heritage

All Shall be Well

There's a great quote which has over the years given me great comfort, especially during difficult times and periods of 'trial' in my life.

Julian of norwich quote May 13

The quote, as you may see. is attributed to a Christian mystic and theologian called Julian of Norwich and it wasn't until I actually moved to the 'Fair City' of Norwich in the county of Norfolk in England that I took the time to find out more about her.

Julian lived in the 14th century and resided for most of her life in the city, which has a history as a commercial centre as well as a place with a vibrant religious life. 

So the story goes, it was when Julian - possibly not her real name although we don't really know much about her - was aged around 32 when she became seriously ill. It was the year 1373 and on her deathbed when she received a series of visions of Jesus, or what was described as "shewings" of the Passion of Christ - visions relating to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

And actually it's on May 13th in 1373 that it's reckoned she received those visions which is why I'm thinking about this especially today.

Miraculously Julian recovered and wrote two versions of her experiences, one which we think was completed very soon after her illness and another written years later. The book was entitled Revelations of Divine Love. It contains a series of Christian devotions and thoughts.

Although she was probably religious before all this, it's thought the experiences eventually led Julian to become what is called an 'anchorite', or 'anchoress' living in permanent seclusion in a cell which was attached to a chapel known as St Julian's Church, Norwich.

Julian was not unique in her Christian calling and not the only person who chose this lifestyle. The anchorite was and is someone who withdraws from secular society to devote their life to intense prayer and the ascetic lifestyle where they choose a frugal life without possessions and 'sensual pleasures' in favour of spiritual pursuit and enlightenment. 

This choice to separate from ordinary life is not just a Christian concept, we find it in many religions but in the case of Julian and other Christians, becoming an anchorite ... a kind of hermit who stays one place ... was about a focus on the Christian Eucharist as well as prayer and devotion. Often these people became considered a kind of living saint. The earliest anchorites are recorded in the 11th century but by the 13th century when Julian was living, it's reckoned there could have been as many as 200 anchorites in England alone. The anchoritic life is considered to be one of the earliest forms of Christian monasticism and in fact some still exist today ... in the Roman Catholic Church it's described as one of the "Other Forms of Consecrated Life".

Regardless of the fact that she was separate from society, Julian did make an impact. Although she apparently preferred to write anonymously even in her own lifetime she was influential. There are surviving records of four wills in which she was named and there's an account by another celebrated mystic called Margery Kempe who writes about the advice and counsel she received from Julian.

While Julian remained separate, her 'anchorage' was attached to the side of the chapel so she was still able to play a part in the life of the church - she could receive communion and hear Mass. By the time she died, sometime after 1416, she had been in her cell for about 25 years!  

Although little known outside of Norwich and East Anglia in her lifetime and for many centuries,  Julian of Norwich's Revelations, including her second 'Long Text' in which she revealed a few personal details as well, have fortunately been handed down to this generation.  In the 17th century she became popular and loads of people translated her work. She did disappear from view for a while in the mid to late 19th century but was 're-discovered' in 1901 when a manuscript in the British Museum was transcribed and published with notes by an editor and translator called Grace Warrack.

Since then many more translations of Revelations of Divine Love  (which is also known under other titles) have been produced and Julian is now very popular. Her spirituality and thoughts and reflections appear to ring true with 21st century seekers after truth.   

Since 1980, Julian has been remembered in the Calendar of Saints in the Church of England with a Lesser Festival on May 8th, and she is also commemorated on that day in the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in the USA. While she has not been formally beatified or canonised in the Roman Catholic Church,  she is venerated by Catholics as a holy woman of God, and is sometimes referred to as "Saint", "Blessed", or "Mother" Julian.. In the Roman Catholic tradition her feast day is today - May 13th. And if you visit the magnificent Anglican cathedral in Norwich, at the West Porch you'll find a statue of Julian created by the local sculptor David Holgate and commissioned to commemorate the new millennium. 

