It is with profound sadness that we announce the death of Michael Ginns MBE on Thursday, 2 February 2017, at the age of 89 years.
Jersey’s leading Occupation expert, Michael was a CIOS stalwart for over four decades, and it is largely thanks to his efforts that the Society became the successful and respected organisation it is today.
Michael was a highly accomplished military historian whose meticulous research led to a series of articles and publications that have become an indispensible source of reference to anyone interested in the Occupation period. With Peter Bryans, Michael co-authored the ground-breaking ‘A Guide to German Fortifications in Jersey’ in 1975, and, in 1981, he wrote ‘A Guide to Alderney’s German Fortifications’ for the Alderney Society & Museum. For the next thirty years he was a regular contributor to the CI Occupation Review, and produced a number of archive books comprising ‘Jersey Besieged 1944’, ‘The German Field Post Office in the Channel Islands’, ‘Verstärkung der Kanalinseln (Reinforcing the Channel Islands)’, ‘German Armour in the Channel Islands’, ‘Occupation Camera’, ‘German Tunnels in the Channel Islands’, ‘The Organisation Todt and the Fortress Engineers in the Channel Islands’, ‘Jersey’s German Bunkers’ and, finally, ‘Jersey’s German Tunnels’. His magnum opus was ‘Jersey Occupied’ (2009), commissioned by the Jersey War Tunnels, and the culmination of ten years’ work.
Michael was also responsible (with David Bishop) for producing ‘Scars on the Landscape’ in 1977 – an iconic ciné film (and later video) that called for the recognition of the historical significance and value of the German fortifications alongside the Island’s romanticised castles and round towers. He felt that, rather than lie buried and forgotten, these concrete relics should be preserved and properly interpreted for the benefit of future generations. Commencing with the opening of the Noirmont Command Bunker in 1977, under Michael’s direction the CIOS embarked on a programme to restore the best and most important examples. The positive interest that this generated persuaded the authorities that the fortifications were an important heritage asset rather than a burden, and led to their listing on the historic buildings register.
Michael had an air of authority, which was very much in evidence in the guided tours that he would conduct at the Command Bunker during the summer season, when his audience would be captivated by his rousing delivery and ability to strike an entertaining balance between plain fact and anecdote. These qualities were also a characteristic of the many rambles that he led over the years, as well as the talks, slide shows and lectures he gave, not only to CIOS members, but professional and academic bodies throughout the Channel Islands and the United Kingdom.
Michael was a seeker of truth – which drove and motivated his research and preservation activities. However, whilst these undoubtedly had an important role in his life, he always wanted to be remembered for his efforts to promote reconciliation. An ex-internee who had been incarcerated for over two years in a camp at Wurzach castle, Michael bore no grudge, and became heavily involved in the reconciliation initiatives that ultimately led to the twinning of St. Helier and Bad Wurzach (formerly Wurzach) in 2002.
The year 1995 marked a highpoint in Michael’s life, when his long-serving dedication to Jersey’s Occupation history was officially recognised with the award of an MBE for “services to the public”. Ten years later, on the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Wurzach camp, Michael was asked to unveil an interpretation panel at the gates of the castle that referred to its wartime history, and shortly afterwards, it was agreed by the Bad Wurzach town council that he be awarded the Citizens’ Medal (‘Bürgermedaille’) for his reconciliation initiatives. This was the first time that a foreigner had been honoured in this way, and, in January 2007, Michael travelled to Germany for the presentation. With typical modesty, he told those present that being a recipient of the Bürgermedaille meant as much to him as the MBE .
In recent years, as his health began to fail, Michael withdrew from active involvement in the CIOS, but his interest in the Occupation period remained strong, and he was frequently consulted by researchers, journalists and authors. Michael was determined to continue his annual trips to Bad Wurzach as long as he was able, his last visit being for the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the camp in 2015.
On 23rd January 2017, the final chapter in Michael’s life occurred when a 13th panel was inaugurated at the Occupation Tapestry in which he and four other prominent Occupation figures were commemorated as “guardians of memory”. He was too unwell to attend, but he was represented at the event by his stepson and CIOS Vice-President, Matthew Costard, who was able to give him a full report of the proceedings.
Michael is irreplaceable, but he has left a rich historical legacy. We owe him an immense debt of gratitude.
A full obituary will follow in this year’s CI Occupation Review.