They Got Their Answer

During the spring of 1940 the army of the Third Reich rampaged westward through the Low Countries and France. As the danger to the Channel Islands became imminent, the British Government arranged evacuations for those who wished to leave. They also withdrew all British troops from the islands leaving them demilitarised and defenceless.

No one told the Germans.La Rocque1

High-level reconnaissance by the Germans proved inconclusive as regards the level of defences in the islands. On the late afternoon of 28th June three Heinkel bombers left Cherbourg to find out. Here at La Rocque they made a low level sweep, machine-gunning the vicinity. Three people were killed instantly outside their homes.La Rocque2

The bombers went on to attack St Helier and St Peter Port harbours with 41 further deaths and many injuries.

They got their answer. There were no defences. Two days later the Occupation began.

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The Stardust, justice to be served?

48 kids never came home from the Stardust nightclub in north Dublin on Valentine’s Day, 14th February 1981. I have posted before on the subject here and here. The bare facts are

Stardust1

  •  A fire broke out in the upper part of the building. It quickly spread to the main nightclub area, which was packed.
  • There was panic, those inside fled for the exits. Some of the fire exits were chained shut and padlocked. The lights failed.
  • 48 died, 214 were injured, some very badly.
  • A Public Enquiry found that arson was the probable cause. This enabled the building’s owners, the Butterlys, to claim compensation of 580,000 Irish pounds.
  • A further enquiry in 2009 ruled that there was no evidence of arson. (No repayment of compensation of course.)
  • Despite the original enquiry finding clear evidence of ‘recklessly dangerous practices’ against the operators of the nightclub, no one has ever been charged with any offence.
  • The Butterlys have brazened it out to this day, re-launching their business on the site with never the hint of an apology or regret.
  • In recent times much more evidence has been gathered that, if accepted, would prove beyond doubt that the fire was the result of an electrical fault in the roof space. And who is responsible for ensuring electrical safety?

Now, after more than 38 years of campaigning, the Attorney General has ruled that fresh inquests into the 48 deaths will be held.

Will the new inquest finally see justice done, as with the Hillsborough tragedy?

Stardust2

Christy Moore’s 1985 song for which he was found guilty of contempt of court. The lyrics are still libellous in Ireland.

Ray Heffernan’s beautiful song of remembrance.

The Hero Horse

The de Carteret family, of Normandy stock, have been around in Jersey for nearly 1,000 years. For most of that time they have owned St Ouen’s Manor in the north-west of the Island.

St Ouen's Manor 1904

St Ouen’s Manor 1904 (credit Jerripedia)

In 1467 the Seigneur, Sir Philippe de Carteret was peacefully fishing in St Ouen’s Pond, then part of the manorial land. It was during the years of the little-known French Occupation. French soldiers crept up on Sir Philippe, whereupon he mounted his horse and rode for his life.

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St Ouen’s Pond

It is over a mile, and up a steep escarpment, from the pond to the Manor. His horse tiring, Sir Philippe reached the deep, narrow valley named Les Charrières, just south of the Manor. He would only escape the French if the horse could leap across the chasm. He urged the horse on and just made the other side. The French could not follow and Sir Philippe was safe.

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Les Charrieres – was the epic leap here?

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Or here?

 

But, exhausted by its efforts the horse dropped dead at the entrance to the Manor. Sir Philippe ordered that a portrait be made of the horse and that it be buried in the Manor grounds.

 

 

In 1904, bones were unearthed at the Manor. They were send to the British Museum who concluded that they belonged to a horse which had died over 400 years previously.

St Ouen's Manor

Today, if you are lucky enough to gain admittance to the Great Hall, you can see both the portrait and a bone of the hero horse.

The Surreal Sisters

They were exotic for sure, certainly by Jersey standards. Lucie Schwob (aka Claude Cahun) and Suzanne Malherbe (aka Marcel Moore) step-sisters and life partners, rocked up in Jersey in 1937. Lucie was then 43, Suzanne two years her senior. Both had been born in Nantes, a French city well known to present day Jersey drivers heading south.

Lucie & Marcel

Lucie & Suzanne

They were both artistic, of the surreal persuasion. They are best known for their ground-breaking photography, daring to shock with their avant-garde and gender-challenging work which has attracted a new audience in recent times.

