Interview of ARTUR BOCH

Artur: My name is Boch. I was seventeen and a half when I was drafted. We first came to Holland where we were trained. We came to Guernsey in October. We went by train to the coast. I can’t remember how long exactly the journey was. We first went to St Malo and at night got on a ship to Guernsey. We arrived in Guernsey during the night and marched all the way to Fort George where we were stationed. We were a bicycle squadron. The squadron had been cavalry but was changed to bikes.

Well, the next day we looked down, it was a wonderful view. I hadn’t seen much of the island until then, that came later. St Peter Port was not so far away from Fort George, maybe 2 km. We arrived there as young recruits, were trained for another 4 weeks and then brought together with the older soldiers Interviewer: There were a lot of soldiers already posted in the Islands when you arrived. How did you find they were towards you, being so young when you arrived?

Artur: Well, they were all old hands. It was difficult for us young ones to get on with them. There were also a number of casulties from the Eastern front. They were brought to the island for recovery and then went back again. I was always scared they’d send me there, too.

Interviewer: Was this a common worry amongst young soldiers such as yourself?

Artur: I couldn’t say, I remember, one time, no, I couldn’t say. They always sent the ones they didn’t like, the ones who had been unruly or rebellious. They sent them first. I kept telling myself ‘keep your head down, keep your head down.’ Later on, the invasion put an end to it since we couldn’t get away from the island anymore. A few days into the invasion when the allies landed in France, they were looking for volunteers for Cherbourg. The base had been cut off and they tried to get supplies in there on minesweepers. The volunteers were to be taken there at night in a minesweeper. They needed volunteers for that. I thought to myself if you volunteer they’ll probably take you, if you don’t, they will because you didn’t volunteer. Which is exactly what happened. I volunteered, hoping they wouldn’t take me. And they didn’t. They took the ones who hadn’t volunteered, branded them cowards. I was lucky. My officer said to me ‘I can’t dispense with you, you are my dispatcher’. I was so relieved when I heard his words because I knew they’d be cannon fodder, the ones who had to go there. I was so relieved when I heard his words. So, this is how I got to stay on the island. Three days into the invasion a Nazi party officer gave as a speech. He said, ‘The allies only landed, right? Let them all come in, so we can push them out, all at once.’ Yeah, right, bollocks. After that the hard times really kicked in, with the starving and all that. Our island commander, General von Schmettow was replaced around Christmas. I would like to mention something else. During this time, pioneers went over to St Malo on minesweepers to get us fresh supplies. We didn’t have anything left. No coals, no leather. You see, we nailed wooden soles to our leather boots because there was no sole leather left either. We felt like storks walking on these wooden soles. And the vehicles were switched to ‘wood gas’ because there was no petrol left. A small wood-burning stove was attached to the vehicle and it run. Don’t ask me how.

Interviewer: I’ve not heard about these runs to St Malo, please can you tell us more about that?

Artur: Well, it was a small unit. They were given a proper dinner that night and then sent over to St Malo to capture a coal ship. And they did. They also caught a few prisoners. I don’t know if it was true but rumour had it that they had also captured a British major. The rumour went that General von Schmettow got in touch with the British through this captured major to see if he could get us all interned in Portugal. The general didn’t want any more of his soldiers to starve to death. Even the doctors in the sick bay had finally refused to take any further responsibilities for anyone’s life. And then one of these Nazi officers informed on our general. An admiral from the navy immediately replaced the general. This admiral said to us ‘We will never give up the islands, even if it means we have to share one tin of sardines among ten men.’

Interviewer: At the start of the war when the islands were taken, the German Army confidently believed in their victory. As the tide of the war was turning, how did this affect soldiers’ morale in the islands?

Artur: Well, I had my first leave in February 1944. That was before the invasion. When I came back from this leave I had stopped believing in our victory. We knew there was going to be an invasion. We just didn’t know where and when. We always thought it would be in Calais, certainly not the Normandy. I remember thinking, you will become a prisoner of war and end up wood chopping in Canada until the end of your life. That’s what they’d told us would happen if you become a prisoner of war, or you die. I had very little hope, of ever getting back home again. We had lost at Stalingrad, Rommel had come back from Africa and I think, they had already landed in Sicily, too. And from they Eastern front they kept reporting ‘line adjustment, line adjustment’. I had little hope left.

