Liberation in the Channel Isles

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This year, the Channel Islands, the only part of the British Isles that was captured by the Germans during WWII, celebrates its liberation.

From 3rd April – 11th May, 2015, the Channel Islands Heritage Festival is held which normally means that coastal castles will be brought to life, doors will be unlocked on wartime bunkers and historic towers. But in 2015, the islands will proudly hang the flags out for Liberation Day. The Heritage Festival will reach a climax on 9th May when there will be a day-long carnival which remembers and celebrates the islands’ freedom from German occupation.

Many events will be held at heritage sites around the Channel Islands from Liberation Celebrations at the Jersey War Tunnelsto a re-enactment of what life was like in wartime Guernsey at St Peter Port’s Castle Cornet. Special commemorative events will also take place in the bailiwick isles of Alderney, Sark and Herm, who each have their own story to tell.

Each island still displays many visible signs of Germany’s five-year military occupation in the form of fortifications and bunkers across the coastline, as well as underground tunnels and hospitals. The Channel Islands’ past is woven into its present and its heritage is just one of its many outstanding features – making them a perfect destination for visitors of all ages, passions and pursuits. Key events of the Channel Islands Heritage Festival include:

For the first time, the ‘Secret Tunnels’ in Guernsey’s 13th century Castle Cornet will open to the public. The tunnels have a rich and varied history including being used as Georgian bomb proof casemates (fortified gun emplacements), bunkers modified by German Occupying forces during the World War II and during the Cold War in the 1980’s by the Ministry of Defence. A number of guides will be giving 15 minute guided tours of the tunnels over the Easter weekend.

Throughout the Heritage Festival there will be regular kayaking tours along Guernsey’s south coast, following the route taken by Guernsey man Lieutenant Hubert Nicolle.  In 1940, Nicolle was instructed by Churchill to find out what was happening in German occupied Guernsey. Nicolle scoured the Guernsey coastline by canoe plotting the German defences and reporting back to UK forces. For the first time, visitors will follow Nicolle’s exploits and hear how his daring mission helped Churchill back in Westminster.

Jersey War Tunnels

Jersey War Tunnels

The Jersey War Tunnels are a network of tunnels over 1km in length that were dug deep into the hillside by forced and slave workers from nations across Europe. Starting on May Day with a Vintage Fair, there will also be talks by occupation veterans and wartime cooking demonstrations during the week, as well as other special events.

From the 8th until the 11th of May there will be the the Liberation Day festivities with special events and activities packed with food, music, dancing and nostalgic entertainment of the wartime era. On Liberation Day itself, May 9th, Royal Court, Clergy and States Members take part in a Service of Thanksgiving and Commemoration. This includes a re-enactment of the act of liberation, the arrival of the Liberating Forces and the successive flying of flags. Enjoy community singing, a uniformed march-past and a drive-past by old civilian and military motor vehicles. The commemoration is followed by a huge street party

On the 9th May the Music Festival will open with the Berlin Philharmonic Octet in a concert at the Jersey Opera House, with letters and tales from the occupation narrated by John Nettles. Remember him from Bergerac? It is still being shown on afternoon television) There follows seven days of  classical music and the arts The festival closes on Sunday. the 17th of May with Jazz at Hamptonne Country Inn featuring Jazz Singer of the Year, Clare Teal. The theme carried through the festival will be reconciliation, with concerts reflecting the different nationalities who took part in the struggle.

Castle Cornet

Castle Cornet

As Liberation Day 2015 marks the 70th anniversary of Guernsey’s liberation from German forces, there will be an extra jam-packed programme of events. Events include the 70th Liberation calvalcade, the largest in recent years with over 100 military vehicles (1940-1945) joined by period classic cars from Guernsey’s Old Car Club and an outdoor cinema located in Market Square in the capital St. Peter Port that will show a series of films from 1940-1945.

I spoke to one 90 year old islander who vividly remembers the first time she saw the occupying Germans and then saw their leaving in 1945. She doesn’t talk much about the time that they were there but her eyes light up when she re-tells stories from Liberation day in 1945. That same spirit will be for all to see if you are lucky enough to holiday in the Channel Isles in May this year.

For more information about the Channel Islands, click here.

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