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Lest We Forget
Jersey War Tunnels (Jersey, Channel Islands)
Member Name: Meggysmum
Jersey War Tunnels (Jersey, Channel Islands)
Date: 31/03/10, updated on 31/03/10 (182 review reads)
Advantages: Fascinating insight into the Occupation
Disadvantages: Expensive and tunnels are cold
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.
Summary: Interesting Historical Site