I am almost back in the land of the living, after a week of transiting between bed and the sofa, with a bad dose of flu. Whilst still sounding like a bloke, I am feeling much better and thankfully back to my social routine, with Ramadan approaching I am making the most of being out and about with my girls and copious amounts of coffee, before routine goes out the window and we all adjust for the holy month. It’s a funny old week for me this one, as an island girl I always get a bit nostalgic about it. My insta and Facebook feeds fill with bank holiday fun, BBQ’s on the beach, long weekends away and family get togethers. I also know that my little island will be enjoying a double whammy of days off this week, as May 9th marks the annual celebrations for Liberation Day, which like any Bean, I feel very patriotic about and miss being there to remember our history.
Now there will be plenty of people in my island haven, that will simply be pleased they get a 3 day week and don’t even acknowledge or know the real reason, that after 73 years we still insist on a public holiday, where the island shuts down just like Christmas Day. Why?
In 1939, war had started across Europe and Germany was taking hold. The UK had declared war and was watching, like the rest of the allies, on what was taking place under Hilter rule. As Germany attacked more and more of Europe, making its way towards France and the UK, France fell. The Germans saw the British Crown Dependencies of Jersey and Guernsey, located only 70km from the french coast, as a strategic symbol to show the UK that Germany could take their territory.
So in June 1940, German forces took the islands and everything changed. Islanders were subject to German law, rations, curfews and oppressive years. Families were separated, as non born islanders were forced to leave and Jewish residents removed. Russian POW were shipped in and were used as slave labour, along with any islanders that were resisting the new regime. The stark change to island life continued until literally the last day of the war, when Churchill finally declared that
our dear Channel Islands are also freed today
So May 9th 1945, will forever be etched in the islands mind.
From a young age at school, I was obviously taught about WW2 but also the local importance. There are lasting reminders around the island, with war bunkers, lookout towers and many fortifications left like ghostly silhouettes on our coastline. As a kid it was only natural that you become aware of these strange buildings and in turn come questions. Very quickly even at the age of 8 or 9 I sensed the importance this had and that there were people I knew that had lived through it. This wasn’t just history from a text book,
The Battle of Hastings or Henry VIII, facts and figures you learn but have no real connection to, this was real.
I remember, as part of the school project, we had to replicate a news paper article from the war, I interviewed both my neighbours, who had been boys during the occupation and retold their memories of those childhood years. It had a profound effect on me, knowing that at my age they were limited in what they could do, food was scarce (unless you were a farmer and able to salvage for yourself before the Germans) they lost people they loved, who simply didn’t return after evacuation or forced removal. I couldn’t comprehend all they had seen, the were there, I was being told history first hand. However, amidst the harsh reality of war, they both had funny stories to tell, happy memories tangled in all that disparity.
Like many islanders, they took pleasure in being able to out smart their oppressors, one told me of hiding things in the tire tubes of his bike, being able to move contraband undetected, because who would suspect a 10 year old boy. There are so many stories of islanders, who went above and beyond, saving POW, hiding people, trying to escape by rowing boat in the depths of night, that unbelievable spirit of not giving up, especially when it felt like Britain had just left us alone, as we had no strategic importance to Churchill.
When I met my Hubby, he thought it was unbelievable how much the island makes of this day, plus he also didn’t really know the full extent of the story. His arrival to the island also marked the 60th Anniversary and The Queen was there as part of the celebrations, this blew his mind and he quickly learnt that this was a big deal and meant a lot to locals. So newly coupled, I took him along to the Jersey War Tunnels (when I was a kid it was named The German Underground Hospital) not your usual date I grant you, but it is a fascinating living museum.
My annual trips every summer holiday, with my visiting cousin, was a mix of wanting to go and freaking out. It told you all the great stories of the war, both tragic and heroic but it was also very creepy and still is even after the renovations. As you walk through the tunnels, that were built by POW, knowing that Germans roamed the halls, horrific medical procedures done and deaths had occurred not just patients but people digging the tunnels left in the rubble, its eerie and an incredibly powerful reminder of the past.
Even though, I’ve been traveling the world and been in many places on 9th May, I never forget what that day means and I do think of my beautiful island. More importantly I hope that we continue to mark this day, educate the islands children to keep this awareness alive, as we lose more of the generations that lived it and they deserve to know we remember.