Alderney, Channel Islands
LOCATION: Northernmost of the Channel Islands
GOVERNMENT: Dependent territory in the Bailiwick of Guernsey
POPULATION: 1,903 (est. 2013)
AREA: 3 square miles
CAPITAL: St. Anne’s
FIRST STAMPS ISSUED: 14 June 1983.
100 pence = 1 British pound
Alderney is a small English Channel island just ten miles (16 kilometers) west of the French coast, 20 miles (32 km) to the northeast of Guernsey and 60 miles (97 km) from the south coast of Great Britain. The island is part of the Bailiwick of Guernsey, which has been a British crown territory since the mid-13th century. Alderney is 3 miles (4.8 km) long and 1.5 miles (2.4 km) wide; it’s read of three square miles (7.8 km²) makes it the third-largest island of the Channel Islands. The main town is St Anne which features an imposing church and an unevenly cobbled high street. There is a primary school, a secondary school and a post office, and hotels, restaurants, banks and shops. Other settlements include Braye, Crabby, Longis, Mannez and Newtown. As of April 2013, the island had a population of 1,903 people and they are traditionally nicknamed vaques after the cows, or elselapins after the many rabbits seen in the island. Formally, they are known as Ridunians, from the Latin Riduna.
Along with the other Channel Islands, Alderney was annexed by the Duchy of Normandy in 933. In 1042 William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy (later William the Conqueror, King of the English) granted the island to the Abbey of Mont Saint-Michel. In 1057 the Bishop of Coutances took control of the island. After 1204, when mainland Normandy was incorporated into the kingdom of France, Alderney remained loyal to the English monarch in his dignity of Duke of Normandy. From 1721 Alderney came under the control of the Le Mesurier family from Guernsey who prospered from privateering and built a jetty there in 1736. The last of the hereditary Governors, John Le Mesurier, resigned his patent to the Crown in 1825, and since then authority has been exercised by the States of Alderney, as amended by the constitutional settlement of 1948.
The British Government decided to undertake massive fortifications in the 19th century and to create a strategic harbor to deter attacks from France. An influx of English and Irish laborers, plus the sizeable British garrison stationed in the island, led to rapid Anglicization. The harbor was never completed – the remaining breakwater (designed by James Walker) is one of the island’s landmarks, and is longer than any breakwater in the UK. At the same time as the breakwater was being built in the 1850s, the island was fortified by a string of 13 forts.
On 23 June 1940, after the retreat from Dunkirk, the entire population of Alderney – about 1500 residents – were evacuated to Britain, since Alderney and the rest of the Channel Islands were considered by the British Government to be undefendable. On 2 July Alderney was occupied by German forces, who made it one of the most heavily defended fortresses in Hitler’s Atlantic Wall. The Channel Islands was the only part of the British Commonwealth occupied by Germany during the Second World War.
The Germans built four concentration camps in Alderney, subcamps of the Neuengamme concentration camp. Over 700 of a total inmate population of 6,000 lost their lives before the camps were closed and the remaining inmates transferred to Germany in 1944. The Royal Navy blockaded the islands from time to time, particularly following the liberation of Normandy in 1944. Intense negotiations resulted in some Red Cross humanitarian aid, but there was considerable hunger and privation during the five years of German occupation, particularly in the final months when the Germans themselves were close to starvation. The Germans surrendered Alderney on 16 May 1945. The population of Alderney was unable to start returning until December 1945 due to the huge cleanup operation that had to take place simply to make the island safe for civilians. When the islanders returned home they were shocked to see the state of Alderney, with many houses completely derelict due to anything wooden, including front doors, having been burned for fuel by the Germans.
The four German camps in Alderney have not been preserved or commemorated, aside from a small plaque at the former SS camp Lager Sylt. One camp is now a tourist camping site, while the gates to another form the entrance to the island’s rubbish tip. The other two have been left to fall into ruin and become overgrown by brambles. A series of tunnels also remain in place on Alderney, constructed by forced labor. These are in varying degrees of safety, but are left open to the public and the elements.
Alderney used the stamps of Guernsey following the release of the first regional issues in August 1958. After it became postally independent and began issuing its own stamps in 1969, Guernsey made Alderney a sub-post office and handled its postal affairs. Alderney’s request to produce separate issues was rejected by Guernsey in 1975, but a later compromise allowed Alderney to issue occasional sets of stamps, the first of which appeared on 14 June 1983. The island’s issues – typically about one commemorative set each year and a definitive set released every decade – are produced under the aegis of the Bailiwick of Guernsey Post Office in consultation with Alderney’s parliamentary finance committee.
Alderney is found in Volume 3 of the Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue, right after the Guernsey listings in Great Britain (following the British Offices in Turkey), starting on page 373 of my 2009 edition. I counted 325 general issue stamps with the most recent in my catalogue having been released on 2 August 2007. This doesn’t count a number of minor-numbered perforation varieties or differing booklet pane format but does include various souvenir sheets.
I currently have five stamps from Alderney in my collection, Scott Nos. 37-41, released on 7 July 1989. The set of five stamps, lithographed and perforated 13½x14, portray various maps of the island published between the 18th and 20th centuries. For my A Stamp From Everywhere collection, I have chosen the 12p value which shows Henry Moll’s map of 1724.