Lucie portrait
They purchased a property – La Rocquaise – in beautiful St Brelade’s Bay. In July 1940 the Channel Islands were occupied by Nazi-ruled Germany. In October of that year the occupiers enacted the First Order, requiring all Jews to register. Lucie and Suzanne ignored it. Furthermore, they made it their business to listen in to BBC news broadcasts on a forbidden wireless set. They then typed up the bad (from Germany’s point of view) news on slips of paper which they then discretely placed where they would be found and read by occupying soldiers. News of the Allied victories and destruction of German cities would certainly have undermined morale.

La Rocquaise

La Rocquaise

They were informed upon (sadly not unheard of in Jersey) and were arrested. Well aware of their likely fate, they overdosed on their way to prison. The suicide attempts failed and they were duly sentenced to death. Only on appeal by the Bailiff Alexander Coutanche were their sentences commuted to life imprisonment, on the grounds that they were female.

St Brelades Bay

St Brelade’s Bay

A few months later the islands were liberated. Lucie’s health, never the best, deteriorated and she died in 1954. Suzanne moved to the property Carola in Beaumont where she committed suicide in 1972.

Lucie & Marcel grave

Reunited, St Brelades’ churchyard

A full appreciation of Lucie and Suzanne’s lives and works with many photographs can be found here.

Summer Fairs in Ireland

I was about 8 years of age. The various stalls in the field next to the racecourse were doing a roaring trade. A bit bored, curious, I wandered around to the back of a tent and pushed back a flap to peak in. Immediately there was a stinging slap across my earhole and a mouthful of unintelligible words from the gypsy woman. Crying, I ran to tell my Dad. ‘Well, you must have deserved it so,’ was his comment.

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Ballabuidhe 2014

The Ballabuidhe (Bal-a-bwee) Races have been held from at least 1615 when King James I granted a charter to Randal Og Hurley to hold Ballabuidhe Fair in Dunmanway, west Cork in Ireland. The 414th edition has just ended and the pubs are counting their takings. For in every fair and festival to be held in Ireland during the summer, horses and drinking are the main distinguishing features. By day there is music, dancing, beauty competitions. Then there is horse trading, especially among the travelling community. Exiles from all over the world come back for the Gathering. And the bars serve non-stop with no one appearing to bother with licence restrictions and all that. No need even for the traditional ‘lock-in’ when the Gardai cruise past after closing time to make sure that the pubs ‘appear’ closed.

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Ballabuidhe (skibbereeneagle.ie)

After Ballabuidhe the travellers and their horses might head westwards to Killorglin and Puck Fair. Their charter dates from 1613. There the only difference is that a wild goat is crowned King Puck and presides over the messy festivities.

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Puck Fair (irishamerica.com)

And all over Ireland there are horse racing festivals held once a year. Tralee, Dingle, Galway. The travellers will happily follow the crowds. Maam Cross in wild Connemara mixes horse trading with that of sheep and cattle all year round.

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Puck Fair (irishcentral.com)

Ireland may be a more prosperous and outward looking nation these days but you don’t have to look hard to find life as it has been lived over the centuries.

Whatever became of Ginger Lou?

The Channel Islands were occupied by Nazi invaders between July 1940 and May 1945. During that time there was inevitable fraternisation between the often charming and handsome German soldiers and local women. Only the women could attest to their motives, though physical attraction and love would often have been present. Some though tended to side with their German lovers and against their neighbours, maybe to obtain extra rations or other favours. The women were known as Jerry bags, and the worst of these in Jersey was Alexandrine Baudains, or Ginger Lou.

Ginger Lou

Pic credit theislandwiki.org

Mistress of a high-ranking German officer she identified herself completely with the ‘Master Race’. She would drive around in a chauffeur-driven car, flaunting her favoured status. Given the opportunity she would denounce or ‘shop’ anyone to the Nazis for minor acts of defiance or resistance. If she saw a queue outside a shop she might go in and buy all of the precious rationed goods, leaving the queue to disperse.
When the Channel Islands were liberated in May 1945, she lay low, fearing reprisals. She was wise to do as, when she ventured out for a spot of fresh air, she was set upon in Seaton Place by a crowd, mainly women. She was saved from being lynched from a lamp post by members of the British Army and she and her son were taken into police custody for their own safety. There they remained for 11 months until a journalist discovered their whereabouts.

A Doctor's Occupation

Old wounds were opened and the pair were ejected from prison to be taken in by the Little Sisters of the Poor. From there they were packed onto a boat for England with instructions never to return.

I wonder what became of them?

