“ Addresss: Les Charrières Malorey / Saint Lawrence / Saint Helier / JE3 1FU / Channel Islands „
The Jersey War Tunnels is a museum that is housed in an underground hospital (called Hohlgangsanlage 8) that was built in the centre of Jersey on the order of the Nazis during the Second World War. It was never actually used for purpose, as the Germans surrendered before it was completed, but it stands now as a fascinating and somewhat chilling representation of the effect that the war had on the people of Jersey.
The museum is well presented in maze like warren of long bleak corridors, some of which are unfinished, and all of which give you the unshakable feeling of despair and claustrophobia that its users must have felt all those years ago. It may not seem like everyone's cup of tea, but I really think you should consider it on any trip to Jersey. The power of the museum is that it doesn't just present things to you, it makes you feel them as well - it's the first time in a long time that I've felt a lump in my throat.
The entrance to the museum is lined with large metal statues, each of which bears a phrase that has some significance to the war and Jersey itself. These statues form a grim sort of guard of honour to the striking white entrance that is adorned with a large red cross and nothing else. The impression is that this was a place of healing, but the simplicity of it also indicates that something more sinister lies inside. The entrance is also flanked by signs advising of the temperatures inside; the tunnels are maintained at around 10 - 13 degrees, which is quite chilly when you come in from the sunshine (you'll need a jumper or jacket if you're going in). Again this adds to the atmosphere and authenticity of the museum. We took around 2 hours complete the walk around and by the time we'd finished we were ready to come out and warm up - but you can't help but think about all those people that spent days and weeks in the tunnels with less clothes than we had on.
The museum is presented in such a way that you can walk round in one continual path, without crossing over yourself or missing anything. The guide recommends around 2 hours and I would agree that this is enough time to be able to absorb all of the exhibits without overdoing it. In the interests of maintaining the atmosphere, the tunnels are fairly dim and dark, but there is enough light to find your way around and to be able to see everything clearly. The footways are all flat and smooth so, despite its location, I would say that the tunnels are accessible to all. One thing I will say is that it is probably unsuitable for the young or the easily scared, although the museum does make an effort to engage younger visitors with resource packs and a specific children's section in the gift shop.
There are 24 points of interest in the museum in total and the pamphlet you get with your entry ticket maps these for you. The points vary from standalone artefacts such as the huge guns in the entrance, to little rooms off the tunnels that tell the tale of a particular person or event. The points are organised in a pretty good timeline that begins with the threat of the war and ends with two new (for 2010) exhibits entitled 'Liberation' and 'Reflection'. All of the sections are differently presented using various methods; some are interactive, some use sound and lights and a few (The Boiler Room, The Telephone Exchange and The Operating Theatre) are exactly as they were with the genuine contents still intact - this is particularly disturbing when you see how basic The Operating Theatre is.
I found that all of the exhibits gave an absolutely fascinating insight into the war and the effect that it had on a little island that was of little significance to anybody, but some of the parts that really stood out for me are:
'To Leave or Stay'
This is the second point on the tour and really brought home to me the unthinkably difficult decision that the islanders had to make, with such little notice. Early on during the war, the British Government declared that the Channel Islands would not be defended against the Germans and the people living there had to make the almost impossible choice of leaving or staying. Many thousands of people immediately joined the queue to leave the islands, but following the example of the Governor of Jersey at the time, many decided to stay.
The room here is split into two and shows the two opposing options. The walls are lined with quotes and pictures from islanders who remember their parents having to make that decision. There are tales of families being split up and of those who queued to leave but then changed their mind, only to return home and find that all of their possessions stolen by those they had considered friends. The exhibit does an excellent job of highlighting the fear and uncertainty that people faced. The most powerful thing in the room though are the videos of people that are telling their story, their scared voices cut through the silence in a way that really makes you stop and think.
'The Paper War'
I thought this was a particularly interesting exhibit. Having studied A Level History, I was well aware of the propaganda machine that Hitler used to great effect, but seeing the replica newspapers bearing exaggerated headlines, makes you wonder how he got away with it. Something that I found particularly interesting here was the underlying rebellion that came from the locals. It's a theme that runs throughout the museum - that local people appeared on the outside to be in support of, or at least friendly to the German troops that occupied their island, but behind closed doors were doing all sorts of things to show their true feelings. The example demonstrated in this section is the actions of the editor of the local paper. His paper was highly censored and many of the articles were passed to him by the Nazis to print, but he deliberately didn't correct their mistakes so that readers would know who wrote it and so would be able to decipher the facts from the propaganda.
