culture

It's a Wonderful Life

What's your favourite film?

Maybe your have lots of movies you enjoy but if you were to choose just one... just one... what would it be?

Mine is a brilliant film called 'It's a Wonderful Life' and although it's often associated with Christmastime, and that's when it's usually broadcast on TV, I can enjoy it any time of the year, anytime of the day!

Why am I talking about this today? Well the film is one of the famous movies produced and directed by Frank Capra who was born on this day - May 18th - in 1897. 

Although born in Italy, like so many people who emigrated with their families to the USA when they were children, he lived the 'American Dream'. His was a real rags to riches story

During the 1930's, Frank Capra became one of America's most influential film directors. He won three Academy Awards for Best Director - he was nominated six times. And he won three other Oscars in other categories.  

If you know you're movie history you might recognise some of his iconic films - It Happened One Night (1934), You Can't Take It with You (1938), and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939). After serving in the Second World War his career went into decline and his later films didn't perform so well.

And that includes It's a Wonderful Life which was released in 1946. However, over the years this film and others made by Frank Capra have come to define not just American movie history but the American dream itself.  And now It's a Wonderful Life is considered one of the greatest films of all time. In 1990, the film was designated as "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" and added to the USA's National Film Registry of the Library of Congress.

In fact, Frank Capra himself said it was his favourite movie of all he had directed. James Stewart also claimed it as his favourite! I feel vindicated that I love it so much!

If you've never watched the movie, then you might want to give it a go. But if you don't want to know more, you best stop reading now because there are spoilers ahead!

Its a wonderful life May 18It's a Wonderful Life is a fantasy and it features an angel, so you have to suspend reality, but the moral of the film hits my heart every time.

The film is based on the short story and booklet entitled 'The Greatest Gift' which a chap called Philip Van Doren Stern self-published in 1943. There are also echoes of the 1843 Charles Dickens novella 'A Christmas Carol' which of course is also a bit of a fantasy, featuring as it does ghosts. Spirits who teach Ebenezer Scrooge some important life lessons.

And that's also the central theme of Capra's movie. The star of the film, James Stewart. plays George Bailey, a man who has spent his life in service to his family and his community, giving up his own personal dreams in the process. He reaches a crisis point and on Christmas Eve contemplates taking his own life because he comes to the conclusion that life for everyone around him would be much better if he had never been born.

Step in George's Guardian Angel - a character called Clarence Odbody - who attempts to show him that his life has NOT been worthless, and that he has touched the lives of so many others. He does this by showing George what life for his family and his community of Bedford Falls would have been life IF George had not been born. Clever.

If you fancy it, click on the link below to watch the uplifting end of the movie, when George's vision of life without him comes to an end and he is surrounded by the love he never appreciated or even thought he deserved.

And at the end of it all, he receives a gift from Clarence which is inscribed with this note ...

'Remember ... no man is a failure who has friends!'

It's a great lesson.

Truth be told, there have been times in my life when I've wondered why I'm here and whether my life has had any purpose. There have been moments when I think my life has been pretty worthless and I've questioned whether I've made a difference to the world. There have been episodes when I've queried my life choices and whether I could have done more.

But when I watch It's a Wonderful Life, I'm reminded that every action, every friendship, every episode in my life may have impacted others, and I hope it's for the positive rather than for the negative.

So today, although it's not Christmas ... here's the ending of that movie.

Enjoy! And be inspired not just by the film, but by the knowledge that every life has purpose. We can all make a difference even in small ways. 

And if we have love of family and friends... we are rich!

 


Bring Me Sunshine

Those of you who live in the UK and who are maybe of a 'certain age' will be aware that for many decades in the previous (20th) century the comedy scene was dominated by some brilliant 'duos' and probably the most successful double act was a certain 'Morecambe and Wise'.

The Morecambe & Wise Show and especially their Christmas 'specials' became a national institution and for many years dominated the Christmas Day BBC television schedule, watched by many millions. The 1977 Christmas episode was apparently watched by over 28 million people!  Their shows, featuring the two of them, gags, comedy sketches and songs were such a hit that big stars of the screen and stage were lining up to be included in an episode, even if it meant having the 'mickey' taken out of them.

