Having lived in Guernsey all of my 29 and a half or so years memories and reminders of the island’s occupation by Nazi Germany between 1940 and 1945 have been a constant presence in my life.
Throughout my life my grandfather, who lived his formative years under the regime, has often told me stories of life in those times ranging from tales of the ‘normal-ness’ of the young German’s sent to serve on an island they’d never heard of, through to the brutality of the later days of the occupation when food was scarce and the island all but cut off from the outside world as the Allies swept east across Europe, leaving the Channel Islands to their own devices.
That said one element that rarely gets mentioned, either by my grandfather, or in any other education I’ve had on the subject, is that of how the massive bunkers, towers and other fortifications were made, and this is where the new film Hitler’s Island Madness really spoke to me.
Completing a “trilogy” of four films (in the words of one of the filmmakers), Hitler’s Island Madness has been made by a team of local filmmakers and history enthusiast including Chris Denton (camera and editor), Martin Morgan (writer) and Louise Fletcher (producer) and was screened for the first time in the Beau Sejour Theatre on Tuesday 8th May 2012 – one day before the island marked Liberation Day.
The main thesis of the hour-long documentary an exploration of just why the Channel Islands, and Guernsey in particular, were quite so heavily fortified during the Second World War, and they conclude that this is down to an obsession Hitler supposedly had with the only part of the British Isles over which he had dominion.
While this explanation is only loosely explored, the real meat of the film explores the making of these fortifications.
Having been made by (mostly) imported slave labour from Europe, including Jews, political dissidents and the usual list of people persecuted, exploited and mistreated by The Third Reich, the film explores their creation through interviews with Guernsey people who lived on the island during the Occupation, and, most fascinatingly, an interview with a German soldier stationed in the island and one of the few surviving slave labourers.
As I said, I have heard stories of the occupation, but, in Hitler’s Island Madness I saw for the first time a lot of footage from the years I had previously not seen and it was through this, together with the testimonies, that the film really struck a chord.
The film is constructed excellently to explore what happened and the different points of view of those involved, in a narrative spanning the five years and it is the mix of interviews with experts and eyewitnesses alike, and the shots of the fortifications then and now, that really bring the story to life.
This is backed up by an excellent original score composed by Jess Nash which is never overbearing, as music in emotive films can sometimes be, but here it helps to drive home the point the shots are making.
As I said this is the fourth and final part of a series of films exploring the occupation of the Channel Islands and, on the strength of this, I am very keen to check out the previous movies.
Having seen this film at its premiere, with an audience including many who have direct memories of, or direct links to, the events depicted, it seemed that there was a sense this told the true story and as such will stand as a document to times that soon will slip from living memory but that should never be forgotten.