Irony is the only way to describe the German occupation sixpence notes issued in the Channel Island of Jersey during World War II.
The Channel Islands, a handful of inhabited dots a few miles from the coast of France, have been British crown dependencies for centuries.
During World War II, England opted not to defend them, leaving them open to German occupation. Adolf Hitler, convinced that they were strategically important, occupied and fortified them.
The Allies just went around the islands in 1944 when they invaded mainland Europe, returning in May 1945 — after Germany had surrendered.
During the five years the islands were subject to the kindness of Nazi occupation, citizens endured privation and occasional brutality, but resisted, too, as best they could. Germans were particularly incensed by the letter “V” for Victory that appeared now and then painted in the dead of night on outcroppings or street signs.
Unbeknownst to the soldiers, a large letter V also appeared on occupation paper money that first appeared on the streets of Jersey on April 20, 1942, Hitler’s 53rd birthday, an event that was widely celebrated in Germany and even marked with special postage stamps.
After German troops arrived on Jersey in June 1940, coinage started disappearing from circulation. The bronze 1/24th- and 1/12th-shilling States of Jersey coins and larger denomination English silver pieces were hoarded by citizens and prized as souvenirs by the Germans.
The situation became so acute that by end of 1941, the occupied government’s Finance and Economics Committee decided to print its own paper money, the first government-issued bills in nearly 75 years.
Local artist Edmund Blampied, who along with his Jewish wife had decided against evacuation to England before the British left, was invited to submit designs for sixpence, 1-, 2- and 10-shilling and £1 notes.
The back of the sixpence note had the denomination written in large letters. The backs of the higher denomination notes showed local scenes. The 1-shilling note drew knowing smiles from the island’s residents. It showed silhouettes of a man and woman in traditional Jersey hats engaged in conversation. The scene called to mind well known “Careless talk costs lives” posters.
The simple sixpence note was the stunner. The reverse had a large six as the top line, with an elongated x, and pence on the second line. Folded one way, the note displayed the letters “VE” for Victory in Europe. Folded another way, just the letter “V” appeared.
The Very Fine+ note illustrated with this column retails for $150.
Gerald Tebben is an editor for the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch.