Published: Debbie #186 (4 September 1976) – #198 (27 November 1976)
Artist: Terry Aspin
Reprints: none known
In 1940, the Channel Islands become the only German-occupied British territory of World War II and the Germans put it under martial law. Wendy Lee’s father is away fighting. The Germans turn Wendy and her mother (and their cat Snuggles) out of their home because they want the place for their Army Staff Quarters. They send the Lees to a “more suitable” place – a rundown house that is almost a ruin. Appalled at such treatment, Wendy declares to her mother’s face that she is going to fight the Germans every which way she can until the Channel Islands are liberated from them.
As the occupation takes its grip, life becomes harder for the villagers because of blockades and rationing, food, fuel and medical shortages, and repressive measures against any form of resistance. Among them is a total ban on outside photography except for the German armed forces – because they use the photographs for propagandistic purposes in Germany that they have conquered the whole of Britain instead of small British islands. Another is taking 60% of the fishing catches while having all island shipping vessels registered, numbered instead of named, and being painted in army camouflage.
The Germans suffer too, such as having to resort to horse-drawn power because of the fuel shortages. The Germans also have the islanders help them win the war, such as handing over spare rubber for their war effort. Some of the islanders comply willingly, much to Wendy’s disgust. Worse still are the informers and collaborators she encounters.
But Wendy has not forgotten her vow to fight the Germans. Her first case comes incidentally when she sets lobster pots in defiance of the German oppression with the aid of her father’s boat, Dancing Dolphin, which she has hidden from the measures imposed on fishing vessels described above. But it’s not lobsters she finds but a left-behind British Commando. They almost get caught because of an informer, who is also responsible for the arrest of a farmer who tried to help the Commando as well. Wendy manages to get the Commando away before the German forces arrest them too.
Next Wendy acquires some tissue paper to make sketches of the occupation to help the Allies, and then send them off in bottles in the hope someone on the mainland will find them. She starts with sketches of slave labourers who have been captured from other occupied territories and being forced to build shore defences. She gets discovered by a German soldier, Helmut Silbernagel. However, Helmut is a friendly German who does not agree with Nazism or the treatment the labourers are receiving. Wendy is surprised to learn from Helmut’s example that some Germans are good, and she continues her secret sketches with his connivance. Helmut is able to help Wendy even more when he is billeted at her house.
A friend of Wendy’s, Henry Green, is arrested and deported to a labour camp for composing an anti-German dance tune, The Victory Waltz. Wendy wants to save him and turns to Helmut for help, but there is nothing either can do for Henry. All Wendy can do is watch Henry put up a brave show as he is taken aboard, along with several other people being deported for even the slightest act of resistance.
Later, Wendy steals the opportunity to do some sabotage against the slave labour, but the Germans go after the saboteur. Henry’s brother Ben helps her, but then Wendy goes into hiding because she thinks Ben is going to betray her. She camps out at an old market garden with the help of her mother, Helmut, and a poacher named Bill Parton. Mind you, Parton charges fees for his services in aiding people. It is also revealed Parton is aiding German soldiers who have deserted and gone into hiding because their superiors’ rules are too harsh.
Eventually Ben convinces Wendy that she got things wrong and he did not betray her. In fact, the Germans take advantage of his newspaper reporting to report their amazing progress in building sea defences. Moreover, Ben also received a letter from Henry saying that if he wants help in speeding up the defeat of the Germans, turn to “W.L.” for help. Henry can be referring to only one person.
It’s not until several months later that Ben does turn to Wendy for help. Two Frenchmen trying to escape occupied France got shipwrecked on the islands. They need a boat, but the Germans have them all under close guard. Wendy points Ben in the direction of Dancing Dolphin. As one of the Frenchmen can’t row because of an injury, Ben has to do it. He will take the men back to France because he does not think Dancing Dolphin can make it to Britain, and the men will try again. It will turn out to be a one-way trip for Ben and Dancing Dolphin, because Ben stays on in France.
To help Ben and the Frenchmen get away without interference from German troops, Wendy starts a huge bonfire as a diversion. It backfires when she gets trapped in it, and then the Germans discover her while they are fighting the blaze. Wendy tries a cover story that she was trying to rescue a cat, but the Germans are not convinced. They lock her in the cells. Eventually they let Wendy go after receiving her character references, but warn her that they will be keeping a close eye on her.