Eric morecambe statueI'm thinking about them today because it was on this day - May 14th - in 1926 that comedian John Eric Bartholomew, OBE was born. He WAS Eric Morecambe - he took his stage name from his home town, the seaside resort of Morecambe in the county of Lancashire in North West England. There's a statue of him in the town overlooking Morecambe Bay, a bronze sculpture which was unveiled by non other than the Queen of England in summer 1999!

Eric had started performing in talent shows at an early age and when he met up with another young performer, Ernie Wise, they became close friends and, eventually, comedy partners.

After the Second World War, they served their apprenticeship in shows and on stage across the British Isles and on radio, before eventually coming to the notice of television producers and finally securing a contract with the BBC to make a television show. It was the start of an astonishing broadcasting career.

The comedy duo worked together from 1941 until Eric's death from a heart attack on May 28th, 1984. In 2002 he was named one of the 100 Greatest Britons in a BBC poll, securing his place as one of the most prominent comedians in British popular culture.

Morecambe and wiseEric and Ernie brought so much pleasure to so many people - myself included! 

And so, to celebrate all the laughs and joy they brought into my life and the lives of so many others, today I want to share with you the iconic song they adopted as their signature tune and with which they usually ended their show, often accompanied by a silly dance. 

I love it! It's so optimistic!

I defy anyone not to have their spirits lifted when they hear and watch  ... 'Bring me Sunshine' ...

Enjoy! And, if you feel up to it ... Smile!

 

 


The Hidden People

I've been thinking recently about how many people there are in the world who seem to be 'hidden from view'.

In a culture that appears to be a bit obsessed by people who are able to make a big 'noise' about what they do - including 'celebrities' who seem to dominate our media and social media and whom many people believe are the role models we should be following  - it is easy to forget that actually it is not THESE people who often make the difference to our lives.

During the coronavirus pandemic in 2020 and especially during the first  'lockdown' it seemed, for a while, we got away from all this. There was a real emphasis on and people really began to recognise the contribution to our lives of people who we may be inclined to take for granted. People in the 'background' who not only keep the wheels of our communities turning, but at the time were even putting their own lives at risk so that we could be safe.

You know who I'm talking about? The nurses and doctors and medics who looked after us when we were ill and dying. That band of brave hearts, and masses of volunteers who are now making sure we all get vaccinated against this dreadful virus! Then there were those who kept the shops open so we could still get essential supplies and those who kept transport going. Teachers who kept the schools open especially for the children of those 'essential workers', those who ran foodbanks and delivered provisions to people who couldn't get out. Neighbours who checked on the people around them, people who drew rainbows and painted on pebbles, just to make us smile and feel happy.

Every Thursday evening we clapped for those who cared for us. People really showed their appreciation for those who had gone the extra mile and had shown so much kindness.

It was so refreshing!

One of the things I hope will be a legacy of the pandemic is that some of that kindness continues, along with our appreciation of people who in the past may have been 'invisible' to us.

Time will tell if that actually happens or whether we'll go back to our old ways of just taking people for granted.

In the meantime, as a reminder to me, I share this thought which I have found helpful.

And I just want to say ... to all those who make MY life better, more comfortable and easier to live, even if I don't know who you are and what you do ...  THANKS! THANKS! THANKS!

Bless the hidden people


Count Your Blessings

Are you a sucker for old movies?

I am!

And I especially love the old Hollywood musicals! There was a time when you couldn't avoid them on the weekends on British TV. There were and still are my guilty pleasure.

The films were usually 'feel good' tales of love over adversity - boy meets girl, falls in love, something happens to come between them, then it all gets worked out and the love is back on - and usually packed full of great songs.

It was through the old movies on TV that I first heard the name Irving Berlin, the American composer, lyricist and songwriter who was born on this day in 1888. He's actually considered one of the greatest songwriters in American history and it's reckoned he penned around 1,500 songs, including many that have passed into musical folklore.

If you fancy being impressed, just check out the list of some of his songs here and you'll see they include classics like White Christmas , There's No Business Like Show Business, and even the song that has become an American anthem - God Bless America.