'Whispers and Lies'
This section again highlights the fear and uncertainty that faced the people of Jersey, but it also shows, in a very powerful way, the suspicion that quickly turned into something much more sinister. People weren't sure who they could trust and soon realised that people they'd been friends with before the occupation, were no longer who they thought they were. The sound of whispered rumours fills the dark room, whilst copies of letters that were sent to Germans, reporting things like the use of radios and extra rations, are displayed on the walls.
This was one of the most powerful parts of the museum for me, as it showed the horrific conditions that workers, many of whom were starved and tortured, were forced to face everyday. The unfinished tunnel is surrounded by a railing to prevent you going in, but it is a wide area that is grimy, dark and very wet. The walls still look like they could cave in at any moment and the continual dripping of the surface water from above is ominous in a depressing way.
The museum does sound like quite a depressing place, but that is solely down to the subject matter. Having said that, there are plenty of things in the museum that make you smile, believe it or not. There are many stories of people who rebelled and those who escaped the island and, of course, the final two sections tell the events that led to the liberation of Jersey when the war was finally over and things could perhaps begin to improve. It is a well balanced presentation that really makes you feel some the pain and then the joy that the people of Jersey felt.
Something else that I particularly liked was the entrance tickets. They were designed like the identity cards that islanders held and each one had the details of a real person who lived in Jersey at the time of the occupation. Some of the people could be found in the museum itself - my other half was Denis Vibert, the young man who actually escaped the island on a small wooden motorboat and has a whole exhibit dedicated to him. Others, like my own, can be found on the walls of the visitor's centre. It's a blatant way of making you visit the museum's gift shop, gallery and cafe, but it also makes the visit seem a little more personal somehow. The walls here are covered in pictures of those who lived in Jersey at the time and each picture is accompanied by a little detail about what happened to the person. Some of the stories are heart warming - others unfortunately less so.
If you are visiting the island of Jersey, I can't recommend the Jersey War Tunnels enough. Even if you aren't a keen historian, they are certainly worth a trip to. They offer a unique, fascinating and definitely thought provoking look at the war and its effects on normal people. The way that it is presented means that you are able to learn, without really feeling that you are doing so.
The museum isn't hard to get to (there a couple of regular buses that stop here as well as the red tourist bus) and the seemingly steep entrance fee is well worth it. If you are going, do make sure you bring a jacket and do leave yourself enough time.
The Small Print
Entrance Fee - £10.50 for adults
£9.50 for seniors
£7.50 for students
£6.50 for children
Opening Times - daily from 1st March to 28th November, 10am until 6pm (last admission 4.30pm)
Website - www.jerseywartunnels.com
One of the most popular tourist attractions on the island of Jersey is now the Jersey War Tunnels which were formally known as the Underground Hospital.
Opening Times: 10am to 6pm daily with last admission at 4.30pm. (Open 1st March-28th November 2010)
Admissions: £10.50 adults, £6.50 children 7-16. Entrance is also covered by the Jersey Pass.
The Tunnels are easy to find as they are about a mile North-West of St Helier, not far from the airport. There are plenty of brown signs to follow. On arrival there is a reasonable sized car-park although I imagine in the summer there is probably some overspill parking close-by.
As you arrive you see the entrance to the tunnels on your right, they are easily identified as the entrance is huge and has a large red cross over it. We started to head towards them as when we had visited previously (however that was 20 years ago!) you had paid at a kiosk by the entrance. We then realised there was nowhere to pay so headed back to a huge glass structure which is the new visitors centre, you can't miss it but we had presumed that it was for visiting after the tunnels not before. Once inside we paid for our tickets and were given a map and a replication of a wartime identity card.
The site, Hohlgangsanlage 8 (also known as Ho8) was constructed during the period of German occupation between 1941 and 1945, approximately 1km of tunnels were completed. The underground tunnel complex was intended as a safe haven for the German troops allowing access to parts of the island but providing bomb-proof protection from attack. As defeat started to look more likely the tunnels that were not finished were sealed up and the complex was redesigned as a casualty receiving centre for injured troops although in the end it was never used. The tunnels were built using both Prisoners of War and skilled islanders. Some of the POWS were severely mal-treated and deaths from exhaustion and starvation were not unusual for the tunnel workers.
On entering the tunnel complex you can't help but be impressed at the scale of the project. The entry tunnel is wide and tall and the cold starts to hit you as you start to walk under the hills. There are a couple of rooms that show some of the original use of the tunnels such as the boiler room and the sparsely furnished operating theatre.