There are many quotes from Julian of Norwich from her Revelations that have made it online but I still love this one more than others. 

Julian chose a hard, prayerful and thoughtful life but she was still a human being, a woman, and it must have been tough at times. Detached from the world, sitting in a cold cell in the perishing Norfolk winter and sweltering in the summer. Not following her own will, but that of God. 

Although I'm sure her resolve and faith were strong, she maybe at times did feel isolated and perhaps even, occasionally, wondered if she was spending her life usefully.

Most of us can recognise and perhaps empathise with those emotions.

So today I imagine Julian receiving this message and finding the comfort and peace and courage to move forward in life.

"In my folly, afore this time often I wondered why by the great foreseeing wisdom of God the beginning of sin was not letted: for then, methought, all should have been well. This stirring was much to be forsaken, but nevertheless mourning and sorrow I made therefor, without reason and discretion. But Jesus, who in this Vision informed me of all that is needful to me, answered by this word and said: It behoved that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well." (The Thirteenth Revelation, Chapter 27)

 


A Voice from the Past

Happy Liberation Day!

If you live in or hail from the Channel Islands you'll know why I'm greeting you like this today.

Here in the islands, May 9th is a day for celebration and commemoration every year and has been since 1945, the day that Jersey and the other Channel Islands gained their freedom after nearly five long years of Occupation by German Nazi forces during what we now call 'the Second World War'.

Usually, when we aren't living under Covid19 pandemic restrictions, it's a day packed full of events including luncheons for people who lived through the war years, parades and fun, as well as commemorations and thanksgiving including special church services.

Last year was the 75th anniversary of the Liberation - Liberation75 - and all the commemorations had to be online or virtual.

Object 50 - Welcome Home JsyHeritage copyrightThis year it's a little more relaxed, although there are none of the usual large gatherings planned. For instance, there will be no re-enactment of the Liberation of Jersey on May 9th 1945, that moment when British troops came ashore at the harbour in St Helier, marched the short distance to what is now called 'Liberation Square' and were welcomed by thousands of islanders who saw the British Union Jack raised on the Pomme d'Or Hotel. After five years of the Nazi Swastika flag on local flagpoles, that must have been an incredible moment.

For the residents of Jersey who had lived through nearly five years of Occupation, since German Nazi forces invaded the island on July 1st 1940, this was a moment to be not just celebrated but cherished and remembered. Annual events keep the Occupation in the mind of Jersey residents, children learn about the period not just through their families but also at school. As those who lived through the era gradually leave us, their legacy is ensured by the annual commemorations and the guardians of our history.

In 2019 and 2020 I worked with the experts at Jersey Heritage to create a radio series which would tell the story of the Occupation and Liberation of Jersey through 50 Objects which are held in the collections at the Jersey Archive and the Jersey Museum. The series was broadcast on BBC Radio Jersey on the Friday morning Breakfast Show on May 9th 2019 and then every week from the end of June that year up to and beyond Liberation75 on May 9th in 2020. This was part of our contribution to Liberation75, and I was privileged to learn that it became part of the official online commemorations.

During the making of the series we looked at documents, official and personal, diaries, posters, registration cards, items which told how the islanders lived under increasingly difficult conditions, made do with what they could lay their hands on to put food on the table and survived the deprivations of Occupation. We heard how children grew up in that period, how they played and how adults kept themselves busy, including having fun in local amateur dramatic productions. We explored transport and medicine and all the shortages which gradually began to show themselves as the war progressed, as Germany began to lose ground and headed towards ultimate defeat.

Our 50 stories included Jews who lived in fear and secret and we heard about those individuals who resisted the enemy forces and those, including families of English origin, who were sent to work and internment camps in Europe, some never to return. We also heard about those who collaborated with the enemy, and we heard the harrowing stories of slave workers who built massive fortifications as the Nazis under Hitler desperately hung on to the islands. We even heard the tales of some of the Germans who were based here and how they lived.

