Posted by: Naomi Baltuck | October 18, 2013

Island Time

Little pockets of Britain, such as Gibraltar, can be found in the most unexpected places.

You will know them by their breakfasts.

Their mailboxes…

Their unique signage…

And their excellent thrift stores…

…which are staffed by the friendliest most helpful people, like Thelma and Kathy with a ‘K’.

In Britain, thrift shops are centrally located, often on the high street, each dedicated to a worthy cause: for the poor, cancer research, head injuries, or mental illness.  Thelma and Kathy, Hospice Shop volunteers, saw us trying on Queen Mum hats and took it upon themselves to outfit us.  Each time Kathy handed a new outfit into the fitting room, she said,  “My talents are wasted in the office!”  And we had to agree.

Our Channel Island adventure actually began with last month’s trip to Belgium.  My sister Constance and I had both enjoyed reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.  While we were on that side of The Pond, we decided to visit at least one of the Channel Islands.

Jersey Island is home to the famous Jersey Cow…

…home to the famous Jersey Royal Potato…

…and home to author Roy McCarthy, who has written several books set on Jersey.  He is an expert on Jersey history, a blogging buddy of mine, and he offered to show us around.  Who wouldn’t pick Jersey?

But first, you may ask, how does Jersey, which is spitting distance from France, come to be so very English?

Back in 1066, after William the Duke of Normandy conquered England he changed his name to William the Conqueror and expanded his job description to include ‘King of England.’

The Channel Islands were a possession of Normandy long before England was, and remained so until 1214, when King John of England (aptly nicknamed ‘John Lackland’) lost Normandy to France.  The islanders picked up their marbles, cast their lot with England rather than France, and were rewarded for their loyalty with privileges other English possessions did not enjoy.  To this day they are “bailiwicks’ of England, possessions of the crown, but separate from Britain, with their own financial, legal, and judicial systems.  This, BTW, is why financial business is Jersey’s main industry, and the per capita income is much higher than in most countries.  And why, Thelma explained, the thrift stores have such great merchandise.  They can afford to wear it once to a wedding and give it away!

Roy started our tour here.  On June 28th, 1940, the Nazis preceded their occupation of the Channel Islands by bombing this harbor.  He showed us bullet holes in the stone wall from machine gun strafing and, sadly, a memorial to the dead.

Signs of the German occupation remain all over the island.  It was one of the most fortified German holdings in Europe, far out of proportion to its strategic value.  Hitler, disappointed at his failure to conquer England, took particular satisfaction in occupying the Channel Islands, and he meant to keep them at all costs.

The Jersey War Tunnels are a huge complex of underground tunnels built by the Germans during the occupation, using slave labor.  The Germans maintained a hospital there for wounded German soldiers.

The tunnels, like the history, seem to go on and on forever.  The museum established in the tunnels echoes with footsteps and voices from the past.

They pull no punches, telling both the good and the bad that occurred on the island.

At first there were only a few hundred Germans, who were told to keep relations with the natives civil.  Being stationed on Jersey was like a picnic to the Germans, with merchandise on the shop shelves to send home to their families, no bullets or bombs to dodge, and little resistance.

Below are just two of the museum mannequins that came to life and spoke in English with German accents, trying to engage us as they might have done to islanders in 1940.  He was the enemy, the occupying army, and had the power of life and death over you, and then there were the stories of Nazi brutality that had preceded the soldiers.  With all that in mind, would you respond to a German soldier if he shouted a cheery greeting to you, or could you ignore him?

Would you do his laundry if he offered you extra food rations?  What if he said your child looked like his little boy at home and offered to buy him an ice cream?

As the war proceeded, conditions worsened.  Thousands more soldiers came, as many as one German soldier for every two islanders.  Rules tightened, food and supplies grew scarce, civility waned.  Owning a radio was a crime punishable by death.  One woman was shot for rejecting the advances of a German soldier.  Other women had affairs with them, were judged harshly and called “Jerry bags” by the islanders.  Some escapes were attempted, but few were successful; those apprehended were shot or deported to Auschwitz, where most perished.  Some people sheltered fugitive slaves, shared their resources, or found other ways to resist the Nazis.   Also on exhibit were letters sent anonymously by islanders to Nazi commanders betraying their neighbors’ transgressions.  Why?  To settle old scores or to curry favor or simply for financial gain.  It happened all over Europe, but it was still sobering and sad.

Eleanor Roosevelt said that a woman is like a teabag–she never knows how strong she is until she gets into hot water.  I think that’s true, and it is in times of war and desperation when your true colors show.

The occupation of Jersey is the subject of Roy’s book, Tess of Portelet Manor.  

