15th June 1940
The Channel Islands were demilitarised
The British government decided, early in the war, that the Channel Islands were neither defensible after the fall of France, nor of any strategic importance. They were, however, of great propaganda interest to Germany.
As the prospect of a German invasion started to look increasingly likely, British authorities took the decision to demilitarise the islands entirely. This would achieve several things. It would prevent British soldiers and military hardware falling into enemy hands, and also save the islanders from having to live through a bloody fight.
The operation began on 15 June 1940 with the withdrawal of soldiers. On that day, they boarded ships and took their armaments back to the mainland with them. By 19 June, each of the Channel Islands had been entirely demilitarised.
Locals evacuated, too
Once the military evacuation had been completed, notices were posted that women, children and men of serving age would also be given the opportunity of passage to the mainland. Those who took up the offer described scenes of near chaos once they arrived in England. A run on the island’s finances led to the banks limiting withdrawals to just £10 per person per day. Shops were giving away their stock, cars were abandoned in St Peter Port and the petrol controller escaped in his own boat.
Despite this, 25,000 locals remained on Guernsey when the German forces arrived.
Unfortunately, although the British authorities officially announced that they had taken the decision to demilitarise by the evening of 28 June, the Germans were seemingly unaware or, if they’d heard the announcement, were distrusting. Naturally cautious that they would face resistance, they bombed the harbours at St Helier, Jersey and St Peter Port just a few hours later in advance of coming ashore. This led to around 30 deaths in Guernsey alone.