Royal Guernsey Light Infantry memorial was unveiled

Dignitaries from Guernsey and France gathered in the French town of Masnieres on 30 November 2017 to honour the RGLI. The Royal Guernsey Light Infantry suffered heavy losses in the town during the First World War.

Speaking at the event, Lieutenant-Governor Vice Admiral Sir Ian Corder reminded those in attendance that Guernsey lost 1470 men fighting in the Great War – around 5% of the island’s total population, or one in twenty.

Masnieres

Masnieres saw some of the fiercest fighting during the 1917 Battle of Cambrai, a decisive battle of the First World War in which the RGLI was heavily involved. British forces took the town and held it for several days before withdrawing under heavy fire. In the meantime, they had severely disrupted German supply lines. The battle is commemorated in a tableau at the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry museum at Castle Cornet.

The town is the site of a British cemetery containing the bodies of 147 British, 19 New Zealand and 59 German soldiers. Soldiers from New Foundland are also remembered with a separate memorial.

The RGLI memorial was carved from a one-ton piece of Guernsey granite and sits on another piece of equal weight. It is positioned beneath a Guernsey flag, which will be replaced annually by a flag that has spent the previous 12 months hanging in Town Church.

An inscription carved on the upright stone and inlaid with gold reads,

The Royal Guernsey Light Infantry, despite great losses, held this position between 30th November and 2nd December 1917. This stone was brought from their island home in recognition of their bravery and sacrifice. Also honouring the men who remain buried or missing near this place. Diex aix.

Radio station Contact 94 went off the air

After just over three years on air, Anglo-French radio station Contact FM silenced its mics on 29 November 1991. Broadcasting to Normandy and the Channel Islands from studios in Lessay, it had been transmitting on a variety of frequencies between 93FM and 95FM.

Launch day

Like many radio stations, Contact FM had decided to launch with its breakfast slot. It was 5 September 1988; Kevin Turner was in the hot seat and Phil Collins’ Groovy Kind of Love was at the top of the British charts.

The first words broadcast were, “good morning. It’s six o’clock in the Channel Islands; seven o’clock in France. Welcome to the start of regular programmes from Contact 94.”

This was immediately followed by the first track on the playlist: The Beatles’ Good Day Sunshine, which led into the weather forecast. Unfortunately, this didn’t match the spirit of the song: the day was overcast and foggy and patches of heavy rain were predicted. The fog was expected to clear by lunchtime, but the maximum temperature would still only be 19 degrees and the wind would be blowing at force four to five.

Kevin Turner was followed, at 9am, by Steve Ryan, who handed over to John Tyler at lunchtime. Neil McCleod handled the drive time slot from 4pm; Danielle Berrou took over at 8pm, and ceded control to Paul Easton at 11pm. All of the output was in English except for Danielle Berrou’s 8pm – 11pm slot, which was in French.

Interrupted service

There was just one problem: the French authorities weren’t sure whether Contact 94 was broadcasting legally or not, and after a raid by the police, its equipment was confiscated.

Events leading up to the confiscation were detailed in the minutes of the 28 February 1989 meeting of the States of Jersey. The president of the island’s Broadcasting Committee said that a company, which remained unnamed, had asked for permission to set up a local radio station on Jersey. This had been denied because BBC Radio Jersey was then still relatively new. The company accepted this. However, it applied to both the Home Office and Consul de France for permission to broadcast to the Channel Islands from France.

The Home Office told the company that it would insist that the French authorities not allow a station to be set up there with the specific aim of broadcasting to the Channel Islands. The president concluded,

The French authorities took the action they decided was appropriate in each case. The French authorities have not banned Radio Force 7, but the power of its transmitter has been reduced; Contact 94 was found by the French authorities to be illegal.

At no point did the president state that Contact 94 had been the unnamed company to which he was referring.

Contact 94 only disappeared temporarily. Its equipment was later returned on appeal and it resumed broadcasting.

However, when the UK Radio Authority advertised the availability of independent licences for both Guernsey and Jersey, Contact 94 decided to apply for the right to broadcast in Jersey. As part of that process, it switched off on 29 November 1991.

