20th May 1897

Wartime diplomat Wilfred Gallienne born in Guernsey

Wilfred Gallienne was one of Britain’s best-travelled diplomats. He was born in Guernsey on 20 May 1897 and entered the diplomatic service after fighting in the First World War.

Within his first five years, he had taken postings as far apart as Marseilles, Algiers and Chicago. This flitting backwards and forwards was to set the pattern for his career, with much of his time spent in the United States.

After a little over four years in Chicago he was sent south, to the Dominican Republic and then, two years later, north again to Los Angeles. Two years after that, Honduras; two years later, back east to Estonia.

Second World War

By now, another global war was looming. Germany was rebuilding its forces, and Britain abandoned its Estonian outpost in 1940. In June that year, the Soviet government invaded all three of the Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – so it could defend Leningrad (St Petersburg) from a potential German invasion. It deposed the national governments and hosted elections that its representatives were guaranteed to win.

Gallienne took a two-week trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway, and on as far as Tokyo, to assess troop build-ups. From talking to the people he met, and in particular those who were fleeing occupied territories, he learned of racial segregation and that many Jews were dying in concentration camps. This was some time before the full scale of the Holocaust became evident.

In his report, he wrote “A Jewish emigrant from Vienna said that at the outbreak of war all stateless persons in Germany were placed in concentration camps and that 60% of them had died of starvation”.

Meanwhile, in 1941, the Soviet governments of the Baltic states carried out mass deportations of anyone who disagreed with them. Eight days after the deportations, Germany invaded. Life had already become harsh under the Soviets, so many of the Baltic residents had welcomed the German Army as a liberation force, unaware of how much harder life was set to become.

Return to America

In 1941, Gallienne was sent to New York, by which point his name was already on a German list of targets to be rounded up if Germany successfully invaded the British Isles. The list, known as Hitler’s Black Book, contained the names of almost 3000 politicians, agents and cultural figures. Gallienne’s inclusion was on the grounds of espionage, apparently as a result of his information-gathering trip on the Trans-Siberian Railway.

Almost exactly 12 months after being posted to New York, he was back in his old stamping ground, Chicago, where he spent the rest of the war before moving, in 1947, to Guatemala.

Guatemala turned out to be his longest posting, running though to 1954 when he received his final and most important appointment. He became ambassador to Cuba on his 57th birthday. This was his first full ambassadorship – and his last – as he died in office on 17 July 1956, aged just 59.


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Other events that occured in May

Priaulx Library opens for the first time 1st
Horse racing returns to L’Ancresse race course 2nd
Guernsey deportee, nurse Gladys Skillett was born
“Twink” goes missing on its way to Guernsey 3rd
Role of Chief Minister of Guernsey abolished 4th
Guernsey Airport opened for business 5th
Alderney debated in the House of Commons 6th
Songs of Praise comes from Guernsey 7th
Final issue of Deutsche Guernsey-Zeitung was published 8th
Guernsey was liberated from German occupation 9th
A Guernsey retiree’s £1m offer attracts 57,000 requests 10th
A liberation celebration ended in disaster 11th
Guernsey plays Tottenham Hotspur 12th
Guernsey’s telephone wars broke out 13th
British papers reported Dame of Sark’s deportation 14th
The States of Guernsey bought Aurigny 15th
Alderney was liberated at the end of the second world war 16th
Herm goes back on the market 17th
A mainland murder with a Guernsey connection 18th
Guernsey declared a State of Emergency 19th
Wartime diplomat Wilfred Gallienne born in Guernsey 20th
Hauteville House is bequeathed to the City of Paris 21st
Guernsey poet and painter Denys Corbet was born 22nd
John Doyle was appointed Lieutenant-Governor 23rd
The Imperial Hotel opened for the first time 24th
Elizabeth College is founded in St Peter Port 25th
Game of Thrones actor Roy Dotrice was born 26th
Head of Guernsey CID is shot in St Peter Port 27th
Work started on the Victoria Tower
Guernsey’s first paid constables were hired 28th
Guernsey woman advised to leave for her safety 29th
Occupation stories occupy the mainland papers 30th
“Overdose” verdict in Guernsey farmer’s death inquiry 31st