On a recent trip to Jersey, I was lucky enough to explore many German fortifications and remnants leftover from the Second World War. It’s a fascinating place for wartime history enthusiasts.
But it’s important to not lose sight how these bunkers were made. Much of the work was completed using slave labour workers from the Ukraine. The Nazis treated the Slav races with utter contempt, considering them to be ‘untermenschen’ (sub-human).
We should also not forget how some of the islanders were sent to concentration camps or executed on the island by firing squad for indiscretions.
Whilst the civilians of Jersey were extremely patriotic, the sheer number of enemy troops meant organised resistance was futile. When resistance was shown, it was severely punished.
With that in mind, and against this background of occupation and misery, it’s not surprising how much joy exploded publicly on the island when liberation came. The Allies arrived on the 9th of May 1945.
Some of the most memorable photos I have seen from that time are those of the Pomme d’Or Hotel in St. Helier. There are a number of images which show British soldiers on the balcony, removing the Nazi flag and replacing it with the Union Jack.
On the ground below the balcony, in what has since been renamed Liberation Square, you can see what appears to be hundreds of Jersey citizens joining in celebration. The photos are amazing snapshots in time that show the relief and joy of the islanders.
And it’s understandable why this huge public outpouring of relief was shown after years of occupation.
The invasion of Jersey
Jersey had been invaded by the Germans on the 30th of June 1940. The island would remain under enemy control for five years. Whilst the Channel Islands had little strategic value, it has been said that they had a huge significance to the invading army due to them being British.
According to historical accounts I have read, the German leadership believed the British would attempt to take back the Channel Islands at any cost. That resulted in huge efforts to fortify the island.
According to the Channel Island Occupation Society, the Germans were:
Obsessed with the idea that the Allies would try to regain the islands at any price and issued Construction Orders that resulted in over 20% of the material that went into the so-called Atlantic Wall – a line of massive defence works which stretched from the Baltic to the Spanish frontier – being committed to the Channel Islands.
The Germans wanted to make sure that Jersey and the Channel Islands were protected against anything the Allies could throw at them. That meant that the islanders who remained there, and some did evacuate before the invasion, had it very hard.
It was particularly tough towards the end of the occupation. Supply lines to Jersey had been cut off so food stocks began to dwindle. The islanders eventually faced starvation, but were saved when a Red Cross ship arrived with much needed supplies in late December, 1944.
During a recent visit to St. Helier, I snapped my own images of the Pomme d’Or Hotel, attempting to do so from the same angles at which the famous Second World War liberation ones were taken.
The Pomme D’Or Hotel during WW2
During the Second World War, the Pomme d’Or Hotel in St. Helier was requisitioned by the Germans and became the Kriegsmarine Naval Headquarters. The hotel is right on the port of St. Helier, so would be a great position for naval commanders.
This usage would account for the Nazi flag flown from the hotel, which was famously replaced by a Union Jack by British solders in the photos shown on this page.
The nearby Resistance Nest Richtfeuer approaching the hotel
Just down the road from the Pomme d’Or Hotel, I also found a German Second World War gun position built into a wall. This was called the Resistance Nest Richfeuer and was designed as a last line of defence in case of Allied invasion.
The gun position is on a route as if you were walking in westerly direction towards the hotel. Based on the location, it’s possible the Germans would have used it to protect the naval HQ at the Pomme d’Or Hotel during WW2 from any Allied approach from that side.
Annual Liberation Day celebrations in Jersey
In memory of Jersey’s liberation, each year the Pomme d’Or Hotel performs a ceremonial act of raising the Union Jack from the balcony for the Liberation Day celebrations.
The hotel and Liberation Square have since become a focal point for remembrance. The sculpture shown below can be found opposite the Pomme d’Or Hotel; it was unveiled in 1995 by the Prince of Wales.