When I originally visited these tunnels there was very little to see but in 2001 the Captive Island exhibition was opened which is a permanent exhibition chronicling the life of the islanders just before, during and after the Occupation. As you walk around the one-way system in the tunnels you are basically walking along a time-line. There are lit squares in the floor giving a date and then when you enter the doorway next to it you are told the history that happened on that date. The displays were excellent. Sometimes these sort of exhibits have too much information to read and can become tedious. However the balance for this exhibition seemed just right, there was a lot to read but there were also lots of photographs, films, posters from the time and radio broadcasts which produced a very atmospheric experience. I had not appreciated how the islanders must have felt when Churchill informed them that Britain could not defend the Channel Islands and people had just 24 hours to decide if they wished to stay or go. Nearly half the islanders wanted to leave and had to queue in St Helier to make their applications, 6000 pets were destroyed by the Blue Cross in the days following as people had to leave with just the possessions they could carry and without their beloved pets, many islanders changed their minds in the end and decided to stay. Those that left thought they would be back soon; they had no idea that it would be 5 years before they returned.
The exhibition then moves on to life during the Occupation. At first things seemed fine but gradually over time the rules and the regulations became tighter and suddenly there would be notices telling English born residents that they would be removed to concentration camps. Neighbour became suspicious of neighbour, food shortages became the norm and anyone seen to be receiving better treatment or more food would find themselves victims of anonymous letters sent to the rulers of the island. Copies of these letters and of the information posters really made you think about how you would behave in that sort of situation. We would all like to think we were honest and courageous but it must have been hard to maintain personal integrity when you were never sure what was going on around you or who you could trust. During World War II there were shortages all over the UK of many essentials but the Channel Islanders suffered particularly badly as they did not have many natural resources. There is a brilliant display showing the ingenuity of the Islanders in overcoming shortages of essentials such as shoe-leather and cooking pots. The Islanders were fortunate to eventually receive Red Cross parcels which contained luxury products such as biscuits and chocolate that they hadn't seen for a long time, the German soldiers were not allowed anything from the parcels and would be shot if found to be in possession of any item, by this time the occupying forces were suffering from starvation as much as the islanders and it is documented that soldiers were known to be eating cats and dogs because of a need for protein.
Another fascinating exhibition was based on the story of Violette Szabo, a young woman who joined the Special Operations Executive in her early 20s and received the George Cross posthumously after being executed having being caught and tortured by the Gestapo. Her story may be familiar to some from the film Carve Her Name with Pride.
The exhibition then moves on towards the end of the War, the islanders could hear some of what was happening on the beaches of France and believed their liberation was imminent. However it was several months before the island was liberated, quite peacefully and life could start returning to normal.
The effects of the Occupation are better described here than in anything I have read or seen elsewhere. The oppressiveness and the bravery are so well depicted that I would certainly recommend this as an essential visit for anyone to Jersey. There is certainly a lot of reading and I am not sure how much young children would understand of the whole exhibition.
As you make your way to the exit some of the unfinished tunnels have been opened up and you can see the conditions that the men who were forced to build them had to endure.
Visiting this attraction and taking the time to immerse yourself in all the information is quite moving and there is a garden of reflection where you can sit quietly and contemplate all that you have seen. Here you will also find details of the residents of Jersey who dies as a direct consequence of the occupation, all sobering reading.
The site also offers a War Trail which is currently under development which is based around the trenches where there was a German anti-aircraft battery. We didn't venture there as it was a cold day and a walk in the wood didn't appeal.
Back in the large visitors centre are toilets, a cafe and a shop selling an interesting selection of memorabilia. By the cafe there is another display where you can find out about the person featured on the identity card you were given, this helps you to think about each affected person as an individual.
---Would I recommend a Visit?---
Any visitor to Jersey who is interested in its history should certainly visit the War Tunnels. Our visit lasted a couple of hours so it is quite expensive but the Jersey Pass allows entry to several attractions and makes it more economical. The tunnels themselves are very cold and this doesn't change very much, even in summer so it is worth wearing long trousers and taking a jumper as you don't want to rush around because you are cold. Learn from the exhibitions and realise how life could be for us now if things had turned out differently.
My Partner and I took our first holiday together to Jersey ealier this year in May. We spent one afternoon at the educational and thought provocing Jersey War Tunnels.
My partner is more interested in history than me, so it was more a visit for him than myself. I was however, pleasently surprised with the attraction.
I found it so emotional and the way it was laid out was fantastic!!! As you walk through the tunnels you are guided through a timeline of the war and the ocupation of Jersey.
You are given an ID card as your ticket which is of a real person who experience the horror, and up in the restaurant you can find out a bit about that person. I thought this was a fantastic idea- it really connects you with whole experience.
