Two deserters were shot after landing on Guernsey

When two members of the York Hussars made plans to desert in early summer 1801, they decided that their best plan would be to head for France. Unfortunately for the deserters, their navigation was not up to scratch, and they never quite got that far.

The soldiers stole a boat from the closest harbour and set out to sea, eventually landing on Guernsey. Guernesiais and French would still have been widely spoken on the island at that time. They might therefore have initially have thought they’d succeeded – until they discovered their terrible mistake.

To all intents and purposes, they were still on home ground, and they were inevitably arrested. They were returned to the mainland and found guilty at court-martial. Their sentence was to be the standard punishment for desertion: death.

Mainland execution

On 30 June 1801 they were taken up to Bincombe Down, near Weymouth, in a mourning coach. Two priests travelled with them, and several regiments were waiting when they arrived, including the Staffordshire, Berkshire and North Devonshire Militias, the Rifle Corps and the Greys.

Emma Thoyts takes up the story in her 1897 book, History of the Royal Berkshire Militia:

After marching along the front of the line [the condemned men] returned to the centre, where they spent about twenty minutes in prayer, and were then shot by a guard of twenty-four men; they dropped instantly, and expired without a groan. The men appeared sensible of their awful situation, and were very penitent. The soldiers then wheeled in sections and marched by the bodies in slow time.

The Star was published for the first time

Guernsey has had several newspapers over the years. The existing Guernsey Press has naturally been by far the most successful.

The earliest was La Gazette de L’Ile de Guernsey which, as its name suggests, was published in French. It first appeared in 1789. Others French-language papers, including Thomas de la Rue’s La Publiciste and Le Miroir Politique, followed in subsequent years.

However, Guernsey’s earliest English-language paper was The Star. It was first published in St Peter Port on 29 June 1813 – a full eighty-four years before the Guernsey Evening Press. It was initially published every seven days and carried the alternative title Guernsey Weekly Advertiser.

The Star and The Guernsey Evening Press merged to form the Guernsey Press and Star in 1965.

Guernsey, by GWS Robinson, noted that between the Gazette de L’Ile de Guernsey’s first distribution, and the book’s publication in 1977 by David & Charles, Guernsey had been home to 29 newspapers that had lasted 12 months or longer.

Celebrating two centuries

The 200th anniversary of the merged newspaper, counting from the first publication of The Star, was celebrated in a series of stamps from Guernsey Post. The stamps were designed by Charlotte Barnes and released on 31 July 2013. The stamps’ covering notes reproduced The Star’s original mission statement, to provide islanders with news from London alongside “historical anecdotes, biographical sketches of the most eminent men of every nation, and of every age; original and select poetry”.

Although The Star and The Guernsey Evening Press had both existed throughout the occupation, neither was published every day due to paper shortages. The occupying forces instituted a schedule whereby one would be published one day and the other the next. The Germans’ own paper, the Deutsche Guernsey-Zeitung, was published alongside the local titles between 1942 and the end of the war.

The Guernsey Press, as the merged newspapers are now known, publishes six days a week and is read by an average of 39,000 people per copy. Along with the Jersey Evening Post, it is owned by Wolverhampton-based Claverley Group.

Guernsey suffered its first and only air raid

Guernsey was demilitarised shortly before the German invasion. However, perhaps to give residents time to evacuate, nobody told the Germans. Unaware that they were targeting a non-threat, they launched air raid to soften up the island’s apparent defences prior to invasion.

Luftwaffe aircraft bombed St Peter Port for 50 minutes on 28 June 1940. They killed more than 30 and injured a similar number. The attack was focused on the harbour and Town – and even the lifeboat, which was fired on while out on a rescue mission.

The new airport, however, was left untouched. This was likely because the Germans knew it would be a useful asset for their own forces following the invasion.

Attacked at the worst possible moment

The raid began in the early evening when the harbour was busy. Several produce lorries were queueing up on the dockside, and these became targets for the aircraft. They offered little protection for the locals who dived under them seeking cover from the bullets.

