It’s hard to believe or imagine in our current age of Health & Safety that large calibre guns were often fired in the suburbs of St. Helier.
In today’s world, the mere mention of anything considered dangerous or noise related would warrant visits by officials armed with reams of forms and lists of required headgear, gloves, clothing and safety equipment, but that was not the case during the Occupation.
On numerous occasions two large calibre field guns would be set-up side by side in Stopford Road, adjacent to what is now the Temple Bars; the butts or stops were established just past the masonic temple, at the junction of Oxford Road. All roads leading into Stopford Road would be sealed off. The image above shows the two large German field guns outside their store in St. Marks lane, with the below image showing the same location today.
The guns would fire large wooden projectiles, the cartridge charge was greatly reduced as the target board was quite close and it was only practice firing and sighting-in, but one can only imagine the deafening noise these guns would have made and you would not want to be struck by one of these projectiles.
When these practices occurred, people living in the immediate vicinity of Stopford road were told to open their windows to prevent glass shattering, many householders did not due to the loud noise the guns made when firing!
German sentries were placed on strategic points stopping people from entering the firing zone. Many of these practices took place mid to late afternoon so coincided with children coming back from School. This sometimes meant that practice was temporary halted to allow the children to cross the road. Three such children who lived in the vicinity at that time were Denis Holmes, John Aubert and David Isherwood. These three boys would cross individually, usually with quite a long time gap between each of them; they would each come up to one of the sentries; the sentry would signal to the gun crew to cease fire, then the young boy would cross the road safely, then a few minutes later the next boy would come along and this process would be repeated until all three boys had crossed Stopford Road.
However when they all decided to repeat this process in reverse, pretending they had forgotten something, the sentry finally realised they were taking the Micky and were told to clear off and in future had to cross as a group or go a different route and walk the long way home.
When practice had finished, the guns were man-handled back into their store, which was a large garage located in St. Marks Lane. Although the garage has since been demolished the surrounding area has changed very little.
From the outset of the Occupation swastikas had been appearing on several homes and businesses of alleged collaborators, ‘black marketers’ and those seeking favour with the Forces of Occupation, with some being daubed on properties shortly after the Liberation by people angry with the moral of their fellow Islanders.
Few civilian painted swastika’s now survive, however there are many German painted swastikas in the town area which can still be seen and tend to be over-looked:
They relate to an extraordinary occurrence which happened in the early part of February 1945.
One evening in mid-February 1945, a couple of youths painted a swastika on the home of a girlfriend of a Kriegsmarine Officer, and so triggered a most bizarre event.
During the night of Wednesday 21st February 1945 two Kriegsmarine Officers along with an Officer from 1st Pioneer Battalion 319 gave orders to two units of men to paint swastikas on houses and buildings in the town area. However, the men didn’t use paint, they used flame-thrower fuel; a thick black tar-like substance which is quick drying and when hard, is as tough as enamel.
On the morning of Thursday 22nd February 1945 the town residents awoke to a mass of tar painted swastikas. They had been painted on nearly every house or building from the bottom of Queens Road to St. Clements Road. Some of the areas daubed included; Devonshire Place, New Street, Stopford Road, Victoria Street, Robin Hood and Clarence Road.
Lesley Sinel recorded in his diary under 22nd February 1945: “During the night hundreds of homes in town have had swastikas painted on them. This was the work of German Marines who did a systematic job!”
The German authorities were furious as Baron von Aufsess recorded in his diary:
“In the night swastikas were painted all over the Island
(This was a slight exaggeration)
the Attorney General and Constable of St. Helier came to see me and established on reliable evidence and beyond doubt that this idiotic prank had been carried out by Germans and more over on an organised basis.
In fact it has been established that two German Officers were responsible for or rather were irresponsible perpetrators of this infamous act.
Entirely on their own imitative and without the knowledge of the Fortress Commander, they had issued orders to two companies of men to do the job. They claim that their motivation for this ‘Political Protest’ was their National Socialist principles. It was such criminal fools who plotted the ‘Crystal night’ in 1938, which triggered off the storm of hatred against the Jews.
