1944 Bailiff's report

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How long can we survive?


Before the Red Cross ship Vega brought its first cargo
of food parcels to Jersey in early 1945 the population
was on the verge of starvation

Following the Allied invasion of France on D-Day, 6 June 1944, the Channel Islands were isolated, cut off from all access to food, fuel and other essentials of life.
This article is based on a report, never previously published, prepared for the Bailiff and the Superior Council in the wake of the invasion. It contains a stark assessment of the beseiged island's impending fate, and finally a threat to the German administration of how they would be treated if they unnecessarily prolonged the Occupation endangering the health and the lives of islanders

Even at the time of the Liberation the Germans has stocks of firewood in hand


The report [1]surfaced in 2023 when Occupation documents originating from the German insular administration held by Jersey Heritage, were digitised and added to their online catalogue.

The introduction to this section of the website indicates that the new set of records comprises almost 350 files and over 30,000 pages and was created by the Feldkommandant, the head of the occupying authorities during the German Occupation (1940-1945), before being moved into the Law Officers’ Department Archive, which is held at Jersey Archive.

The collection is arranged in 33 sections and subjects include burials, entertainment, deportations, fuel rationing, Organisation Todt and requisitioning (of everything from cameras, wirelesses, to properties and land).


This report, which has been catalogued as part of the section on fuel, is actually much more wide-ranging and contains an analysis of the island's stocks of fuel, food, clothing and textiles - all the essentials for the life of the population, which were rapidly running out.

Quite why it became part of the Feldkommandant's archive is a mystery. Its content and phraseology suggests that it was prepared to put pressure on the German administration, setting out in no uncertain terms, the island government's concerns about the survival of the population, now cut off from the rest of the world.

But it is clearly a draft report, containing numerous handwritten amendments. It may well have been prepared by the Bailiff's secretary, Ralph Mollet, to be shared in due course with the members of the Superior Council, who were responsible to the Bailiff, Alexander Coutanche, for the civil administration of the island, before being sent to the Feldkommandant.

It is surprising that it appears to have been shared, in draft form, with the Germans, particuclarly because it is written in English, and all communications between the Bailiff and the Feldkommandant had to be in German throughout the Occupation.


The report is not dated, and although it apparently survives in its entirety, has no introduction. It includes a summary of the public health situation in the island dated 28 August and a reference in the first few paragraphs to the intention to cease the public supply of gas on 2 September, narrowing the possible timeframe to those intervening five days.

Although very wide-ranging, the report amounts to just 20 typewritten pages, and this article provides a summary of the eight constituent parts in the order they are presented.

Part 1: Coal, coke and wood for household and communal cooking


Major problems had clearly arisen before the island was cut off from France after D-Day. There had been ongoing discussions about fuel shortages and the Platzkommandant, Major Heider, had written to the Bailiff on 31 May informing him that there were be no further supplies of coal for the production of gas, or for the civil population, and it would be impossible to continue to use wood from the island's trees at the same rate as before.

Arrangements were being made to send buyers to France to purchase firewood when the Allied invasion of Normandy made such a visit impossible

In the first of a number of deadlines identified in the report, it is stated that the public supply of gas would cease on or about 2 September 1944 - a major blow for 28,860 people in 9,292 households dependent on gas for cooking.

Hot meals

The Food Delegation of the States had arranged for one hot meal a day to be cooked for those who wanted it in bakers' ovens and others specially erected. Already 6,500 households containing 19,500 persons had registered. They obtained their own rations of food and took it to the ovens to be cooked.

The Food Delegation has also extended for 1,400 people the arrangement for hot meals to be provided by communal kitchens and registered restaurants, in exchange for rations of meat and potatoes. Soup made at the Sun Works was also available from a number of outlets.

It was estimated that supplies of anthracite dust, coal and coke would enable these services to last until 1 December. Gas coke for bakers would last until the same day. None of these fuels were available to households for cooking at home.


It was estimated that the minimum quantity of wood required for households to cook one meal a day was 3,490 tons a month, but the Department of Labour could at best upply 1,600 tons, up to 1 November. There were no large sites supplying wood, "which has to be cut in positions entailing a great deal of labour"; "the position during the forthcoming winter is viewed with the gravest concern". If electric power ceased to be available it was considered almost impossible to cut sufficient wood by hand.

Household heating

No coal, coal dust or coke was available for heating homes. A "minute quantity" of anthracite dust would be supplied in September.

"Even in the case of special issues on medical grounds, it is not anticipated that it will be possible to issue wood, except in very exceptional medical and surgical cases and in the case of persons over 80 or under two years of age."

Fuel for institutions and public services

Coal and coke would be available for hospitals, nursing homes, forges and smithies, threshing machines, laundries and the slaughter house and other public services up to 1 Decemeber. Wood was thought to be "quite useless" for any of these purposes.

