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Composing Narratives of the German Occupation of the Channel Islands, 1940-1945: A Study of Islanders' Oral Testimonies

Guille, Richard (2021) Composing Narratives of the German Occupation of the Channel Islands, 1940-1945: A Study of Islanders' Oral Testimonies. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.92587) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:92587)

Language: English

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This thesis explores the ways in which the German Occupation of the Channel Islands of Guernsey, Jersey and Sark (1940 - 1945) has been remembered by those who experienced it. The Islands were the only part of the British Isles to be occupied by Nazi Germany during the Second World War and, thus, possess a similarly ambiguous wartime history to other occupied western European nations. Islanders were victims in many ways: many endured near starvation, all were required to learn to live with the enemy and were forced to face the morally compromising challenges of resistance and collaboration. However, public memory in the Islands has traditionally aligned with Britain's victorious war memory, generating a positive interpretation which foregrounded ideals of resolve and stoicism whilst silencing divergent narratives, such as victimhood. A dissonance exists between experience and public memory, exacerbated by inhabitants' dual identities as Channel Islanders and British subjects. As proponents of popular memory theory argue, personal accounts of the past often conform to dominant public scripts, a process through which alternative narratives risk being silenced. This study explores the ways in which these dissonances were confronted by those who were children and young adults at the time using oral history. Interviews were conducted between 2013 and 2019 with forty-two occupied and evacuated Islanders, who ranged in age in 1945 from five to twenty-five.

Existing literature on war memory in the Islands has focused on its public manifestations. Oral testimony remains under-utilised and under-theorised as a method for understanding Occupation memory and the individual's place within this. By examining the original interviews in relation to Graham Dawson's concept of composure, part of which posits that personal narratives are 'composed' in line with prevailing cultural constructions, the influences of public and popular memory on Islanders' narratives are ascertained. Islanders have multiple discourses available to them when constructing their narratives, which can conflict owing to the gap between experience and retrospective interpretation. The research engages with and contributes to existing literature on public memory and heritage in the Islands by exploring the ways individuals conform to and diverge from publicly available scripts. More broadly, questions are posed as to the processes by which individuals remember their past when aspects lack validating cultural scripts, or when these conflict with the realities of that past.

The thesis analyses the ranges of perspectives held by the interviewees and the direct influences on their testimonies such as age and familial narratives. It outlines the evolution of popular and public Occupation memory in the Islands, contextualising the public narratives and scripts available for Islanders to draw upon in composing their testimonies. It considers the ways in which British war memory continues to influence the testimonies of the interviewees, particularly focusing upon notions of stoicism and patriotism, as well as instances of humour. Conversely, the thesis delves into areas that have been silenced by their alignment with Britain's war memory, such as the more subtle and less overt occurrence of resistance in the Islands, as well as prominent victim groups such as the forced and slave foreign labourers brought to the Islands by the Nazis. Moreover, the thesis examines the most dissonant aspect of the Islanders' experience to Britain's war: living with a vast German garrison for five years. Whether they wished it or not, Islanders developed a deeper appreciation of the enemy on a human level. However, this aspect of the Occupation has been rendered sensitive by prominent debates surrounding collaboration in the islands. The thesis demonstrates that Islanders can switch between local and national discursive frameworks in narrating their experiences, providing a strategy for composing memories of the Occupation.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Pattinson, Juliette
Thesis advisor: Goebel, Stefan
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.92587
Uncontrolled keywords: Occupation Channel Islands Oral History Second World War Memory
Subjects: D History General and Old World
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 07 Jan 2022 15:10 UTC
Last Modified: 10 Jan 2022 11:48 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Guille, Richard.

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