It was unsuccessful in its application, with the Jersey licence instead being awarded to Channel 103. Channel 103 was later bought by Tindal Radio Group to be run alongside Guernsey’s Island FM.

HMS Boreas sank at Hanois

Yarmouth-built HMS Boreas was just 12 months old when wrecked on the reef at Hanois, having been launched on 16 November the year before. Her loss, along with 120 crew, contributed to public calls for a lighthouse to be constructed on the reef. Work on such a lighthouse eventually got underway in 1860 and was completed two years later.

HMS Boreas wrecked

Boreas was a gunship, carrying 28 cannons, but was on a mercy mission at the time of her loss. She had sailed out from St Peter Port to rescue a pilot boat at around 6pm. In the words of James Saumarez’s letter to the Admiralty, “the wind at the time [was] blowing very hard at NE”. The pilot boat was having trouble in rough waters and, having attached the two boats so that the Boreas could tow the cutter, HMS Boreas’ captain, Robert Scott, turned about and made for Guernsey. It was then that Boreas struck Requiers rock.

The captain ordered his men to abandon ship. Some of them took lifeboats to Hanois rock, but others simply deserted. This meant that, having dropped off their passengers, the craft were unable to return to rescue others. This contributed to a very high death toll, which included the captain himself.

As for the pilot boat that the Boreas had been trying to save, its crew cut the lines securing it to HMS Boreas and sailed away to safety on their own. They did nothing to save the crew of the Boreas themselves. Neither did they raise the alarm once they got to shore so that boats could be dispatched to help.

James Saumarez had been alerted to the sinking of the Boreas at around 2am the following morning. He sent boats to help it, but by then the ship was going down fast and little could be done. Just 30 men were rescued from Hanois rock, and even some of the boats sent to help went down in the rough seas.

Diver Richard Keen retrieved one of the Boreas cannon from the wreck in 1974. It is now on display at Fort Grey, where it has been positioned so that it points towards Boreas’ final resting place.

Admiral Thomas Le Marchant Gosselin died

Guernsey-born Admiral Thomas Le Marchant Gosselin died on 27 November 1857 after an impressive career in the navy.

Gosselin was born in St Peter Port in 1765 and was first sent to sea aged just 13. The following year, he was captured by the combined fleets of France and Spain just off Plymouth and was held in Normandy for three months.

Despite his career having had such a rough start – and at such a young age – it seems not to have put him off a life on the water.

An impressive CV

Gosselin was promoted several times over the years. The first of these was his elevation to lieutenant in 1787. Six years later, he was in command of his own ship

He got his revenge on the French almost 20 years after he had been held captive in Normandy, when he captured a French convoy while commanding HMS Kingfisher. He had been appointed to the ship in 1794.

In all, he spent almost three decades at sea in command of a variety of boats. He saw action in the waters off America, France, India and the West Indies. When ill-health eventually forced him back to dry land, he continued to earn himself promotions – first to rear admiral in 1814, to vice admiral in 1825 and, in 1841, to admiral.

Yet, as a man who clearly loved the sea, not even his increasing frailty was enough to force him out of the navy, despite the fact that as he was not in service he was on half-pay.

He remained active in his final rank until his death, aged 92, in 1857. By then he was living in Jersey where he left behind a wife, Sarah, and the son and three daughters he had had with her. His will has been retained by the National Archives at Kew.

Guernsey held its first full marathon

On 26 November 1909, Guernsey held its first full marathon. Previous “marathons”, of which there had been two, both held in September, were only 15 miles 604 yards long. These shorter races had used a course that ran from Queen’s Road in St Peter Port, to Vazon, up to Grande Rocque, across to Bordeaux Harbour, and then back down to White Rock for the finish.

In contrast, the first “full” marathon stretched for 26.25 miles. It started at 1.12pm at the Gouffre Hotel, where it was also expected to end at around half past four.

A return race

The 1909 race was the result of a grudge between W Mahy, winner of that year’s shorter September Marathon (in one hour, 33 minutes and 55 seconds), and H Becker, who had taken part in the previous races but not done as well as had been expected.