Part 2: Lighting



It was estimated that 3,500 households, including 9,450, would lose their normal method of lighting their homes when the gas supply ceased. Street lighting would also stop when the Gas Works closed.

The St Peter's Valley power station


The Jersey Electricity Company's plant, run on diesel oil was down to its last emergency stock which would last for three weeks. The island was dependent on the St Peter's Valley power station, which ran on coal.

"The plant cannot, in spite of skilled management and every care, be regarded as fully reliable. There are supplies of coal up to the end of the year>"

Petrol, paraffin, etc

No petrol was available for lighting and paraffin was supplied for nursing mothers, the sick and aged.

"It will be seen that, except in the case of electricity, which is by no means in general use as a method of lighting, the situation with regard to lighting is already one of gravity.

Part 3: Electricity as motive power

The report indicated that electricity was essential for such public services and udertakings as sanitation, milling, manufacture of clothing and footwear, workships, pumping of water, refrigeration, wood sawing, threshing, etc, but gave no indication how long it would be available.

Part 4: Petrol

"For a long time past increasingly drastic economy in the use of petrol has been force."

In August 1944 petrol was only available for ambulances, GPs, essential services (gas, water, electricity etc), farmers, fishing, delivery of food and police and public administration. Only 48,530 litres remained in stock on 25 August, including 13,620 for threshing. Despite every economy it was anticipated that only enough remained for 13 weeks.

Part 5: Textiles and footwear


There was sufficient leather available in the island to make tops for 3,000 pairs of wood-soled shoes but none for the repair or soling of footwear. Throughout the Occupation each child had been supplied at school with one pair of boots or shoes every autumn term. From September to Novermber 1943, 13,570 pairs were supplied to adults and children.


There was sufficient material to make 2,500 shirts for men and boys, but 18,000 were needed to supply one each. With an immediate demand for 5,000 pairs of trousers, there was only sufficient material to make 250. Sufficient material existed to make 5,000 undergarments. There was no material to make dresses and coats and those bought in France before the invasion had not arrived.

Islanders who had no fuel to heat food at home had to walk to the nearest communal bakehouse

Part 6: Food and essential commodities

The report indicated that the Platzkommandant knew what supplies of cereals and potatoes were available. How long they would last the civilian population depended on how much was taken by the military for their consumption in Jersey and the other islands

  • Butter: It was estimated that of the 28 tons of butter which would be in stock at the end of the year, the German forces would take 20 tons
  • Sugar: With the current ration allowances there was enough sugar in stock to last until 19 November.
  • Salt: With a ration of 1 oz a week the stock of 40.5 tons would run out at the end of November
  • Coffee substitute: Three monthly rations would exhaust stocks by the end of November
  • Macaroni would run out in the middle of November
  • Cheese: Three fortnightly rations in meatless weeks would absorb stocks by the middle of October
  • Tinned vegetables, fish and milk: Restricted to one tin of each per adult
  • Matches: Suffient remained for four boxes per household
  • Chocolate: A final 4 oz ration would exhaust supplies
  • Dripping: Insufficient remained for a ration
  • Oil: Sufficient remained for half a pint per person
  • Soap: No household soap remained and only enough toilet soap for one more ration to children and juveniles. "The position is extremely serious".
  • Powdered soap would only last until mid october for hospitals, institutions and dairies
  • Shaving soap - enough remained for one stick per adult male
"It will be observed that the stocks of the most essential goods will be exhausted by the middle of November. In view of the fact that the population has been so strictly rationed for a long period, it would be disastrous to reduce rations in order to prolong the duration of stocks.
"There is not any household soap in stock, and so little toilet soap that there is just enough for a ration to children and juveniles. The population is clamouring for soap."

Part 7: Medical supplies and public health


The most startling part of the whole report was the analysis by the Medical Officer of Health, Dr Noel McKinstry

"When the gas is stopped the value of the food to many people will be greatly reduced. This reduction in food value will fall heavily on people whose stamina has been greatly reduced by the prolonged undernourishment of the past four years. It is true that no cases of the maor manifestations of starvation have occurred, but many are in a very poor condition, so the extra reduction in food values will have very serious consequences for them, and that in the very near future.
"The provision of one hot dish a day will be of great value, but it cannot prevent this reduction of the food value of the rations. An obvious example of this will be a great deterioration in the value of our milk. Owing to the great delays in transport the milk does not arrive at the average household until it has a very high bacterial content. It is for this reason that this department has advised everybody to boil their milk as soon as they receive it. Even as it is, the milk often coagulates on boiling and is ruined. When the gas stops, many homes will be unable to boil it at all. Our milk has, up to the present, been one of our most valuable foods. Its value will now be greatly reduced.
"Babies and young children are likely to suffer very serious consequences from drinking unboiled milk with a high bacterial content. May deaths will occur from infantile diarrhoea. Those in charge of the old, the inform, or the very young, will find it enormously difficult to fee their charges under the projected scheme.
"The absence of hot water together with the almost complete absence of soap, will cause the present serious increase in uncleanliness to assume disastrous proportions. Uncleanliness will give rise to a great increase in body lice and body lice carry typhus. When you add to the difficulty of obtaining cleanliness, the almost complete absence of ointments, the prospect is appalling to a people long accustomed to a high degree of personal cleanliness.
"Pharmacists can supply medical prescriptions for about six weeks ahead, using up their entire reserve. If there was any sudden call on them resulting from an epidemic, they could not cope with it at all.
"Any incident, such as bombing of the harbour or a plane crash in the town, might use up our supply of anaesthetics in a few days. As no further supplies can be obtained while present conditions last, we may see a return to the horrors of pre-anaesthetic surgery.
"To sum up, unless fuel and medical supplies can be obtained soon, this island faces conditions involving the most serious consequences to the health and well-being of the community."
A mother and her children bring the family dinner to a communal cooking facility

