Guernsey Police makes the world’s first underwater arrest

As a local delicacy, the ormer enjoys unusual protection. When and where it can be collected is strictly controlled and the penalty for breaking the rules can be expensive: a fine of up to £5000 or six months in prison. A 1968 case of unauthorised ormering led Guernsey Police to make the world’s first underwater arrest.

A passer-by had spotted a diver off Castle Cornet apparently collecting ormers both out of season and while fully submerged, both of which are forbidden.

Underwater arrest

Guernsey Police dispatched Constable David Archer, who entered the water just south of the castle where, true enough, he spotted the diver collecting the shellfish around 12m (40ft) below the surface. Archer tapped the man on the shoulder and motioned for him to go up to the surface. As soon as they both had their heads above the water, Archer arrested him and both men had earned themselves a place in Guernsey’s history books.

Ormers, called abalones elsewhere, can only be gathered on days of the full and new moon, and the two days that follow either, between 1st January and 30th April each year. Any ormers less than 80mm long, when measured along the longest axis of the shell, must immediately be put back where they were found. The use of any breathing aparatus is forbidden, as is being partially submerged. The only way to collect them, then, is by wading into the water and remaining upright.

Castle Cornet is struck by lightning

Castle Cornet was the official residence of the Governor of Guernsey until 1671 (some sources say 1672) but a freak bolt of lightning put an end to that practice when it struck and destroyed the castle’s keep.

Lord Hatton, who was Governor at the time, was lucky to escape with his life as the strike also destroyed several living quarters and killed Hatton’s wife, mother and several members of his staff. The Governor himself is said to have been blown out of the castle, still in his bed, and lodged on one of the high outer walls. In total, seven lives were lost and the keep (or Great Donjon, as it was known), Great Hall and chapel were entirely destroyed. Castle Cornet’s keep has never been rebuilt.

As a result of the loss of life, the Court announced that the following Wednesday would be observed as a day of island-wide fasting during which all inhabitants would be required to attend church to ask for mercy. Anyone who disobeyed would be punished.

Ready to blow

If it seems remarkable that lightning could cause such damage to a stone tower, it should be remembered that the keep was also used to store gunpowder, which was ignited by the charge. A single bolt of lightning can contain up to one billion volts of electricity.

The exact wording of the Court’s ordnance on the matter is solemn in the extreme:

…by the instrumentality of Divine Providence and during the night of Sunday 30th December last, the Powder Magazines situate[d] in the great tower of Castle Cornet were ignited by a terrible lightning flash from heaven; through which the tower was wrecked, the exploded portions also totally wrecking all the buildings and out-houses erected on the Castle… considering the extent of the loss experienced the inhabitants have arrived at the conclusion that God’s wrath is much incensed against them owing to the[ir] iniquities…

The position of Governor of Guernsey was abolished in 1835 following the death of Sir William Keppel the previous year.

Ebenezer Le Page author GB Edwards dies

Gerald Basil Edwards was born on 8 July 1899 at Sous les Houges, Vale, to Harriet Mauger and Thomas Edwards, a quarry-owner. He moved to Bristol to study English in 1919, and from there went to London to teach literature and drama despite not having graduated.

Before moving to England, he had spent some time teaching on Guernsey, and served in the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry from 1917. In that year he had been posted to Portsmouth to work as a gunnery instructor.

Edwards’ mother died when he was 25, when he was already living on the mainland. In his absence, his father sold the family home, which Harriet had bequeathed to Gerald, who had rejected it by tearing up her will. At this point, Edwards vowed never to return and, indeed, he never lived on the island again. Nonetheless, he wrote one of the most lauded books about Guernsey, The Book of Ebenezer Le Page, published posthumously in 1981.

A private man

Few records of Edwards’ life exist as Edwards destroyed as much as he could before dying. However, it is known that he lived in Switzerland and the Netherlands, as well as the UK, and that during and after the Second World War he took a job with the civil service.

The Book of Ebenezer Le Page is his only novel-length work known to exist. He died of a heart attack in December 1976 and, following his cremation, his ashes were returned to St Peter Port. He had bequeathed the manuscript of the book to a friend before his death, who submitted it to several publishers over many years before he was successful in finding one who would print and distribute it.

In 2008, a blue plaque was erected on Hawkesbury House, Braye du Valle, reading, “G. B. Edwards, 1899 – 1979, author of The Book of Ebenezer Le Page lived here”.

Operation Hardtack targets the Channel Islands

Despite having demilitarised the Channel Islands early in the Second World War, the British government never entirely lost interest in them. They knew, as well as the Germans did, that they would be a useful staging point for any invasion of mainland Europe via Normandy. Thus, Britain needed to know what was going on there and, where possible, it had an interest in disrupting German activities if for no other reason than to degrade their resources and morale.

London had been sending Commandos to the islands since the very beginning of the occupation. The most famous of these operations were the two that had landed Hubert Nicolle on Guernsey on fact-finding missions. When his transport home failed to rendezvous at the end of his second mission, he was arrested, tried, and sent to a prisoner of war camp.

One mission, many raids

Operation Hardtack was the name of a series of raids on the Channel Islands conducted by three commando regiments between 24 and 28 December 1943. Two of them – Hardtack 7 and Hardtack 22 targeted Sark and Herm respectively. Hardtack 28 was focused on Jersey.

In every instance, the mission was the same: reconnaissance and, where possible, taking prisoners who could be returned to England and interrogated.

Hardtack 7, the raid on Sark, was unsuccessful. The first attempt on the night of 25th – 26th December had to be aborted when the commandos found themselves unable to scale the island’s steep cliffs. They returned on the night of 27th to 28th December and this time made it to level ground but, in doing so, stumbled upon a minefield. Two of the commandos were killed and one other was injured. The dead were left behind while the remaining eight men returned to their boat.

Hardtack 22, the raid on Herm, was abandoned at the planning stage and the island saw very little action throughout the whole of the Second World War.

Hardtack 28, the raid on Guernsey’s close neighbour, Jersey, was also unsuccessful. Having failed to locate any German soldiers that they could take back to the mainland, the team turned around and headed back to their transport, but set off a mine at Petit Port beach in the process, which killed their captain.

Limited success

Unfortunately, the Hardtack raids as a whole don’t appear to have achieved a great deal. Hardtack 36 at Wassenaar in the Netherlands resulted in the death of all the commandos. Hardtack 23 to Ostend had to be abandoned when the transport ran aground. Hardtack 11, just south of Dunkirk, saw the commandos stranded when their boat became waterlogged. Hardtack 5, in the French Somme department resulted in one Allied injury, again from a mine, and an apparent absence of any German soldiers.

Hardtack 4 and Hardtack 21, however, were exceptions. Hardtack 4 targeted Criel-sur-Mer and although the commandos were forced to withdraw they did at least encounter a patrol of German soldiers. Unfortunately they were outnumbered and unable to capture any of the enemy troops.

Hardtack 21, at Quineville, provided valuable information on one of the beaches at Pouppeville where the Normandy landings would take place in June 1944. Thus, of more than a dozen raids, one bore fruit that might have been sufficient to help the Allied forces in the closing stages of the war.

The Red Cross saves Guernsey from starvation

As the Second World War approached its climax, Guernsey’s locals and the occupying forces alike started to run dangerously low on food. Tales of locals going to bed at lunchtime in an effort to sleep off the pangs of hunger were common, and things only worsened until, eventually, the Germans declared that they would no longer be responsible for feeding the population they had forcibly taken over.

The situation had been worsening since the Allied invasion of mainland Europe had got underway and Germany had started to suffer serious losses. As the German forces had retreated, their lines of supply to the Channel Islands had been cut, which left anyone on Guernsey, Jersey and Sark to fend for themselves as best they could. Herm had been evacuated for the duration of the war and Alderney was being run as a prison.

But in the middle of winter, and after four years of occupation, none of the islands had the resources they needed to grow sufficient crops and raise animals for meat and eggs. Therefore, at the start of November 1944, the Bailiff, Victor Carey, had been allowed to send a message to London, explaining the situation.

London understands

Combined with information transported via liberated France by Guernsey escapee Fred Noyon, this had finally convinced Churchill to authorise the International Red Cross to step in. Previously, where the Channel Islands were concerned, Churchill had apparently been prepared to “let ’em starve”.

The Red Cross loaded its supply ship, SS Vega, with almost 120,000 food parcels from Canada and New Zealand, and set sail from Lisbon, on 20 December. The ship reached Guernsey on 27 December 1944 and started giving out food parcels right away. Each one had been carefully put together to last a single person a whole month – if eaten in moderation. Its work in Guernsey done, SS Vega moved on to Jersey, where it arrived on New Year’s Eve.