Sources – Doctor John Lewis, Roy McLoughlin, theislandwiki.org

Oscar Wilde & Lillie Langtry

I’m presently doing a bit of tour guiding at Jersey’s Mont Orgueil (Gorey Castle). In the interests of engaging with a group I’ll often ask them ‘Who was Jersey’s most famous man?’ ‘Bergerac’ is the usual answer. (Correct answer, subjective or not, is George Carteret who at least has a connection with the castle.)

Most famous woman? A few guess Lillie Langtry, and this time they’d be correct. I’ve blogged about the Jersey Lily before. I recently read about Lillie’s friendship with Oscar Wilde, and in particular Wilde’s infatuation with her, and his poems dedicated to her.

Oscar Wilde Lillie Langtry

Wilde right centre with top hat, the Lily in white next to him. Pic credit Jerripedia.

WHERE hast thou been since round the walls of Troy
The sons of God fought in that great emprise?
Why dost thou walk our common earth again?
Hast thou forgotten that impassioned boy,
His purple galley, and his Tyrian men,
And treacherous Aphrodite’s mocking eyes?
For surely it was thou, who, like a star
Hung in the silver silence of the night,
Didst lure the Old World’s chivalry and might
Into the clamorous crimson waves of war!
(from The New Helen)

Celebrated in London’s high society, Lillie was introduced to Wilde in 1877. She was 24 and he was a year younger. They became friends and associates and remained so for many years.

I remember we used to meet
By an ivied seat,
And you warbled each pretty word
With the air of a bird
(From To L.L.)

The indications are that the flamboyant Wilde was far more attracted physically to Mrs Langtry than the other way around. However, in later life, Lillie was said to always have a place laid at dinner in honour of him. (Did they ever sleep together? We can always ponder.)

And your eyes, they were green and grey
Like an April day,
But lit into amethyst
When I stooped and kissed
(From To L.L.)

Wilde wrote the classically-styled The New Helen in Lillie’s honour in 1879, and later, another entitled To L.L. The latter is rarely listed in a list of Wilde’s poetry. I’m not surprised, in fact it might have been wrongly attributed, but personally I like it better.

You were always afraid of a shower,
Just like a flower:
I remember you started and ran
When the rain began
(From To L.L.)

Tick and Bash – Part 5 (final)

I was back on the Rock. It was December 2009 and everything was surreal and unsettling. It felt as if Jersey had moved on and had left me behind. I rented a crappy room in First Tower and applied for income support for the very first (and last) time.
Jersey hadn’t escaped the recession. Work was hard to come by. I was well aware that I was in a low place mentally so made sure to stay on an even keel. On 21st December, the shortest day, I said to myself that this was as low as I would get. My running helped no end. I started writing, and I promised myself that I’d return to Ireland the next summer in much better shape than when I had left. (Which I did.)

Darkness into Light fineartamerica.com

Darkness into Light (fineartamerica.com)

Then I struck lucky and a past casual meeting set me up for a job with a small legal office, Hanson Renouf. I was to stay there for over seven years. Of course I brought considerable law office experience with me and I think I repaid them for giving me that break. It was a happy time in a busy office as the Island climbed out of the recession and business expanded. And, without exception, it was a great team there in Hill Street and it was a good time.

Divorce lawyer

Sadly the good times weren’t to last. A so-called merger took place and it was plain that some of us Hanson Renouf crowd were surplus to requirements. I decided to jump ship. Sadly I jumped at a good offer to re-join the finance industry – would I never learn? Three months in an open-plan office at Vantage Group with its factions, politics and dreary work were enough. Not their fault, all mine.

And so to Unitas Containers in mid-2016. And I’ve had a happy three years in a small finance department accounting for various group companies involved in the container management and leasing business worldwide.

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But this afternoon I switched off the computer for the last time. Time’s caught up. And in writing this summary of my working career I realise that I’ve been lucky to come across

  • Only one dickhead
  • Only one bullshitter
  • A few people that I could never get on with, and vice versa
  • Many good people just doing their best in life – you can’t do any more
  • A few very good lifetime friends

I still wish I’d gone in for PE teaching 😃

Tick and Bash – Part 4

My early weeks living in Dublin were relaxed. My previous acquaintances with the city mainly involved high-tailing it out of there down the country to Cork or Kerry. This time I meant to embrace Dublin and get to know it. Besides, this was generally where the work for accountancy professionals was.

I took a nice though overpriced apartment near to Trinity College and got my first contract (for contracting was how I meant to proceed). It was great, working at one of Dublin’s many language schools. It was an insight into a different type of organisation and how it ticks. My job was to make some sense of some strange historic accounting, but also to analyse the schools’ activities and suggest budgetary improvements. That gig came to an end after a few months and it was immediately onto the next.

