Stepping into 1944

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:

Batterie Lothringen1

Batterie Lothringen

 

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.

Batterie Lothringen

Batterie Lothringen

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.

Batterie Lothringen

Batterie Lothringen

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

towards her.

‘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

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A West Cork Mystery

515mwB4vohL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

56 thoughts on “Stepping into 1944

  1. Reblogged this on Back On The Rock and commented:
    It’s always an honour to be asked to appear on another blog. I’m very happy that Letizia of the popular book lovers blog ‘Reading Interrupted’ has allowed my to reflect on a special day for me in 2013.

    • Nail on head Carrie, thank you. The Channel Islanders (and indeed the German garrison) were at their lowest ebb and were literally starving at this time. There were very few sparks of hope that winter. The ‘Vega’ arriving was a fantastic event.

  2. I’m sorry to say I did not know this about the Channel Islands. My father and two uncles fought in that war and I thought I knew a lot about it. I will be reading more of Roy’s works and opening my eyes a bit wider. Thank you, Letizia for bring Roy to your site!

    • Thanks Dannie. Indeed the Channel Islands were only a vague concept in my mind before I moved here in 1977 – and that was from England only 100 miles or so away. It’s unsurprising that others much further away haven’t heard of them. They have got a rich history though and are now grown up enough to welcome tourists from Germany, and indeed old soldiers.

  3. Roy guesting…yay! That would have been so cool to be a part of that ceremony. What an honor. I would have cried during the passage, I’m sure of it.

    I remember this part from the book. I definitely got choked up over it.

  4. The Channel Islands don’t get much love in English history books, you would think it would be a fascinating social and historical lessons for people in education, much like Sealand. Real people caught up in huge events makes for wonderful reading and it’s captured superbly here.

    • To be honest the Channel Islands had a pretty peaceful existence – barring the odd visit by the pesky French – for many centuries. Even the Occupation could be regarded as low-key by others – certainly the atrocities that went on elsewhere in that period deserve more attention. It was an evil and depressing time but the CIs got off lightly in the end by comparison. Appreciate your comments Ste J.

      • The only thing that I read about the Channel Islands these days is the Barclay brothers trying to ruin Sark, I will have to look into the history of the islands more right from the first settlers. It pleases me there is still so much history I have yet to explore.

        • Indeed, the Barclays are detested and they couldn’t give a damn. The history of the islands is intriguing indeed but without the ‘grand events’ that have shaped the wider world. We content ourselves with inter-island rivalry 🙂

  5. Thank you both for bringing us back into 1944 with that beautiful passage. I always love time traveling through books and will make sure to look this one up.

    • Thank you Sheila – it was probably the lowest ebb in Jersey’s history. After the D-Day landings the food supply lines from France had been cut and it seemed to the islanders that they had been abandoned by the outside world. They had little news of the progress of the war – hope was pretty much exhausted at that stage. No wonder the Liberation celebrations are so fierce even 70 years on.

  6. Oh, this pierced my heart. What a wonderful passage. Thank you! My father was a WWII vet who fought in France during the D-Day invasion and beyond. He and my mother got married on a three-day leave before he left the U.S. on a troop ship. She didn’t see him for the next two years. He never talked about much of his war experience, but he did have a piece of an American plane marked in German with the date it had been shot down. When I asked him about it, he said he recovered it from a German soldier. Then he said no more. So many young people, so many lost lives. Such waste. This passage offers a glimmer of hope during such a bleak time, and I am thankful for that.

    • Jilanne, thanks so much for this. You are rightly proud of your father. Without his efforts alongside his comrades the world could have become a very different place. Unsurprisingly many vets refuse to speak about their experiences to save spreading the misery. But I thought the young German soldier in the little scene at St Aubin spoke for many of his countrymen in that he was caught up in events beyond his control.

  7. Thank you Christy – yes, when all seemed hopeless and grey maybe the ‘Vega’ and the fictitious young, thoughtful soldier gave a little hope that all bad things come to an end.

    • Thanks so much Kate. There’s quite a bit of historical linkage between the CIs and the US. There are a few Newfoundland townships that grew up in the old cod fishing days and whose present day inhabitants are direct descendants of those early settlers. Not to mention New Jersey 🙂

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