Excavation of Lager Wick: Postscript on the subject of forced labour

I was moved to add this post as a postscript to my blog after reviewing some of the recent media interviews with some Occupation veterans from the Channel Islands, who give the impression (intentionally or not) that forced labour during the Occupation was unproblematic because the labourers were paid. On the one hand, they are no doubt comparing them with the slave labourers, who were treated abysmally and not paid. On the other, they are probably also recalling that the forced labourers were paid well enough to be serious competitors on the Black Market. But despite this, I believe that the forced labourers are worthy of remembrance and consider my excavation as being an example of a political, ethical archaeology – something that is becoming increasingly common within Conflict Archaeology, the field in which I work. The excavation of Lager Wick makes a statement about whose side we are on, and who we consider worthy of remembrance. It also fights to raise awareness of the plight of those who were forced to work against their will for overseers they hated.

One veteran said that Lager Wick “was not a confined camp, it was wide open and civilians could go in. You could see the workers knock off at Grouville Common, trailing back to base. I used to look into the camp and you could see them around. They would work from eight in the morning until six in the evening with half an hour for lunch. Yes they were forced, but they weren’t mistreated. It was a workers accommodation camp.”

I find this kind of statement to be misleading and somewhat belittling of their experience. I am happy to go on record as saying that being paid and not being mistreated does not make forced labour any less of an infringement of one’s human rights. And how can a camp be ‘not confined’ and ‘open’ when it is surrounded by 8 ft high barbed wire, as close observation of the entrance posts revealed?? The Organisation Todt (the employers) were corrupt and negligent: they were involved in the conscription of forced and slave labour and they paid little heed to safe working conditions. This is why the Spanish Republican forced labourers in Jersey are remembered for wearing bowler hats, which they purchased with their wages as the closest thing they could find to hard hats. 

The International Labour Organisation states that ‘forced labour is a serious violation of a fundamental human right’. It was forbidden under the Forced Labour Convention of 1930 and so was in force before WWII, even though the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948. Article 3 of the Universal Declaration says that ‘everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.’ Article 4 says that ‘nobody shall be held in slavery or servitude’. Article 9 says that ‘no one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile‘. Article 13 (1) says that ‘everyone has the right to freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each state.’ Article 23 (1) says that ‘everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.’

I end this post with a photo (courtesy of Gary Font) of the late Francisco Font, former forced and slave worker and Spanish Republican who settled down in Jersey after the Occupation. He is standing by a memorial dedicated to deceased forced and slave labourers at Westmount in St Helier which he campaigned to get erected, succeeding only in 1971. He had earlier failed to get a memorial erected outside a former Organisation Todt camp at Fort Regent. It will be interesting to see what happens at Lager Wick.Image

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About Gilly Carr

I am a Senior Lecturer in Archaeology at the University of Cambridge's Institute of Continuing Education. I work in the field of conflict archaeology and POW archaeology, and my fieldwork is based in the Channel Islands.

2 responses to “Excavation of Lager Wick: Postscript on the subject of forced labour”

  1. Gary Font says :

    Here we go again.
    To add to your comment Gilly.The Spanish Republicans that campaigned for the memorial at Westmount not only wanted to remember their comrades that died in the Island ,but also to remember the thousands that perished in the Civil war and the thousands that perished in concentration camps and the like in France.Also not forgetting Spanish Republicans that fought with the Free French and the Long Range desert group attached to the Briitsh army ,which have still not been remembered.
    The non intervention policy of Britain and France attributed to thousand dying in camps in Spain after the civil war and also after WW2.
    No one is saying any different to what has been said before.Forced Workers had no choice but to come to the Island.They arrived in a terrible state and in a short time their health and well being had improved.UNLESS YOU WERE SENT TO ALDERNEY
    The forced worker overseers had not always been as just as others make out but in general Forced workers had been well fed and treated well.Who is saying anything different??.
    Spanish Republicans would not have ended up in Jersey if they fought for the Nazi regime.

    • Gilly Carr says :

      Thanks for this, Gary. The point I was making is that some seem to have the attitude that it is a waste of time and money and effort excavating Lager Wick (and by implication, remembering the plight of forced labourers, which is a cornerstone of the project) because the forced labourers in Jersey were well treated and paid. The point I was making is that regardless of this, they were still forced to labour, which infringed their human rights and broke the Hague convention according to its form pre-war (it’s much stricter now). Working on war projects which benefitted the enemy was also an infringement of the Hague Convention. I was taking issue with the attitude that said that everything was ok / justified / nothing to worry about / not worth memorialising because the forced labourers were paid. Thanks for adding some more historical context to this.

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