Photo courtesy of the Corbet family with thanks to Gillian Mawson
Seventy-six years ago today on June 28 1942 enemy planes bombed Guernsey harbour triggering the German Military Occupation of the Channel Islands.
The tomato lorries, queuing patiently to send their precious load to the mainland, were mistaken for troops, even though there was no question of the island being armed for an invasion. Prime Minister Winston Churchill had already made that clear.
What happened next changed lives forever.
My novel Occupying Love begins on that day just as Lydia Le Page disembarks from the mail boat in the warm evening sunshine.
The shock of that day never left her; it invaded her dreams and shadowed her waking moments. She could see herself now, carrying an old brown suitcase down the ship’s gangplank, her chocolate brown hair tousled by the fresh Guernsey breeze. In the year since she’d left the island nothing had changed. Fishing boats rocked from side to side, slapping waves against the harbour walls, yacht sails shimmered in the early evening sun, fine wisps of cloud skittering across the skies like pockets of hand-stitched lace.
Up ahead, the old tomato lorries wound their way like a wooden snake towards the cargo ships bound for England. Her papa had grown tomatoes in the greenhouses behind their home for as long as she could remember. Nowadays he didn’t need the income, but the twelve-pound fruit baskets – or ‘chips’ as the locals called them – were his pride and joy. Feeling exhilarated at the thought of seeing her parents again, Lydia headed for the bus terminus, stopping to rest on a bench by the harbour wall.
It started as a low rumble, like a vast swarm of bees in flight, growing steadily louder till it turned into a roar. Startled, she shaded her eyes from the sun and stared up into the sky. Three planes came into view, bright lights shining from their wings. A wave of raw fear rose up from her stomach. Someone shouted, ‘Enemy aircraft’ and her limbs froze. Lydia dropped to the ground, her face hitting the dirt as she landed. Bullets ricocheted over her head as she cowered in terror while the bombs plunged with sickening accuracy on to the harbour.
A piercing scream brought Lydia back to reality – it came from her own lips. All around her people were crying or standing motionless in shock as blood dripped on to the pavements while air raid sirens, woken from their reverie, shrieked in protest. Coughing, she gasped for air, dense now with smoke, and tried to roll over.
‘You okay, Miss?’ A policeman loomed overhead.
She fingered a cut on her face. ‘I think so. What happened?’
‘The Jerries have bombed the tomato lorries. Must ’ave mistaken them for tanks.’ He gripped her arm. ‘Can you get up?’
Nodding, she let him pull her off the ground.
‘I’d get out of here, if I were you. Fast as you can. It’s not safe.’
‘But Papa, what about Papa?’ A vision of her father lying dead in the rubble flashed in front of her eyes. ‘He’ll be in one of those lorries…’
‘If he’s out there now, Miss, there’s nothing you can do for him. You’d best find shelter in case the Jerries come again.’
Her suitcase long forgotten, Lydia headed for the dockside where a lone mother sat in the debris, cradling her daughter in the shelter of the harbour wall. The child was silent but the woman sobbed as smoke rose into the sky like a giant funeral pyre.
You can find out more about Occupying Love in the link at the top of this blog.