MHM explores the rich military history of the island of Alderney, and encourages you to do the same!
Alderney, third largest of the Channel Islands and closest to France, is steeped in history, from Roman ruins to Victorian and German fortifications.
On its striking rugged coastline lies evidence of the island’s darker past – Alderney was one of the most fortified parts of the west European coastline during the Second World War.
Not long after war was declared, the civilian population of Alderney was given the opportunity to evacuate to England in 1940. Virtually the whole 1,450 population of the island left before the first German troops seized the island.
Over the next five years, Alderney was gradually turned into a vast concrete fortress, part of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. Thirteen Victorian coastal fortifications were modified and extended to make the island into a formidable stronghold. Forced labour was used to build bunkers, gun emplacements, air-raid shelters and concrete fortifications, much of which can still be seen today.
Alderney is unique in that it is the only part of the UK to have had a concentration camp built on it. The Germans constructed four camps on the island, each holding up to 1,500 people. At the peak of the work there were 3,000-4,000 slave workers and 3,500 German troops and technicians on the island.
The island is also the only part of the UK to have been shelled by the Royal Navy. The navy blockaded Alderney from time to time, particularly following the liberation of Normandy in 1944.
Alderney was eventually freed by British forces with the German garrison surrendering on 16 May 1945. More than 1,000 Germans were kept on the island to help the British troops clear up the 37,000 mines laid, the miles of barbed wire, the various booby traps, the rubble from buildings they had destroyed, and to repair as many houses as possible. It was December 1945 before any islanders were allowed to return. In 2005, sixty years on, Alderney designated December 15 as Homecoming Day – a public holiday to celebrate the return of the islanders after six years of exile in their own country.
Today, visitors can take a trip to the Alderney Society Museum to see evidence of the general evacuation in 1940 and the subsequent Occupation of Alderney, as well as taking a walking tour of the island to see the various fortifications still intact. Fort Grosnez, Fort Tourgis, Fort Albert, and Fort Essex are but a few of the locations dotted around the island that visitors can explore.
A short 45-minute flight from Southampton or 15 minutes from Guernsey will allow you to discover an island with a wealth of historical interest,
There are also plenty of activities to keep families entertained on the island, including cycling, fishing, sailing, and swimming. Alderney has a wide selection of restaurants, bistros and take-aways to cater for all palates, and is renowned for its delicious seafood. The island has a packed events calendar, and with many walks and stunning beaches, it’s the perfect place to relax.
To find out more, visit the website: http://www.visitalderney.com
Tel: +44 (0)1481 822811