27th December 1944
The Red Cross saves Guernsey from starvation
As the Second World War approached its climax, Guernsey’s locals and the occupying forces alike started to run dangerously low on food. Tales of locals going to bed at lunchtime in an effort to sleep off the pangs of hunger were common, and things only worsened until, eventually, the Germans declared that they would no longer be responsible for feeding the population they had forcibly taken over.
The situation had been worsening since the Allied invasion of mainland Europe had got underway and Germany had started to suffer serious losses. As the German forces had retreated, their lines of supply to the Channel Islands had been cut, which left anyone on Guernsey, Jersey and Sark to fend for themselves as best they could. Herm had been evacuated for the duration of the war and Alderney was being run as a prison.
But in the middle of winter, and after four years of occupation, none of the islands had the resources they needed to grow sufficient crops and raise animals for meat and eggs. Therefore, at the start of November 1944, the Bailiff, Victor Carey, had been allowed to send a message to London, explaining the situation.
Combined with information transported via liberated France by Guernsey escapee Fred Noyon, this had finally convinced Churchill to authorise the International Red Cross to step in. Previously, where the Channel Islands were concerned, Churchill had apparently been prepared to “let ’em starve”.
The Red Cross loaded its supply ship, SS Vega, with almost 120,000 food parcels from Canada and New Zealand, and set sail from Lisbon, on 20 December. The ship reached Guernsey on 27 December 1944 and started giving out food parcels right away. Each one had been carefully put together to last a single person a whole month – if eaten in moderation. Its work in Guernsey done, SS Vega moved on to Jersey, where it arrived on New Year’s Eve.
Most of the occupying forces are said to have behaved in an extremely fair manner, refusing to take the parcels themselves, or to steal the parcels of any islanders. As a result of the trust that this behaviour engendered, the Vega made five more visits between December 1944 and liberation the following summer, to deliver more than 450,000 parcels in total.
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