Douglas Isherwood remembers how Jersey suffered under the German Occupation. St. John Ambulance did its best to cope. And then, relief arrived. The SS Vega arrived December 1944 bearing food parcels, and Douglas spent the next months restoring hope and health in Jersey homes.
What did you do?
“The islanders used to come to Martland’s Store. But it was a bit awkward. So they used to distribute so many Red Cross parcels to a shop across the road: you had so many people come there, you would sign it all out, get rid of it that way. It was quite a job to cover the island.
So the first batch was given out. And the next month [the SS Vega] came back again. And then again.
The Australian [parcels] were quite good, because they did put a packet of cigarettes in. Canadian maple leaf butter. That was good. Onion salt, Quaker Oats, marmalade, tin of raspberries, a small tin of salmon. That was marvellous.
Talk to anybody who’s never been liberated: you haven’t got an idea what it’s like. You can’t describe it. It’s something out of this world.”
Any special memories ?
“Things were getting pretty hard. People used to make carrot tea.
Everybody looked forward [to the SS Vega]. When it did arrive, we organised with local farmers for horse and traps to help with the unloading of the ship.
The parcels were taken to Martland’s Store. Now if there was nobody there, you could have broken in and gone off with them. So [St. John Ambulance] ladies did duty all day and we did day and night there. You had thousands of parcels. If any were broken into, they were put aside and detailed what was missing. And then they gradually built up another box and replaced it.”
Towards the end of the occupation, food shortages had worsened and many islanders faced starvation. As well as making tea from carrots, people collected mushrooms, blackberries, and even acorns to try and feed themselves. In Guernsey, an old watermill was restored to grind flour.
The SS Vega was an International Red Cross ship. It first came to the Channel Islands in December 1944, bringing food parcels, salt and soap, as well as medical and surgical supplies. The Vega made five further trips to the Islands before Liberation in May 1945.
Standard Joint War Organisation POW food parcels included the following items:
Cheese, biscuits, chocolate, cold meat, condensed milk, jam or syrup, fish, dried or tinned fruit or puddings, sugar, tea, butter or marmalade, and oatmeal or rolled oats. Find out more about JWO Parcels.