In 1940, as an invading German army rushed across France, and British troops were evacuated from Dunkirk, the people of Alderney were faced with a momentous decision. Stay, and be subject to the rule of German troops, or leave their beautiful island, from which many had never been away. In this 75th anniversary year, we talked to some of those who still remember those dark days, and the emotional Homecoming in 1945 and 1946.
Their story is largely unknown beyond the Channel Islands, but it had an enormous impact on the 1,500 people of Alderney. The damage caused to much of the island’s infrastructure, and the separation of the islanders from each other and from their homes, continues to resonate here even today. The war possibly had more of an impact on this tiny community than on any other in the British Isles. They had to leave their houses, pets, farm animals and most of their possessions behind. The island itself was converted into Festung Alderney, an impregnable fortress, one of the most heavily defended sectors of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. The suffering caused by the loss and damage to property and community was enormous. The islanders’ spirit on their return, and their success in re-building Alderney, is a cause for celebration.
A surprising number of Alderney’s 1940 evacuees are still living on the island. Among the most prominent is George Baron, whose family built Quesnard lighthouse (opened in 1912). George was a teenager in 1940, and returned to Alderney after the war. He eventually became President of the States of Alderney, and is still the only island-born holder of that post. George Baron was interviewed by Living Islands in 2015, and extracts are available here:
Preparations & the arrival of the ships:
Packing up, departure & arrival in Weymouth:
Fifteen years ago, in 2000, David Earl, Alderney’s resident BBC TV reporter, captured a fascinating set of interviews with some of the surviving evacuees and returnees from 1940-45. Some of these brave and resourceful people are sadly no longer with us, which emphasises why it is so important to continue to commemorate these momentous events, and honour those who returned to create the beautiful island we enjoy today.