As you move through the tunnels you not only see the finished rooms and corridors, but you can see unfinished parts which really makes you understand the conditions the slaves were under!
I found the way you learn so much about indivual people and their experiences over wealming.
The staff were polite and helpfull, letting us explore with no pressure, but on hand if we needed assistance.
It was really easy to get to on one of Jersey's fantastic bus routes, and the facilites there were also great.
It was such a great place, so educational & well thought out! The black forest gateux in the restaurant wasn't bad either (in fact it was lovely).
Having visited the Channel Island of Jersey many times over the past 25 years, I have always been inspired by the Jersey War Tunnels, formerly known as the German Underground Hospital.
We decided to visit Jersey again last year, but unfortunately, the British summer had been a non-starter and the appalling weather decided to make its way down to the Channel Islands. Needless to say, there was no chance of soaking up the sun on the beach, so we had no alternative but to explore the indoor attractions. It had been several years since we visited the War Tunnels so thought this would be a good opportunity to see if it was still as interesting and enjoyable as in previous years.
***What are the Jersey War Tunnels?***
As I have already mentioned, the War Tunnels were formerly known as the German Underground Hospital. However, this kilometre of underground tunnels, excavated through thousands of tonnes of rock and lined with 6000 tonnes of concrete, were originally built as a bombproof barracks, together with a weapons store, rather than a hospital. It was prior to the completion of the barracks that the Second World War broke, the German forces occupied the Channel Islands and it was decided that the barracks would be used as a casualty clearing station in the event of an allied invasion. To this day, you can still see the fully equipped operating theatre, wards, radio control room and officer's room, though admittedly, some of these rooms have been re-created with special sound effects and props to give a, shall we say, realistic feel.
For three years, slave labourers from Europe, together with Russian and Polish prisoners-of-war, were forced to dig bare-handed through the concrete to create the tunnels, many being cruelly treated by the officers and many more losing their lives in the appalling working conditions.
Despite the atrocious conditions in which these men had to work, the hospital was never used. The anticipated invasion never happened, the war ended and the Channel Islands were liberated.
The War Tunnels are approached along a fairly winding road, quite typical of the roads in Jersey. On driving into the car park, our first glimpse of the War Tunnels was the familiar site of the white archway dug into the hillside, with a red cross above the entrance. After parking the car, we went into the reception to purchase our tickets. In addition to our entrance tickets, we were each handed an Identity Card, which I will explain about later in the review. On leaving the reception area, we walked the very short distance to the entrance to the War Tunnels where we handed in our tickets.
On walking into the tunnel, the first thing that I noticed was how cold it was and I was hit by the damp, musty smell, hardly surprising considering we were underground surrounding by concrete tunnelled walls. The first section of the tunnel portrays life on the island under the German occupation. The first 'display' on the approach into the main tunnel area shows enlarged photographs of the onset of war and the effects it had on islanders, together with written explanations as to what was portrayed in each picture. Cine footage is played on the bare brick wall at the end of the tunnel to the sound of war time music and Hitler giving one of his speeches. I must admit it was quite an eerie feeling hearing such music, together with the sounds of the marching Nazis, in this cold, stone-walled environment, especially knowing what went on down there over sixty years ago.
As we travelled along the tunnel complex, it was easy to imagine this cold, stark environment as a hospital. Small rooms run off each of the tunnels, which I assume were intended as hospital wards. Nowadays, the rooms are used as exhibition areas showing various stages of the war and the islands under occupation, both in extremely large picture boards and video footage. In one room, I watched a video playing of interviews with islanders who were growing up on the island during the war, where they explain what life was like under the German rule, and how they managed to live in such circumstances. In my opinion, these islanders who spoke about their experiences are such strong people to have lived through such a harrowing time and still be able to talk about events to this day.
One section of the tunnel, which I found particularly impressive, not to mention moving, was the unfinished chamber. This part of the tunnel has been left as it was when the slave labourers put down their picks for the last time. You can quite clearly see the bare wall of rock where large sections have been cut out manually by these poor workers and it so easy to imagine what hell they went through, being forced to cut away at the rock face in such terrible conditions. Also visible is the railway track that was used to transport the workers into the tunnels and take the excavated rocks back out. This impressive display has magnificent sound effects of the clanking of picks against the bare rock - certainly one of the best features in the tunnels as it gears away from the tourist attraction side of things and actually gives you a feeling that you were living the terror.
As we moved along through the tunnel, we could see the operating theatre, still with the surgical instruments on show. We could see the German officers' room with mannequins of the officers standing round a large table, planning their next course of action. The Radio Room was extremely small and portrayed an officer sitting at an old fashioned desk working away. Also on show was a small kitchen with unfinished meals on the table, depicting how people were forced to leave their homes without warning.
