Jewels and Jackboots: Hitler's British Isles, the German Occupation of the British Channel Islands 1940-1945 Hardcover – Special Edition, 25 Oct 2012
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AS AN UPDATE: This book was re-published in 2015 with a new cover and seems to have had all of the previous little problems ironed out. See it here: Jewels and Jackboots: Hitler's British Channel Islands
Just an update. I do have to agree with another reviewer that the book is tediously repetitive, and did annoy me a great deal. It is such a shame because the book contains a lot of information about the occupation which is very interesting. Please Mr Nettles, make sure the book is re-edited and these repetitions taken out, plus the spelling mistakes, before you release it in Germany in 2014, which I think you intend to do.
In more recent times I have been following political developments in the island and more particularly the fallout from the revelations about the massive institutional child abuse and its cover up that have been going on in the intervening period.
I was aware that John Nettles was familiar with the islands from a decade of shooting BBC's Bergerac, in Haut de la Garenne, and that his daughter was the none too popular Emma Martins, currently Data Protection Commissioner for the islands.
I wondered if the book would be a knocking job, or simply sensationalist, capitalising on the extreme aspects of the German occupation of the islands.
I was pleasantly surprised. It is a well written and thoughtful book which attempts to portray the occupation from the point of view of the islanders themselves, drawing extensively on their diaries and writings. I can't say how much of it might be new: the bibliography makes it clear that there have been many works dealing with this subject. But, whatever about insiders, much of it will surely be new to outsiders like myself, and Nettles has done us a service by bringing it all together in very readable form.
It is a difficult subject to write about, even today. As he says himself, the UK had no stomach for any sort of serious public inquiry into precisely what went on during the occupation. Its priority was to sweep the shame of it under the carpet and leave it there. The result was "unfinished business from the occupation, years on, hanging unhappily over the islanders to this day".
Nettles draws attention to prevailing outside attitudes which saw the occupation as "benign", which it may have been relative to some of what went on elsewhere in Europe, but he reminds us that (i) many people were shipped from the islands to various types of concentration camps and death, (ii) the slave labour (Russian etc.) imported into the islands (mainly Alderney) was treated abominably, and (iii) there was close on universal starvation towards the later stage of the occupation as the islands became isolated and UK was even attacking supply ships.
The book is a very good companion volume to Turner's comprenhsive and sympathetic evaluation of the occupation, published a few years ago, "Outpost of Occupation" (reviewed by this reviewer).
Both these books take a very sympathetic view of how the islanders, of necessity, reacted to the occupation. I had realised, after reading Turner's book, the extent to which the islands were just abandoned by the UK authorities (nothing new here!) but had not copped the total disregard for the safety of the islanders and the administrative sloppiness involved in the failure of the UK authorities to notify the Germans that they had abandoned the islands. This led to needless bombing of the islands, and deaths of the inhabitants, in advance of the actual occupation. Then, during the occupation, the UK engaged in smaller raids on the islands which did not produce any meaningful results, beyond a single code book, but made the task of the islands' leaders in dealing with the German occupiers all the more difficult.
I had not realised that there were some 500 Irish in the islands during the occupation and that, being citizens of a neutral country, they were not entitled to share in the food parcels which eventually got through in the latter stages of the occupation. It was also disturbing to read that an Irishman, Peter Doyle, was responsible for betraying the Guernsey Underground News Service to the Germans.
A happier Irish story, not mentioned in this book, was that of Mauyen Keane, an Irish nurse who did not evacuate before the occupation. She fell in love with a German soldier/medic, married him and followed him back to Germany, where he narrowly avoided being sent to the Russian front. The couple shared in the privations of the German people towards the end of the war and immediately after it, before they eventually succeeded in making their way to Ireland. She became the mother of the well known Irish poet, Gabriel Rosenstock. She has written a memoir of this period, "Hello, is it all over?" (reviewed by this reviewer).
On the negative side, Nettles has not been well served by his publisher. The print font, double column pages, sloppy proofing and inadequate captioning of photos as well as an unnecessary pseudo photo album presentation, are all irritants as you go through the book. Fortunately they are outweighed by the content.
Verdict: a well written, thoughtful and sympathetic account of the Channel Islands under occupation. A good and thought provoking read, and a must for anyone interested in the islands or in the more general question of how the UK might have coped with such an occupation.
HEALTH WARNING: I wrote the above in good faith and without having read anything Nettles wrote previously. He lived and filmed in Jersey for something like ten years. His daughter has orchestrated, over a long period, the campaign to suppress Ex-Senator Stuart Syvret's blog and has been responsible for gross misuse of the Island's Data Protection Legislation. She has stated publicly that she takes advice from her father. So he really must know the score there.
However, in an interview on BBC Jersey Radio the other day he more or less said that nothing had gone on at the Haut de la Garenne institution. This place of detention has clearly been the scene of horrific crimes of child abuse. And culpability for the abuse and subsequent cover up reaches the highest levels of the current Jersey administration. The subsequent siting of Detective Bergerac's (Nettles TV character) HQ in the building does not change history one whit.
In the interview, he went on to rubbish the only genuine police investigation of the abuse which had been undertaken for decades and which was shut down and rubbished by the administration.
And what has all this to do with his book and my review, you might ask? Well, the book takes a sympathetic line towards the WWII Jersey administration, and I have a lot of sympathy with that. But Nettles's current mouthing of the Jersey establishment line in relation to "historic" child abuse makes him a totally unreliable commentator and raises some doubts about the objectivity of his book.
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