Ralph Mollet’s Occupation diary – evacuation

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Ralph Mollet's
Occupation diary:Evacuation


Ralph Mollet was the secretary to the Bailiff, Alexander Coutanche during the German Occupation and also secretary of La Société Jersiaise. He was ideally placed to observe the events of the the war as they impacted on his island community, and he recorded them in a diary, which was published after the war as Jersey Under the Swastika

The first panel of the Occupation Tapestry, depicting the prelude to war and the evacuation from Jersey

Sunday 9 June

A dark pall of smoke covered the sky, coming from the east at about noon, and cleared away to the west late in the evening; it must have been the burning of a petrol supply dump in France during the retreat of the Allies. The black cloud seemed like an omen.

Tuesday 11 June

The States met and restricted the use of motor vehicles between midnight and 5 am. The next day the news of the occupation of Paris by the Germans came as a shock to Jersey, many residents started leaving for the mainland and, and troops were sent to Jersey to cover the retreat of the British Expeditionary Force from Normandy through Cherbourg, St Malo, and Brest.

The Lieut-Governor, Major-General J M R Harrison, gave orders to have hospitals ready to receive wounded, and sent all available craft to clear the beaches on the French coast.

Saturday 15 June

Thousands of British troops, ammunition, and stores were landed in Jersey. The Evening Post stated in a leading article: " We are officially informed that the whole question of the defence - in the widest sense of the word - of this Island is receiving the urgent consideration of His Majesty's Government, who are in possession of the whole of the facts, and will decide the appropriate action which the strategic situation requires. This statement, we trust, will reassure our readers, who will realize that this vital matter is safe in the hands of those most competent to know how it should be dealt with" .

The next day the troops dug trenches and set up defences in various parts of the Island. At 1.30 pm Air Raid Wardens were ordered to stand by. Each mail-boat took a full complement of persons to the mainland.

Monday 17 June

Heavy gunfire was heard all day. The States met and the Lieut-Governor made a statement as to the situation. Saint Helier was to be evacuated. Many townsfolk went to sleep in the country. A curfew was ordered from 9 pm. The next day the evacuation of the- BEF from France was completed.

The Germans were occupying Cherbourg and Rennes. The Bailiff told me that the British had decided not to attempt to defend the Channel Islands, and we would be compelled to surrender to the Germans, if they came; those who wished to leave would be evacuated by the British Government. I understood that the Lieut-Governor did not expect the Germans to occupy the Island, and that if they did, it would mean a nominal occupation by a few hundred men. The States decided that no one could take away from the Island more than £25 in cash.

Wednesday 19 June

The Lieut-Governor informed the Assembly of the States that the British Government had given him orders to demilitarize the Island immediately, as it was not in the interest of the war to defend the Channel Islands. The Home Office was arranging to evacuate the bulk of those who wished to go; but he felt sure that those who had their roots in the soil would not want to leave. He further said that the Island might be occupied by the enemy. His Majesty's Government hoped that it would not; but they could rest assured such occupation would not be of long duration.

When this information reached the public, a considerable amount of panic ensued. A register was immediately instituted at the Town Hall for the names of those who wished to leave the Island, and a long queue of people five and six deep extended as far as the Opera House, Gloucester Street, some standing for at least ten hours; 23,063 registered their names, almost two-thirds of whom subsequently changed their minds and decided to remain.

The telephones were working without cessation, trunk calls and telegrams were very long in transmission. Everyone was asking his neighbour what he was going to do. Many buried their valuables. The sound of gun fire ceased in the evening, and a considerable proportion of the population of St. Helier slept in the country.

Thursday 20 June

The panic was at its height. Long queues of cars were waiting to take their occupants to board the Government ships. The following list of ships sailed from Saint Helier with evacuees:--

On 20 June:- Archangel, Antiquity, Autocarrier, Broomfeld, The Baron, Coral, Hodder, Malines, Nagtira, Perelle, Porthmorna, St. Sedan, Seaville, Suffolk Coast, Stork, West Coaster.

On 21 June:- Atlantic, Brittany, Caribin, Despatch,Dominion, Felspar, Fintain, Gorecht, Hindsrig, Isle of Sark, Maidstone, Ringwood, Shepperton Ferry, Vega, Whitstable.