At first the Islanders reacted with shock and indignation, but this attitude is already giving way to one of sardonic amusement. On Liberation day these swastikas will show what cultural barbarians the Germans were. One humourist has hung an empty picture frame around ‘his’ swastika; another has written ‘ England for ever’ alongside his; a third has converted the swastika into the type of cross used for British decorations for valour and merit.
The Island population has been senselessly provoked and the prestige and good discipline of the German armed forces seriously compromised, it amounts almost to a small-scale mutiny and involves further punishable offences, such as removing and making improper and unauthorised use of military property, etc.
The immediate problem is to get rid of the visible evidence of this night of rampage; this is a big problem, as over a thousand tar-smeared houses are involved. The Islanders have no petrol and in the circumstances would hardly be prepared to undertake such a chore.
Every right-thinking German is struck by horror and repugnance at the actions of the Nazi thugs, who consider themselves the elite of the nation, and for whom the whole nation has to suffer and atone.
It has been decided that the tar daubings must be removed by foreign workers of the O.T. (Organisation Todt). It would scarcely be in keeping with the good standing and repute of the troops to employ them on this humiliating task under the derisory gaze of the Islanders”.
Suffice to say, von Aufsess was not amused and certainly no mention of the Officers’ hiding their girlfriend’s identity.
According to Herr Ernst Kämpfer, who served as a staff sergeant with the Second Company, Engineering Battalion 319, the troops responsible for these tar daubing’s were from the First Company Engineering Battalion 319.
Some town residents tried removing these swastikas from their homes, but most people gave up as the tar had dried rock-hard and most householders did not have the necessary tools.
On the 26th February 1945 Sinel noted in his diary: “Men working for the Organisation Todt have been put to work removing swastikas from houses recently daubed: in many cases the ‘removal’ aggravates the defacement, and some are being chipped off with chisels”.
To appreciate just how bad the situation was and: the number of houses and area involved, the OT workforce was still removing tar swastikas right up until March 15th 1945.
Although St. Helier has altered dramatically since the Occupation, surprisingly much evidence has survived from this night of tar daubing or night of rampage, as described by Baron von Aufsess.
Baron von Aufsess refered to “One humourist who hung an empty picture frame around ‘his’ swastika”. This appears to have been Cyril Medland who lived in Stopford Road. Cyril saw the funny side of the incident and hung a gold coloured picture frame around the swastika on his property.
Baron von Aufsess also mentioned; “a third has converted the swastika into the type of cross used for British decorations for valour and merit”. The out-line for these can still be seen at the Junction at Robin Hood and Val Plaisant.
On 28th February 1945 Leslie Sinel noted in his diary; “Two Naval Officers have been arrested for their part in painting swastikas”. However on the same day as the Naval Officers arrest, Admiral Huffmeirer replaced Graf von Schmettow as Commander-in-Chief of the Channel Islands. As Admiral Huffmeirer was regarded as an ardent Nazi, and remembering that the two Naval Officers claimed that their motivation for the act was a ‘Political Protest’ because of their National Socialist principles, I would suspect Admiral Huffmeirer would not have them prosecuted.
There are numerous remains and evidence of swastikas still to be seen around the busy streets of St. Helier, with few people walking past them realising the bizarre story behind them. If wishing to look for them, they can be easily identified; The swastikas painted by the First Company Engineering Battalion 319 are approximately one foot square and were ‘sitting swastikas’ any evidence of larger swastikas would have been daubed by civilians either during or just post Liberation period tend to be much larger.
It is with profound sadness that we announce the death of Michael Ginns MBE on Thursday, 2 February 2017, at the age of 89 years.
Jersey's leading Occupation expert, Michael was a CIOS stalwart for over four decades, and it is largely thanks to his efforts that the Society became the successful and respected organisation it is today.
Michael was a highly accomplished military historian whose meticulous research led to a series of articles and publications that have become an indispensible source of reference to anyone interested in the Occupation period. With Peter Bryans, Michael co-authored the ground-breaking ‘A Guide to German Fortifications in Jersey’ in 1975, and, in 1981, he wrote ‘A Guide to Alderney’s German Fortifications’ for the Alderney Society & Museum. For the next thirty years he was a regular contributor to the CI Occupation Review, and produced a number of archive books comprising ‘Jersey Besieged 1944’, ‘The German Field Post Office in the Channel Islands’, ‘Verstärkung der Kanalinseln (Reinforcing the Channel Islands)’, ‘German Armour in the Channel Islands’, ‘Occupation Camera’, ‘German Tunnels in the Channel Islands’, ‘The Organisation Todt and the Fortress Engineers in the Channel Islands’, ‘Jersey’s German Bunkers’ and, finally, ‘Jersey’s German Tunnels’. His magnum opus was ‘Jersey Occupied’ (2009), commissioned by the Jersey War Tunnels, and the culmination of ten years’ work.