Interviewer: Can you tell us more about General Von Schmettow?

Artur: I didn’t know him personally. I only knew what went round. He was an army general. The one who replaced him, Hoffmeier, was a war marine general. And a Nazi, I think. The way he talked.

Interviewer: What made you think that?

Artur: Well, because he always insisted that we will never give up the Islands. When the allies marched into France we were told that it was vital to keep the Islands because they were British and may come in handy, if negotiations were to become necessary, should the table turn, one day. That’s why we had to hold out till the end and starve.

Interviewer: And Von Schmettow wouldn’t have ordered that? What would he have done should things have got to that stage?

Artur: Well, given up the island, I suppose, or negotiated a deal. And we would have been interned in Portugal. Yes, we would have gone to Portugal.

Interviewer: What communication did you have with home after the invasion of Normandy?

Artur: I had my last letter from home in October 1944. Aeroplanes didn’t get through to us anymore. They let us send messages back home on the transmitters. You know, short ones, just your name and that you were well. After that, I wrote my first postcard back home in June or July 1945 when I was already a prisoner of war. The last news my family had received from me before that was a telegram back at Christmas in 1944.

Interviewer: Was the invasion a surprise to the soldiers in the islands?

Artur: Well, first of all we did know what was going to happen, just not when and where. I was on duty the day the invasion started. You could hear the sound of the detonations at St Malo so clearly it was as if it happened in the northern part of the island. I kept looking up at the sky expecting to see parachutes but there weren’t any . The next day though, the sky was littered with aeroplanes. I had never seen anything like it. I remember thinking, that’s it, we are finished. There is nothing we can do about it now.

Interviewer: Did you think that your forces would be able to fight off the invasion?

Artur: No, I had stopped thinking that. I thought they would land on Guernsey, too. But they didn’t. So, we thought, they are going to cut us off, let us starve to death, which was what happened. We were cut off from the supply. I’d also like to mention that on the Saturday before the invasion, we had planned to go into town, St Peter Port. It was a fine day just like today. We were standing outside the house, ready to go, when we suddenly saw aeroplanes in the skies above us. They kept coming, one after the other, flying towards the sun. Some came crashing down. They had attacked us because we had several radar units, three, I think. Two round ones and one long one. The units were only some eighty meters away from us and they wanted to destroy them before they would start to invade. It was a surprise attack and they succeeded. We were completely taken by surprise. Next door to us there was an army prison, in an old stone house. The guy in there was suddenly outside because the stone wall had gone. He run away covered in dust. We went up on the roof of our house. There we saw one of our anti-aircraft’s going up in flames and four or five of us dead…

Interviewer: Was that the only attack you remember during that period?

Artur: Well, they didn’t manage to destroy all our anti-aircraft during the first attack. When they came back the next day we were prepared. Rumours had it that some of the aeroplanes were downed but I am not sure and couldn’t say how many. The whole thing didn’t last very long, though. Once the invasion had started they left us alone.

Interviewer: After the invasion had happened you would have had no contact with your family. Were you worried about them?

Artur: Well, yes, because I was born in a little village with about five hundred souls and the front came closer every day. They were already in Germany at this point and we were worried about the future. Our house, I found out much later, was right beside an important cross road for the army. They moved their troops through there. So it was a target. And our house was hit by a granade one day. Luckily, my father had just gone out when, literally a few seconds later, this granade dropped on our house and went straight into my parent’s bed room. My father was so lucky he was missed. They later did up the bed room again.

Interviewer: We’ll speak about passing your time now. Did you ever visit the local cinema in St Peter Port?