Several did avoid being hit this way, but many were burned to death in the process.

German military planners had sent a reconnaissance aircraft over the island ten days earlier. It seems they had mistaken the produce transporters for military vehicles. They assumed that they would need to be destroyed if the invasion force was to minimise its own losses. Troops landed two days later as part of Operation Green Arrow.

Simultaneous bombing raids were conducted on St Helier harbour, Jersey, killing nine on the ground.

Contemporary accounts

Frank Stroobant, in his book One Man’s War, talks of the effect the unexpected raid had on the population:

…it was a tremendous shock, all the same, when the Germans sent their aircraft to attack us, and in their one and only raid on Guernsey killed 29 Guernseymen. The futility of the raid and the comparatively heavy casualties brought us face to face with stark reality, and I do not suppose there was one among us who did not thank God for this sign that we had done the right thing in sending our families away.

In The Silent War, Frank Falla writes,

Six enemy aircraft came, it seemed, from nowhere… three swooped down over the harbour dropping incendiaries and high explosive bombs, and machine-gunning ruthlessly along the line of waiting lorries… The air-raid warning sirens were not set going until at least ten minutes after the first bomb had been dropped, and even then it was not the ARP officials who set them in motion but three cool-headed telephone operators… as a result of this raid on defenceless Guernsey, thirty-four people died on the spot or in hospital soon afterwards, and another thirty-three were injured.

G-JOEY completes his last flight

G-JOEY, Aurigny’s red-nosed Trislander, completed its last regular flight on Sunday 28 June 2015. It had served Guernsey for almost 40 years.

Piloted by David Rice, the final flight took it from Southampton to Alderney, then on to Guernsey, where it arrived at 7.40pm. It was 10 minutes behind schedule.

Although he featured in his own series of children’s books, Joey hadn’t always had his distinctive red nose. The scarlet paint was added in 1988 on the occasion of the BBC’s Comic Relief appeal. It was only logical that the eyes and smile should be added shortly after.

G-JOEY

Joey flew as part of the Aurigny fleet for 34 years. However, he started his commercial life in Canada, where he flew from 1975 until 1979. Auriginy had originally leased the aircraft for two years from manufacturer Britten Norman, and bought it outright in November 1981.

End of an era

The Trislander fleet were true workhorses, both connecting the Channel Islands to the mainland, and providing some inter-island flights.

G-JOEY’s sister aircraft, G-RLON, joined the Aurigny fleet in 1981. It would go on to spend more than 32,600 hours in the air, and perform 105,130 landings for Aurigny, according to the BBC.

The airline, which was once the world’s largest operator of Trislanders, retired its entire fleet due to rising operating costs. Although some of the aircraft were sold overseas following their retirement, G-JOEY was sold locally to form the centrepiece of a Joey World attraction at Oatlands.

Guernsey coffee trader William Le Lacheur died

William Le Lacheur was born in Forest in 1802. Were it not for his endeavours, the coffee market – and, with it, the whole economy of Costa Rica – may be worth only a fraction of what it is today.

One of five children, Le Lacheur had first been employed as a worker on the family farm. However, the family had links to the sea. It was perhaps therefore inevitable that he would end up making his fortune away from dry land eventually.

Le Lacheur at sea

He found work captaining cargo ships between England and the Mediterranean. With several years’ experience under his belt, he founded his own company in 1836, in the same trade. Called Le Lacheur & Co, it grew considerably over the years. It eventually had a fleet of 11 ships sailing around the world, of which at least nine had been built in St Peter Port.

William Le Lacheur wasn’t content to sit in a Guernsey office and send others off to source goods. He captained his own vessels to South America and by the early 1840s he was bringing back coffee. This was paid for in London with silver sixpences. Once received, these were either converted to local currency after being repatriated to Costa Rica, or used to buy consumer goods in Britain that were taken to Costa Rica for local use.

