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Understanding the Government of the Channel Islands during the Occupation

A Paper by A.M. Bellows (2002)

Was the Government in the Channel Island's a "Model Occupation", as the book by Madeleine Bunting asks? In this paper, I would like to open up this question, and will try to consider the matter objectively, looking first at a theoretical understanding of the position of civilian goverments in a territory occupied by invading forces, and only then applying this to the Channel Islands.

Firstly, I would propose that the best model for understanding the options for Government is a that of a spectrum . As with a spectrum of the rainbow, there is a gradation between options, but there are also clear distinctions between colours. I would propose the following options available for a Government in an occupied territory:




The Government refuses to govern at all on behalf of the occupying power.


The Government tries to act as a "buffer" to use diplomacy to mitigate measures taken by the Occupying power


The Government follows the orders given by the Occupying power with no attempt at mitigation


The Government actively aids the aims of the Occupying power


The Government "buys in" to the ideals of the Occupying power.

It can be seen that during any historical period of occupation, it is possible for transitions to occur between stages, and for different actions to fall within the scope of different options.

I would like to expand on these by giving examples both from general history, and from the Channel Islands.

The role of "antagonist" is not one which was available to the Channel Islands. Indeed to see a possible example of this, one would have to look back in history, to such examples as the American War of Independence, where the American Government had sufficient territory to maintain a base of opposition, both in terms of armed forces and government. Yet this was not strictly an opposition to an invading force, but a breakaway movement towards self-autonomy. In general, a Government which will not govern is replaced by one which can, and which will be less sympatetic to the occupied peoples, and as with the Romans or Normans, establish an alien aristocracy to directly promote its own particular ethos. We should not expect to see this kind of anagonistic Government existing in the Channel Islands. It would simply be have been replaced by one brought in from outside, and as the past shows, the sympathy of such a Government to the native population would have been minimal.

The ideal of a "buffer" can be seen by the model of the English Parliament, where the opposition parties are powerless to prevent the passage of a bill through the Commons, but can neverless, via mechanisms such as select committees, argue and obtain some minor but at times important amendments to the bill before it becomes law. I think it can be seen that the Channel Island governments argued the case for mitigation of German laws for particular cases, and also attempted to use diplomatic means to soften the impact of the German forces. It is the opposite of that of a "follower", in that by gaining the trust of the German authorities, the Germans would be less likely to take precipitous action against the natives, and would "buy in" to facing the problems of supply and restrictions faced by the Islanders.

A puppet Government is exactly as the metaphor suggests. It acts as a direct channel for the invaders' orders, and no attempt is made to ameliorate or amend the impact of those orders. At times when the Germans received direct orders from Berlin, there was little that the Goverment could do but accept and pass these on, as it was made clear that no opposition would be allowed to these.

Collaboration can be seen most clearly in the Vichy Goverment in France, which actively helped the Germans in rounding up the Jews. The Channel Island's goverment, with respect to the Jewish question, was to provide officials and administration to follow the German orders. There is no evidence of any delaying tactics, or attempts to find loopholes or ambiguities that would delay these measures, and in this respect there must surely be admitted a degree of collaboration.

The model of "follower" seems to only bear occasional use. Where the Government called upon the civilian population to actively report acts of sabotage or opposition, without any recorded directions being given by the German authorities, this would imply that the Government had "bought in" to the idea of German authority. Here the Government may well have been pro-active rather than re-active, and a fear of greater reprisals may have played some part.

In conclusion, the evidence largely supports the "buffer" model proposed by the Island's Governments. Yet it seems clear that there were deviations from that towards more active colloboration, and even in a few instances, where the Government was actively promoting aspects of the German War effort unprompted.

What also needs consideration is development in time, to see the historical processes underlying the changing aspects of Government under the Germans. My hypothesis would be as follows:

As a last word, I would suggest that existing historical models which ask the question "collaboration or not?" are too simplistic, because they do not take account of the range of possible options available, and therefore historical data is "explained away" rather than understood.