Review: Life in Occupied Guernsey: the diaries of Ruth Ozanne 1940 – 1945
There’s something vaguely optimistic about reading Ruth Ozanne’s occupation diaries. Perhaps it’s because, with perfect hindsight, we know that, ultimately, everything was resolved for a large part of the population. That’s not to take away from their suffering during those five hard years, or to minimise the pain that would have been felt by those who lost friends and family during the war.
Yet, when we can look back and see how Guernsey has recovered, reading of such privations gives us hope that our own turbulent situation will right itself, sooner or later.
Although she had kept a diary since childhood, the first entry in Ruth’s published is 24 August 1940, when we find her living at 40 Hauteville with her 79 year old mother and a Highland terrier called Garry. She also tended the garden at number 69, her uncle’s house, where she grew vegetables to supplement the increasingly meagre wartime rations.
By this time, the Channel Islands had been occupied for two months, so the Germans and locals were still very much finding their feet. Even at this early stage, though, gossip was rife and rumour often stated as fact. This became more and more the case as the occupation drew on – especially after the Germans confiscated all radios on the island.
Ruth has a remarkable spirit, despite the situation constantly worsening. As well as the growing shortage of food, she was living among a changing rosta of neighbours as foreign workers are billeted in adjacent houses. Her mother’s health worsens through the occupation and, particularly towards the end of the war, an increasing number of friends died.
Her diaries end abruptly on Sunday 11 February 1945 – her only entry for that year. There seems to be no reason for this, although the editor hints that it may have been because the end of the conflict seemed to be approaching, or that she had been exhausted by the struggle to survive to spend any time writing.
My own take would be that it was the latter. By then, life could not have been pleasant, even with hope on the horizon. With several bereavements to cope with, her mind must have been on more important things. Over the last several months, her entries had been sporadic.
Nonetheless, the diaries remain an interesting historical document, and with the originals now preserved in the Priaulx Library, clearly one that’s of academic interest, too.
Price: £11.73 (paperback) / £7.58 (ebook)
Length: 160 pages
Publisher: Amberley Publishing