Artur: Sure, it was great, especially the live music from the organist. I mean, I must say, I’m from a small village myself. The nearest town was some eleven km away. That’s where they had cinemas too. Not that I had never been there. I mean, it’s not like today. In those days if you wanted to go into town you had to either get on a bike or to the nearest train station, which was some 3km away, in Zelle. You know it? Well, there is something else I remember now, talking about the cinema. I was seventeen and a half when I was drafted. We youth, we had to be off the streets by 9pm. We were not allowed on the streets after 9pm. I was already a recruit by that time - we are talking August ‘42 - and expected to be drafted by February ‘43. So, here we were, one night in August ‘42, it was about half past nine or a quarter to ten, getting dark but not yet completely. I was out on the streets with my mates riding bikes, when the police came. Me and a mate, the two of us couldn’t get away quick enough. We had blocked each others way with our bikes. The others got away in time but we got caught by the police. I had to appear before the magistrate the next day because of it. Just imagine, I got a weekend in the nick for that but was considered old enough to go out and die for my country only some three months later. Great, really. Makes a lot of sense. I am not allowed on the streets after 9pm, or to the cinema but I am allowed to go out and die for my country some three months later.

Interviewer: We’ve heard people talk about sports events such as football where islanders and German soldiers would play against each other? Did you see anything like this?

Artur: Well, there were some guys from our unit, they played there and I’m sure they had these local matches, too. You know, one unit against another, nothing special. Well, the civilians, of course they had their own teams, too. They had two teams, mixed teams, men and women. I had never heard of such a thing before, let alone seen it. Men and women playing together in one team. It was quite fun to watch. It was in St Peter Port on the playing field. Nice field, Cambridge Park I seem to remember. Interviewer: Was there much in the way of contact between the islanders and the German soldiers at public events such as this?

Artur: Yes, among the players, I am sure. But for us onlookers, well, no. You see, I had arrived there after everyone else and also, I didn’t speak English. Maybe it would have been different if I had spoken English but I didn’t and so I hardly had any contact with the civilians at all. Only when I went shopping, to Woolworth for needles and thread or for socks or stationary. Interviewer: There is a lot of accusations thrown around about collaboration and whether island girls were liaising with German soldiers. Did you experience this at all?

Artur: I, personally, didn’t have any contact with anyone but you saw it happen all the time. People told you about it especially later in captivity. They told you about the contact they had made with girls, or families, or a lady to do their laundry. I think, all the sergeants had a lady who would do their laundry. Yes, that’s how it was. And in St Peter Port on the beach, yes, there I remember seeing some of us flirt with girls.

Interviewer: Let’s now discuss your experiences after the invasion. Did you manage to get through the war on rations or were you affected by the starvation that plagued the islands?

Artur: No. When the hunger period started we looked for anything to eat. Anything. There were stinging nettles everywhere. You wouldn’t help yourself from the fields. It was punished by death penalty, as I mentioned before. One person got sentenced because he nicked cauliflowers. Cauliflower leaves was a delicacy. We would cook it by itself, boil sea water first, to extract some salt. To boil water was an act in itself. You needed to find wood to make a fire with in the first place and so on. It was all rather complicated. I mainly had nettles, if I could get my hands on them or mussels, sea mussels, boiled with a bit of salt. No cooking recipes needed there. And tomatoes, of course. There were so many tomatoes on this Island! When we first arrived we had tomato soup every single day. Tomatoes were big export business on the island before the war. Mainly to France. Invasion put a stop to it. Later they were thrown into the sea, truck loads of them. I saw it myself. How they threw a truck load of tomatoes into the sea, because of the huge surplus. And this despite the fact the troops ate a lot of tomatoes because we were always hungry. There were a lot of restaurants on the island too before food became scarce. Interviewer: Many reports from that time indicate that the soldiers became so desperate for food that theft became a big problem. How did this affect the troops? Did you experience this? Artur: Well, stealing from comrades, stealing anything from anyone, stealing as such was punished by death penalty. If you were caught you got shot or threatened to be shot. There was this guy from the unit next to mine, a father of four. He nicked two cauliflowers and got sentenced to death. They picked a few from our unit, too when they put the execution command together. You know, you have to exercise that before hand, the different commands like ‘aim’ and ‘fire’ etc. The guys they picked for this command were all guys who had been a bit rebellious, you know, a bit out of line. Anyway, they were already exercising the commands but in the end the sentence was never carried out. A day before the sentence was due, the war ended so that was the end of the sentence, too. Well, that’s all I know about the death penalty for theft. Whether somebody else got shot somewhere else for it, I couldn’t say. I only know of this one incident. The one I just told you.

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