of the car and round up one of our best cockerels which were roaming free with the chickens in the yard.
It certainly would have been better for us had we obeyed the order and taken them another scraggy hen!