Born in Imperial Russia, Berlin arrived in the United States of America at the age of five. He was by all accounts a bit of a youthful musical prodigy. He was paid for his first song, Marie from Sunny Italy, in 1907 - he received 33 cents for the publishing rights. By 1911 he has his first major international hit, Alexander's Ragtime Band'.

Berlin's career spanned 60 years during which he wrote not just the songs, but the scores for 20 original Broadway shows and 15 original Hollywood films - hence my cosy weekend TV viewing. Berlin songs were nominated eight times for Academy Awards. 

Songs written by Irving Berlin have reached the top of the charts 25 times and proved popular not just to the musicians of his own time and those for whom he wrote some of the songs but loads and loads of other musicians and singers down the years who have recognised the beauty of his lyrics and tunes.

So, yes, numerous singers from Berlin's own era re-recorded his songs,  including Doris Day, Perry ComoAl JolsonFred Astaire, Judy Garland, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Frank SinatraDean Martin, Ella Fitzgerald, and Nat King Cole.

But Berlin's songs have stood the test of time and have also proved popular in more recent times, being recorded by greats like Elvis Presley. Diana RossBarbra Streisand, Cher, Willie NelsonBob DylanLeonard Cohen, and contemporary 21st century stars like Michael BubleLady Gaga, and Christina Aguilera.

Count your blessings irving sheetBut to celebrate Irving Berlin's birthday today I'm going to turn to a little song of his that has always touched my heart.

It was included in the 1954 movie 'White Christmas', perhaps the most iconic Christmas movie of all time in my opinion. 

It's sung by two of the main characters in the film played by Bing Crosby and Rosemary Clooney, both of whom also recorded and had hits with other Berlin songs.

Blink and you may this one ... it appears to be just a simple tune with simple lyrics, but it's lovely...

It reminds us to remember how much we are blessed rather than fretting about any short-term problems that we might be facing.

It's a great message for us all - Count Your Blessings ...

As I was researching this thought today I discovered (from Wikipedia!) that this song actually arose from Irving Berlin's personal experience. He apparently was suffering from insomnia brought on by stress and his doctor suggested he try "counting his blessings" as a way to deal with it. I can certainly sympathise with the great songwriter on this one ... insomnia is something that I'm plagued with!

And although it appears to be just a little song, Count Your Blessings was nominated for an Oscar in the "Best Song" category at the Academy Awards, only to be pipped at the post by Three Coins in the Fountain from the movie of the same name ... another iconic film!

But maybe I'll come to that another day. Who knows?

 

 

 


The Ralph Mollet Diaries

On the eve of Liberation Day in the Channel Islands I'm continuing to dip into a radio series I recorded in 2019/2020 to commemorate the 75th anniversary of this momentous historic day last year.

It was a brilliant experience for me, as I worked closely with the experts at Jersey Heritage who selected 50 Objects from the collections at the Jersey Archive and the Jersey Museum through which we told the story of the Occupation and Liberation of Jersey.

Objects selected told us so much about living life under German Nazi occupation. How the population kept food on the table, made do and mended, resisted the enemy, lived day to day life. We heard how life was for German soldiers based in Jersey, and how islanders entertained themselves and there were documents that showed the plight of islanders' health and food supplies, and official documents showing how the German forces kept control over the islanders - registration cards, posters warning against sedition.

If you read this blog yesterday, you'll know that we heard the tales of slave workers brought to the island as forced labour on numerous fortifications which Hitler ordered to ensure the British and their Allies were unable to win back the islands, if they had invaded. There were stories about people who were sent off the island to work and internment camps, some of whom never returned. And we learned about the lives of groups like Jewish people who lived in fear throughout the occupation.

I learned so much about that period of Jersey's history including some of the 'big events' during the era starting with the German bombing raids on June 28th 1940 which killed islanders just before the enemy invaded the island on July 1st that year.  Jumping forward more than four and half years we re-lived the arrival of the Red Cross ship 'Vega' with vital food parcels and supplies for an island that had been cut off from the rest of the world since D-Day in June 1944. By the end of that final year of the war, Jersey and the rest of the Channel Islands were in a desperate situation and the Red Cross parcels really were a life-saver.