Becker claimed that this was because he was a skilled cross-country runner and was therefore not used to running as part of a pack. When given the freedom to run unhindered, with more space to swing his arms and no need to think about overtaking, he might be expected to do better.

To make things more interesting, the two men were joined by another pair of runners: a Belgian waiter called G Babbé, and Mr E Le Moigne.

Babbé had taken an early lead but, according to a report in The Jersey Times, Becker passed him within the first few miles and maintained his position until the finish line.

Becker crossed with a time of three hours and three minutes, perhaps justifying his request that the race take place at all, and proving that he was, indeed, a better runner than his result in the autumn would have suggested.

Babbé was 32 minutes behind him, but Mahy, who had won the shorter marathon in September, failed to complete the course, dropping out at Albecq.

According to the Guernsey Marathon website, Becker was awarded £1 and a silver hot-water kettle. The BBC reveals that Babbe received 15 shillings and a silver tray.

The Poly Marathon

Guernsey Marathon wasn’t the only long-distance race to first be held in 1909. London’s Polytechnic Marathon, which was a precursor to the modern-day London Marathon, was also held for the first time that same year.

It was won by Henry Barrett with a time of two hours, 42 minutes and 31 seconds. This was 21 minutes quicker than the time in which Becker had completed the Guernsey Marathon but, being held on flat paved streets, it’s arguable that Becker’s time was at least as good.

Barrett and his rivals, after all, didn’t need to face the steep hill at the Gouffre.

Spanish flu arrived on Guernsey

The so-called “Spanish” flu, which had nothing to do with Spain, hit hard on Guernsey in November and December 1918. The pandemic, which had first appeared in American barracks, crossed the Atlantic and infected Europe, travelling north to south until it reached Africa.

From there it spread through India and China to hammer the far east. A variety of avian flu, it is thought to have infected almost half of the global population with up to 100 million fatalities. It is said to have killed more American soldiers than the number who died in battle during the First World War.

Spanish flu in Guernsey

In Guernsey, 115 people died of the disease which, according to a briefing document written by the States of Guernsey (PDF), progressed so rapidly that a victim could wake up healthy in the morning but be dead before sundown. The first victim died in August of that year, and the last in April 1919.

Strict measures had to be implemented to minimise the risk of the illness spreading. The Royal Court closed most places where a large number of people might come together, including schools and places of entertainment. It also recommended that residents gargled with Thalasol, which was a disintectant manufactured in St Peter Port from local sea water.

Sark women get the right to inherit

It took until 1999 – 400 years – for Sark’s female residents to be given equal inheritance rights to men. Feudal law, which until then had been used on the island for more than four centuries, had dictated that a deceased’s estate could only pass to his or her eldest son upon their death. Further, it could only pass in its entirety.

So, a man who had five daughters before he had a son could legally only leave his whole estate to the son, whether or not he wanted to, and couldn’t leave any part of it to one or more of his daughters. The only way a daughter could inherit is if there was no son at all, regardless of age.

Finally, following a vote in the Chief Pleas, residents could leave their property not only to legitimate sons and daughters, but also illegitimate offspring – or indeed anybody they chose.

The tides of change

The change was largely driven by the Barclay brothers, owners of the Telegraph newspaper and Ritz Hotel. They had wanted the right to leave the neighbouring island of Brecqhou jointly to David Barclay’s sons and Frederick Barclay’s daughter.

Accusing the Seigneur of being a “medieval dictator”, they had threatened to take the island to the European court of human rights to challenge the status quo. Sark’s Chief Pleas debated the change for almost two hours before voting on it but, when the votes were counted, two-thirds of the island’s representatives had concurred.

This was just the first change in a series of amendments to the way Sark operated over the next few years, the most notable of which was a move away from feudalism and a broader acceptance of democracy. In 2006 the island opted to switch its 40 hereditary rulers and 12 elected representatives for a fully elected Chief Pleas of 28 seats.

A Lancaster bomber crashed on Sark

Stuttgart suffered heavy bombing on the night of 22nd to 23rd November 1942, with more than 200 bombers dropping their payloads onto the city. One of those bombers – Lancaster W4107 of the 49 Squadron – didn’t make it back to the mainland. Instead, it came down on Sark.

