Alderney was the only Channel Island to be evacuated during WWII as the island became part of Hitler's Atlantic Wall. The five-year German occupation came to an end on 16 May 1945 and the first day the islanders were able to return to their island on December 15 is known as Homecoming Day, an event still celebrated in Alderney with an annual Bank Holiday.
On 23 June 1940 at 6am, the church bells started to ring to notify residents that the six Royal Navy ships that would take 1500 of them to the mainland were approaching Braye Harbour. They had only hours to gather their belongings and assemble, with no way of knowing for sure whether they would ever see the island again.
For the first two years of the war Alderney was mainly used as the ‘Larder to the Channel islands’ growing food to help supply the German troops and Channel islanders. But in 1942 Hitler ordered the conversion of Alderney into an impregnable fortress.
Thousands of slave workers, housed in four camps: Lagers Helgoland, Norderney, Borkum and Sylt from countries like Russia, Spain, France, Poland, and Algeria built hundreds of bunkers, anti-tank walls, as well as many tunnel complexes. Sadly many died whilst building the fortifications due to malnutrition and over work.
Today, the remains of the German wartime defences can still be discovered all across the island.
The Germans surrendered Alderney on 16 May 1945, seven days after the liberation of Guernsey and Jersey. However, the people of Alderney could not immediately return to their island due to the huge clean-up operation needed which included the removal of over 30,000 landmines.
It was not until December 1945 that the islanders began to return to their devastated island, overrun with rats and imposing concrete fortifications with many of their houses completely derelict and most of the wood, including front doors and furniture missing, having been used as firewood by the Germans.
Then began the long process of rebuilding and life on the island very slowly returned to normal. Today many gun emplacements and bunkers still stand as reminders of this dark chapter in Alderney’s history.