Lager Wick forced labour camp, Grouville Marsh, Jersey, Channel Islands.
13th -14th January 2014
Lager Wick was a forced labour camp built in 1942 and abandoned in 1944, housing men from France, North Africans and Spanish Republicans. They were employed by the corrupt Organisation Todt. They are likely to have been paid for their work but they were still forced to work. They had no choice. Three barrack blocks burned down in April 1944, as shown by aerial photos, but many other structures remained. While the wooden barrack blocks were all taken away, aerial photos from 1945 show foundations of buildings and some structures surviving. I would like to see what still survives.
The States of Jersey Planning department has now advertised my planning application for an archaeological project on the former forced labour camp site of Lager Wick on Grouville Marsh:
https://www.mygov.je/Planning/Pages/Planning.aspx (select ‘Grouville’ under Parish, and ‘Site of Special Interest’ under ‘Site Type’).
It’s been a busy couple of days with two radio interviews (both with BBC Radio Jersey), two TV interviews (BBC Jersey and Channel), and a magazine interview.
The Jersey Evening Post are doing a feature on it but would not let me see it to check for accuracy before it went out so I am just a little concerned, especially as they referred to it as a slave labour camp in their email to me. I hope that perhaps I’ll be given an opportunity to write something myself later on.
Grouville Marsh today is a site of special interest (SSI) and a wetland site for breeding birds. It is important that this is acknowledged in the article because the landowners (the Chefs Tenants of Grouville) and I agree that this is of primary importance in the application.
It is important to state at the outset that while Lager Wick was large (c. 200m x 100m), I am applying to survey only a small part of it. I met the land owners and environmentalist Piers Sangan on the site in December. We agreed what area would be appropriate to survey given the wildlife and trees on the site. My application also requests the excavation of 3 or 4 ‘test pits’, which will each be about 1 x 2m, i.e. really small. I believe that some people are worried that I am intending to ‘dig up Grouville Marsh’, but this won’t be happening. I have been asked several times today what I hope to find. To my mind, this isn’t necessarily about finding objects or bits of pottery, etc. I’d like to discover:
1) what still survives of the site today? Aerial photos taken after the war, and even as late as the 1990s suggest that the odd part of a structure still exists. The entrance posts still survive today although they are covered in ivy and indistinguishable from trees.
2) what were the living conditions of those who worked there?
3) I would also like to use the project to draw attention to the plight of the forced labourers in Jersey.
I also have some outcomes in mind, which have been discussed with Jersey Heritage and the land owners.
1) A possible museum exhibition based on what the project reveals.
2) An information board outside the site showing the history of the site as well information on the wildlife.
3) I would also be interested to reveal the entrance posts and perhaps demarcating them in some way as part of showing the heritage of this site. However, it mustn’t be forgotten that the site is an SSI and the breeding birds must not be disturbed so this will need some thought. It is not my intention to ‘turn Grouville Marsh into a heritage site’, as one headline I read suggested.
If planning permission is successful, then the project will begin in April. I will be accompanied by 2 archaeological colleagues – Professor Marek Jasinski from Norway, who has worked on WWII labour camps in that country, and my colleague Peter Masters, who will be doing the geophysics. I hope that a couple of colleagues from Jersey Heritage will join me. No JCBs and no crowds! I will also be giving public talks in April in Jersey for those who are interested.
I welcome emails from anyone with questions or concerns, or anyone who has any memories of the site or workers during the Occupation, or has any memories of the post-war story of the site. I am also interested in being contacted by anyone with memories of other camp sites or workers in the Channel Islands.
In 2012 I convened the Lager Wick Advisory Group, comprising representatives of Jersey Heritage, the Societe Jersiaise, the Channel Islands Occupation Society, the National Trust for Jersey, the Chefs Tenants of Grouville and others, including Gary Font. I would like to thank them for their advice on this project so far. I have already built up an archive of interviews from Jersey Archives and various written sources, and have interviewed Michael Ginns, Bob Le Sueur and Gary Font, and would like to thank them for their help.
The photo shows me and my friend Chris Addy interviewing Occupation veterans Michael Ginns and Bob Le Sueur standing outside Lager Wick. This photo is copyright Gilly Carr and may not be reproduced without permission.