Home for Christmas

| December 20, 2012 | 0 Comments
Engelbert Bergmann looks at letter with his family

Christmas greetings from German troops to loved ones at home have been delivered – 71 years after they were posted!

The letters, which were sent by soldiers stationed in Jersey during the Occupation of the Channel Islands in 1940 – 45, were ‘liberated’ from a Feldpostamt (German Army post office) by a group of young men and remained hidden until 2006, when they were brought to Jersey Archive.

In September 2012, Jersey Archive asked Jersey Post to help them to get as many of the letters as possible to their intended recipients, or their relatives. Working together, Deutsche Post and Jersey Post embarked on a remarkable trail of detective work to discover if any of the original addresses still existed and, if so, if the present day occupants knew the whereabouts of any of the families who lived there during the Second World War.

Michael McNally, Head of International Development at Jersey Post said: ‘When we were first asked to help we thought it would be an impossible task. So much time has passed and Germany has changed considerably, both geographically and demographically. But after our initial conversation with counterparts at Deutsche Post, we grew more confident that we could do something. When we started out on this journey we thought it would be fantastic if we could find members of just one of the families involved: to find ten is beyond our hopes and as time goes on our aim is to locate even more people to receive these letters. I was there when the letters were finally handed over and I can tell you it was a really emotional experience for all – that’s the power of receiving something hand- written from someone close to you.’

The letters were all posted at the German field post office at Falle’s shop, which was at 12-14 Beresford Street, from where they were ‘liberated’ by a group of young men. This was about the time that Islanders were beginning to show their defiance to being occupied. V for Victory signs had begun to appear and small acts of resistance began to occur to disrupt military rule. Many Islanders were prosecuted in German courts for insulting the authorities and there is no doubt, had the young men been caught taking the letters, they would have been severely punished.

However, this was also the second Christmas that German soldiers had spent in the Island and morale was beginning to wane among the young men stationed here. Occupation diarist Leslie Sinel noted that at this time the spirit of the occupying forces was very low. This feeling of despondency and homesickness shows in the greetings sent home in December 1941. In one letter a soldier writes: “I wish you a merry Christmas and all the best for the New Year. But what I hope most is that the war will come to an end soon, so that we can all enjoy life again.”

Stuart Nicolle of Jersey Archive said: ‘These letters form a truly remarkable collection. We have plenty of evidence of how Islanders were coping with the conditions during the Occupation, but these letters give a unique and fascinating insight into how the occupiers were feeling. The letters are very personal, detailing what life was like and showing how far away from home the young men felt at Christmas time. We are very grateful to the person who shared these letters with us, and to Jersey Post and Deutsche Post in helping us to get them to their original destinations.’

Many of the letters were addressed to PO Box numbers or administrative offices, none of which now exist; others were sent to people who live in locations that no longer form part of modern Germany. Incredibly, Deutsche Post has so far found ten families related to the original recipients who still live in the same places.

On Tuesday 18th December, the date the letters would originally have been received, representatives from Jersey Post and Deutsche Post hand-delivered these ten letters to the descendants of the original senders.

Kevin Keen, CEO of Jersey Post said: ‘Christmas is a traditional time to receive news and greetings from family and friends and even though a terrible war prevented these letters from reaching their destination in 1941, we are absolutely delighted to have been able to play our part in delivering these messages to their rightful destination. Our colleagues at Deutsche Post have been fantastic: they embraced the whole idea from the outset and have gone to enormous lengths to make this possible.’

Thomas Kipp, CEO of Deutsche Post’s international mail branch DHL Global Mail, said: ‘This is a great example of the uniqueness of the postal sector and its international connectedness. Passionate postmen from two companies do their best to deliver personal and very emotional messages even after 71 years.’

Finding the families has not been easy and has involved the assistance of the address experts from Deutsche Post, registry offices, German military historians and handwriting specialists as the German script employed to write some of the letters is no longer used.

The two companies will continue their search for senders, addressees or their families and chances are good that most of the letters can still be delivered.

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