Channel Islands

views updated Jun 11 2018



The four larger inhabited islands off the coast of Normandy, known collectively as the Channel Islands, were part of the Duchy of Normandy from 933 c.e. and have been held individually by the English Crown since the Norman conquest of 1066 c.e. Each island has its own system of government. Jersey, Guernsey, and Alderney have their own parliaments, known as the States, with deputies from the constituent parishes. Leading officials are appointed by the Crown: the bailiff, attorney-general, and solicitor general in Jersey and Guernsey, the judge on Alderney. The fourth island, Sark, remains a hereditary seigneurie with a working feudal constitution governed by a seigneur.

Traditionally, the language of the islands was a form of Norman French, but this was gradually replaced by English in the twentieth century as contacts with the United Kingdom increased. The islands' economies had been based on fishing and subsistence agriculture for many centuries, but this changed in the early twentieth century as improvements in transport allowed seasonal produce such as tomatoes and potatoes, grown earlier in the milder climate, to be shipped quickly to the mainland and then sold at premium prices. A second economic change was the development of tourism from the mainland and an increasing trend for the wealthy to retire to the islands. All these activities brought more money into the islands and improved the standard of living for many producers, tradesmen, and artisans. This economic growth also brought seasonal workers to the islands to augment the labor supply during the harvest and tourist periods.

World War II interrupted this gradual economic development and closer relationship with the United Kingdom mainland. On 19 June 1940, the British government decided the islands were indefensible and were to be demilitarized. Civilian evacuations took place, but were very uneven: 17,000 out of 41,000 from Guernsey, 6,500 out of 50,000 from Jersey, 1,382 of 1,400 from Alderney, and 129 out of 600 from Sark. These differences were attributed to confusion, both in Whitehall and among the islands' authorities. Evacuees were billeted across the United Kingdom and many men of military age served in the armed forces. The demilitarization did not prevent the bombing of St. Peter Port and St. Helier on 28 June 1940 and the loss of forty-four lives. The German occupation that began on 30 June lasted almost five years and brought about a gradual worsening of material conditions on the islands, as supplies from the European mainland were sporadic and all contact with the United Kingdom was lost. This led to increasing shortages as the occupying Germans requisitioned more and more of the islands' produce. By the last six months of occupation, there were cases of starvation among the civilian population.

The major German project on the islands was the building of a huge fortification on Alderney and substantial defense works on the other islands. With little available local labor, the Todt Organization used around 16,000 slave laborers (usually Russian and some African POWs, but encompassing at least twenty-seven nationalities). They were generally in a wretched condition on arrival, and up to a thousand died or were killed during construction work. Resistance activity by these laborers or by the civilian population was limited by German hostage-taking, the use of deportations, and the difficulties of escape and hiding. Sabotage was rare and most acts against the occupiers were confined to various forms of protest and the hiding of foodstuffs and other confiscated goods.

The islands' administrators, under orders from London, adopted a policy of passive cooperation with the German occupiers in order to protect the islanders' interests. This meant passing on German demands to the population and outward conformity. However, it also left them in office and able to maintain their position and status. The debate about the morality of their behavior remains an issue, but there were also other more obvious forms of outright collaboration such as profiteering, denunciations, and prostitution. These were probably on a scale comparable with other German occupied territories.

The islands were liberated on 9 May 1945 and returned to their prewar status. Some reforms were made in the political system to increase representation and make officials more answerable. Economies were also rebuilt and tourism remains important, but as traditional activities such as market gardening have declined, they have been replaced by reliance on financial activities, aided by the islands' special fiscal regime and their position outside the European Union.

See alsoOccupation, Military; United Kingdom; World War II.


Bunting, Madeleine. The Model Occupation: The Channel Islands under German Rule. London, 1995.

Cruikshank, Charles. The German Occupation of the Channel Islands: The Official History of the Occupation. London, 1975.

King, Peter. The Channel Islands War, 1940–1945. London, 1991.

Bob Moore

Channel Islands

views updated Jun 27 2018


CHANNEL ISLANDS , small archipelago off the coast of Normandy belonging to Great Britain. Jews seem to have lived there in the Middle Ages. A London Jew named Abraham was described in 1277 as being from "La Gelnseye" (Guernsey). The converted Portuguese Jew, Edward *Brampton, was appointed governor of Guernsey in 1482, and a few Jewish traders are recorded there in the second half of the 18th century. However, they did not set up a communal organization. Jews settled in Jersey in the first half of the 19th century. In 1843 J. Wolffson organized a diminutive community in St. Helier (Jersey), which died out in about 1870. Some Polish Jews settled in Jersey in 1892 without reestablishing a community. W.H. Krichefski (1916–74), born in Jersey, was a Jersey senator. The Channel Islands were the only part of Great Britain occupied by the Germans in World War ii. It is believed that the small Jewish population was deported to extermination camps; none is believed to have survived. A slight revival of Jewish life took place after World War ii and the present-day community was founded in 1962. In 2004 its Jewish population was estimated at about 120.


J.M. Rigg (ed.), Select Pleas of the Exchequer of the Jews (1902), 93; C. Roth, Rise of Provincial Jewry (1950), 74–6. add. bibliography: jyb 2004; D. Fraser, The Jews of the Channel Islands and the Rule of Law, 1940–1945 (2000).

[Cecil Roth]

Channel Islands

views updated May 17 2018

Channel Islands. All that remains to the monarchy of its once extensive possessions in France, retained when John lost the rest of the duchy of Normandy in 1204. They consist of the four larger islands of Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, and Sark, with a number of smaller islands. A determined attempt by the French in 1781 to capture Jersey was beaten off by the heroic defence of Major Pierson. The population of Jersey in 1991 was 84,000, Guernsey 59,000, Alderney 2,300, and Sark 570. Alderney is no more than 10 miles from the French coast. Jersey, the largest of the islands, is some 10 miles from east to west and 5 from north to south; its capital, St Helier, is on the south coast. The official languages are English and French, with some Norman-French patois still in use. The queen appoints a lieutenant-governor as her representative in the two bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey. The islands have their own assemblies, legal systems, and currency. Their economy depends greatly upon tourism, but they also export fruit, flowers, and vegetables, and the low rate of income tax makes them a tax haven. During the Second World War, the islands were occupied by German troops and liberated on 9 May 1945.

J. A. Cannon

Channel Islands

views updated May 17 2018

Channel Islands Group of islands at the sw end of the English Channel, c.16km (10mi) off the w coast of France. The main islands are Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, and Sark; the chief towns are St. Helier (on Jersey) and St. Peter Port (on Guernsey). A dependency of the British crown since the Norman Conquest, they were under German occupation during World War 2. They are divided into the administrative bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey, each with its own legislative assembly. The islands have a warm, sunny climate and fertile soil. The major industries are tourism and agriculture. Area: 194sq km (75sq mi). Pop. (2000) 144,400.