“In pre-war Jersey, Tess Picot is young and in love.  Living with her mother in a cottage on idyllic Portelet Common, the days are sunny and long.  But can it last? Soon the clouds of war approach and the Channel Islands are occupied by Hitler’s Nazi troops.  Tess’s heart has been broken, maybe beyond repair.  But like the cottage on the common Tess grows stronger as the long years go by.Follow Tess Picot as she battles through the harsh Occupation years, loses friends and tries to love again. Will she succeed? The journey is a remarkable one with an unexpected ending.”

We took a hike…

…and saw the raw beauty of the island.

…with stories to be discovered everywhere, from many different periods in history,

…or legends based on natural features, such as The Devil’s Hole.

All of it was pure gold.

Roy pointed out the places we had read about in his book. This was the beach Tess walked on, until the Germans mined it.

Here was the hotel where the Nazis set up their headquarters.

And here it is today, just around the corner from where my sister and I were staying.

I can’t remember whether Tess and her mum came to this pub for a pint, but we did.  It was the perfect way to top off an incredibly full day.

As our ferry pulled away,  Jersey faded into the fog, but the island’s stories and histories remain vivid, colorful, and compelling.

c2013Naomi Baltuck

Click here for more interpretations of the Weekly Photo Challenge: The Hue of You.

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Responses

  1. Reblogged this on The ObamaCrat™.

  2. Off on another grand adventure, I see! Fascinating, as usual, Naomi!

    • Thanks, Annie! It is always good to hear from you!

  3. Loved this post very bittersweet – the BBC made another costume drama a few years ago called “Island at War” which was based on the German occupation of the channel islands

    • Thanks, Dallas. I saw that many years ago, and it made me want to learn more about it. If not for the fact that Roy lived on Jersey, I would have gone to Guernsey, as I believe it was set on that island.

  4. Fascinating history, Naomi – thank you for the tour.

    • Hi Lynne,
      Thanks for coming along! It’s always good to hear from you.

  5. What a fantastic tour of Jersey you`ve had-and, so very kindly, taken us on. Thank you. I`ve never been, but now I feel I know this little corner of the world a whole lot better.

    • Thanks so much for coming along, and for taking the time to share your very generous response. (I have to tell you, mjaybe because I am a storyteller, I musty stop myself every time I see your gravatar, because I want to write ‘Dear Little Red Hen…”)

      • Oh, go ahead! I don`t mind it all. Sure, I am a little red hen…

  6. I gave you a book that sparked a adventure. Yeah!

    • Dear Terri,
      After I finished the book, I gave it to Con, and YES! It did spark an adventure. Thank you for the gentle nudge that turned out to be a kick in the pants!

  7. What times they were. And aren’t we lucky? 🙂

    • Dear Jo,
      Oh, yes, what a time indeed. May the world never know another like it.
      Thanks so much for your thoughtful response.

  8. Fascinating entry, Naomi! I would have loved to peruse that museum…to put yourself into the story rather than simply be bombarded by facts is what the ‘living history’ is all about. Thanks for documenting it for us armchair travelers!

    • Dear Scilla,
      I think you would really have appreciated that museum. It was not simply feeding you facts. It required a thoughtful response, and placed you in the moment. And, yes, that’s what I love most about living history museums and historical novels, too. No one would know that better than you, as one who makes history come alive for a living.
      Thanks so much, as always, for your thoughtful and insightful response.

  9. I also read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society and thoroughly enjoyed it, so I truly appreciate you taking me on this tour and filling in the background.

    >

    • Dear Carol,
      Wasn’t it an interesting read? I’m so glad you could come along. I do wish I could have gone to Guernsey as well, but time was tight, and the occupation was probably similar on both islands.
      Thanks so much for the visit, and your thoughtful response.

  10. Another great trip!

    • Hi Eunice,
      Thanks for the visit! It’s always great to hear from you.

  11. What a story! You took me away on a trip with this post.

    • Thank you so much for stopping by, and sharing your response.

  12. What a fantastic share… now I am a little wiser about the islands…

    • Thank you so much for the visit, and your generous response.

  13. Well Naomi, you related that so accurately. And some terrific pics – those sunset-dappled trees on Noirmont Common! This is a lovely portrayal of our little island, past and present. Thank you so much. I’ll tip off the Hospice Shop ladies about their guest appearance. Who’s that fat bloke though?

    • Hi Roy,
      Thank you for a wonderful tour, from start to finish. You live on a well-storied island! I can’t tell you how much we enjoyed our time at the Hospice Shop. Please give my best to Thelma and Kathy–they were incredible, and made that trip to the thrift store a high point of our visit.

  14. Reblogged this on Back On The Rock and commented:
    I recently had the pleasure of accompanying American sisters Naomi and Constance Baltuck on a whistle-stop tour of Jersey. Here is Naomi’s awesome blog that captured the day.