One of the large exhibitions within the War Tunnels focuses on the life of Violette Szabó. I won't go into too much detail on this section as it is quite an in-depth area, but very briefly, Violette Szabó was a French secret agent during the Second World War. The exhibition tells her story and how she was caught and executed in the Ravensbrück Concentration Camp. Her work was duly recognised and her daughter, Tania, was presented with the George Cross on her mother's behalf.
***The Garden of Reflection***
Situated beside the Cafe, the Garden of Reflection is a fairly recent addition to the Jersey War Tunnels, being established only four years ago. The idea of the garden is to provide a peaceful and tranquil atmosphere where visitors can read about various aspects of the war. These snippets of information are engraved onto fifty steel plaques around the garden. Also contained within the garden are a further fifty plaques each bearing the name of an islander who died under the German occupation. Access to the garden is free and I would personally recommend looking around after you have been into the War Tunnels as its relaxing ambience is such a contrast to the stark environment within the tunnels.
The War Trail is another relatively new addition to the Jersey War Tunnels. Unfortunately, I am unable to comment with any certainty on this aspect of the exhibition as we did not venture out onto the trail due to the persistent rain. However, this is located in a wooded area close to the tunnel entrance and was once occupied as a German anti-aircraft gun battery during the occupation. Apparently, the gun positions, trenches and German personal shelters are still visible through the undergrowth. The area has been left as it was at the time of the island's liberation and is now a haven for local wildlife.
We are hoping to visit the War Trail in the future and I will then update this review with my personal experience and opinion.
***So What Happened to You?***
I mentioned at the beginning of this review that, on purchasing our tickets, we were each handed an identity card. It was only at the end of our tour that we realised the reason for this. To end our visit, we decided to wander up to the cafe for a lovely Jersey cream tea (as you do!) To our amazement, the walls of the cafe were covered in identity photographs of some of the islanders who were living on Jersey during the time of the occupation. The idea is that you look around the walls to find the person who is on your identity card. Once the person is found, you can then read the caption against the photograph which explains what happened to that person, whether they survived the war, whether they were sent off to fight on the mainland etc. I found this really interesting and, whilst I was looking round for my identity photo, I couldn't help but hope that I survived.
This really is a delightful way to round off a trip to the Jersey War Tunnels. The cafe is built quite high up onto the hill, but is accessible by concrete steps or a lift. The cafe itself is very light and airy and there are also seats and tables outside if you want to take advantage of any nice weather that decides to come your way. The cafe boasts a wide, varied menu serving both hot and cold food, with a selection of freshly baked pastries and cakes.
The Jersey War tunnels has all the facilities you would expect to find in such a tourist attraction, including baby changing facilities and disabled facilities. As I mentioned, although the cafe is built fairly high up, there is lift access so this would not cause any problems for disabled people. For people with wheelchairs or buggies, you should not encounter any problems with making your way around. The War Tunnels themselves are actually flat so there are no nasty stairways to climb up.
There is also the obligatory shop where you can purchase various souvenirs. However, I found the goods quite expensive and refrained from actually purchasing anything.
I thought the fees were quite expensive initially, but when you consider the extent of the exhibition, together with the fact that entry into the War Trail and Garden of Reflection are free, you do get a good deal for your money. At the time of writing, the entrance fees are:-
Senior citizens £8.50
The War Tunnels are only open between the months of February and December from the hours of 10.00 am to 6.00 pm. During this time, there are three days when the War Tunnels are closed, namely Liberation Day, Battles of Flowers Day and the Battle of Britain Day.
Les Charrières Malorey
Channel Islands JE3 1FU
Telephone +44 (0)1534 860 808
Facsimile +44 (0)1534 860 886
***My Overall Opinion***
I would advise anyone to add the Jersey War Tunnels to their 'things to do list' if holidaying in Jersey. Whilst it is a very moving experience walking through this tunnel complex, seeing how the labourers were treated and the effects the war had on the islanders, it is also a fascinating experience to see the various exhibits in an original wartime environment rather than the usual modern day museum.
I would however say that, in hindsight, it is not particularly suitable for young children. It is not an overly unpleasant environment and is fairly well lit, but I imagine it would not hold the interest of children under the age of maybe ten years old.
Thanks for reading.
Oh, and by the way, for anyone who is interested - my wartime identity photo confirmed I did indeed survive the war and lived until well into my 70's!!
Thank you for reading.
(Reviewed on Dooyoo and Ciao)
The tunnels tell the true story of the Occupation of Jersey during World War II.