Our 50 Objects included official letters and private documents and even diaries and, for this penultimate 'dip' into my series, which ran weekly on BBC Radio Jersey for a whole year in the run up to and as part of our contribution to Liberation75 on May 9th 2020, I'm turning to a diary.

Object 47 - RALPH MOLLETT DIARIESAnd not just any ordinary diary. This was the personal journal written across the Occupation by one Ralph Mollet, who was the Bailiff's secretary during the period.

The Bailiff in both Jersey and Guernsey is the chief justice and also the president of the legislature or States Assembly of elected representatives. The role goes back to the 13th century, Bailiffs are appointed by the British monarch and they undertake official and ceremonial duties.

Before the invasion by the German Nazi forces in July 1940 there would also have been a Lieutenant-Governor in both jurisdictions, but as the official representative of the British monarch it was thought best for them to leave the islands before occupation. So the Bailiff role became even more important. He was the main point of civilian contact for the German Commandant and the occupying authorities. The Bailiff also represented the interests of islanders to those authorities and got involved in diplomacy and negotiation, pleading causes, including the supply of food and medicines. In fact, it was the Bailiff of Jersey who intervened in winter of 1944 and eventually managed to persuade the Nazi German forces of the need for the Red Cross to sail into Jersey on Dec 31st of that year with those vital supplies.

From 1935 to 1961 the post of Bailiff in Jersey was held by Alexander (later Lord) Coutanche, and working alongside him was Ralph Mollet, attending many of those official meetings and engagements. Throughout the 1940-45 period Mr Mollet kept journals and they really are a window on his world, as he stood on the sidelines of history. 

Linda Romeril, Archives and Collections Director at Jersey Heritage, opened Ralph Mollet's diaries for us ....

50 Objects - No47 from Jersey Heritage Vimeo on Vimeo.

Ralph Mollet also documented his experiences just after occupation in Jersey Under The Swastika.  But his original diaries are held in the Jersey Archive. They are a phenomenal documentation of the era and an important and fascinating record of the time that Ralph and his fellow islanders spent under enemy occupation.

If you want to listen to the feature on the Ralph Mollet diaries via the BBC Radio Jersey website please click on the link below.

BBC Radio Jersey - Breakfast on BBC Radio Jersey, 01/05/2020, 50 OBJECTS - the story of Jersey's Occupation and Liberation 1940-1945 told through 50 objects held by Jersey Heritage - Object 47 - 01 May 2020


A Slave worker's Shoe

All this week I'm looking ahead to Liberation Day in the Channel Islands with a dip into a radio series I made in the past couple of years which tells the story of the Occupation and Liberation of Jersey.

It was in early 2019 that I met with the archivists and experts at the Jersey Archive and explained that I had this idea for a series which would take objects from their collections through which we could tell the story of that period of our island's history.

I have to admit it wasn't entirely an 'original' idea, but fortunately the guys at the Archive were aware of another series which was on BBC Radio 4 some years ago - 'A History of the World in 100 Objects' made in partnership with the British Museum - so they knew exactly what I was after.

The Archive experts selected 50 Objects from the Jersey Heritage collections held in the Jersey Archive and the Jersey Museum, and then we recorded in batches across more than a year. The features ran every Friday morning on the BBC Radio Jersey Breakfast Show starting on May 9th 2019 and then picking up at the end of June and running right through to and beyond the celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Liberation on May 9th 2020.

Liberation75 could not be publicly celebrated because of the Covid19 pandemic and lockdown restrictions which were in place at the time, but I'm pleased to say our '50 Objects' series was included in the 'official' commemorations.

Although I know a lot about the Occupation, recording the series taught me so much more and one of the subjects we featured was heart-breaking and also served to uncover the brutality of life for many under the Nazis.

When you visit Jersey, and indeed the rest of the Channel Islands, you will notice that there are lots of concrete structures which were built during the Occupation in the years 1940 to 1945.

