It happened here

What if… The Nazis invaded Britain in 1940?

In 1965 United Artists released a film depicting life in Britain under occupation by the Nazi war machine. Today it can be seen as a kind of template for alternative reality fiction like The Man in the High Castle and Fatherland. But back in 1965 it caused a huge controversy because it depicted a lot of the British collaborating with the occupiers.

This challenged the entire post war vision that Britain had of itself, that it was the stoic survivor, the Bulldog spirit and Winston Churchill got us through to victory. The Blitz Spirit, Dunkirk – all that heroism in defeat stuff that the British love.

The film asks the question – indeed it says the entire film is a challenge to the audience, would you collaborate? Would you resist? Would you stay out of it? It was easy for the British to pour scorn on the French for their collaboration, but would Britain really have been any different?

Certainly on the one oart of the British Empire that was occupied by the fascists – the Channel Islands – people there reacted just the same as the French. Some resisted, some collaborated, most just tried to survive. The island austhorities carried on under the German occupation – helping to identify and round up the handful of Jews on the islands. The Bailiff of Gurnsey, Victor Carey, was given a Knighthood after the war, largely because the British government was so embaressed at the extend of collaboration that they though it best to pretend it never happened and award the island officials for acting as a buffer between the civilians and the German soldiers. It was a buffer that saw the islands Jews perish at Auschwitz. The Bailiff of Jersey, Alexander Coutanche, also helped administer the registration of Jews on his island. 

As one police clerk reported after the war, they had no animosity towards the Jews about to be deported, after all; “Police involvement in deportations was rarely more than carrying out orders given by the occupying forces.” Only carrying out orders?

Of course today people point out that the islanders really had no choice, they had to do what the Nazi occupiers wanted, they couldn’t stand up to the German war machine. This is exactly the same excuses that would have been made if Britain had been invaded and the civilian population disarmed.

Anyway the movie has been released on DVD and Blueray (do people still use those?), recommended viewing.

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Simon H

Writer, socialist, bit part player in the end of the world drama

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