Jersey Flag
The Channel Islands and the Great War
Guernsey Flag

The States of Jersey and The Great War

This is a very brief account of the Acts of the States and their Committees in connection with the Great War, showing some of the measures adopted in order to give the fullest help in the prosecution of the War and to protect the population from suffering unduly from the hardships and privations entailed by the colossal struggle, in which all the Great Powers of Europe were involved.

Apart from the published reports of debates in the States and Orders which have been issued from time to time in the local press, the general public had little knowledge of all that had been done to achieve results, which on the face of things would appear to be almost incompatible, viz:- to obtain from the Island its maximum effort in support of the Empire, achieve for its population the fullest degree of comfort and well-being, maintain with the British authorities in London the most cordial relations and avoid any curtailment of the Island's constitutional liberties, which were quite unknown to the majority of the new Ministries brought into existence by the War.

Notwithstanding the almost insuperable difficulties of the task, it is now conceded that success has rewarded the efforts of Jersey's public men. Some day it may be possible to publish a full record, with copies of documents which will be of material importance to future generations. For the present, it is only possible to give a brief outline of the most important Acts of the States and their Committees.

War was declared with Germany on the 4th August, 1914, and on the same day an Order in Council was issued recalling to active service the Militia Reserve of the Island as a whole in accordance with the terms of the Jersey Militia Act. This Order was registered by the Royal Court on the 6th August, 1914. The mobilisation of the Militia was proceeded with by the Lieutenant-Governor as General Officer Commanding the Troops in Jersey; and it need hardly be said that all responded to the call with the greatest alacrity. The regular garrison was at once removed to take part in the actual fighting, and all garrison and coast defence duties were carried out by the Militia.

Although service in the Militia is supposed to be gratuitous, it could not be expected that Officers and men should give their time without compensation, and the States expended for the mobilisation of the Militia from 29th July, 1914 to 23rd February, 1917 a total sum of £99,356 11s. 2d.

From the outset and during the whole of this period numbers of Jersey officers, NCOs and men joined the Regular Forces of the Crown; so that Jerseymen were to be found fighting in every theatre of the Great War.

From the 23rd February, 1917, the Militia Act was suspended and all officers, NCOs and men in Jersey were incorporated in the Imperial Forces under a Military Service Act adopted sometime earlier by the States, subject to a claim to exemption which was dealt with by Tribunals established under the Act. It is safe to say that all Tribunals, both Central and District, carried out their duties with great firmness, efficiency and fairness; and that in the result Jersey supplied its very full quota of men to the Forces.

When the enemy had been finally defeated, it was felt that it would be impossible for industry to re-absorb the men as fast as they would be demobilised, and the Imperial Government therefore decided to give grants to the demobilised men for a period long enough to enable them to find remunerative occupation. The Jersey States decided to bear their share of this burden; and the same treatment was accorded to women, who were no longer required in Munition Works.

When it was realised that it would be necessary to mobilise the whole of the manpower of the Allies, the Imperial Government ordered that all men and women in the United Kingdom between certain ages should be registered. The States took a similar decision for Jersey and National Registration was carried out with great efficiency in the various parishes.

It was also found necessary to conserve all classes of merchandise and materials which could be used in helping to win the War. It was soon ascertained that Motor Transport was the most convenient and the most rapid method of conveying troops and munitions; and it therefore became necessary to reduce to a minimum the consumption of Motor Spirit by Civilians; this was done in Jersey by limiting the supply only to consumers who had been licensed by the Island authorities.

Great restrictions were also placed on the import of goods not of prime necessity, so as to aid in preserving for the Army the largest proportion possible of the means of transport.

Control was likewise established on the export of cattle, of foodstuffs, and of other Articles required by the population; whilst many classes of goods were permitted to be exported only to the United Kingdom.

The Jersey States took over the control of Food Production some months before the British Government decided on a similar policy. The quantity of land under tomato culture was reduced, and that under potatoes increased. As a consequence, in 1917, the most critical year for food supply in England, Jersey established a record for the export of potatoes. Over 20,000 tons were supplied to the Army alone in each of the years 1917 and 1918.

The supply of milk and butter was one of the most difficult problems for the Defence Committee. They succeeded well in maintaining on the Island the maximum number of cattle which could be fed, but on a few occasions the question of cattle foods became very critical. This difficulty was however overcome by obtaining sanction from London for a strictly necessary supply. The local supply of pork was also increased in consequence of the policy adopted for the purpose. The distribution of essential foods was moreover placed under control and the prices of certain commodities regulated, such as bread, meat, potatoes, margarine, sugar, and so on.

Early in the war, it was realised that, unless precautions were taken, Jesrey might well be without a supply of bread; and the Defence Committee therefore constantly kept a reserve supply of flour. Had this not been done, the island would undoubtedly on several occasions have been without bread.

At one time, there was a shortage of meat and some time later of margarine; but the Defence Committee's delegate in London was in both instances able to arrange with the authorities there for regular supplies, which never failed.

In the same way, arrangements were made from time to time to secure shipping for the import of coal and for the export of potatoes.

The supply of coal also came under control, and it is noteworthy that, although Jersey imports coal from England, in no place in the United Kingdom has the population been more regularly provided with this necessity.

Jersey should be gratified by the fact that, when the sister Island of Guernsey was threatened with a coal famine we were able to supply them with a full cargo of house coal and several hundred tons of gas coal.

On one or two occasions, constitutional difficulties arose, but it is very much to the credit of the British Government representatives and of the Jersey States that they were settled satisfactorily without involving any sacrifice of the constitutional rights of either.

The Island of Jersey appears to have been the only part of the British Empire in Europe which was able to ration its population without enforcing a personal rationing scheme, except for sugar, thus avoiding much annoyance to consumers.

Finally, Jersey voted to the Imperial Government grants amounting to £100,000 towards the expenses of the War; and these sums were sent as soon as they were voted.

This brief sketch omits much important work which was carried on during the War by the States and their Committees and delegates.

Enough however has been said to give some idea of the work done and to show the necessity of publishing a more complete account when time and opportunity permit.

© 2006 Barrie Bertram

Contact Barrie