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Bailiwick of Guernsey - History

The name is of Old Norse origin, but the meaning of the root "Guern(s)" is uncertain; the "-ey" ending means "island". Until at least the late Mesolithic period (10000 to 5000 BC), the Channel Islands were connected to continental Europe. People and animals lived upon some of the land which is now covered by sea, and moved across a now inundated landscape. Evidence for these ancient land surfaces can sometimes be found in sea bed or coastal excavations taking place in the Bailiwick of Guernsey.

Most of the history of the island is a narrative of certain disputes relative various worthies, which is now of no interest. The original ethnology and pre-Christian history of the Channel Islands are largely matters of conjecture and debate. Of early inhabitants abundant proof is afforded by the numerous megalithio monuments—cromlechs, kistvaens, and maenhirs-^till extant in' various quarters, and it is well known that the number of these memorials was much greater in recent centuries. One of the most important, indeed—a cromlech neai 8t Helier's—was only removed in 1788. But little trace has been left of Boman occupation, and such remains as have been discovered are mainly of the portable description that affords little proof of actual settlement.

In 1343 there was a descent of the French in Guernsey; the governor was beaten, and Castle Cornet besieged. In 1380 Pius IV issued a bull of anathema, against all who molested the islands; it was formally registered in Brittany in 1384, and in France in 1386; and in this way they acquired the right of neutrality, which they retained till 1689.

That a defensive force or militia existed in the Anglo-Norman Islands from very early times, has been shewn by a mandate of Edward III, dated in 1337, ordering an armed array of the inhabi. tants; and in Guernsey it was chiefly this array which encountered Sir Owen of Wales, when he invaded the island in 1372. Exposed as all the islands were, from their frontier and isolated position, to constant attacks, it is evident, that the natives could only preserve their connection with England, after the loss of Normandy in 1204 by some sort of military organization, which provided for the compul: sory service of all persons able to bear arms; and this obligation was the more necessary, because, for several centuries, there were no permanent English garrisons, excepting perhaps the retinue of the governors.

The first ordinance extant relating to the Guernsey militia is dated April 5, 1546, and commands all the male inhabitants, on their allegiance, to obey their captains, who are also commanded to see in their respective parishes that the haguebuts,” bows, and bundles or uivers of arrows, (haquebuttes, ars, et trousses,) are in order; that the bulwarks (boulvars) are constructed; and that the munitions are always ready, as they shall answer. In 1548, long bows, crossbows, and all other weapons, were by law exempted from arrest for debt in Guernsey.

By 1656 the number of men who there appeared carrying arms and keeping rank and file, amounted to 1,418, without counting the captains and other officers, the old men and others exempted from carrying arms, the absent and the sick, and a great number of young men who had not yet been obliged to carry arms.

The King's Survey of the Channel Islands was commissioned by Charles II in 1679. The report was a comprehensive account of the state of defence, harbours and civil jurisdiction of the Islands. The Survey was timely. The political situation was troubled: Charles II, under-funded by successive Parliaments had pursued a covert pro-French, pro-Roman Catholic foreign policy in return for subsidies from Louis XIV. By 1678 Anglo-French relations had cooled and Parliament voted supplies to Charles to enable him to pursue war with France. In Guernsey, defences had been poorly maintained and the damage wrought to Castle Cornet by the lightning strike of 29 December 1672 had yet to be rectified.

In 1727, the lieutenant-governor raised a troop of horse, or rather a troop of men, whom upon any emergency were the seven-eighth part of them reduced to run the country to borrow, or hire for the day, very mean and pitiful horses; and as that pretended company were seldom said to be in a condition to make a proper appearance, they were by that means often exempt from an duty, which was the principal view.

In 1780, the regiment of field artillery, the service in which corps had previously been confined to the batteries, was formed by Colonel Nicholas Dobrée, and the west regiment of infantry by Colonel Peter De Lisle, when the Guernsey militia became divided into four regiments of infantry and one of artillery. In 1831, the militia of the Anglo-Norman isles was made royal, with the distinctions thereof, by William IV.

The militia of Guernsey, in 1854, consisted of five regiments, viz. artillery, of four companies; infantry, 1st or east, of nine companies, including two of rifles; 2d or north, 3d or south, and 4th or west, each of eight companies, including one of rifles; total available strength, in the event of a war, nearly 3,000 men.

Almost half the island's population and virtually all its children were housed in England during the German occupation of the Channel Islands in the Second World War, as 17,000 Islanders fled an occupying Nazi force. On 28 June 1940 the Germans launched an air attack over St Peter Port harbour. Tomato trucks awaiting export were heavily bombed by German aircraft killing 33 people and injuring many more, these attacks then continued at several other sites across the island. The BBC then announced the demilitarisation of the island on the 9 o`clock news. On 01 July 1940 Major Albrecht Lanz arrived at Guernsey airport, the first military Commander to arrive in the island.

The occupation of the Channel Islands by the Germans may have been a small episode in the Second World War, but it confronted the individual Islander with exactly the same problems which faced men and women in the larger occupied countries – how far to collaborate with the enemy, what to do about resistance and sabotage, how to endure isolation from friends and allies, how to tolerate extreme hunger and cold, how to face illness with inadequate medicines, how year after year to sustain morale when there was no certainty that they would ever be liberated.

In 1941, as the war in the west changed direction, Hitler focused on building fortifications in the island to turn the Channel Islands into a 'Impregnable Fortress' as detailed in the Fortification Directive. In 1942 over 2,000 Channel Islanders were deported to internment camps principally at Biberach, Laufen, Dorsten and Wurzach. On 9 May 1945 - just 1 day after Winston Churchill declared the end of war and that “our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed” the Germans surrendered to combined British forces. Force 135 led by Brigadier Snow landed on Guernsey and the long five years of German occupation were finally over.

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Page last modified: 28-06-2017 18:31:26 ZULU