SO many stories, all wrapped up in objects and documents held in trust by Jersey Heritage. It was fascinating and I learned so much about that period of history in my home island. I developed a new appreciation for the resilience of the Jersey people, including members of my own family who lived through the Occupation years. 

As I said, our 50 Objects series didn't end on May 9th 2020 because, actually, Liberation wasn't done and dusted on that day. It was just the start of a period of readjustment for those who had lived through the days when they were imprisoned and controlled by the enemy within the confines of this small island.

And for some 'liberation' would come later. Guernsey was also liberated on May 9th 1945, Sark on May 10th but in Alderney, the most northern of  the Channel Islands from where pretty much the whole population had been evacuated in June/July 1940, their 'Homecoming' would not be until December 1945. Alderney residents had to wait until the end of the year before they could return, mostly because their whole island had become one big German defence base and after May 9th 35,000 mines had to be removed, with some casualties, before the population could safely return. Homecoming in Alderney is now annually celebrated every December 15th!

For many thousands of Channel Islanders who had left their homes before the Germans invaded in 1940, there was a gradual return after May 1945. 

The evacuation of civilians from the Channel Islands in 1940 had, as I just said, seen the evacuation of virtually the entire population of Alderney ( 1,500 people). In Guernsey around one third of the population left the island in the run up to July 1st 1940 when the Occupation began. That was around 5,000 school children and 12,000 adults out of the resident population at the time of 42,000. In Jersey, although 23,000 civilians registered to leave, the majority of islanders followed the advice of their island government and remained. Only 6,600 Jersey residents out of 50,000 left on the evacuation ships in summer 1940, just before Occupation.

For some islanders, of course, the move away would be permanent. Although they were 'evacuees' many settled well in various locations in England and other parts of the UK. Some got jobs, got married, had children. And they would not return. 

But once the war was over - VE (Victory in Europe) Day was May 8th and Liberation was the following day - islanders scattered across Great Britain started to think about and plan their homecoming.

This week in my blog I decided to dip into my 50 Objects series ... I hope you've enjoyed listening to some of the stories. Just seven, and there are 43 more if you feel you'd like to go to the Jersey Heritage pages on Vimeo.

And so today I turn to the final feature in the series - Object 50 - which isn't actually an 'object' at all.  

It's a voice, a voice from the past, the voice of one of those returning evacuees.

Nelley Lebredonchel (née Hotton) was a child when she was evacuated and when she returned with her family. By all accounts she was quite a character, as Senior Archivist at the Jersey Archive Stuart Nicolle discovered when he interviewed her for the 60th anniversary of Liberation. She and her parents and siblings spent the war years in the north of England, as many islanders did, and they returned to Jersey and the family here in September 1945 just a few months after the original 'Liberation Day'.

Her story and her voice is now part of the Archives ... and it was to Nelley that Stuart turned for our final feature...

50 Objects - No50 from Jersey Heritage Vimeo on Vimeo.

If you want to listen to this audio feature on the BBC Jersey website click on the link below

Breakfast on BBC Radio Jersey - 50 OBJECTS - the story of Jersey's Occupation and Liberation 1940-1945 told through 50 objects held by Jersey Heritage - BBC Sounds - Object 50 - May 22nd 2020

*image copyright Jersey Heritage


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


Happy St George's Day!

Today is St George's Day!

St George is the Patron Saint on England and so, actually, today could be considered the country's 'national day', except for a lot of people it will just pass them by. Some do 'celebrate' but it's not great partying like, for instance, St Patrick's Day in Ireland. 

Flag of st georgeToday, though, the flags will be out boldly displaying the red cross of St George which has been an emblem of England since the late Middle Ages. Of course, it's also part of the Union Jack which brings together emblems from all the British nations which were designed in when that flag was created in around the year 1606.  

