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"Methodism in the Channel Islands" by R.D. Moore (1952)

Pages 139-149


4 Those Who Remained Behind: (a) Guernsey


On Sunday evening, 30th June 19401 Guernsey was occupied by the German Forces. At 6 a.m. on the following day they landed in Jersey. There was no opposition. No one who experienced it will ever forget the feeling of depression with which we awoke the next morning. Our beloved Islands in the hands of the enemy, dreading what the future might hold, conscious of our complete isolation, we realised with sinking hearts that life would be totally different, but how different none could guess.

Life in Occupied Territory

It is difficult to paint in a few words a picture of the conditions under which we lived for five long years Nevertheless, some attempt must be made, if only to appreciate the service the Church was able to render.

From the start we were made to feel that we were no longer masters in our own house. Our movements were curtailed; all means of transport were withdrawn save the very rare horse-drawn vehicle and the bicycle (some of which were later requisitioned); curfew- was imposed and by 9 p.m. (though the hour varied as time went on) we were confined to our own homes.

Everywhere we came across German soldiers. Though their behaviour towards civilians was on the whole very correct and though, provided orders were obeyed, they interfered little with us, their very presence irritated and always reminded us of our unenviable position.

Only occasionally were our houses searched for hoards of food, etc., but we never knew when an unwelcome visitor might walk in: they never knocked at the door. The uncertainty of it all made life a strain.

Numberless restrictions were imposed, almost every day some new order appeared in the now German-controlled Press. Of course we realised that a war was raging and that on the mainland we should have been under orders—but what chafed most was the fact that ours came from the enemy. We suffered more in mind and feelings than in any other way. For instance, we knew that we were living in the safest spot in the world, free from the fear of bombs, and shells—but the Islands became one of the assembly points for raids on the West and South-west of England and nearly every night for months we lay abed, listening sick at heart to the roar of engines above and imagining the horror ahead.

The More Sorely Tried

Some amongst us had far more to endure than others.

(a) Right from the start the Germans set about in feverish haste to make our Islands their strongest fortresses, using forced labour imported from France and some Russian prisoners of war. In the process a railway was laid right across the Island, through houses, gardens and fields. Destruction of property was inevitable, but little damage was done except such as seemed to them necessary for their plans of defence. Nevertheless, a number of our people saw their property razed to the ground.

(b) Many were turned out of their homes, some being given time to remove their belongings, but others were allowed to carry away only the contents of a few suitcases and had to find accommodation as best they could. On their eventual return to their homes some found them stripped and well-nigh uninhabitable, others were more fortunate and found them practically intact—the difference being due to the type of officer in command.

(c) Farmers were able to carry on more or less normally, but under German control, permitted to retain only a small portion of their produce for their own consumption; the rest was at the disposal of the German authorities, either for their own use or that of the civil population.

But by far the largest industry of the Island is tomato growing under glass. Naturally it became impossible to export the fruit, so by orders of the Powers-that-were all vineries were taken over by the Civil Administration, and master-owners became State-employees, having to grow vegetables, such as beans, for food.

(d) Infinitely worse than all this, some thousands of those not born in the Island or those with any military experience were deported to Germany, and after many heart-breaking experiences on the way, were herded in camps behind barbed wire, where years of boring, nerve-racking inactivity were spent. From their bitter experiences many never recovered.


Food and clothing soon became a problem. The stocks in the shops ran out ere long, especially because the invaders bought on such a large scale. The Island could not possibly produce enough to meet our needs—and less so, since a large part of the local produce went to the Germans. So when in a few months the small private stores they had laid aside were exhausted, housewives became very harassed. They had to depend for the most part upon such supplies as the Germans consented to transport from the Continent, where they allowed our agents to purchase what they could.

Then cooking became increasingly difficult—one after the other, coal, gas, oil, electricity, all failed—nothing was left but wood, which being newly-cut would scarcely burn. For a while some of the long-disused brick-ovens, heated with furze, were made available—to these people flocked, but before very long that fuel gave out too.

Housewives were sorely put to it to provide for their families, having recourse to all sorts of substitutes e.g. crushed dried bramble leaves for tea; potatoes for flour. Many necessities became unobtainable, e.g. salt—so seawater had to be evaporated, either by the action of the sun or by artificial heat, leaving a small—very small— sediment of salt—and soap, so the weekly washing had to be done without it!

Perhaps most depressing of all was the want of lighting facilities. When even oil or candles were nowhere to be found, then people were reduced either to sitting in the dark (and cold often) or retiring to bed at nightfall.

