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Liberation Day 1945

When was Guernsey's first Liberation Day?

On 9 May 1945.  

Why do we celebrate it?

To mark the liberation after 5 years of living under occupation by the German Forces.  

Why weren't the islands liberated sooner?

The operation needed to be handled very carefully, otherwise many people could have been killed.  A big invasion by the British was planned, but fortunately never carried out as Guernsey would have been left in ruins.  Instead the British decided to retake the islands peacefully and this new plan was code named 'Operation Nestegg'.  The codename 'Omelette' was given to the initial landings which might have to face resistance from die-hard Germans.  

What happened in the run up to Liberation Day?  

On 1st May islanders heard that Hitler had died, so they began thinking that the war was coming to an end.  Islanders began to bring flags out of storage - or make their own out of any material they had.  They also began to openly wear homemade badges and rosettes.  

8th May was Victory in Europe (or VE) Day, where the German Forces unconditionally surrendered in Europe.  On this day, many islanders would have heard  Winston Churchill's speech on the radio when he said, '... and our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed today'.  You can listen to that speech here.  

Meanwhile in Guernsey, the Germans told the Bailiff that British flags may be flown at 3pm. On the same day, Brigadier Snow and his staff set sail from Plymouth on the HMS Bulldog and they were met by a German trawler off Les Hanois. Admiral Hüffmeier (the senior German in charge of Guernsey) sent only a junior officer to discuss terms of an armistice, but Brigadier Snow made clear there would be no negotiation, only unconditional surrender.

What happened in Guernsey on 9th May?

At 7.14am, the German Forces signed the surrender agreement onboard HMS Bulldog, anchored off St Peter Port.  The surrender document was signed by Hüffmeier's second in command Generalmajor Heine.  

The swastika flags on the German boats were replaced by the White Ensign and a small advance party led by Lt Colonel Stoneman went ashore at the Cambridge Steps to be met by enthusiastic crowds. Guernsey people were free once again.

What was the mood like in St Peter Port?

There are reports of big crowds, cheering, singing, crying and much happiness.  

"Word got around very quickly, like lightning, there were crowds in front of the Royal Hotel where most of the activity was occurring that day. Everybody was friendly, happy, bringing out what flags they had and after five years of German domination it was lovely to be free and to be able to do what we wanted to do," said Herbert Winterflood, former Guernsey Press reporter. 

Later in the afternoon, another 200 troops arrived by landing craft at Havelet Bay. RAF aircraft flew past in salute.

The British task force arriving was called Force 135.  Some of the soldiers arriving were from Guernsey, so they would have been recognised by people in the crowds.  

When were the other islands liberated?

Brigadier Snow sailed from St Peter Port to Jersey, where the surrender was signed there at 10am.  Guernsey and Jersey share the same Liberation Day but there were not enough troops to liberate Sark until 10th May.  The Dame of Sark was put in temporary charge of the German garrison in the meantime.  During her week in charge of the garrison, she ordered the 275 Germans to start tidying up the island.  There were no cheers in Alderney, where virtually the entire population had left.  A garrison of 2,332 men remained when British troops landed there on 16th May.

What happened next?

The island and Guernsey people did not recover straightaway and there was much work to do.  

All the German troops became prisoners of war. Mines, guns, equipment and machinery used by the Germans were removed. Many local homes had to be repaired or rebuilt and the economy put on the road to recovery. Most of the concrete fortifications were too large to destroy and so were left and stand to this day as stark reminders of this dark chapter in the islands' history.

King George VI and Queen Elizabeth made a special visit to the Islands on 7th June 1945.

When did the evacuees return to Guernsey?

They came back in batches but the schools returned in July 1945.  It was not always a happy reunion and some children did not recognise their parents, having been away for 5 years. Some evacuees had settled down in Britain and did not return. There was tension between those who had remained to keep the island running, and those who had endured bombing or done war work in England.

When did the deportees return to Guernsey?

August 1945.