Return to my Societe Pages index   Click here to print this page

Return to index to this section.

Source and Form Critical aspects of the German Occupation of Jersey

Source Criticism

It is useful to classify the records for the German Occupation of Jersey according to types of source. We can thus determine what may be the more reliable where conflicts exist, and trace how stories and anecdotes may have been distorted or embellished for the sake of a good tale, and how accurate memories are likely to be. Source criticism of the records aims to group the documents into different categories, according to type. This can then be used (by considering such factors as multiple attestation, contradictions with other sources, etc) to assess the relative reliability of narrative units (form criticism).

Primary records

In this context, we would see documentation from the German authorities, the States of Jersey, and the civil service. These are accurate in so far as they are directives, etc, but insofar as they are record keeping, it must be born in mind that the records display only the information which was able to be collated, and cannot be relied upon for a completely accurate picture. A simple example of is the number of radio sets in existence. A certain number were registered and then surrendered, but it is known from other sources that this was not in any way an accurate count of the number of sets in the Island retained illegally (that is, against German orders) .

The Jersey Evening Post kept up publication in the War years, but was subject to censorship by the German authorities. On should not expect an accurate picture from this paper of War related matters. For instance, the morale of German soldiers deteriorated markedly towards the end of the War, but the Jersey Evening Post would not give any indicators of this.

There are also diaries actually kept during the war years. These can be relied upon for first-hand notes, but should be treated with caution where they are reporting hearsay, from gossip, rumour or even sources like the Evening Post. They may also have been edited for publication, and this may havecaused distortions. However, it can be taken that the authors would not knowingly falsify their entries. Examples would be:

Secondary records

In this context, I would place post-War accounts of the Occupation, although these may also draw upon written notes taken at the time, and if so, are closer to primary records. These records, however, are written from a later time, and their accurancy is more dependent upon the amount of time elapsed since being written, and the accuracy of the memory of the authors. They are written more with hindsight, and time may have given significance to some events, and opinions and comment may be mixed with fact which does not accurately reflect the actual opinions at the time the events took place. Examples here would be:


Histories take the existing sources, and weave them into a connecting narrative that attempts to give an accurate portrait of the occupation. They may also draw upon interviews with people still living and in this respect, incorporate secondary records. They may also be popular or serious academic studies, or fall between the two. Examples would be:


These may incorporate and dramatise some true events, but they also embellish and may even distort perceptions of the Occupation. Consquently, they should be treated with extreme caution as sources. Having said that, "Islands at War" speculates on the explosion at the Palace Hotel near the end of the War, and provides an interesting hypothesis for that event, so fiction should not be totally ruled out. Moreoever, to create an air of authenticity, the background of fiction must be researched, either in detail, or superficially from folk memory, in which case it can also reveal useful insights into the transmission of stories.

Form Criticism

Form criticism aims to break down the Occupation of Jersey into different literary forms, in order to assess the relative reliability of those forms. However, even when a form may appear to be "folk gossip" , rumour or urban myth, it may still reveal much that is important about the Occupation when we consider why such stories had such a good currency at the time.