What has Cherry Brandy got to do with Liberation Day? On Liberation day, 1945, my mother's uncle went back to his house to get a bottle of cherry brandy for the family to celebrate their freedom with. It had been tucked away, unopened, for the entire Occupation.
The bottle of Cherry Brandy, in a very real sense, symbolised the abiding hope of the Jersey people. And there were other signs of that freedom as well. Wireless sets were brought out of hiding, Union Jacks were taken out ready to be raised.
Until the D-Day landings, the possibility of freedom must have seemed very remote. Jersey was Occupied by the German Forces, made into a fortress of concrete and steel, and there was no sign of any invasion of nearby France; when it happened, it happened very quickly. Before then, it must have seemed a very dark and threatening future.
But the people of Jersey never lost faith that a day would come when they would be free, and the Cherry Brandy, along with countless other things, were kept back, in reserve, a pledge that the people had not lost hope. For them, it was buried treasure.
That is the nature of hope. It is not certainty, and at times, it may fly in the face of more rational judgements, because it looks to a particular future, and reason may suggest the chances of that happening are very remote. It does not mean having no doubts, but it means keeping true despite those doubts.
The opposite of hope is despair. And some of the people certainly did despair and lose hope. It is easy to see why. Their world had been turned upside down, and they were living in an occupied land. And the increased privations which that brought must have eaten into that hope. They can hardly be blamed for giving up. Would we have done better? Who can say?
But it is remarkable how most people did keep going. I wonder how often my great-uncle thought about that Cherry Brandy. It was something material to cling onto, but it also provided a means of keeping up hope in the face of despair.
We are creatures of flesh and blood, and we need the physical. The central rite of Christianity is material and spiritual, eating bread and wine, a sign of the feast of freedom, of the table of the coming Kingdom, looking forward in hope.
And there is a profoundly religious aspect to liberation. Ours is a culture in which the words of the Bible proclaim time and again "liberty to the captives". That's a phrase which must have resonated to the Jersey people until the day when the promise came true.
What is the response to freedom? What thoughts went through their minds as they drank the Cherry Brandy. "Here's to us; we made it". That certainly, and also surely gratitude, thanksgiving to the troops who had come and set them free, to the Red Cross Ship Vega, without whom they would have not survived, and to God, for answered prayers.
But not all prayers were answered. Some Islanders had died in concentration camps, and would not be returning. So perhaps too there was a toast for the memory of those who had not come through the fires, but who had also kept faith until their end.
I don't know if it was good quality Cherry Brandy, or how well it had survived the war. But I imagine those drinking it, celebrating their freedom once more, found it to be the best Cherry Brandy in the world, and never ever drank anything that tasted quite as good as that taste of freedom.
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