Coffee beans

Interests beyond coffee

As well as being a canny businessman, Le Lacheur was a committed non-conformist protestant. In that respect, he worked hard to convert many in Costa Rica from Roman Catholicism. Thus, on many of his voyages he also transported protestant bibles to the country, which he sold at cost.

Le Lacheur moved to the mainland so he could be closer to the coffee trade, and died in London in 1863. He is buried in Highgate Cemetery, among the likes of Douglas Adams, George Elliot and Karl Marx.

Guernsey bought Fort Grey from the War Office

Fort Grey is so much a part of Guernsey, it seems incredible now that the island actually had to buy it.

On 26 June 1891, the States of Deliberation agreed to proceed with the purchase of what’s now better known as Fort Grey, but was then more formally Rocquaine Castle, after the tidal bay in which it is situated.

Fort Grey

The British government had given the States the option to buy Fort Grey the previous November. Naturally, it needed to have it valued. Nonetheless, in the interim, a motion was passed and quoted in the following day’s issue of The Star:

That the States do purchase Rocquaine Castle, and causeway, authorising the Coast Committee to buy it for such a price as they think reasonable.

What constituted a “reasonable” price was tricky to determine. The issue had arisen because the causeway was falling into disrepair, and the War Office seemed reluctant to put it right. It therefore gave Guernsey the option to buy it at less than market value. However, there were conditions attached. If it paid less than the fort was worth, it was obligated to devote it to public purposes. Further, should that public use come to an end it would have to be returned to the War Office.

It is likely that the Fort’s current status as a shipwreck museum would constitute public use.

In the end, the States of Guernsey took posession of the fort for the princely sum of £185. Both the fort and its slipway are protected monuments

History of Fort Grey

Fort Grey had been built at the start of the 19th century to defend against a potential French invasion. It sits on the site of the smaller Chateau de Rocquaine. Its construction was ordered by Lieutenant-Governor John Doyle. Doyle had been appointed in 1803, the year before work on the fort began.

Fort Grey was given its current name in honour of Earl Charles Grey, Governor of Guernsey from 1797 until 1807.

First meeting of Guernsey’s Controlling Committee

When Guernsey was demilitarised, and invasion looked increasingly likely, the States established what became known as the Controlling Committee.

Comprising eight islanders with specific portfolios, and headed by Attorney General Ambrose Sherwill, it effectively became Guernsey’s government before and during the German invasion. Why was it required? Because the States had recognised the need for a smaller, more agile body that could make decisions quickly.

Creation and structure

The Committee was created on 21 June 1940, and met for the first time four days later, on the 25th. However, it had a major upset just a few months later when Ambrose Sherwill was deposed as its president.

The Germans discovered that Sherwill had been aware of the presence of Hubert Nicolle and James Symes. These two British soldiers, both of whom had existing knowledge of Guernsey, had been dispatched on a reconnaissance mission. When their boat hadn’t appeared to collect them, they’d found themselves stranded on the island.

Sherwill had denied any knowledge of their presence. He petitioned that the deadline for them to give themselves up be extended so they had the best possible chance of escape. When it was obvious they were trapped, he doctored the uniforms that they wore to surrender, so they wouldn’t be shot as spies.

Sherwill’s demotion

Sherwill went on trial for his involvement in the cover-up. Although he was not convicted, all of his authority was removed. Thus, had no position on which to rely when, in 1943, the Germans deported anyone from the Channel Islands who had any kind of military background. Had he still been on the Controlling Committee he would have been passed over. As he was not, he was set to Laufen Internment Camp for the rest of the war.

Although Guernsey was liberated on 9 May 1945, the Controlling Committee wasn’t immediately disbanded. Tthe Priaulx Library now holds minutes of its meetings running through to September of that year.

Jurat John Leale, who took over from Sherwill as President of the Controlling Committee was knighted in the honours announced in December 1945. Sherwill was awarded a CBE, and became Bailiff of Guernsey several years later.

Guernsey chose England over France

The Channel Islands occupied a curious political position straddling England and France for more than 130 years.