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Samuel Beckett Bridge over the Liffey – I saw it installed during my time in Dublin

Meanwhile I was having a great time in Dublin, seeing the sights, drinking the Guinness and picking up my athletics coaching again at Crusaders A.C. I’ll remember the kids and my other friends at Crusaders for ever.

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Irishtown Stadium, home of Crusaders AC

And what an enlightening year I spent at the HQ of the Irish Red Cross in Merrion Square. The books were hopelessly confused and I was assisting a financial consultant in sorting them out, producing overdue financial statements and updating the processes. But far more interesting was observing the workings of the organisation. The relationship between Head Office and the branches, between Head Office and the Board of Directors, between paid staff and volunteers. And some of the ‘creative’ accounting and archaic corporate governance that was taking place exploded into the public realm soon afterwards. But there were some lovely people at Merrion Square whom I remember fondly.

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The Irish Red Cross HQ, Merrion Square

But meanwhile the worldwide recession had bitten deeply in Ireland. After my contract at the Red Cross was up, I struggled. Every business struggled, many thousands were out of work and things were only getting worse. There were no more contracts. Every job vacancy was overwhelmed with applications.

As a last throw of the dice I bought into a gym franchise in Waterford – a real change of direction. It quickly failed – people had no money for gym memberships.

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St Finbarr’s Cathedral in Cork City, my spiritual home

My resources dwindling I went to stay with friends in Cork whilst job hunting. It was no use. In the final days of 2009, two years after I’d left for good, I bought a ticket back to Jersey.

Tick and Bash – Part 3

1983 and I’m Company Accountant at Pallot Glass, a family-owned glass, glazing and window replacement outfit. A new world and I loved it for the 12 years I was there. And I was in charge of all two of the staff which I inherited, together with a dog (Plonk) who seemed to be the doorstop to the Accounts Department, blocking all who tried to enter.
Desktop accounting was still in its infancy, but we managed the transition from Kalamazoo cards to a nice, little accounting system. And proper 5-inch floppy disks for backing up. And I self-taught myself the daily, monthly and annual routines that go with commercial accounting.

pallot glass
In time we opened (and eventually closed) outlets in Guernsey and the UK so my dread of flying was severely tested. I became Finance Director of our little group of companies.
But it was the lads that made it all so enjoyable. In the factory were a bunch of mainly Scottish tradesmen, time-served, hard working and hard playing. On the vans were another bunch who would drive off in pairs each morning on various jobs around the island. There was a natural stand-off between the lads and the office staff, but we needed one another and managed a rapport of sorts.

glaziers
Their weekly wages were mostly gone by Tuesday and they’d come looking for a ‘sub’ to get them through the week. If you were kind-hearted and lent one of them a tenner then the rest would be queuing up outside. If you played hardball then they’d try again next day.
The stories were legion – I might write a book one day. One Monday morning there was a work experience lad waiting downstairs. The Works Director saw him and bundled him onto a van which was just leaving on a job. A week later the Works Director asked the young lad how he was getting on. The lad replied ‘Loving it, but I was hoping to be trained in Sales.’ There was a minor sensation when a GIRL was taken on as a window fitter. That lasted two weeks until she declared herself pregnant.
Twelve great years. I’d be there now but I was now married with a mortgage. One or two of our big contracts were stretching the company financially. I left for the safer pastures of the Jersey finance industry. (Pallot Glass happily trade to this day, still family-owned.)

Three years at Theodore Goddard & Co, a medium-sized trust company, deserves no more than a paragraph. It should have warned me off the finance industry for good. It’s a living death. But, through contacts, I got my next move.

Ten years at Bois & Bois, a small legal office. I’d found a new niche. Looking after the books, observing the strict legal accounting rules, reporting to the partners. Conveyancing (property transactions) which go through Jersey’s Royal Court each Friday was the climax of every week. And in Jersey, property deals can be very large indeed. It was crucial that the funds were in place to complete the transaction at Court and, if acting for the purchaser, that they were paid out the following Tuesday. Many close shaves we had.

lawyers office
Ten good years, good bosses, lovely colleagues. But for many months now I’d been planning to finish up my working days in Ireland, a country with which I have a great affinity. All the indicators were right, the Celtic Tiger was roaring. I was no longer married with a mortgage. In the last days of 2007 I said my goodbyes (and there were many) and I was on my way.