  15. Wonderful post again, fascinated me. The photographs are amazing, especially I loved your sister in fur… 🙂 Thank you dear Naomi, have a nice weekend, love, nia

    • Dear Nia,
      Thanks so much for the visit. I love that photo of my sister too–makes me smile every time I look at it. I hope your weekend was a good one, and that your week is even better!
      Love,
      Naomi

  16. Lived in UK for 20 years and Jersey was on top of my bucket list, but never got around to go there and I regret it so today. What a fantastic post – thanks a million for bring me .. and for the interesting reading and great photos.
    I wish you and the family a great weekend.

    • I am so so glad you could come by and visit. Were you in London? It’s not too late to cross an item or two off your bucket list. I do hope you get there one day. Thanks so much for stopping by, and for your very generous response. Best wishes to you too!

      • I lived in Dover for one year … 6 years in Brighton and the rest in Belfast. Birighton is nearly London,

      • My daughter and I spent the day at the castle in Dover, and my sisters and I got very lost in Brighton! But that is a very pretty part of England.

      • How could you lost in Brighton with the ocean just on it side???? .. *smile – Dover, hated every minute I lived there .. terrible place, just a big port. Castle very nice.

  17. Wonderful post as always. ‘The Guernsey Literary & Potato Pell Pie Society ‘ is one of my favourite books ever.

    • Hi Footsy,
      I really enjoyed that book–it was one of the reasons I was so curious about the island, and I wanted to see it for myself.
      Thanks for the kind words–it’s always good to hear from you.

  18. Came for the photo(s), stayed for the story. All good, Naomi. I agree with footsy2 that “The Guernsey Literary & Potato Pell Pie Society” was a wonderful book.

    janet

    • Hi Janet,
      It was a great book, and one of the reasons we decided to come see the Channel Islands for ourselves. I’m so glad you stopped by, and thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.

  19. A most captivating tour. I enjoyed every single step.
    BTW, I loved the book, “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. ”
    Roy’s book sounds fascinating. Another title I must add to my winding reading list. 😉

    • Hi Tess,
      Thanks for the visit, and for taking the time to comment.

  20. Wow! What a trip! Roy is a great tour guide. Fantastic photos!

    • Hi Jill,
      Thanks for stopping by, and sharing your thoughts. I couldn’t have asked for a better guide, and it was easy to take a good photo of such a beautiful spot!

  21. Even if Jersey is more British than French, you can’t alter it’s unique colour quality of the sky and the sea that surrounds it, as this is so incredibly French.

    I love your photos.

    And what a mind-provoking question about whether one would return the greeting of an enemy occupier. I think that what we must always remember in war is that whenever conscription is involved, there will be reluctant soldiers in the enemy ranks who want war no more than you do. There are also some awful catch-22 situations, too, in which you are in bad trouble whether you are friendly to the occupiers or are unfriendly. Still, there’s a great difference between returning a greeting on passing and active collaboration.

    • Dear Sarah,
      Thank you for your very thoughtful response to this post. The museum was one of the most unique and thought-provoking exhibits I have seen, pulling us into the situation and making us really understand the difficult situation of the islanders, and even the soldiers.
      One thing I cannot understand is how someone could inform on a neighbor, knowing that it could lead to a death sentence, no matter what kind of grudges they held.
      The colors were very different from anywhere I’d been in England. It was a very beautiful place. I hope one day to get back and visit Guernsey.

  22. What a great post! It is so refreshing to get a’first-time’ view of a place and very gratifying to see that even after decades, it could have been me visiting Jersey for the first time.. Thanks for reposting the blog of your friend!

  23. Wow! I need Roy to tour me around Jersey, too!

    • Dear Juliann,
      I bet he’d be glad to. Check out his blog, Back on the Rock, and say howdy for me.
      Thanks for stopping by.

  24. I’ve never been to the Channel Islands, but would love to visit one day. What a fascinating history they have. You look very glam in the fur stole. What a great trip you and Roy had! I really enjoyed your museum pics and narrative. How marvellous that you could meet up with Roy, and have him as your most knowledgeable guide. Great post as always, Naomi. 🙂

    • Dear Sylvia,
      That glamor girl in the fur stole is my beautiful sister Constance. If you want to see a current photo, I am in photo #11, with Roy, and the stone wall of the castle for a background.
      I bet you would have a wonderful time in the Channel Islands–the ocean is so beautiful, shifting from blue to green.
      Thanks so much for the visit. As always, I love to hear from you.

  25. Dang, Roy’s the ultimate Jersey tour guide, isn’t he?! This is very awesome. I’m a big WWII enthusiast, so the tunnels are fascinating to me.

    Thank you for sharing Jersey’s past and present with us. Beautiful pix!

