The Jersey War Tunnels (also known as the Jersey Underground Hospital) are the top visitor attraction in Jersey. This World War Two labyrinth gives a unique insight into life in the Channel Islands during almost five years of Nazi occupation.
I grew up in Jersey, and visits to the War Tunnels were an essential part of most schools’ curriculum (especially those of us studying German). Here’s everything you need to know about visiting the Jersey War Tunnels.
About the Jersey War Tunnels
The Germans constructed over 25 tunnels around the coast and in the hills of Jersey. The Jersey War Tunnels is just one element of this dark time in Jersey’s history. Planned as part of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall fortifications, these tunnels are well preserved, sobering, and worth visiting.
Visitors can learn about how the tunnels were built by slave labourers, and life on Jersey before and during the German occupation.
The Germans built the war tunnels as an artillery repair facility and barracks store. By 1944, however, with the fortunes of war changing, the Germans feared an attack on the island. They converted the tunnel complex into a Casualty Receiving station, capable of sheltering and treating up to 500 casualties, safe from gas and air attack.
The Start of the Jersey War Tunnels Tour
Located about four miles northwest from St Helier – Jersey’s main town – the Underground Hospital is in the heart of St Peter’s Valley. Invisible from the road, the gate to the tunnels only reveals itself as you follow the signs to the entrance from the car park.
On the approach to the tunnels, there’s a collection of imposing copper panels. One panel bears the original German name of the tunnel – Ho8 (Höhlgangsanlage 8). The others have quotes from key political figures of the day, including Churchill, Anthony Eden, and Alexander Coutanche (the Bailiff of Jersey).
Ho8 (Höhlgangsanlage 8) was just one of the tunnel complexes built on Jersey, taking almost three years to build.
It would be impertinent for any country that has not suffered occupation to pass judgement on one that didAnthony Eden (British Prime Minister 1955-1957)
What to Expect When Visiting the Jersey War Tunnels
The museum is impressive with engaging exhibits that follow the timeline of World War Two and illustrate the pressures of living under occupation.
As the war dragged on, the islanders’ plight became more critical, as Churchill refused to send supplies, believing that this would help starve the Germans out. Eventually, the Red Cross delivered parcels for each Islander on the strict understanding that these were not for the German occupiers.
The most compelling aspect of the war tunnels is that you get to think like the Jersey residents living under the Nazi regime. You get to think about what you would do in their situation.
Tips for Visiting the Jersey War Tunnels
Take a jacket: The tunnels are cold inside, even on the warmest days.
Plan at least 90 minutes of exploring: The tunnels are chilling and thought-provoking, with lots to take in. It’s not unusual for visitors to spend at least three hours here.
Wear comfortable walking shoes: The tunnel complex is more than 1 kilometre long.
Top Tip: As you buy your tickets, pick up an identity book for one of the islanders – issued by the occupying Germans. Look out for mentions of the person in your identity book during your visit, then find out what happened to that person in the cafe after your tour. Did they survive the Occupation? Did they become famous or infamous? What was life like for them?
What to See in the War Tunnels
As soon as you step inside the war tunnels, it’s like you’ve travelled back in time to the 1940s. You’ll walk past a replica Stug (Sturmgeschutz III) tank and take in the chill of the bare concrete walls.
A Threatened Island
At the outbreak of World War Two in 1939, Jersey’s Governor appealed to the UK government for coastal defence and anti-aircraft guns. This area throws light on why they did not grant this request.
Learn how island life carried on much as before in the early months of the war, until the rapid advancement of German forces through Belgium and France, and the mass evacuation of British troops from the beaches in Dunkirk, in June 1940.
Top Tip: Look out for the telegram which arrived from London on the 19th June 1940, dashing the hopes of islanders that the British Government would provide any protection to the Channel Islands during World War 2.
The Channel Islands will not, repeat, not, be defended against external invasion by sea or airWinston Churchill 19th June 1940
To Stay or Leave
What would you do if you had just 24 hours to pack and evacuate or to find yourself living under Nazi rule? Here you get to find out why 23,000 people registered to leave, but only 6,600 people left Jersey, out of a population of about fifty thousand.
