How Jersey's Nazi children disappeared

The Germans left behind more than a few concrete bunkers in the Channel Islands, writes Jojo Moyes
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The Independent Online
Mrs L was charged with having, on April 5, given birth to a child, sex unknown, and with having criminally and voluntarily concealed the body in a kitchen stove ... The accused's husband, who was serving in HM forces, was now in Italy. The accused had not heard from her husband for 16 months but had written to her husband giving full details of the affair.

The Jersey Evening Post,

6 June 1945

The Westaway Creche was once a prominent feature in the neatly manicured streets of St Helier, Jersey. But there are no references to it in the public library, and the trust that ran it is now chiefly remembered as a donor of children's shoes. The creche, like the children it once housed, has become part of Jersey's unspoken, and controversial history.

Records released this week by the Public Records Office suggest that as many as 900 babies of German fathers were born to Jersey women during the occupation. The fierce denials of this fact in Jersey show that 50 years on, some wounds have not yet healed.

The children themselves - the only people who could shed light on the true figure - are unlikely to answer. They have "disappeared", or are carefully protected by the few remaining people who know their parentage.

Many of the residents who are old enough to remember will say that such children were their neighbours, or at their school. But they will not give their names. Most will say the issue "should be left well alone".

One local reporter who has covered occupation stories for many years said it was not something she would pursue strongly. "We have to live here, don't we?"

She complained that the new illegitimacy figures, which largely comprised the evidence of anonymous informers, had been given a "quasi-credibility". Jersey residents say the figure of 900 is "ludicrous" and cite a figure of 174 births for the whole occupation period.

But census reports for the island show that while the annual birth rate dropped dramatically from the 700s to the 400s at the start of the war, it began to creep up during the German occupation. In 1944 it reached 527.

So where are the children, most of whom would now be in middle-age? Anne Herod, of the Jersey's Children's Department, said the lack of an adoption law until 1947 left the fate of many of the children undocumented. While many began life in the Westaway Creche - the newly-released papers refer to it as being "full up with those little bastards" - access to their files is restricted "as many of the people are still alive".

"Many of them grew up with other families or may have been subsequently adopted. I think on the whole the children were assimilated," she said.

Under Jersey law, any child born to a married woman had to be registered as her husband's. Unmarried women simply left the name of the father blank. In many cases, she said, the child was unlikely to know of its German heritage. The only clue, "one or two with rather Aryan Christian names", she said.

Joe Miere, former curator of the German Underground Hospital Museum, is widely considered to be the island's "occupation expert". He is still in touch with some women who had babies by German soldiers, many of whom left the island after the liberation. In one case, he has met the child, now a middle-aged man. But he says of the women: "They talk to me because they know I won't give their names away."

The issue of "Jerrybags" - local women who slept with Germans - is still guaranteed to heighten feelings. James McScowen, curator of the Underground Museum, said he had wept tears of anger at the latest "exaggerated" claims that most Jersey women slept with Germans.

"This 70 per cent thing - it's an insult to our sisters and mothers," he said. "And so what if they had? It's not as if the British army didn't do the same wherever they were."

One woman who fell in love with a Nazi deserter, still, at the age of 70, declines to be named publicly. "Alice" is married and has children and still lives in Jersey. Mr Miere was held in a cell next to the German soldier and remembers her waving a "grubby white handkerchief" as her boyfriend was led off for execution.

Alice's own death sentence was commuted to 10 years' imprisonment. The Bailiff's plea on her behalf reads: "A young woman in love does not always weigh the consequences of her deeds when they are decided by what she believes - however wrongly - to be the welfare of her lover."

But many Jersey residents were not as understanding. Mr Miere remembers seeing mobs chasing a naked and bleeding "Jerrybag" through the street. Others were simply ostracised.

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