If you've been reading this blog over the past few days you'll be aware that the German Nazi forces invaded and occupied the islands on July 1st 1940. Hitler was cock-a-hoop that he had invaded a part of the British Isles and in fact, he saw it as a first step into the invasion of mainland Britain. 

That didn't happen, the British fought hard against it, including during the period known as the Battle of Britain  (this included the German night time bombing raids which became known as The Blitz) from July 1940 to June 1941.

But as the tide of war turned against them, the Nazis were determined that the Channel Islands would not be taken back so they set about building fortifications - look out points, gun emplacements, tunnels and bunkers where German soldiers could defend the islands against British and Allied invasion.

What many people might not know is that the Germans didn't build those concrete defences and walls and bunkers themselves, rather they were largely built by forced labour and what we now recognise as 'slaves'. This was part of what the Germans called 'The Atlantic Wall', and in the Channel Islands it resulted in the construction of fortifications, roads and more between 1940 and 1945. This was overseen by the Organisation Todt. which was a civil and military engineering organisation in Nazi Germany that operated between 1933 to 1945. It was named after its founder, Fritz Todt, who was an engineer and a senior Nazi.

Object 23 - slaveworker's shoeOrganisation Todt was actually responsible for a huge range of engineering projects both in Nazi Germany and in their occupied territories during World War II - from France to the Soviet Union and, of course, in the Channel Islands.

Although some people were 'employed' to work on the projects, Organisation Todt increasingly used forced labour and, especially from 1943 until 1945 as the Third Reich came under pressure, this effectively meant that slaves were brought in to construct their defences. In the Channel Islands this included many hundreds of prisoners of Russian, Polish and other European heritage for whom life was just appalling.

And so to today's 'object' from the 50 Objects series. A few of the objects we looked at highlighted the plight and lives of those poor men who were brought to the islands to work on the fortifications, who were often treated brutally, with little food and shelter, no clothes and dreadful working conditions. Some were worked to their death. 

When Val Nelson, Senior Registrar at Jersey Heritage, pulled out today's object ... it made my skin crawl and my heart break...

50 Objects - No23 from Jersey Heritage Vimeo on Vimeo.

This was Object Number 23 and if you want to listen to Val talking about a couple of other objects which document the lives of the Operation Todt slave workers in Jersey you can also listen to Object 21 - a Russian Toy and Object 22 - Bill's cap.

If you want to listen to today's clip on the BBC Radio Jersey website click on the link below.

BBC Radio Jersey - Ashlea Tracey, 15/11/2019, 50 OBJECTS - the story of Jersey's Occupation and Liberation 1940-1945 told through 50 objects held by Jersey Heritage - Object 23 - 15 November 2019


A Registration Card

All this week I'm turning back the hands of time more than 75 years to the days of Jersey's Occupation.

On Sunday (May 9th) the Channel Islands will celebrate 'Liberation Day' ... that May day in 1945 when five long years of occupation by the enemy finally ended.

If you've followed my blog especially this week, you'll know that the Channel Islands - Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark - were the only places in the British Isles to be invaded and occupied by enemy forces. Increasingly over the years, as we heard yesterday, food and other supplies began to run out, especially after D-Day in June 1944 when the British and their Allies invaded northern France and began the push back against the German enemy.

Although it was a turning point in the war, the Channel Islands were not taken back so that meant they became cut off. That affected not just the residents but also the German forces who were still stationed here.

It was on May 8th 1945 that the Germans finally surrendered and the Second World War came to an end, at least in Europe ... the day is known as Victory in Europe - VE Day  And the next day the Channel Islands was liberated, marking the end of a particularly traumatic period in history.

A year ago, across 2019 and 2020, while I was working for BBC Radio Jersey, I recorded a very special series in partnership with the experts at the Jersey Archive. They selected 50 Objects from the Jersey Heritage collections held at the Archive and the Jersey Museum which tell the story of the Occupation and Liberation years in Jersey. This was not just an interesting exercise for me, but also a great way to help the island celebrate 'Liberation75' in May 2020.