Michael was also responsible (with David Bishop) for producing ‘Scars on the Landscape’ in 1977 – an iconic ciné film (and later video) that called for the recognition of the historical significance and value of the German fortifications alongside the Island’s romanticised castles and round towers. He felt that, rather than lie buried and forgotten, these concrete relics should be preserved and properly interpreted for the benefit of future generations. Commencing with the opening of the Noirmont Command Bunker in 1977, under Michael's direction the CIOS embarked on a programme to restore the best and most important examples. The positive interest that this generated persuaded the authorities that the fortifications were an important heritage asset rather than a burden, and led to their listing on the historic buildings register.
Michael had an air of authority, which was very much in evidence in the guided tours that he would conduct at the Command Bunker during the summer season, when his audience would be captivated by his rousing delivery and ability to strike an entertaining balance between plain fact and anecdote. These qualities were also a characteristic of the many rambles that he led over the years, as well as the talks, slide shows and lectures he gave, not only to CIOS members, but professional and academic bodies throughout the Channel Islands and the United Kingdom.
Michael was a seeker of truth – which drove and motivated his research and preservation activities. However, whilst these undoubtedly had an important role in his life, he always wanted to be remembered for his efforts to promote reconciliation. An ex-internee who had been incarcerated for over two years in a camp at Wurzach castle, Michael bore no grudge, and became heavily involved in the reconciliation initiatives that ultimately led to the twinning of St. Helier and Bad Wurzach (formerly Wurzach) in 2002.
The year 1995 marked a highpoint in Michael’s life, when his long-serving dedication to Jersey’s Occupation history was officially recognised with the award of an MBE for “services to the public”. Ten years later, on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Wurzach camp, Michael was asked to unveil an interpretation panel at the gates of the castle that referred to its wartime history, and shortly afterwards, it was agreed by the Bad Wurzach town council that he be awarded the Citizens’ Medal (‘Bürgermedaille’) for his reconciliation initiatives. This was the first time that a foreigner had been honoured in this way, and, in January 2007, Michael travelled to Germany for the presentation. With typical modesty, he told those present that being a recipient of the Bürgermedaille meant as much to him as the MBE .
In recent years, as his health began to fail, Michael withdrew from active involvement in the CIOS, but his interest in the Occupation period remained strong, and he was frequently consulted by researchers, journalists and authors. Michael was determined to continue his annual trips to Bad Wurzach as long as he was able, his last visit being for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the camp in 2015.
On 23rd January 2017, the final chapter in Michael’s life occurred when a 13th panel was inaugurated at the Occupation Tapestry in which he and four other prominent Occupation figures were commemorated as “guardians of memory”. He was too unwell to attend, but he was represented at the event by his stepson and CIOS Vice-President, Matthew Costard, who was able to give him a full report of the proceedings.
Michael is irreplaceable, but he has left a rich historical legacy. We owe him an immense debt of gratitude.
A full obituary will follow in this year's CI Occupation Review.
A word of warning to those who may wish to visit the Channel Islands’ Occupation sites. Most of the bunkers, gun pits and defences are on private property, and if you want to have a look, first obtain permission from the owner. Do not enter without a strong torch or lamp. There are different designs of defences that, from the outside look the same, but once inside, passages may descend without warning. Also wellington boots may be needed as over fifty years of dirt and dust will have blocked up the drains. We would warn you that bunkers on the coast will have been used as unofficial toilets - so beware! Young persons should not enter without an adult, as many bunkers have awkward steps and hidden ducts that can trip the unwary. Bunkers and tunnels that are sealed have been blocked up for this reason and for no other - those of you who hope to find an “Aladdin’s Cave” of war relics are too late, having been beaten to it by the scrap metal drive of the early 1950s.