In 1066, when William the Conqueror defeated King Harold, he united the English and Norman thrones. At that point, the Channel Islands became associated with England – and, indeed, having been on the “winning” side, could be said to have been in some way the mainland’s victor.

As such, the islands retained the French language and the French basis of their legal systems. Yet, by 1204, things had somewhat changed.

War with France

By then, King John was on the English throne, and fighting a war against King Philip II of France. King John didn’t have a very easy time as king. He was forced to sign Magna Carta in 1215, which severely curtailed his rights. He was dead by 1216 having contracted dysentery.

Twelve years earlier, his war with France wasn’t going well, and in 1204, after two years’ fighting, he had lost his territory in Normandy. This put the Channel Islanders in a precarious position. Did they remain true to their French roots, siding with King Philip, or did they stay loyal to King John?

Either way, they would have lost whatever territory they had in the opposing country. A Channel Islander with territory in France, but who sided with John, would have lost that French territory. One who had English land but sided with Philip would have lost their English possessions.

Although there were some individual exceptions, the Channel Islands ultimately sided with King John, and their position was sealed the following year through invasion.

The invasion didn’t come from King John himself. It was Eustace who claimed the Channel Islands for the English crown in September 1205. This was a particularly turbulent time for anyone living in Guernsey. France and England both understood the Channel Islands’ strategic importance.

They could be used as a staging ground from which to launch an invasion of Normandy should England want to try and win it back. France couldn’t risk this happening, so it took the islands back. England soon regained them and set about building up their defences. Thus began the construction of Castle Cornet, which would secure St Peter Port harbour.

Looking back, therefore, we can see that as the catalyst for these subsequent invasions and defence-building, 24 June 1204 marked the date on which the link between the main Channel Islands and England was finally fixed.

Princess Elizabeth opened Guernsey’s hospital

In June 1949, Princess Elizabeth and her husband, Prince Philip, embarked on their first sea trip since their marriage. Travelling on the battleship HMS Anson, their destination was the Channel Islands.

Being the closest to the mainland, they headed initially for Alderney, but their arrival was delayed by fog. However, the queen-to-be still had time to address the local crowd upon her arrival. She commiserated on their treatment during the occupation, during which Alderney’s entire population had been evacuated.

The party took a circular trip via Jersey and Sark to Guernsey, peforming several official duties on the way. In Sark, the Duke of Edinburgh had opened the island’s new Maseline Harbour.

Arrival on Guernsey

The royal couple crossed from Sark to Guernsey in a motor torpedo boat, their battleship having been kept away from Sark by rough sea. They were met in Guernsey by the Bailiff and Lieutenant-Governor who took them to a reception at Saumarez Park. As reported by The Guardian,

…replying to an address from the Bailiff, Mr AJ Sherwill, [the princess] said: “Here on this June day my husband and I see with admiration the work which you have done to blot out the ugly relics of war and to restore to Guernsey the peace, prosperity and happiness which are her right and her tradition through the centuries.

They then moved on to the hospital. Here, Princess Elizabeth used a specially-designed key to open the building, which she named the Princess Elizabeth Hospital. It has kept that name to this day.

The hospital was constructed around Le Vauquiedor Farm, which the States had purchased for £6500. The old hospital in town was later repurposed as the police headquarters.

Centred on Sark

It seems that the visit may have been inspired by a request from Sibyl Hathaway, the Dame of Sark.

She had written to the Royal Household asking if the Duke of Edinburgh would be available to open her island’s new harbour. He replied that he would be delighted, and suggested that he come in November 1948. However, the Dame pointed out that sea and weather conditions would have been unpleasant at that time of year, so the official opening was pushed back to June 1949.

The Duke’s letter of acceptance included a second pleasant surprise: Princess Elizabeth would accompany him.

Thus, it may well be that had the Dame not requested a royal opening for her new harbour, Guernsey may not have had one for its hospital, either.

