By: Valerie Murray, Estate Coordinator, Midland Division
In June of 1940 an event little known today occurred: The German army invaded and occupied the Channel Islands, a part of Great Britain off the coast of Normandy an occupation that lasted until war’s end. A part of this story belongs to a young woman of Guernsey, Major Marie Ozanne. Major Marie, a Guernsey native, served at a Belgian Corps. However, when World War II began, she returned home immediately to lead the St. Sampson Corps in Guernsey. When the German army took over the island, they ordered The Salvation Army disbanded, its worship services forbidden, and its officers forbidden to wear uniforms. The Commandant even forbade the band to perform.
However, Major Marie refused to bow to the German authorities. She wrote to the Commandant she would not close St. Sampson Corps. She continued her duties in full Salvation Army uniform at the Corps and in the marketplace, speaking to anyone who would listen to her. The Germans referred to her in Occupation documents of this period as simply a “lunatic and religious fanatic.”
Finally, the Commandant personally directed Major Marie to give up her uniform. When she ignored this order, the military police arrested her and forced her to give it up. Yet, in street clothes, she continued preaching the word of God, in defiance of the Commandant’s orders. She even began to teach herself German in order to minister to the German soldiers who might listen.
Hitler ordered six thousand slave laborers to these small islands during the Occupation, to build huge concrete fortifications and bunkers in advance of the British attack he believed would soon come. These men were from Spain, France, Russia, and Poland and treated like animals. Many were worked to death, others flogged and tortured, subsisting only on minimal rations. Many heard theirs screams. Major Marie heard these screams. She would not ignore them. She went to the slave labor camps to minister to the men and to bring them the word of God and hope. She complained unrelentingly to the camp’s commandant about their inhumane treatment.
After two years of her interference, in August of 1942, the Commandant realized that Major Marie was more than a lunatic or religious fanatic. He ordered her arrested and imprisoned. From prison, she wrote to him that she would “not take back a single word”; that she would not stand by to watch her fellow men treated so savagely. She told the Commandant she was revolted by the oppression and hatred with which the slave laborers were treated. He released Major Marie was after only two months, in October of 1942, but she died shortly afterward as a result of the horrible mistreatment received while imprisoned.
We will not forget Major Marie Ozanne’s courage and bravery in the face of evil. She is a witness to the precept that we are not put on earth for ourselves, but for others. As Catherine Booth said, “The world is waiting for you!” Pray that we, like Major Marie Ozanne, are ready to act.