Part 8: General conclusions

It was recognised within a few hours of the invasion of Normandy by the Allied Forces that, whatever might be the immediate or ultimate result of that minigary operation, new factors faced those authorities, civil and military, who were responsible for the lives of the civilian population. Constant consultations have taken place between the insular government and the occupying authorities.

It has throughout those consultions been apparent that the time would come, sooner or later, when the occupying authorities would desire to make the insular government aware of the date after which, in the opinion of the occupying authority, the increaseing state of siege could no longer be maintained iwht due regard to the maxims of International Law.

Bringing food to a communal oven at a former bakehouse

Dismay over suggested date for end of siege

The insular government has just heard, with unfeigned dismay, that the occupying authorities are of opinion that the siege can be maintained until 31 January 1945. The insular government does not and cannot share that opinion, and declares, in the most solemn manner possible, that in the view of the insular government, it is the bounden duty of the occupying authority to re-examine the problem in its entirety and in the light of the observations contained in this memorandum.

Attention is once more drawn to the grave effects which a prolongation of the siege must produce on Public Health. The quantities of food issued in the form of rations may be sufficient to maintain life, fuel may be available to provide a minimum of cooking facilities, outside assistance may be forthcoming in the matter of drugs and anaesthetics, but a situation of daily increasing menace to Public Health is, nevertheless, in existence.

The absence of soap makes bodily cleanliness increasingly difficult, and the consequences are to well known to require to be stressed.

The absence of any heating in an increasingly large number of homes as colder weather comes in will cause untold hardships, which will be aggreavated by the absence of proper clothing. The necessity of constant journeys in all kinds of weather to communal ovens and kitchens will place an every increasing strain on people already under-nourished, under-clothed and ill-shod.

It is an undisputed maxim of Public International Law that a military power which, in time of war, occupies any part of the inhabited territory of an adversary, is bound to provide for the maintenance of the lives of the civilian population of the occupied territory.

While it is an undeniable fact that the civilian population of the island of Jersey has greviously suffered in both body and mind during the more than four years of occupation which have now elapsed, it is likewise true that the sufferings of the population have, to some extent, beel alleviated by the facilities provided by the occupying authorities for the importantion of some of the necesseties of life. Such facilities are no longer available.


The civilian population has not been unmindfuly of the first duties of self-help and of self-preservation. The land has been turned over to the production of cereals, long ago abandoned in favour of more lucrative peacetime crops; watermills, long out of use, have been rebuilt and reconditioned; industries, such as the manufacture of boots and clothing, the production of which has ceased beyond the memory of the oldest inhabitants, have been reborn.

Necessity, in nearly every sphere of public and private life, has become the mother of invention.

Theinsular government is only too conscious of the fact that a decision as to the date at which the siege shall end does not rest with it, Except in so far as the occupying authorities may be willing to provide facilities, the insular government has no means of communication with the outside world. But the insular government would be lacking in its elementary duty to the People of Jersey if it did not, at this juncture, place on record its reading of the grace situation with which the island is now faced.


Passing of judgment

Sooner or later the clash of arms will cease and powers will meet not only to consider the means to an enduring peace, but also to pass judgment upon the authorities, be they civil or military, upon whose conceptions of the principles of Honour, Justice and Humanity the fate of peoples and of places, and not least of occupied peoples and places, has temporarily been determined.

The insular government believes that, at that day, it, or such of its members as survive, will stand with clear consciences born of the conviction that it has failed neither in its duty to the People of Jersey nor in its interpretation and observance of the rules of International Law.

May the insular government be spared the duty of adding to the problems which face the Powers an allegation that, by the unjustified prolongation of the Siege of Jersey, the military representatives of the German Government unnecessarily endangered the health, and indeed the lives, of the People of Jersey.

Notes and references

  1. ↑ The report is held by Jersey Archive. Visit The Archive online catalogue for more information. A subscription may be needed to view some of the site's content
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