If you listened to the audio yesterday you'll have heard a bit about the way islanders managed to keep their food cupboards stocked through desperate times. It's just one of the objects in the '50 Objects' series which tell the story of the resilience of the population, making do and mending, coping under intense pressure.

Object 27 - Registration CardThe series also included stories of slave workers, transport, children, those who resisted the occupying forces and official and personal letters, diaries and documents. 

Between July 1940, when the Occupation began, and May 9th 1945 - the original Liberation Day - the German occupying forces had to find a way of keeping track of and controlling the island population, and so they implemented a Registration Card system. All adults had to be registered, carry their card and produce it on demand. Not to do so had dire consequences.

But as we discovered when we looked at 'Object 27' in the 50 Objects series, although they had to comply, some islanders managed to use their registration card as a form of passive resistance.

And when Senior Archivist at the Jersey Archive, Stuart Nicolle, picked out a registration card for us to look at, it was personal...

 

50 Objects - No27 from Jersey Heritage Vimeo on Vimeo.

If you want to listen to the feature on the BBC Radio Jersey website please click on the link below. The features were broadcast every week on a Friday morning on the Breakfast Show just after 0830, with repeats. 

Ashlea Tracey - 50 OBJECTS - the story of Jersey's Occupation and Liberation 1940-1945 told through 50 objects held by Jersey Heritage - BBC Sounds - Object 27 - Dec 13 2019

 

 


A Sugar Beet Press

On Sunday (May 9th) here in the Channel Islands  we will celebrate 'Liberation Day'.

It's the day back in 1945 when the islands were liberated after five years of enemy Occupation.

If you know your history, you'll be aware that between 1939 and 1945 the world was at war with the 'Axis' powers headed by Nazi Germany.

By summer 1940 Germany had managed to take large parts of mainland Europe including France, and just a hop across the water Hitler had the Channel Islands in his sights. On July 1st 1940, with no resistance from British forces because the islands had been 'demilitarised', German troops landed in the islands and so began five years of occupation. The islands were the only part of Great Britain to be occupied by enemy forces during the Second World War.

The Occupation of the Channel Islands meant islanders were largely separated from the rest of the world, and certainly England and Great Britain. Under Nazi occupation, islanders were forced to conform, although not all did. Some, including those who resisted the enemy, were sent to internment and work camps in Europe never to return. 

Life was never easy for the islanders but when the Allies re-took France in June 1944 in what has become known as 'D-Day' - landing just across the water from the Channel Islands in Normandy - Jersey and the other islands, and the remaining German troops, were cut off from the main German army and supply routes. 

The final year of Occupation, especially, was dire. But even before food and medical and other supplies became sparse after the connections with the French mainland were cut, islanders had experienced years of rationing and restrictions.

Object 15 sugar beet pressAll this week in my blog I'm dipping into a series I recorded for BBC Radio Jersey and Jersey Heritage. I started recording in spring of 2019 and we ran a feature every week from May/June 2019 right through to and beyond May 9th 2020 when we celebrated Liberation75.  Our focus was 50 Objects held in the collections at the Jersey Archive and the Jersey Museum which tell the story of the Occupation and Liberation of Jersey.

There were documents, official and personal, posters warning people against opposition, toys created for children out of nothingness, tales of how the population entertained themselves, stories of bravery and of day-to-day survival and ingenuity as people made use of anything they could lay their hands on to just keep themselves fed.

And so we come to today's 'object' ... just one of the stories we heard about how islanders found ingenious ways of feeding themselves and their families.

The story is told by Val Nelson, Senior Registrar at Jersey Heritage ... 

50 Objects - No.15 from Jersey Heritage Vimeo on Vimeo.

If you wish to listen to the audio feature on the BBC Radio Jersey website please click on the link below

Ashlea Tracey - 50 OBJECTS - the story of Jersey's Occupation and Liberation 1940-1945 told through 50 objects held by Jersey Heritage - BBC Sounds - Object 15 - 20 September 2019


An Unused Ticket

This week, in the run up to the celebration of Liberation Day in the Channel Islands I'm dipping into a fascinating series I recorded for radio which ran across 2019 into 2020 and told the story of the Occupation and Liberation of Jersey through 50 Objects held in the Jersey Heritage collections.