Things grew far worse after "Deliverance Day" (6th June 1944), which was for us "Disappointment Day", for when the ports on the Continent were occupied by Allied troops, even the meagre supplies which had kept us alive failed altogether. Early in 1945 the position became desperate—for three weeks not a crumb of bread—and, as potatoes were generally unobtainable, many had to subsist on nothing but boiled cabbage. It was just at this time that, at long last, the good services of the International Red Cross bore fruit and a cargo of food parcels from Canada and New Zealand reached us via Lisbon.

After that more consignments arrived at fairly regular intervals. These saved us from starvation, although by that date not a few had shown signs of malnutrition, having grown so emaciated as to be well-nigh unrecognisable, and some suffered very seriously from its effects.

Even worse than the physical hardships were the things that affected our spirits. Besides those facts already referred to, there was ever present the sense of isolation, being cut off from the outside world, and with little opportunity to learn recent news. Before long, for some unknown reason, all wireless sets were confiscated. It is true many were retained and concealed in all sorts of places, so that scarcely a day passed but some fragment of the latest war news reached us, but these were only scraps. Officially we had to depend on a translation of the German communiqué published in our daily paper, and for years, on two or three columns of "Lord Hawhaw's" broadcast. There was nothing here calculated to raise one's spirits!

But worst of all was the heart-ache we endured. Practically all of us had very dear ones away, and most to be pitied were the young husbands and fathers. These young men had stayed behind to complete the tomato season, intending to join their dearest at the earliest possible moment, but that moment never came. To make matters worse, many of those who had gone so very suddenly were not provided for financially or in any other way. For ten long months not a word; then, joy of joys, the first batch of Red Cross messages arrived, and from that time onward we were permitted to send one message per month and to reply to any that reached us. Only twenty- five words, three months or longer on the way via Geneva, censored, but how precious! Of course here, as always, we were utterly dependent on our German masters for the transport of this precious cargo, and often messages were long-delayed or lost altogether. When the first Red Cross ship reached us it was rumoured that, besides the parcels, she carried thousands of messages, and that report gave far more pleasure than anything else, but, alas. Dame Rumour proved once again to be "but a lying jade". How excitement mounted when news went round that a fresh batch was to hand! A common form of greeting became: "Any messages today?" This, then, is a picture, necessarily incomplete but unvarnished, of the conditions under which we lived for five weary years. But, generally speaking these conditions, whilst they naturally coloured life, were not allowed complete mastery.

Even enemy occupation has its compensations. Their common troubles brought people nearer to one another than ever before; friendliness was in the air and a readiness to share; the sick and aged, the lonely and-more needy were not forgotten; a spirit of goodwill prevailed. This sense of comradeship made all the difference. Friends foregathered in one another's homes (bringing their own food with them, of course) to spend happy hours together.

Then, again, enforced leisure gave more opportunity for reading, of which some took full advantage. Occasional concerts and social gatherings on church premises and elsewhere helped to brighten things. And so people managed to "put a cheerful courage on" and accept their fate philosophically. Life was often relieved by touches of humour and amusing incidents, and on the whole we remained undaunted, never doubting that ultimately we should be freed by Britain.

Let us now see how the Church helped.

The Contribution of the Church

In the Islands there are three main Churches, Anglican, Roman Catholic and Methodist, and upon these fell the responsibility of ministering to people whose needs have been described. Contrary to all expectation, they were permitted to function with little interference. The only exception was the Salvation Army, doubtless because of its name, its uniform, and its bands. But some of the Corps found refuge in our Methodist churches, where, in a modified way, they were able to maintain themselves in being, so that, when the day of liberation came, they were ready to resume their activities almost immediately. Many church premises (e.g. schoolrooms) were requisitioned, but none of the churches themselves.

Let us now turn to Methodism. Since roughly half the population had left the Island, it was decided at a joint meeting of the officials of the two Circuits, held three days before the Occupation, to reduce the staff from eight to five. This meant that when the Islands were finally occupied there remained three Ministers in the English Circuit and two in the Guernsey and Sark French Circuit. Within the year, when the order came that three Anglican and three Free Church Ministers were to accompany the deportees, to whose sad lot we have already referred, one of the three left in the English Circuit volunteered to go.

About a year later, for some reason never discovered, one of two in the French Circuit was included in the second deportation, so that for most of the time, there were left two Ministers in the English Circuit and one in the French Circuit, with its fourteen places of worship dotted all over the Island. But although a number of workers and local preachers had left the Island, such was the devotion and loyalty of those who remained that all the churches save two were kept open and services were held regularly Sunday by Sunday, though at all sorts of times owing to lighting difficulties.

