Volunteer guide, avid reader and researcher Bob Bicker shares intriguing tales from a small island – Alderney.

By Bob Bicker | 9 May 2022

Flying Into History
We lived for many years in Alderney, Channel Islands. Although happy there, we sought new opportunities for our growing family and moved to New Zealand in 1984. 

In 1982 while fishing at Platte Saline beach, George Ossleton, a local man, came along for a chat. In fact, George was the catalyst for our move to New Zealand as his son, Peter, was a commercial diver who worked here with Wade Doak and Kelly Tarlton. George had been to this country a few times to see Peter - he knew we were unsettled and thought it was a good place for us to spread our wings.

At that point, George was in his retirement years and he loved to talk about his childhood nearby is the local village green, The Butes.

George recalled that on 21 May 1927, he was walking on the green and heard a strange noise he’d never heard before. Looking up, he saw an aircraft flying very low - so low, in fact, that he could see the pilot waving at him.

George had no idea on that day he was witnessing history, for sat at the controls was pioneering aviator Charles Lindbergh – on the first non-stop transatlantic flight from New York, heading to a field near Paris, in the Spirit of St Louis.

The Penguin
Alderney was the only part of the United Kingdom that was fully evacuated during World War Two. June 1940 saw the Royal Navy take all the occupants off as German forces advanced.

The German plan was to build five concentration camps and fortify the islands against the British using mainly slave labour. One of Hitler’s close friends, Fritz Todt, a construction and roading engineer, was given the task to establish the camps on an island 3½ miles x 1½. Not long after the occupation, they (the Germans) realised food was an issue so looked to the bounty in the seas.

Needing a craft to fish from, they found amongst the workers, mostly Russian, Polish and German Jews plus some Slavs, a few who had boat building skills. Using the oak rafters from the derelict Catholic Church, they constructed The Penguin, a 16ft 2in carvel planked open boat.

After the war, The Penguin was used by locals, however by the late 1970s she was starting to feel her age. I bought her in 1980 with a view to restoring the old girl. However, time was not on my side and unfortunately she had rot which I did not have the time nor skills to repair. When broken up, I removed the floor boards and saw the keel board had less than complimentary graffiti engraved in various languages, plus the Star of David.

The bow is now in Alderney’s museum. Today these poor souls are still referred to in history as ‘The Todt Workers’.

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