But the story of St George goes back a lot further than that.

Down the centuries we've heard the story of George and the Dragon.  St George slayed ... well, a dragon. That's how he became famous. Right?

Well no  ... sorry to burst your bubble ... but it's a bit of legend!

We actually know little about George, the real man. Tradition says he was born around the year 280AD in a place called Cappadocia, an area that is now part of Turkey. He was born into a Christian family and George followed his father's profession and became a soldier in the Roman army.

He rose in the ranks to eventually become a member of the elite Praetorian Guard.  This was a highly esteemed unit of the Imperial Roman Army whose members served as personal bodyguards and intelligence for Roman emperors. George served under the Emperor Diocletian.

Over a couple of centuries since the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Christian faith had grown and although persecuted especially in the very early days, believers had begun to gain some legal rights. But during the reign of Diocletian and other emperors who served concurrently and around the same time  -  MaximianGalerius, and Constantius - a series of edicts were issued which rescinded those rights. This Diocletian Persecution has gone down in history as one of the most severe periods of oppression. One of the central features was that Christians were forced to comply with Roman, pagan, religious practices, including sacrificing to the Roman gods, and it was death for those who refused.

George was among the leading Christians who protested this persecution of his people and he did refuse to deny his faith, so Emperor Diocletian ordered his execution. He was was to death, allegedly beheaded, around April 23 in the year 303 AD, in Palestine, in a place called Lydda, now the town of Lod in Israel. His bones are buried in his tomb in the Church of Saint George, in Lod.

George was first written about a couple of decades later, around 322 by the historian Eusebius of Caesarea, and over the following centuries he became of of the most venerated saints and martyrs in Christianity. His story apparently made it to England in the early 700s and he was made patron saint of England in the year 1098, after soldiers at the Battle of Antioch claimed they saw him and he came to their aid. That battle was one of the early conflicts in what became known as the 'Crusades'  - a period of nearly 200 years when the medieval Christians fought Muslim rulers for control of what we now know as the Holy Land.

To mark his life, Saint George's Day is traditionally celebrated on 23 April, but it's interesting to note that it's not just in England that he's venerated. He's also the patron saint of Ethiopia, the country of Georgia, Catalonia and Aragon in Spain, the city of Moscow in Russia, and in several other states, regions, cities, universities, professions and organizations. 

And what about that dragon story?

Well the legend of Saint George and the Dragon was first recorded in the 11th century. It reached Catholic Europe by the 12th century. And one version goes something like this. 

A fierce dragon was causing panic at the city of Silene in Libya, and every day the people gave two sheep to the dragon to stop the creature killing the whole population. But when the sheep were not enough, or ran out, they turned to human sacrifice to satisfy the demands of that dragon. The person to be sacrificed was chosen by the people themselves, and eventually the king's daughter was selected. The monarch hoped someone else would step forward, but no one was prepared to stand in the place of the princess. 

Brave George was in the city and he saved the girl by slaying the dragon with a lance. The king was so grateful that he offered him treasures as a reward for saving his daughter's life, but George refused the gifts and instead he gave it all to the poor. People were so amazed by his bravery and kindness that many of them converted and became Christians.

It's a story which takes several forms and is actually attributed to different people and saints across time, including in the pre-Christian era. It's a legend known in many parts of the world and is familiar as being part of folklore called the Golden Legend. By the 15th century it was a popular story in England, thanks to a translation by William Caxton.  Among other things Caxton was a writer, He's credited with introducing the printing press into England in 1476 and he became the first person to sell printed books.

But was it true?

Well, maybe, but only if you believe in dragons...!

However, in Medieval England the tale of an heroic Christian soldier coming to the rescue of a beautiful princess suited the whole idea of courtly love, chivalry and the creation of social order. Think the mythical legends of King Arthur and his knights. It's similar stuff. 