The visit almost ended in disaster. As Sibyl Hathaway wrote in her autobiography, Dame of Sark,

…the boat carrying the royal party arrived at the harbour steps. The Princess [future Queen Elizabeth II] had some difficulty in landing, because the boat was still rocking, but after a moment’s hesitation she made up her mind to jump for it. As she did so, she all but slipped. It was a terrible moment for those of us who were watching, but the Government Secretary, Major-General RF Colwill, who was standing on the steps, caught her just in time. She recovered at once…

Guernsey celebrated Queen Victoria’s jubilee

Queen Victoria came to the throne on 20 June 1837. However, her 60th jubilee was marked two days late – on the 22nd. This wasn’t only in Guernsey, either, but right across the Empire.

To celebrate the event, almost every St Peter Port street had a triumphal arch, along with bunting and illuminations. One house had even hung out a flag of the Royal Standard. On it had been sewn “This flag was made for and stepped upon by the Queen when landing in Guernsey in 1846”.

A cavalcade of between 1.5 and two miles had been planned. Many of the island’s most important industries were represented in the procession.

Figures from Guernsey’s past – and beyond

Reporting on the plans the day before the celebration, The Star listed scissor grinders, aerated water manufacturers, hardware dealers and printers among those who would feature. They were to be joined by less traditional cast members, including cowboys, snake charmers, peasants and even William the Conqueror.

This latter inclusion may have been a little insensitive. Although Victoria’s line can be traced back through more than 20 generations to William, he was ultimately responsible for Britain’s defeat in the Battle of Hastings. By the time Victoria had spent 60 years on the throne, Britain liked to think itself largely unbeatable, with an Empire on which “the sun never set”.

However, for Guernsey it was also entirely appropriate. At the time he invaded Britain, William was the king of Normandy – and of the Channel Islands. Thus, as is asserted by Ebenezer Le Page, it could be said that mainland Britain is a possession of the Channel Islands, not the opposite.

Guernsey’s cavalcade

The 1.5 to 2 mile-long parade was in three sections, with a band between each one. It started at St Sampson and worked its way to Glategny Esplanade, taking 40 minutes to pass any point on the route. Several members of the procession carried slaughtered sheep, which would be distributed to the poor after the event.

The weather on the day itself had not started well, but it improved. Guernsey woke up in a fog thick enough to delay the mail boats’ arrivals. Fortunately, though, this was burned off by the sun, allowing locals to tour St Peter Port, admiring the decorations. At noon, a Royal Salute of 60 guns – one for each year of Victoria’s reign – was fired from Castle Cornet.

Appropriately, the evening’s celebrations centred on Albert Pier, named after Victoria’s late husband. They included bands, illuminations, fireworks and bonfires. Fires were also lit on Jethou and Crevichon, where they would be visible from Town.

One of the fires was set out to resemble the face of Margaret Neve. At 106, she was then the oldest woman on Guernsey and, it was thought, the world.

The event was of such note that The Star even advertised the specific layout of the issue it was planning to produce to cover it: “On Thursday The Star will contain from 6 to 7 extra columns of matter including a Complete Description of Jubilee Day in London… embellished with Three Single Column, Two Double Column and One Three Column Illustrations”.

Victoria remained on the throne until her death in 1901.

For the avoidance of doubt

All of the characters, organisations, publications and narrative of the Sarnian series, any related publications, products and web sites are fictitious. Characters, events, organisations and publications are not intended to refer to actual entities or events and any similarity is unintentional and entirely coincidental.

What's this all about?

This web site, and its contents, are here to support The Sarnian, a series of books set on and around the Channel Islands, and Guernsey in particular. It started as a means of keeping track of each character so that their features, loves, desires, abilities, looks and so on didn't change from book to book and has grown to become a complete encyclopedia of the series. Unless otherwise stated, the images included on this site were taken by The Sarnian author, Nik Rawlinson, who is also the author of the content.

Copyright

Rights to the contents of this website and the Sarnian series are retained by Nik Rawlinson. ©2014 - 2019 Nik Rawlinson. All Rights Reserved.

See the FAQ pages for answers to other common questions.