Most of the occupying forces are said to have behaved in an extremely fair manner, refusing to take the parcels themselves, or to steal the parcels of any islanders. As a result of the trust that this behaviour engendered, the Vega made five more visits between December 1944 and liberation the following summer, to deliver more than 450,000 parcels in total.

Guille and Alles lease the Assembly Rooms

Thomas Guille and Frederick Alles’ library was founded in 1856 when the two men men, returning from apprenticeships in America, donated their collection of books to Guernsey.

However, despite bring such a valuable public resource, the volumes had initially been spread right across the island as they couldn’t be accommodated as a single collection. Thus, it was only in 1881, after the books had been temporarily relocated to St Peter Port, that Guille and Alles signed a lease on a number of Assembly Rooms. At last, they could all be kept together, and made available in a single central location for public viewing.

The library opened its doors the following year, and in 1883 Guille and Alles bought the rooms outright. Five years later, the premises were extended and a new entrance was opened up, giving better access to the 50,000 volumes it then contained.

Guille and Alles had been childhood friends who rekindled their friendship when they worked in the same carpentry firm in New York. The company that employed them gave them access to New York’s apprentices’ library, which inspired the pair to set up something similar on their return to Guernsey.

An educational innovation

Libraries weren’t new, but the innovation here was that this library should be open to all. Members paid a subscription, as they would have done to join a club, which helped finance its acquisitions and the maintenance of its collection.

The institution was eventually run by the Guille-Alles Trust, but as this approached the end of its first one hundred years of operation it started to run into financial difficulties, and it looked like it might have to shut down. Recognising that this would be a serious blow to the island’s cultural heritage, the States of Guernsey stepped in. It provided funding to sustain the library, and make it free for all to use without requiring that they pay an ongoing subscription.

Asterix is discovered in St Peter Port harbour

Diver and fisherman Richard Keen was taking a Christmas day swim when he spotted the remains of a third-century Roman trading ship. It had been sunk right in the middle of what was then the mouth of St Peter Port harbour.

Unfortunately, its position meant that the ship was slowly being eroded by the motion of the water, which was constantly being stirred up by the passing maritime traffic. It was obvious that it needed to be brought to the surface as soon as possible. However, lifting the 18m remains of a 22m- to 25m-long, 6m-wide ship is not an easy business, and particularly not in that location where doing so would disrupt a lot of sea traffic.

The Guernsey Maritime Trust was formed in response and immediately started making plans for the ship’s recovery. In the meantime, the vessel, which turned out to be the most complete sea-going Roman ship of its size known to have survived outside the Mediterranean, earned itself the nickname Asterix, after a schoolboy referred to it as Asterix’s ship.

As work on its excavation and removal proceeded, it became clear that Keen had found more than just a ship. Asterix was a supply vessel that had seemingly caught fire and sunk with much of its cargo in place, including tiles and coins.

Lifting Asterix

Work on raising the wreck took place in November 1984, March 1985 and September 1986, with sandbags being placed on top of it to protect it from suffering any further erosion in the interim. Further dives were taken when required (and when safe to do so) until 1988 and the work was completed under the guidance of Dr Margaret Rule, who had also supervised the raising of King Henry VIII’s gunship, the Mary Rose.

Once it was out of the water, work began on preserving the wood. In 1999 it was sent to Portsmouth for the expert attention of the same team who had worked with Dr Rule on the Mary Rose. The timbers didn’t return to Guernsey until the start of 2015.

The preserved remains of the wrecked ship are now on display in Rocquaine, and some of the cargo is on display in the Maritime Museum at Castle Cornet.

While it might seem strange that the ship was discovered on Christmas Day when few people would be expected to be diving, that is actually the only day of the year when diving is permitted in the harbour, since at all other times there is too much marine traffic for it not to pose a danger to shipping or the diver themselves.

Wombles author Liza Beresford dies

Elizabeth Beresford, who was born in Paris in 1926 and educated in Brighton, will long be remembered as the creator of the Wombles. It was perhaps inevitable that she would grow up to be a writer, when her father himself was a novelist who counted HG Wells, George Bernard Shaw and DH Lawrence among his friends.

She worked for a while as a BBC journalist and wrote several childrens’ books aside from those about The Wombles. Her most famous creation came about after a Boxing Day stroll in Wimbledon Common, the recreation ground in south London where the Wombles collect and recycle rubbish. The name came about when her daughter mis-pronounced the common as Wombledon.

A prolific author

The first of six Wombles books, simply called The Wombles, was published in 1968. This was followed by five other volumes between 1970 and 1976 comprising around two dozen stories in total. Throughout her life she wrote more than 100 childrens books.

