John & Susan Simpson
Tue 11 May 2021 20:23
|The number of homes sporting bunting and flags on Jersey this month is quite striking. Everywhere we go Union Jacks and Jersey flags flutter. Maybe Channel Islanders are just very patriotic, we thought? Then we realised that 9th May is a very significant date in the Island’s calendar - Liberation Day. In 1945, HMS Beagle sailed from Plymouth and arrived in Jersey to accept the surrender of the German forces occupying the Island. Two naval officers were met by the St Helier Harbour Master and went with him to his office where they raised the Union Jack on the building. They also raised the flag on the Pomme d’Or Hotel just across the road from where we're moored and that action is repeated every year to mark the occasion. Due to coronavirus this year’s official celebrations were online so it probably wasn’t a typical year but we saw plenty of people marking the day. A cavalcade of vintage vehicles drove past and we stood and watched for ages, surprised at the sheer number of beautiful vehicles in a relatively small geographical area.
We also saw two groups of Bikers gathering to drive in convoy around the Island, all kitted out with flags and Union Jack clothing. They stood about chatting whilst they waited for everyone to assemble and we were amused to see there was no fraternisation between the groups - one entirely female and the other not! The female group had the most amazing collection of motorbikes, including a beautiful Harley-Davidson that John eyed admiringly. I think he was smitten!
Our plan for Liberation Day was to go to the beach for John’s first outing on his Wing Foil Board since we arrived in Jersey. This is a new sailing form which he started late last summer but never really had the time to perfect his technique. We had a few outings with the kit to Poole and Southampton in the autumn but there comes a time in the UK when it is just too cold to be doing watersports when falling in is part of the learning process. We were hopeful that the weather and sea would be warmer here, we just had to pick the right time and place to get started again. One of the features of the Channel Islands is the tide, as I’ve mentioned before. In St Helier the height of tide varies up to 11.5 metres (30+ feet!), and as the beach in the bay is gently shelving this means a very, very long walk to the sea when it’s low tide. We were also keen that the wind should be blowing enough and in a direction that would bring him back to the beach if things didn’t go according to plan. So there were a number of factors to get right: enough water, enough wind, wind from the right direction, and a means of moving the kit a couple of miles to the beach without a car! We managed the latter, having packed everything into two very large kitbags and using John’s electric scooter and my folding bike.
Whilst we were very pleased to have arrived, there was quite a surf throughout the bay and the conditions weren’t right so we trundled back to the boat again, looking very much like two large black snails slinking back into the shade on a sunny day!
St Aubin is a pretty little village and harbour at the other end of the bay West of St Helier. I’d been saying to John that it would be great to walk from St Helier to St Aubin across the sand at low tide. It’s about four miles along the promenade and walking direct across the sands to cut the distance was quite appealing. You don’t see many people walking close to the sea’s edge at low tide and we discovered why. The waves might have receded but the water is still there, albeit only about two centimetres deep. We were reminded of Moses parting the Red Sea and hoped he managed to keep his feet drier than we did!
As we approached St Aubin we realised that we were in the unusual position of being able to approach the harbour from the sea on foot. The channel was clearly marked....
…so we did the right thing and stuck to the nautical rules. Here’s John perfectly positioned for entering the harbour, leaving the red buoy to port - the green buoy is out of the picture, to starboard.
The water depth marker at the harbour entrance must be set to allow a little leeway. The last time I looked, I wasn’t 2.2 metres tall!
We had a lovely lunch in St Aubin, eavesdropping the locals’ Liberation Day conversations. There was one story we overheard about an old lady on Sark who said to the Germans when they arrived that they could stay but she would be the one giving the orders to local people. We were sceptical about that one but it appears to have some basis in truth. Dame Sibyl Hathaway was Dame of Sark from 1927 until 1974. She learned German whilst working with the British Army of the Rhine in the occupied zone of Germany after WW1. When the German army landed on Sark in 1940, German officers were escorted to a meeting with Dame Sibyl at her house and even signed her visitors book as they left after lunch. She remained a powerful force on the Island despite the occupation and on 10th May 1945 (Sark’s Liberation Day is a day later than Jersey and Guernsey) she accepted the request of the British army to be left in charge of the 275 German troops on the Island until British troops could be spared to take over. She was in command until 17th May and during that time insisted that the German forces ‘clean up the mess you've made' and they removed 13,000 land mines before they left. Alderney’s Liberation Day is 16th May so it looks as though the British forces left Sark to Dame Sibyl until everywhere else was sorted, quite a force to be reckoned with!
We pondered how it must have felt for the Islanders under occupation and how they must have felt when they were released. Although we’re familiar with VE Day at home, these small, fiercely independent Islands had a very different experience during WW2 and we could understand why Liberation Day means so much to them.