Services held were for the most part well attended, although those who had evacuated (especially the children) left a void which was keenly felt. But on the other hand quite a few who had been in the habit of absenting themselves returned to join in worship.

The Church provided real fellowship—inspiration, strength, and comfort; it exerted a steadying influence. In the services we learned afresh the supreme value of things eternal; truths long accepted came home with new meaning and power.

To those uncertain of so much, how precious grew the certainties of their Faith; all around was "change and decay": in the Church was caught again and again a vision of the changeless Christ.

Those restricted in a thousand and one ways, galled by the ever-present Verboten, learned to prize their freedom in Christ Jesus our Lord—and the freedom of access to the Throne of Grace.

Cut off from their dearest, they sang together as never before:

There is a spot where spirits blend,
And friend holds fellowship with friend,
Though sundered far by faith we meet
Around one common mercy-seat

and went home knowing that they had indeed met with their loved ones there.

Some sought to keep up our morale by prophecies of a speedy end to our distresses, prophecies which all proved unfounded, but in the Church we drew comfort from the promises of our God, such as, "As thy days, so shall thy strength be", assured that, come what might, by His Grace we should prove equal to the need of the moment. The Church did indeed bring inspiration—and stimulus too.

The conditions under which we lived taught many lessons, and in the common worship these were emphasised. Some were taught the need of a change in their standard of values; some with loved ones far away were heard to say: "If only I had given less time and thought to the business of money-making and more to my home and family." Money had come to be worth nothing-— had lost its fascination. In the Church we came to realise that the things of the Spirit should always count for more than the things of time and sense.

Again, we all learned the value of commonplace blessings. At Harvest Festival services, which were held as usual despite the straits in which we found ourselves, such things as salt, candles, matches, soap were to be seen, and all knew why. Thus came the reminder not only of their worth, but of their source. The prayer that our Lord taught, "Give us this day our daily bread", was uttered with a new urgency and sense of relief. In ways like these many lessons were impressed upon us, which by many will never be forgotten.

In corporate worship and meetings for fellowship, which the Church made possible, we, following the apostolic injunction, "encouraged one another", stimulating one another to meet the demands of the unusual life we were called to live and to resist its peculiar temptations. When so many landmarks seemed to be swept away we were made to realise how essential it was to stand firm in the Faith arid maintain the standards of honesty, truth, and moral purity. We were often very conscious of the presence of our Lord, and often heard Him calling us to live closer to Him than ever, that we alight become a source of strength to others.

In yet another way did the Church minister to us! We were in danger of becoming engrossed in our troubles, and growing narrow and self-centred in our interests. But the Church kept before us the plight of the world outside and its ever-increasing need of the message of the Gospel. Throughout the years the claims of those who could not share in the blessings that Christ brings and of our Missionary Society in its God-given task were emphasised. Missionary meetings were held and funds raised and banked in the name of the treasurers for fear that the German authorities should confiscate what might seem to them to be the property of a British concern. When liberation came the Islands were able to hand over to the Society £3,249 for General Work, and £1,194 for Women's Work, a total of £4,443

Methodism proved of great value also to the community as a whole through the men and women it produced. In many churches women met week by week to provide clothing for those nearly destitute and for babies and young children; the material for this being drawn from their own badly depleted stocks and those of other friends. Many of the important posts in the civil administration of the Island were filled by Methodists. One of these we cannot but mention by name. The man who represented the civil population and had, on its behalf, personal dealings with the Occupying Power was the Rev. John Leale, M.A., a Guernseyman, a Methodist Minister without pastoral charge, who had resided in the Island for many years and taken an active part in its government. By his quiet yet firm and fearless representations he was able to protect his fellow Islanders from some of the unreasonable demands the authorities were meditating and some of the irksome restrictions they were planning. At a time when people were only too ready to suspect that those in power were not above using their position to make life easier for themselves and their families, not a breath of suspicion rested upon him. No one could have been held in higher esteem, and the whole Island rejoiced at the knighthood conferred upon him later: this was indeed a well-merited honour.

And there were others: the men responsible for the Labour, Agriculture, Potato, and Milk Boards, and important officials in the Food Office came from the same Church. All these positions at such a time involved possible conflict with the German authorities; men of strong character were required, prepared to risk much in the service of their fellows—and very faithful servants did they all prove to be. As they owed very much to Methodism, so Methodism owes much to them. Such men help to explain why their Church counts so much in the eyes of the community.

By maintaining its life through the Grace of God, the Church was rendering a very great service to those who were away for so long. On their return, they found in the churches which they had left a living fellowship prepared and eager to receive them.