Back in the early 1970s my imagination was captured by the TV series A Family at War. This, I believe, set the tone for a genre of novels which became a great favourite – wartime sagas.
In a list of my favourite places to visit, somewhere near the top would be St. Peter Port in Guernsey. Its pretty quaintness belies the awful history of this small island. Following the series Island at War in 2004, my interest became focused on wartime Guernsey. I am, therefore, delighted to read that a film is to be made of the book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Burrows.
Of course, reading tastes differ but I reckon that if you’ve not read the book, you are missing a treat. With Guernsey under German Occupation, a local woman created the society as a cover for the breaking of the curfew, and to hide the fact that islanders had, broken the strictly enforced rule that they must not eat their own livestock. If you have read the book and enjoyed it, try Margaret Leroy’s novel, The Collaborator (also available under the title The Soldier’s Wife) ….another excellent glimpse into life under the terrifying conditions of The Occupation).
A while ago I came across a fascinating article related to the Occupation. Starved, beaten and under threat of execution the inhabitants of Jersey and Guernsey were determined to defy the enemy with small acts of resistance. The personal testimonies of some of those who suffered at the hands of the Gestapo were made public (c2010) after languishing in a wardrobe in Guernsey for the past five decades, the contents dispelling accusations that some islanders collaborated too easily with the enemy.
Islander Frank Falla collected the statements in the 1960s after the British Government, having received compensation from Germany, paid up to £1,000 each to Channel Island inhabitants who had been injured by the Germans. Falla believed that those involved in the resistance should be similarly recognised. He himself had been deported to Frankfurt for his involvement in “The Guernsey Underground News Service”, a clandestine wartime newspaper on which islanders relied to know what was happening. One of those imprisoned, Walther Henri Laine, describes a complete absence of human rights as islanders were subject to the most appalling treatment, being starved and, at the slightest provocation, beaten. They were also denied medical treatment, letters or parcels.
The Channel Islands were occupied from 1940 to 1945, the only part of the British Isles to fall under enemy control. At an astonishing ratio of one soldier to three civilians it was more heavily guarded than any of the other occupied territories. The resistance movement was less organised than other countries but Islanders were involved in defiance and protest wherever possible.
Falla’s collection of testimonies meant that the world was able, at last, to understand the terrifying conditions under which Channel Island inhabitants lived during Occupation and recognise the immense bravery of those who carried out the ‘small acts of resistance’.
Any recommendations for other novels set in Guernsey during The Occupation are very welcome.