I recently asked my blogging friend, Roy McCarthy, if he would be willing to write a piece for my blog. I always love reading a new post from Roy. From the photographic essays he takes us on around his home of Jersey (the Channel Islands) to introducing us to novels and poetry, his writing so often reveals the intimacy and depth of our everyday lives.
This is just one of the reasons I’m looking forward to reading his latest book A West Cork Mystery, and why I was delighted when he accepted my offer to share a story about a reading experience he had.
Here it is:
Before the forces of the Third Reich invaded and occupied the Channel Islands in June 1940 they had done their homework. Their aerial reconnaissance had helped them plan their defences. Noirmont, a rocky headland overlooking the southern approaches to Jersey and the capital St Helier was an ideal location.
Construction of defence installations began there in 1941. However, with an Allied invasion becoming more likely, a huge project was undertaken in 1944 to build Batterie Lothringen with four naval guns and numerous bunkers, including the massive Command Bunker. All this was part of Hitler’s Atlantic Wall.
After the Occupation, in 1946, the land at Noirmont was purchased for the people of the Island from the previous owners.
As part of the Liberation celebrations in June 2013 I was pleased to be asked to take part in a little event deep in the Command Bunker. A string quartet played to a capacity audience of 70 or so. Mine was the first reading in between the musical pieces. I had chosen a passage from Tess of Portelet Manor. In this part of the book I recognised that many of the German troops remaining in 1945 were non-regulars. They were conscripts, both old and young, with no love of the Nazis. The passage I chose was an exchange between a young German soldier and a cold and hungry Tess as she sat on the harbour wall at St Aubin.
It is quite a poignant scene and I had read it aloud many times beforehand so that, hopefully, I could get through the piece without faltering. As I took the stand however and looked at the audience, including war hero Eric Walker MBE, it was a special moment. One way or the other I did my bit, rather professionally I thought, and stood down. It was one of my proudest moments.
Here is the passage Roy read from Tess of Portelet Manor
(It’s New Year’s Eve 1944 and the Red Cross ship ‘Vega’ has just arrived with life-saving supplies):
And it was on this day that Tess met Arno. Having mooched
around with the others at the parish hall, Tess had decided, for no
particular reason, to come down to sit on the harbour wall. She
pulled her coat around her. She was tired, cold and hungry, but this
was a condition that she was now well used to – the same as everybody
else. The harbour was virtually empty of boats, the Germans
having heavily restricted boating activities since their arrival. St
Aubin’s Bay was quiet. German naval activity had been severely restricted
since the Allies had taken control of the area.
‘Good morning. May I join you on the wall?’
Tess glanced to her left. It was a young German soldier in his
grey uniform. She shrugged and looked away. The soldier swung
his legs over the wall and sat down.
‘The people are happy about the supply ship, yes?’
Tess shrugged again, didn’t look his way and didn’t bother answering.
The young soldier seemed to take no offence. He reached
inside his tunic jacket and extracted a paper package. Opening it,
he took out a chunk of bread, maybe a sandwich, and took a bite.
He joined Tess in gazing out across the harbour and bay.
‘May I offer you a sandwich?’ The soldier held out the package
‘No, thank you.’ Her manners defeated her diffidence.
‘It is cheese.’ Silence reigned. Tess was used to advances from
the soldiers and was quite used to treating them with contempt and
the crude remarks that would follow. But she had not tasted cheese
in a year or more.
‘One day soon, all this will be over. No more fighting. We will
live in peace once more. We will all be reunited with our loved
ones. Germany will be punished for its aggression.And, in time, we
will return to this island in a spirit of friendship, not as enemies.
And we will ask forgiveness and bring tokens of our regret for our
actions. I will not meet you then, so today I offer you this sandwich
as my personal token of regret. Take it, please.’
She turned and looked at him for the first time, her eyes brimming
with tears. She saw a boy, no older than she, with blue eyes
and short, blond hair under his cap. Just a boy, with a mother and
father at home, maybe brothers and sisters. A girlfriend, perhaps.
And she took the sandwich without a word.
Want to read more of Roy’s work?
His blog: Back to the Rock
Some of his books (click on images):
Tess of Portent Manor
A West Cork Mystery