The series culminated around May 9th 2020 when we marked the 75th anniversary of the Liberation ... it was part of BBC Radio Jersey's contribution to Liberation75.

Yesterday I explained that on July1st 1940 Jersey and the other Channel Islands including Guernsey, Alderney and Sark were invaded by the German Nazi forces - Hitler thought it would be the next step to invading Great Britain.

The invasion came at the end of a turbulent few weeks when, by June 20th,  any remaining British forces were withdrawn from the islands, so leaving an 'open door' for the enemy to invade.

On June 28th, being unaware that the islands were undefended, there was a German bombing raid on Guernsey and Jersey in which 44 islanders were killed  - nine in Jersey and the remaining poor souls in Guernsey. The BBC broadcast a belated message that the islands had been declared "open towns" and later in the day reported the German bombing of the Channel Islands.

Some islanders, especially those with means and those with family members living in mainland Great Britain had already decided to leave but during those last weeks of freedom, as occupation became inevitable, many decided that they could not stay in their island home.

By June 21st it had become clear to the government of Guernsey that it would be impossible to evacuate everyone who wanted to leave, so priority was given to special categories in the time remaining. In total, 5,000 school children and 12,000 adults out of the resident population of 42,000 were evacuated - a third of the islanders left. In Jersey, 23,000 civilians registered to leave but consistently the government encouraged people to stay and in the end only 6,600 out of the 50,000 population left on evacuation ships ahead of the invasion and the start of the five year long Occupation.

And so to today's story from my series '50 Objects' recorded for BBC Radio Jersey in 2019/2020.

Object 5 - an unused ticketEach of the objects, from the collections at the Jersey Archive and Jersey Museum, were selected by the archivists and experts at the Archive. It was a real joy to work with them over the year and to learn so much about this crucial period of Jersey's history.

The most interesting thing is that many of the items selected to tell the story of the Occupation and Liberation appear on the surface completely inconsequential.

Like Object Number 5 - a boat ticket ....

Linda Romeril, the Head of Archives and Collections at Jersey Heritage,  picks up the story of the Unused Ticket

50 Objects - No.5 from Jersey Heritage Vimeo on Vimeo.

If you want to listen to this on the BBC Radio Jersey website - click on the link below

James Hand - 50 OBJECTS - the story of Jersey's Occupation and Liberation 1940-1945 told through 50 objects held by Jersey Heritage - BBC Sounds - Object 5 - 12 July 2019


A Little Brown Envelope

This is a lovely time of year in Jersey in the Channel Islands - it's where I call home.

It's a time when colours are bright and the sunshine is beginning to warm us all up.

And it's also an important time, historically.

So much so that I'm going to do something a little different this week for my 'One Day at a Time' blog.

Let me explain.

On Sunday this coming weekend it's May 9th, a very important day in the calendar for Jersey, Guernsey and a couple of the other Channel Islands.

It's 'Liberation Day'!

If you're not already aware, during the Second World War (1939-1945) the islands were invaded and occupied by German Nazi forces - the Channel Islands were actually the only parts of the British Isles to be occupied by the enemy. 

The Occupation began on July 1st 1940 but it was the culmination of months of anticipation.

If you know your history you'll know that war in Europe broke out on September 1st 1939, beginning with the German invasion of Poland. The United Kingdom and France declared war on Germany two days later. The conflict would, of course, ultimately become global, but first Hitler was intent on taking over the whole of Europe.

After a period known as the 'Phoney War', eight months at the start of the war when relatively little happened in the way of conflict but during which Germany laid its plans, Nazi troops began to flood across the continent and gradually encroached on France. On May 10, 1940, they  invaded the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium in a 'blitzkrieg' (German for “lightning war”) and then their sights were set on France.

By the end of May 1940 many thousands of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and other Allied troops were cornered in or near a small coastal town in the top most northern point of France near to the border with Belgium, and between May 26th and June 4th 1940 during what has become known as the Battle of Dunkirk (Dunkerque)  an estimated 338,000 Allied forces were evacuated from Dunkirk, across the English Channel to England, as German forces closed in on them. The massive operation, involving hundreds of naval and civilian vessels, became known as the “Miracle of Dunkirk”.