There are, of course, many notions and theories of what it all means but the one I like is that the tale of George and the Dragon epitomises the enduring story of the fight between Good and Evil, Light and Darkness.

Fables such as these go back many many thousands of years and can be found in numerous ancient cultures. Many of our relatively modern 'fairy' tales often contain these deeply moral and philosophical lessons.

The legend may also have more of a solid foundation in the Christian faith which the  real George followed. The story may also reflect his fight against the evil of the persecution of early Christians and the execution and martyrdom of faithful ones like George himself, and the power of Jesus Christ to overcome evil and death.

Whatever the case, it's a great story.

So - Happy St George's Day!

 


A Musical Experience

If you're a person who sings, and sings seriously - I'm thinking about choirs and the like, including in church - you MAY know the piece of music I'm talking about today.

It's not easy to sing - I know, because I've tried it once or twice and it was beyond me.

But it's a glorious piece, actually more of an experience I would say, rather than just a 'sing'

And it was on this day - April 13th - in 1742 that Handel's 'Messiah' was first performed in Dublin!

George Frideric Handel was a German born composer who had trained and worked in Germany and Italy before moving to England in 1712. His reputation was built on compositions of Italian opera but as public tastes began to change, he adapted. In 1727 Handel became a naturalised British subject and by the 1730s he began producing English oratorios.

Hallelujah chorus sheet musicResearch tells me that Messiah was actually Handel's sixth oratorio in English and although it apparently had a rather low key debut, it was immediately popular. About a year after the Irish first night, Messiah was premiered in London, a gala performance attended by royalty. And apparently King George was so moved by the rendition of the “Hallelujah Chorus” that he rose from his seat. The audience also took to their feet and for the past 270-plus years, audiences have continued to do the same. Over the centuries it has become one of the best known, most popular and most frequently performed choral works in Western music.

But what I didn't realise until I started researching was that it was written at a time when Handel's health and reputation was failing. He was an opera man and that genre had begun to become less popular. He felt his work had become rather jaded and he was struggling, but he was a deeply religious man and he turned to the Bible for inspiration. And that's when he was re-energised and he started to produce some amazing works!

Messiah is all about life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ - the 'Messiah' being the saviour of humankind who is first mentioned in ancient Jewish scripture. Christians believe Jesus is the 'Messiah'.

Handel was so inspired that he apparently finished Part I of the piece (the birth of the Messiah and the Old Testament prophecies) in only six days. He composed Part II (the passion, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus) in nine days. Part III ( which charts the promise of redemption, the day of judgement and the resurrection which ends with the final victory over death for all those who believe) was completed in just six days. The orchestration took Handel only a few days more which means that in total, the whole composition took less than 25 days. Astonishing!

Handel's music is set to words compiled by Charles Jennens who drew from the King James Bible, and from the Coverdale Psalter, the version of the Psalms included with the Book of Common Prayer.  The 'libretto' is apparently not designed to dramatise the life and teachings of Jesus, but to acclaim the "Mystery of Godliness", and anyone who has sung or heard Messiah will be aware not just of the wonderful music but also of the spiritual impact it can have on a soul!

Handel continued to write religious music and to perform until, at the age of  74, he collapsed while conducting a performance of Messiah. At that time, as he was laid in bed he allegedly said  “I should like to die on Good Friday.” 

That wasn't to be, although he did die on a Holy Saturday -  April 14th, 1759. That anniversary is tomorrow! Handel’s grave is in Westminster Abbey in London and it's marked by a statue of him with a score of Messiah opened on the table. The page that is visible is, “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth.” 

But today I'm going to share perhaps the most familiar piece of music from Messiah and it's the piece that brought a king to his feet. And it's still attracting crowds ... as this 'flash mob' by the Jacksonville Symphony Chorus in the USA proves.

I love this and as I watch it I wonder if all those singing are actually members of the Chorus, or whether because the piece is so well known some people just started singing along?

I think Handel would have loved it.

Enjoy!