All the troops left, including the Island Militia. Crowds of people gathered around the banks, withdrawals were limited to £25 in notes. To calm the people the following declaration was made, signed, and published:-

"At this anxious hour we wish the people of this Island to know, for their guidance and assistance in the decision, which each must take for himself and his own, that we are remaining at our posts to carry on our respective duties, and that we are, all of us who have them or either of them, keeping with us in this Island our wives and families.

A M Coutanche, Bailiff ; P de C Le Cornu, P E Bree, Lieut-Bailiffs ; P M Baudains, J M Norman, E P Le Masurier, A Luxon, E A Dorey, F V Le Feuvre, S Hocquard, E G Labey, P N Gallichan, T J Bree, Jurats; C W Duret Aubin (Attorney-General) ; C S Le Gros (Vicomte) ; C S Harrison (Solicitor-General).

Friday 21 June

The evacuation concluded during the afternoon, and the total amounted to 8,600. Some waited to go by the mailboat, which was still running to Southampton every other day. About 4,500 left by the mail steamer and air services during the month.

During the morning a naval auxiliary ship arrived, and HE the Lieut-Governor, Mrs. Harrison, and Major Clark bade farewell to the Bailiff and other officials on the pier, and left the Island on this ship. The Government Secretary, Col H H Hulton, remained. (He died on 7 December, 1940)

The Bailiff returned to the Royal Court House and was sworn in as civil Lieutenant-Governor.

As soon as His Excellency left the island, the last civilian plane left the airport (Pilot Harrison).

As the day ended the population became calmer. On the piers and at the airport large numbers of cars were found abandoned by the evacuees, and were gradually .reclaimed by their friends who were looking after their effects.

Saturday 22 June

The run on the banks still continued, but the panic subsided and calmness became more apparent. Shops reopened, and people paid in money to the banks.

The States met and authorized the Constables to enter unoccupied or abandoned houses to save all perishable goods and attend to animals. Many people had left in the midst of a meal, and others simply jumped out of bed, collected a few things, and fled to the ships.

The States met again on the 24th, and received the following Royal Message

From the King to the Bailiffs of Jersey and Guernsey.

”For strategic reasons it has been found necessary to withdraw the armed forces from the Channel Islands. I deeply regret this necessity, and I wish to assure My people in the Islands that in taking this decision My Government have not been unmindful of their position. It is in their interest that this step' should be taken in present circumstances.
”The long association of the Islands with the Crown and the loyal service the people of the Islands have rendered to My Ancestors and Myself are guarantees that the link between us will remain unbroken, and I know that My people in the Islands will look forward with the same confidence as I do, to the day when the resolute fortitude, with which we face our present difficulties, will reap the reward of victory.”

The message was published in the Royal Square, posted on the Monument, and in the Parish Church notice boxes. It was not published in the press.

At the same sitting of the States it was resolved to form a Superior Council

"Having regard to the gravity of the hour and to the political and economic situation, resolved to set up eight Departments as follows: 1 Essential Commodities, 2 Transport and Communications, 3 Finance and Economics, 4 Agriculture, 5 Public Health, 6 Essential Services, 7 Public Instruction and 8 Labour.
"These Departments to take the place of the various Committees.

The Presidents of the Departments as well as the Law Officers of the Crown to form a Council under the Bailiff as President of the Council, to take into consideration the problems arising from the present situation, and to make to the States, from time to time, such recommendations as it thinks necessary in order to meet those problems."

The President said he was anxious to prevent all alarms, and to reassure the public that they were adopting the best form of temporary government. Nothing which it was proposed to do would interfere with the liberties of the House or of the Island. What they had done that day could be undone tomorrow, if the House felt inclined to do so. There was nothing in the Act which did not leave the Constitution the same as they found it at the beginning of their deliberations.

On the 26th potatoes were again shipped, and the Island began to settle down awaiting events. - All documents and papers that might give information to the enemy or cause offence to Germany and the German people were burnt by the various departments and by private individuals.

Several thousand pet animals were destroyed at the Animals' Shelter.

The Evacuation was purely voluntary. States Officials were expected to obtain permission before leaving. Only two members of the States, the Constable of St Saviour (Major L T Anthoine) and the Deputy of St. Brelade (Capt R E B Voisin) left the Island with their regiment, the Royal Militia. The Constable was ordered by the Attorney General to resume his post when he should return to the Island. When he did return, he was made a Prisoner of War, and was transferred to Germany.

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