German forces on both Guernsey and Jersey allowed the residents to hang on to their radio sets for the first few months of the occupation.
However, that soon changed. After British commandos Hubert Nicolle and James Symes had come ashore to gain information and become trapped on the island (an event that eventually saw Ambrose Sherwill removed as head of the Controlling Committee), the authorities demanded the surrender of every radio on Guernsey.
They collected 8000 sets, but returned them a few months later – in December 1940.
The Germans reconsider
That decision was reversed as the war started to turn against the occupying forces. At that point they wanted to be able to control the flow of news themselves. The Germans were also worried that Britain might try to re-capture the Channel Islands. Doing so would have been a significant public relations triumph and a boost for morale. It would also give Allied forces a convenient staging point from which to mount an invasion of France.
If the allies did want to invade, it was reasoned, they may try to prime the local population. The easiest way to do that would have been by radio. Therefore, on 8 June 1942, notice of an official confiscation of every radio set on either Bailiwick was published in the local papers.
The Germans threatened stiff penalties for those who didn’t comply. Yet, although a lot of radios were handed over, some were kept back. Other residents built their own crystal radios by coiling lengths of thin wire and using telephone earpieces as speakers.
In Protest, Defiance and Resistance in the Channel Islands, Gilly Carr, Paul Sanders and Louise Willmot write:
…almost half of the radios discovered at this later stage of the Occupation were radio detectors (“crystal sets”). These sets became standard after D-Day, once radio signals from liberated France could be picked up at ease. Relatively easy to dissimulate, the recovery of crystal sets was often the result of carelessness.
The most famous use of ilicit radios was the production of GUNS, the Guernsey Underground News Sheet, which was a compilation of the morning’s news from the BBC. A very small number of the sheets was reproduced each day and passed around the island. The originators were betrayed in early 1944 and sent to prison in Germany.