  26. Very cool, Naomi. Thanks for bringing the Jersey island to our gray shores. What a lot of history is packed into so tiny a space! No wonder Roy has stories to tell.
    Thanks again for sharing this.

    • Hi Kathy,
      Thanks so much for the visit. I hope you are well!

  27. I enjoyed reading this, it gave a real feel for the place.

  28. I love the thrift stores and charity shops in England and I think my mum must be their biggest customer! Nice post.

    • Hi Penelope,
      Nowhere else in the world has the kind of thrift stores that Britain has–and I love that they are dedicated to charities, and given a place of honor and prominence on or near the high street. Go Mum!

  29. I love how I get a history lesson while enjoying your vacations vicariously. 🙂 Thanks!

    • Hi Sue,
      Thanks so much for stopping by–it is always good to hear from you. Hope all is well in your neck of the woods.

  30. Jersey is so beautiful! You have me yearning to return to our honeymoon island and a place we holidayed for about fifteen years after. Magical!

    • It’s so cool that you know the island so well. What did you like best about it, and what were your favorite things to do? Thank you so much for sharing your connection to the island.

  31. What an adventure, then and now. And I love the charity shops in London. Makes me feel better about buying more books.

    • I love the charity shops too. When I was researching my novel, I made several trips to England, and after having to buy a suitcase (at the charity store) to bring all my new used books home on the first trip, I learned to bring a collapsible one in my suitcase.
      Thanks so much for the visit, and taking the time to share your response.

  32. I loved your pictures, but it was also a great joy reading history as you’ve learned it. You tell the stories with a smile, and leave us with a sense of fun.

    • Dear Shimon,
      I’m so glad you think so. (Not everyone gets my sense of humor.) It is always good to hear from you.

  33. Thank you for taking us along on the tour of Jersey Naomi. I enjoyed the history, and your photos are as lovely as always.

    • Dear Madhu,
      This trip started out as a lark, but one cannot help but feel the weight of the war and the occupation the more one learns about it. Holiday beaches, shopping, castles, war tunnels, English civil war–this island has it all.

  34. The photos, the journey, the history….amazing. Thank you so much, Naomi, for sharing this! paula ♥

    • Thank you, Paula, for your visit, and for your very kind response.

  35. What a delightful virtual tour of the Island you have given us here. Learnt a bit of history too . Beautiful photographs. I’m sure you must have wished you had more time to spend there.

    • I do wish I’d had more than a day and a half there. Jersey was a new place to me too, and I feel as if i’ve only scratched the surface. Thank you so much for your visit, and for taking the time to share your response.

  36. Lovely and personal travel guide! I didn’t wan’t “Guernsey…” to end because I was hypnotized by its landscape. Thank you for bringing it to life. I did not know how steep the “hills” were.

    • Dear Carol,
      Thank you so much! I loved that book too. It made me very curious about the Channel Islands, and I still find it fascinating that there could be this tiny piece of Britain so close to France, so very English, and yet not quite. I appreciate your visit, and taking the time to share your response.

  37. A beautiful combination of story and picture. I love your gentle “voice”, Naomi. Thanks for a new adventure, taken from my armchair. 🙂

    • Dear Pat,
      Sorry to be so late in responding. Between travels, unexpected family obligations, and a very busy Halloween season for storytelling, I have fallen far behind in my blogging. But I really wanted to thank you for your sweet response to this post. It is always good to hear from you, and I am looking forward to the chance to catch up with your blog–especially all of your recent Northwest travels. I love to see my neck of the woods through other folks’ eyes, and you have a knack for capturing the beauty through your lens!

  38. What an amazing place! I definitely want to visit after reading about your adventures. 🙂 Great photos as always, Naomi!

    • Thanks, Kourtney. Hey, you are all over the place with your book tours. I am so impressed!

  39. Wonderful photos! Thanks for the tour and the history lesson. Yet another place I have never visited, yet your post makes me want to!

    • Thank you so much for the visit. You can set your next murder mystery in some exotic location, and take the whole gang there! I wanted to tell you to save the clues and character sketches for your murder mysteries–I think there would be a lucrative market for those.

      • I did save the clues and character sketches — but more because I thought they would help me for next year’s mystery. I didn’t actually consider marketing them in some way…but good thinking!

  40. One more round please. Island time , fun time, adventure time! A trip that rocks and tops in awesomeness. You made me held on to Summer just a little bit longer even though I was really cold this morning as I walked my son to school. Best wishes to you and your amazing family!

  41. Looking at these beautiful, fun Island images gives me a sense of comfort. Been having some sleepless night after super storm hit my parent’s place in Capiz. Images like these gives a sense of hope that soon, things will be better. Thanks for the recent generous thoughtful comment. A blessed day to you and family.


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