Many of the Wombles characters were based on her own family members and have specific or meaningful names. One name that wasn’t based on her family, though, was Alderney, the name of the assistant to Madame Cholet, the Wombles’ cook.

The stories were later televised by the BBC in a series of 35 stop-motion animation espisodes. Each was five minutes long and narrated by Bernard Cribbins. For many, they would have been their first introduction to the concept of recycling, which wasn’t widely practices when the books had been written.

Known as Liza, Beresford moved to St Anne, Alderney, in the 1970s. She died there in hospital there of heart failure in 2010. She was 84 and had been awarded an MBE in 1996 for services to children’s literature.

William Hedley Cliff buys Jethou

Tiny Jethou, with its single granite house and 45 acres of land, was sold for £10,000 on 23 December 1958. Its owner, Herman Stockey, had contracted agents Knight, Frank and Rutley to handle the advertising and sale of the property in the previous May. The new owner, who took possession just in time for Christmas, was Group Captain William Hedley Cliff DSO.

Sir Compton Mackenzie, author of Whisky Galore and one of the co-founders of the Scottish National Party, had previously been a long-time resident of Jethou. Through 14 years of owning the island, while simultaneously being the tenant of Herm, he had found that it provided the solitude he he needed to write fifteen books. He also added a library to the only house on the island, as would befit someone of his profession.

Mackenzie was still alive when Hedley Cliff became Jethou’s 19th tenant and is reported in the Daily Herald of Christmas eve 1958 to have called the £10,000 that Cliff had paid “a fair price”. It would equate to around quarter of a million pounds today. However, he wasn’t buying it outright; just the remainder of the lease, which still had 37 years to run. Throughout this time, the Group Captain would be required to pay the Crown a rent of £100 per annum (around £2500 annually today).

Jethou as a tourist attraction

Although there is a requirement for the tenant of neighbouring Herm to keep the island open for public visits, no such requirement is incumbent upon the leaseholder on Jethou. Nonetheless, William Hedley Cliff did open his island home as a resort for the duration of his tenure. He established a bar and gift shop and even printed the island’s own stamps. He welcomed more than 5000 visitors a year to the tiny dominion when the holiday season was at its peak. He also took advantage of its position, and the fact that the Channel Islands have a longer growing season than the mainland, to grow and export daffodils.

A little over five years after completing the sale, though, Hedley Smith put Jethou back on the market, perhaps with mixed emotions. Despite the success he had evidently had in running the island as a viable business, one incident will have marred his time there. In 1962 he had set out on a punt to visit Herm with his friend, and been rescued the following day after spending the night clinging on to his upturned craft. His unfortunate friend drowned.

Guernsey struck by an earthquake

At 3.53pm, Guernsey was shaken by a violent tremor lasting several seconds. It was strong enough to cause the bell in Town Church to ring of its own accord, buildings to sway, and even the piers to rock on their legs.

As The Star reported, “unaccustomed as we are in this happy climate to all the fearful phenomena of nature, general surprise and alarm were created by this occurrence, the more especially as the shock was one of very considerable violence.”

Indeed, so violent was it that the staff of the paper ran outdoors for their own safety, fearing that the building might collapse on them.

Ominous signs

The full report has eerie overtones. Despite being late December, it had still been warm enough for people to be swimming in the sea. Two days before the quake, a luminous cloud had appeared above the water and hovered for 10 or 15 minutes. The nights had been “impenetrably dark”, and were only lit by the passing of a meteor. On the day of the quake itself, the clouds were “singularly tinted with pale green, red and purple”.

The earthquake was also felt in Jersey, Sark, Herm, Devon and even on a few ships close to the Channel Islands. However, despite its apparent severity, the level of damage sustained was low, amounting to little more than a few dislodged and broken roof tiles in St Peter Port and some collapsed chimneys in the parishes.

Some residents reported feeling an aftershock around an hour after the initial quake. The epicentre has since been calculated to have been close to Guernsey, with a magnitude of around 4.4. Earthquakes of this intensity are not particularly uncommon, with up to 15,000 occurring worldwide each year.

The 1843 incident was far from the only earthquake to shake the island. Further tremors were recorded in 1853, 1887, 1889, 1933, 2014 and 2015. The 2014 and 2015 shakes were less severe than that felt in 1843, registering 4.2 and 2.9 on the Richter scale respectively.

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.

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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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