Traditional Russian wooden toy made by prisoner-of-war

To mark Liberation Day, our Object in Focus for the month of May has been chosen from our Occupation collection. This simple wooden toy is essentially a bat with a wooden block hanging beneath which acts as a kind of pendulum. On top of the bat are four painted chickens which move around and peck when the pendulum moves. This is a traditional Russian toy and was handmade locally in Jersey by a Russian prisoner-of-war who was in the Island during the Second World War.

About a year into the Occupation, the German authorities started work on fortifying Jersey following concerns that the Allies might try to take back the Island. The occupying forces brought in thousands of slave labourers from across Europe, from countries such as Russia, Spain, Poland, the Netherlands, Belgium and North Africa. It is estimated that there were around 1,000 Russian prisoners-of-war in Jersey during the war. These prisoners endured harsh treatment and extremely poor living conditions, with some arriving in the Island without even having shoes.

Most Islanders were sympathetic to the plight of these prisoners and many attempted to help when they could. There are many stories of brave Islanders putting themselves at risk to shelter some of the men who managed to escape the labour camps; notably Louisa Gould, Harold Le Druillenec, Ivy Forster, René Le Mottée, Bob Le Sueur, Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore.

The story behind this particular wooden toy is that it was made by an escaped prisoner-of-war as a gift to the young daughter of a family who helped him. Only upon giving the toy to the girl did the maker realise that the girl was one of identical twins, so he crafted an identical second toy so that each of the girls had one. Both toys are now within our social history collection having been donated by both of the original recipients. Unfortunately, we do not know any more about the Russian maker of these toys, how he came to be a prisoner in Jersey or where he ended up after the war.

These toys are key objects in our Occupation collection as not only do they help tell the story of the Russian prisoners who were held within the Island, but they also give an insight into the relationships forged between different people in Jersey during this time.

A wooden toy with birds

One of the toys in our collection

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Occupation Records

Jersey Archive holds thousands of records from the period of the Occupation: from the UNESCO-recognised Bailiff’s Chambers Archive and Occupation registration cards, to the hundreds of family collections which contain personal accounts of life in Jersey during the Occupation.

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Objects in Focus

Take a look at some of the other objects in our collection