‘I will never leave, and my wife will be by my side.’Alexander Coutanche, Bailiff of Jersey (1935 – 1961)
The Operating Theatre
The plan was for seriously wounded soldiers to receive immediate care at the Underground Hospital before either being returned to battle or transported to the Jersey General Hospital (if possible). This part of the museum explains why the hospital was never used.
You can explore many stories of oppression and hardship that islanders experienced, with every aspect of their lives dictated by the occupying Nazi forces.
There are moving video clips of what life was like during the war in Jersey and lists of things Jersey people were not allowed to do, including fishing, cycling in groups, and owning a radio.
Day-to-day life was challenging for islanders under Nazi rule. They made clothes made from curtains and experimenting with “Ersatz” foods. Would you want to try a tea made from bramble leaves or carrots, coffee from acorns, or blancmange made from seaweed? And what about wearing shoes resoled with wood or old tyres?
Top Tip: Watch out for all of the interactive displays too. One holds a sign saying, “Would you say hello to a German soldier?” In another, a young German soldier offers chocolate to children, and asks how you would feel about this? Would you be angry, or worried, or would you consider that this soldier might have left family at home, and may not have joined the army willingly?
Whispers and Lies
Some local girls formed relationships with German soldiers, enjoying special privileges, parties and presents, and jobs for their loved ones. They were branded as “Jerry Bags” by other Islanders, who mistrusted them – after all, what secrets might they share with their boyfriends?
As conditions worsened and supplies dwindled on the island, mistrust was rife amongst Islanders too, with the German forces actively encouraging people to informa on each other.
This section of the museum has copies of anonymous letters written by informers and talks about some of the fatal consequences.
Once more, the old saying is proved true “When patriotism touches a man’s pocket or his stomach, it often evaporates.”Edward Le Quesne. President of the Jersey Labour Department during the Occupation
Cooperation and Resistance
This area highlights the fine line between cooperation and collaboration and shares stories of attempts at resistance – both successful and unsuccessful. There are plenty of real-life stories shared.
Would you have risked resistance knowing that you would be putting your life – and the life of your family – in danger? Many of the Islanders arrested for resistance activities were deported to concentration camps where they perished.
The Unfinished Tunnel
This gloomy space gives an insight into the appalling conditions suffered by the forced labourers on their 12-hour shifts. The holograms of labourers toiling in dark, dangerous conditions amidst falling rocks are very chilling.
After the D-Day landings of British troops in June 1944, Jersey folk held out high hopes for an end to the occupation of their island. As the months dragged on and French ports fell, conditions on the Channel Islands got even worse.
Stocks of the most essential goods will be exhausted by the middle of November 1944Alexander Coutanche, Bailiff of Jersey (1935 – 1961), in a message to the German Military Commander
Islanders faced starvation as the Germans felt that providing supplies for civilians was not their responsibility. At the same time, Churchill refused to send supplies to Jersey, wanting the German garrison to be starved into submission – even though the Islanders would also suffer.
Let ’em starveWinston Churchill
After the unconditional surrender of the German forces on 7th May 1945, Islanders in Jersey has two more days to wait for their liberation. This part of the Jersey War Tunnels uncovers exactly what happened during those two final days of occupation and how the Islanders celebrated once their freedom finally came.
Freedom is not just a word to those who have lost itFrank Keller
After your tour, don’t forget to pop into the gift shop and try out the rather excellent cakes in the tea room.
How to Get to the Jersey Underground Hospital
Liberty Bus Route 8: Monday to Saturday, all year round
Liberty Bus Route 28: Monday to Sunday
Parking at Jersey War Tunnels is free and plentiful.
Accessibility at the War Tunnels
The Jersey War Tunnels complex (including the Visitor Centre and Cafe) is fully equipped for disabled visitors, with wheelchairs available – free of charge.
Visitors can also use their own wheelchairs and mobility scooters in the tunnels.
Guide dogs are allowed in the War Tunnels.
Plan Your Visit – Jersey War Tunnels
Opening Times: In Spring and Summer, the War Tunnels are open from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm (last entry at 3:30 pm)
Cost: £16 (Age 16+); £13 (Age 65+)
Book online and save £1.00
If you’re planning a trip to the beautiful island of Jersey, visiting the poignant and chilling Jersey War Tunnels is an absolute must. There’s so much food for thought here, and it leaves a lasting impression on most who visit.