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Wartime Nazi Tunnels on Guernsey Posing Problem

September 10, 1989|COTTEN TIMBERLAKE | Associated Press

ST. SAVIOUR, Guernsey — The Rev. Leslie Craske is worried. A crack in the north aisle of his 14th-Century church has traveled up to the apex and down the other side. Outside, two large graves show signs of collapsing.

The Church of England minister suspects that the church and grounds may be sinking into a network of munition and rail tunnels the Nazis dug under the church during World War II.

The problem is not unusual in Guernsey, one of Britain's Channel Islands off the coast of France. Using foreign slave labor, the Germans dug 41 tunnels on the 25-square-mile island.

The tunnels are the war's most troublesome legacy in the Channel Islands, the only British soil occupied by the Germans.

Couple Evacuated

In May, the government evacuated two elderly couples from state-owned rental houses because a tunnel underneath was crumbling slightly.

"We're not taking any chances," said Brian Castle, the islands' housing administrator.

A couple of years ago, a bowling green collapsed overnight in Delancey Park. Before that, a garden fell in Ft. George. Every now and then a field will subside, and the lawn in front of the St. Saviour's rectory undulates because of air raid shelters below.

"The Germans just tunneled like rabbits," said Gerald Przenislawski, who operates La Valette Underground Military Museum. "There will always be a problem as long as they (the tunnels) are there."

The Channel Islands were occupied from June 30, 1940, to May 9, 1945, and were among the last places in Europe to be liberated.

Constant reminders are the unsightly German fortifications and the cemetery for German soldiers. And there are the descendants of Germans who came back after the war and married Guernsey women.

But not all memories are bitter.

Owen Le Vallee, president of the Liberation Day Committee, said his mother found a starving German in the outhouse during the year after D-Day, the 1944 Allied invasion of Europe.

"Mother felt a great deal of compassion for him and gave him some food, the little that she had," Le Vallee said.

"In Guernsey law, everything that is under your ground is yours, which is not a comforting thought as far as this is concerned," Craske said of the tunnels.

"We don't know whether it will be five years or five centuries. Ultimately, they will collapse," he said. "They are bound to."

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