On 28th June 1940, Guernsey was seized by Nazi Germany, who commandeered the island for the next five years. During the occupation, thousands were evacuated to England while those who remained lived through much hardship and uncertainty. Our timeline details what happened to Guernsey during the Second World War, with many events marked by physical relics as a reminder of the island’s chequered past. History buffs staying at The Old Government House Hotel & Spa can learn more at poignant landmarks and forts, an underground German Military Hospital, and a museum dedicated to the occupation.
19th June 1940: Britain surrenders one of its oldest territories
When the French and Allied armies fell in France in June 1940, the British government decided to demilitarise the Channel Islands. It wasn’t possible to evacuate everyone who wanted to leave before the Germans took control, but almost half of the population was successfully transported to England. Priority was given to special categories—5,000 school children and some 12,000 adults out of the population of 42,000. Look out for a commemorative plaque in St. Peter Port that’s dedicated to the evacuation. It reads: ‘…scarcely a family was undivided. À la perchoine.’
28th June 1940: Germany begins to invade
The Germans were unaware that the Channel Islands had been demilitarised, and they bombed the harbours of Guernsey and Jersey on 28th June while preparing a full-scale invasion. A total of 33 islanders died in the assault. The British government thus declared the Channel Islands as ‘open’, ensuring a peaceful surrender was possible. German forces were quick to commandeer the territory which had historically belonged to the British Crown.
14th July 1940: German troops dock in St. Peter Port—the first of many to come
During the occupation of Guernsey, the German authorities implemented a new order. The clocks were adjusted to align with the majority of continental Europe, and traffic was redirected to drive on the right side of the road. This was tolerable in comparison to severe food rationing and restrictions on freedom of speech and fuel, access to medicine and group meetings. Cyclists had to ride in single file, while identity cards and curfews were introduced. Weapons, boats, radios, vehicles and houses were confiscated, and manual labour became a reality.
Slave labourers built the German Military Underground Hospital, the largest Second World War construction in Guernsey. Visitors can explore its eerie, labyrinthine tunnels, which span 75,000 square feet. It was intended to store ammunition and avoid detection by planes passing above.
June 1944: The Allied forces carry out the D-Day landing and liberate Normandy
Winter 1944: Many are left cold and hungry
For the majority of the Second World War, Guernsey was in a chokehold. Food was sparse during the entire occupation, but the winter of 1944 was particularly tough. Food parcels from the Red Cross saved many from the brink of starvation. However, by this point, Guernsey’s residents were buoyed by the prospect of liberation.
9th May 1945: Germany surrenders Guernsey to British forces
The Germans left the island at the end of the war. Evacuees returned home and were reunited with their loved ones. Each year on 9th May, Guernsey celebrates Liberation Day with parties, a joyous parade and vivid firework display. Visitors are invited to join in the revelries or learn more about the island’s harrowing five-year occupation at the German Occupation Museum.
Discover Guernsey’s compelling Second World War story when staying at Red Carnation Hotels’ The Old Government House Hotel & Spa.