This means Wendy’s secret resistance is under threat, and more so when Helmut is sent to the Russian Front. The German they billet now, one Sergeant Sturm, is your typical bully Nazi hulk, and Wendy suspects he has been planted to keep an eye on her. Then Helmut suddenly returns, and when he sees Sturm’s bullying he sends him packing – at gunpoint. However, this and another act of rebellion against the German military (disillusionment from the horrors Helmut had seen at the Russian Front) get Helmut arrested. Sturm goes back to billeting with the Lees.
Helmut had dropped hints that the Germans are losing. The hints turn into open news bulletins. Street celebrations erupt at the news that Hitler is dead, and Sturm is floored at this because the source for this news is reliable. Reports of more Allied victories come, and Mum and her Red Cross workers use it to persuade the German authorities not to execute Helmut, lest the Allies hear of it when they come. When liberation comes in May 1945, the German forces surrender to the returning Allied troops. And Dad is among the returning soldiers.
Over thirty years later, an adult Wendy wraps things up for us. The Channel Islands recovered from the occupation, though it took a while. Helmut was not executed, but he did have a spell in a British POW camp. He now runs a successful vineyard in the Rhineland and still keeps in touch with Wendy. Ben Green became a reporter for a French newspaper and married a “glamorous Parissienne”. Henry Green returned, married Wendy in 1952 (awww) and still plays The Victory Waltz.
This story is an overlooked gem from Debbie that is now receiving attention through forums on girls’ comics and becoming highly regarded. It certainly deserves to be. It is an impressively strong story, very well written, thought provoking, and shows so much realism in its portrayal of the Channel Islands occupation. Either the writer did a lot of research to make this story as realistic as possible or they had some personal connection to the Channel Islands, perhaps even growing up there during the occupation years.
It is one serial that features one aspect of World War II that does not get much attention in girls’ comics: the occupation of the Channel Islands and reminding us that the Nazis did occupy some British territory, even if they never succeeded in conquering Britain itself. Seeing British people being oppressed by Nazis is even more disturbing than stories that use settings of occupied continental countries. It is a microcosm of what Britain could have become had Hitler succeeded in invading it. There may be more serials that feature the occupation of the Channel Islands, but currently this is the only one mentioned on the Internet.
There have been plenty of serials about girls conducting one-girl wars against the Nazis. But unlike Catch the Cat or The White Mouse, Wendy does not adopt a costumed identity to become a symbol of resistance and a constant bane to the town Commandant. Nor is she part of any resistance organisation. She is just an ordinary girl who uses determination, quick wits, and whatever resources she has to hand to fight the Germans any way she can. Unlike The Cat or the White Mouse, who invariably win with whatever they do, Wendy does not always succeed. For example, she wants to help free Henry Green, but finds that there are some things that are beyond her power, or even that of the friendly German soldier. And so Wendy’s resistance is more realistic and believable than that of The Cat, because it is more like how it would have been with real-life resisters against Nazi occupation.
The story takes time out to explore the impacts of the occupation on people and how it is bringing out the best in some people and the worst in others. We see people who comply with the Germans for one reason or other. For example, Wendy encounters boys who give the soldiers rubber for the war effort because their father says the sooner the war is over the better, no matter which side wins. Next panel Wendy looks on in horror at the slave labour on the beach and marvels at how anyone can think “no matter which side wins”. There are downright traitors and collaborators, who are epitomised in the informer who betrays Wendy and the Commando to the Germans and gets a farmer arrested. Some people are turning the war to their own advantage, such as Mr Begley who takes advantage of the shoe shortage to charge exorbitant prices for resoling. And while there are people who resist the Germans, not all of them are doing it gratis as Wendy does. Bill Parton charges fees for his services in helping people. But as he is also a poacher, his principles may not be the highest to begin with.
Having Wendy being aided and abetted by a friendly German soldier is quite a surprise and twist. It reminds us that not all Germans were bad. There were Germans who did not approve of Hitler or Nazism, and some even formed resistance groups such as The White Rose. Good German soldiers (always in the Army, never in the SS or Gestapo) appeared quite regularly in the Commando war libraries, but they did not feature so much in girls’ serials. Helmut’s disapproval stems from him not forgetting his humanity and is horrified by the sight of slave labourers being treated so cruelty by bullying German soldiers. Later it is compounded by the horrors of war. We also see glimpses of other German soldiers who have become disillusioned by the oppression of Nazism and harsh superiors and have deserted and now live in hiding, depending on covert resisters like Wendy for survival. Perhaps the soldiers became resisters themselves. A stark contrast to the more stereotyped bully German soldiers like Sergeant Sturm who conduct the typical Nazi oppression, not only on their prisoners but also the locals of the islands they have invaded.