Channel Islands at War — Col. Rybot’s poetic protest

This web page was updated on May 6, 2015

Col. N.V.L. Rybot ~ Image courtesy of Wikipedia

The story of Col. Norman Victor Lacey Rybot’s “philatelic sabotage” during the German Occupation of the Channel Islands is told in my web page, The Channel Islands at war.

The stamps that Rybot designed for the Germans contained tiny initial letters of Latin words that would have insulted both Hitler and Mussolini, had they had become aware of them. Stamps, however, weren’t the only weapon Rybot used in his personal war against the Nazis: one of his weapons was a poem, “An Occupation Alphabet”. But first, a note about Rybot the man, based on information provided in The Island Wiki.

Norman Victor Lacey Rybot was born in Jersey on Jan. 7, 1876, the son of Colonel G. O. Rybot, of the Bengal Artillery. As a young man he developed an absorbing interest in Jersey’s history, which he never lost, and joined the Société Jersiase. He was commissioned in August, 1896, and joined the British Indian Army on Nov. 19, 1897.

Rybot wins a DSO and is captured by the Turks

Rybot first served in several colonial campaigns on the Indian subcontinent. In the Middle East during the First World War, he was twice mentioned in dispatches and awarded a DSO (Distinguished Service Order) for his actions in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). In 1916, Rybot and seven other officers and 240 other ranks were among the garrison that was captured by Turks in Mesopotamia. Of the 227 officers and more than 12,000 other ranks who walked or were carried in the infamous “death march” to Turkey, 70 per cent died in captivity. In all, Rybot spent more than two years as a POW at several camps in Turkey.

After his release from captivity, Rybot left the army in December 1920 and retired to Jersey where he became secretary of the Société Jersiase and resumed his studies into the history, archaeology and heraldry of the island. Over the next 20 years he wrote a number of books and pamphlets about Jersey and, in May 1928, he was elected a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London. During the German occupation of the Channel Islands from July 1940, he was a “prisoner” once more, and not a very happy one! Following a fall at his home, he died in Jersey General Hospital May 18, 1961.

Protesting food shortages, British timidity, and “Jerrybags”

Rybot’s poem, published in July, 1944 and written in in the present tense, provides a picture of daily life in occupied Jersey, with its shortages of food and every basic commodity, but Col. Rybot delves deeper than wartime shortages.

The poem makes it clear that its author had as little admiration for some of his fellow islanders as he had for the Germans. Col. Rybot indicts war profiteers and hoarders alike, illuminates the plight of the island’s Jewish residents, most of whom died in German labor and concentration camps, and displays open contempt for the British government, which gave up the Channel Islands to the Nazis without a fight. The poem also contains a threat of what might happen to “Jerrybags” — Jerseyites who fraternized with Germans and collaborated with them — after the war.

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An Occupation Alphabet:

A is for Avarice, one of our vices,
We corner the goods and put up the prices.

B is the Bungler who fancied it funny
To feed us on olives, dried carrots and tunny.

C is for Conchies, contemptible wights
Who prefer to make hay while the other man fights.

D’s the Deported. Their terrible fate
Has fostered our fury and hardened our hate.

E is for Eatables — nice things to eat,
Like the cabbage, the turnip, the spud and the beet.

F stands for Feathers which, mingled with tar,
Will decorate Jerrybags after the war.

G are the Gossips. Avoid them with care,
They repeat and exaggerate all that they hear.

H is for Hunger which makes you feel faint.
Some farmers know naught of this common complaint.

I is for Informers, a pestilent brood.
The doom is impending, though hanging’s too good.

J is for Jersey, enchained by the foe,
And abandoned in Britain in Nineteen Four O.

K is the Knockout. The prophets are sure
It will come with a crash in the year forty-four.

L are those Letters, from which you can tell
That year before last all the senders were well.

M are the Markets, wherein you may spy
The price-lists of things, you’re unable to buy.

N are the Nasties, incredible devils,
But were they such poops as our Ramsays and Nevilles?

O is my Overdraft. Sad to disclose
The blacker the market, the greater it grows.

P’s Profiteers. Though the Cops know them all,
They leave them at large as the Prison’s too small.

Q are the Queues. Some are endless, I fear.
If you queue for a fish you will queue for a year.

R is the Reichsmark all crumpled and creased,
I have heard it described as the Mark of the Beast.

S are the Stalwarts. Refusing to mope,
They hold to the adage, ‘While life lasts, there’s hope.”

T is for Tummies, — no longer in vogue,
You may bet, if you see one, the owner’s a rogue.

U’s Uniforms. How we long for the day
When khaki replaces the filthy Field Grey.

V stands for Vitamins, medico’s pets.
They abound in commodities nobody gets.

W is We. We’re a nation of barmies
Who owned half the world but would not keep armies.

X are Xchanges oft offered for “what.”
A candle, a pram, and a shirt or a yacht.

Y is our Yearning for bacon and ham,
Tea, sausages, soap, fish, sugar and jam.

Z is for Zero. Soon over the mike,
We’ll be told that is all that is left of the Rike.

I have no idea how Col. Rybot’s poem was distributed, or whether it even was distributed. Perhaps it was only a personal rant against everyone who made life in Jersey miserable. If it “went public” during the Occupation, it seems unlikely that Col. Rybot would have claimed authorship.

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Suggested reading:

The Channel Islands at War — Postage stamps as instruments of resistance: The German occupation of the Channel Islands resulted in the creation of numerous postal artifacts of the prewar and wartime periods. The successful efforts of stamp designers to ridicule Hitler and Mussolini and to surreptitiously display their allegiance with Great Britain are highlighted.

The Channel Islands at war — the Red Cross Message Scheme: Despite the loss of regular international mail services, Channel Islanders were able to communicate with friends living abroad courtesy of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The Channel Islands at war — Deportation & imprisonment: British residents living in the Channel Islands, along with some Jews and islanders charged with crimes against the Third Reich, were sent to German internment and concentration camps. Some died there.