Sibyl Hathaway, Dame of Sark, described what happened in her autobiography:

There was great excitement one night when a Lancaster bomber made a forced landing in a field near the Seigneurie. The plane circled round and we were awakened by the noise… the German patrol appeared in our drive, running madly in order to take a short cut through the field… we heard no shots, although Bishop [the farm bailiff] said he could hear English voices… later I got details from the German doctor who confided to me that the plane was returning from a raid on Stuttgart. The navigating instruments had been shot away and four of the crew had bailed out over France, leaving only the pilot and two others to land here. They were taken off next day to a prison in Germany.

49 Squadron was disbanded in May 1965, but its Association website records many stories of its various members, including the tale of W4107’s hard landing.

A welcoming party

Having dropped its bombs on Stuttgart, the Lancaster was hit by several rounds of anti-aircraft fire, which set one engine and part of the fuselage burning. After four members of crew bailed out, two of the three remaining members put out the fire while Sergeant Eric Singleton concentrated on keeping the plane in the air.

Only when he saw what he believed was “friendly” land – by which he meant the mainland – did he bring W4107 down to land. Unfortunately, without navigational instruments to help, he’d made a miscalculation and actually landed in enemy-occupied Sark. As the crew left the plane they found themselves confronted by the officer who had run up Sibyl Hathaway’s drive.

“I thought it was the Home Guard,” Singleton is reported as saying. “But as they asked us to put up our hands we realised they were Germans.”

According to the Dame, “as they went they [the crew] signalled ‘thumbs up’ to our fishermen, the only people allowed to see them taken off from the harbour.”

First Guernsey competitor took part in Miss World

Guernsey made its debut at the 24th edition of the Miss World pageant on 22 November 1974. Gina Elizabeth Ann Atkinson represented the island against 57 rivals. Jersey was the only other Channel Island to take part, sending Christine Marjorie Sangan as its representative.

Held at London’s Royal Albert Hall, the event was hosted by Michael Aspel and David Vine and watched by around 30 million people.

Sadly, Atkinson didn’t bring home the title for Guernsey. The competition was won by Welsh competitor Helen Morgan, but when it was later discovered that she had had a child, she resigned and the title passed to Anneline Kriel of South Africa.

Guernsey recruits caused concern in Parliament

Despite their independence, Guernsey and Jersey frequently come up in Parliament. On 21 November 1916, with the First World War raging, Ian Malcolm, MP for Croydon, voiced his concerns about two recruits to the Royal Court.

According to Hansard, the official record of proceedings in the house, he asked the Home Secretary, Herbert Samuel,

…whether two appointments have been made by the Royal Court of the Island in Guernsey of young men of military age in connection with the execution of a Compulsory Military Service Bill recently voted, although these duties could be competently performed by men over military age or by women; and, if so, what action he proposes to take?

The Home Secretary confirmed that yes, two men, aged 28 and 35, had been employed by the Royal Court. One, he said, “is a cripple from birth and unfit for any form of military service”, while the case concerning the other was “now before the Guernsey Tribunal”, which would decide whether he should retain his permission or be enrolled into the army.

Compulsory conscription

Guernsey passed a Compulsory Military Service Bill on 23 August 1916 requiring all men of military age to report for duty as soon as it became law. That was scheduled to be 50 days after it had been passed.

The Bill ran along similar lined to that instituted in the mainland, but with one additional proviso: there was no allowance for conscientious objectors. Such objectors could elsewhere obtain exemption from service on the grounds of conscience, religion or freedom of thought.

Conscientious objection doesn’t always excuse someone from being sent to an active front line with the army, so it’s not necessarily a way of avoiding service. Such an objector could, for instance, be attached to a troop as a stretcher bearer or cook, which may put them within range of fire, but without a weapon to defend themselves. It was not, therefore, simply a way to avoid seeing action altogether.

The Bill becomes an Act – and a law

The Compulsory Military Service Act came into force on Guernsey on 16 November 1916. Exactly 30 days later, all male British subjects on any of the islands within the Bailiwick, aged between 18 and 41, would be automatically enrolled in the army or navy.

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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.

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