On June 22nd 1940 France surrendered, or at least agreed to an Armistice with German forces and that came into effect after midnight on June 25th.

Now, if you're not aware, Jersey and the Channel Islands is actually VERY close to France. The islands sit in the Bay of St Malo, and Jersey is the nearest to the French mainland - just 14 miles (or 22 km) away. On a good day from Jersey's East Coast we can see not just the French coast, but even houses and wind turbines on the French side of the small channel which separates us. 

For Hitler, taking the Channel Islands was a big deal. First, it was really close to France and now his army had the mainland, it wasn't much of a stretch to get to the Channel Islands.

But second, taking Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney and Sark would be a PR coup and, he hoped, strike fear into the hearts of the British people and their government in London, headed up by Winston Churchill.

Remember, this was all when Hitler was in the ascendant, he seemed 'unstoppable' as he raced through Europe and was now almost in waving distance of the British mainland from northern France and the Low Countries. It's reckoned he thought invading the Channel Islands would be a signal that he was on his way!

Certainly when the islands were occupied on July 1st 1940 the Nazis took advantage of the situation, releasing film and photographs of the Nazi flag flying from government buildings, pictures of a British policeman opening a car door for a German officer.

The truth is, the Occupation of the Channel Islands was not the step into mainland Britain, and there was no battle because the islands had been demilitarised. 

In May 2019 while working at BBC Radio Jersey I began a fascinating project in partnership with the Jersey Archive, part of Jersey Heritage, in which the experts there selected 50 objects from the collections in the Archives and the Jersey Museum through which we told the story of the Occupation and Liberation of Jersey.

The series ran from May/June 2019 through to June 2020 and we produced 50 short features each one focussing on one object from the collections that tell us a specific story about that part of our history.

The features ran every Friday morning just after 0830 on the BBC Radio Jersey Breakfast Show. I loved doing this series and I learnt so much. Each of the features is on the BBC Radio Jersey website under 'Breakfast' or various presenters, but Jersey Heritage/Archive also placed each feature on Vimeo - the whole series is there!

So, all this week I'm going to bring you one of the objects as we make our way towards Liberation Day on Sunday May 9th. Yes, we received our freedom from occupation the day AFTER Victory in Europe (VE) Day on May 8th.

This year we celebrate 76 years of Liberation ... the series was made to mark the landmark Liberation75!

So let's begin with Object Number 1 ... and an inconsequential note on the back of a little brown envelope.

Object 1 ... little brown envelopeLet's go back to the spring and early summer of 1940, and for weeks there had been rumours and fears that the Germans were on their way. Jersey's government and the islanders looked across the water, listened intently to the BBC news and were aware of Hitler's surge across Europe. 

There were questions here and in London -  would the island be defended, or left to it's own devices? What would happen if the Nazis did make it across the stretch of water from France? Would there be street battles? Bombings? 

Some people had already decided to leave their island home, but others waited to see whether occupation could be avoided.

There was much speculation and uncertainty, but on June 19th 1940 the States of Jersey, the island's government, was eventually made aware of what the British Government were planning.

The information which sealed the island's fate is contained in a simple note on the back of an envelope, scribbled down by the Lieutenant Governor of the time (the Queen's representative in the island) during a telephone conversation with London.

It confirmed that the British Government had decided NOT to keep troops based in the Channel Islands. The islands were to be 'demilitarised' ... effectively opening the door for the German Nazi troops to invade in their own time.

As Stuart Nicolle, Senior Archivist at the Jersey Archive explains, it's a little note which changed the course of Jersey history ...

50 Objects - No.1 from Jersey Heritage Vimeo on Vimeo.


If you want to listen to this on the BBC Radio Jersey website - click on the link below

James Hand - 50 OBJECTS - the story of Jersey's Occupation and Liberation 1940-1945 told through 50 objects held by Jersey Heritage - BBC Sounds- Object 1 - May 9th 2019