Today, the 9th May, is Liberation Day on the island of Guernsey. It seems an appropriate day, then, to share the true story behind one of my favourite books, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”. If you haven’t gathered by now, I’m a huge fan of both the book and film and I recently had the great privilege of hosting my own preview screening of the film with Vue. If you haven’t seen the film yet, you need to and you can check out my film review here.
The story of Guernsey has immensely fascinated me ever since I opened turned the first page of this book, in much the same way as Juliet Ashton is enamoured by Dawsey’s letters. It seems to be a little-known fact that after the Allied defeat in France in 1940, Germany invaded and occupied the Channel Islands. This sets the scene for The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society but just how much of the book is actually based on reality? I’ve done a bit of research with the help of Visit Guernsey and their fantastic new movie tie in website. Here’s what I discovered!
Guernsey was not at all defended by Britain
The Channel Islands were occupied by the Germans from the 30 June 1940 until the end of World War II. Winston Churchill decided that the islands were of little “strategic importance” so the islands were left undefended when the Germans came. No official announcement had been made informing the Germans that the Channel Islands were in fact demilitarised, so they attacked. The planes mistook tomato trucks lined up at the harbour for military vehicles and thirty three civilians were killed in the raid.
Almost half Guernsey’s population was evacuated
Four fifths of the children and almost half of Guernsey’s population were evacuated before the occupation. In actual fact, evacuation boats were still leaving the island when the German Air Force began their attack!
Hitler wanted to create an “impregnable fortress”
Hitler ordered the Channel Islands to be turned into an impregnable fortress, as part of the Atlantic Wall. This wall was to serve as a defence against any Allied attack. Guernsey’s coastline was heavily laden with concrete, making up for 8% of the entire Atlantic Wall, which covered the coast of Western Europe and Scandinavia.
Prisoners of war were used to build this
Thousands of manual labourers were brought over from Europe to help build this fortress. They were prisoners of war and treated like slaves without food or decent shelter.
Time shifted to Central European time
At the start of the occupation, time was shifting to Central European time. This may seem pretty minor compared to the rest of the stuff, but it must’ve seemed pretty strange at first!
Guernsey was cut off from the outside world
All radios were banned, and the islands were cut off from Britain and the outside world. Any news that they did get was heavily distorted by Nazi propaganda. They had no real clue how they were faring in the war.
Alcohol was scarce during the war
Whilst Isola’s stock of home brewed spirits kept the Society’s spirits up in the book and film, alcohol was actually very scarce during the war. Today, however, there are numerous gin tours and tastings on Guernsey!
Islanders sheltered escaped slave workers
Despite the severe cost if discovered, numerous islanders tried to help the slave workers by sheltering them in secret, just like Elizabeth in The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.
A secret society really did exist
Unfortunately, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is, and always has been, fictional. However, there was another secret society on the island at the time: the Guernsey Underground News Service, aka GUNS. The island was completely cut off from the outside world during the occupation, but this group managed to keep up to date using secret radios. They would then create secret newsletters to distribute to civilians on the island!
The German occupation lasted five years
Guernsey was finally liberated on 9th May 1945, five years after the occupation began. To quote Winston Churchill, “our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed today”, which seems a little wry given that the Islands were basically abandoned and deemed of little “strategic importance” before the occupation. Anyway, the 9th May is now deemed a national holiday on the Channel Islands and huge crowds gather at St Peters Port every year to celebrate!
If you feel inspired to visit the island of Guernsey now, you can find out more from the Visit Guernsey website. They’ve also created a fantastic movie tie in website, which explains the true story behind The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in even greater detail, including pictures, videos and clippings. Find out more here.
*This is a sponsored post in collaboration with Visit Guernsey. However, the fascination with Guernsey is all mine.