Wednesday, 20 May 2015

How The Bailiff’s Speech was Taken Out of Context

Liberation day seems to have worked rather well, although the late shift of part of the ceremony to the Pomme D’Or Hotel caused a hiatus between events.

Despite Terry Le Main’s somewhat gushing letter praising the Bailiff for listening, it should be remembered that the first response to criticism from the organisers – including the recently elected Bailiff – was that we have it right, trust us!

It was only after a number of Occupation survivors had stated categorically that they would boycott the event that a rethink was hastily convened, and by all accounts, the acoustics in Liberation square left much to be desired to those not in the seated circle.

I wonder if more consultation beforehand would have resulted in a better arrangement. Apparently seats were short for the re-enactment, but they seemed plentiful in the People’s Park. I don’t know if the re-enactment was or could have been broadcast using JT’s wonderful gigabit broadband to the People’s Park, but that was clearly a solution.

I didn’t quite understand the letter to the JEP about the difficulty of moving from one venue to another. The timetable said “after the ceremony ends, shuttle buses to People's Park will start and continue until 2.30pm”

Because of other commitments, we only came to the People’s Park around 5.30 pm, in time to see the children singing, where the programme seemed to suggest the Big Band would be playing. I don’t know where the disconnect happened, but sitting down and watching the children sing war time songs was very enjoyable.

After that there was a long hiatus where they were setting something up for the next act, and after 20 minutes waiting, we decided enough was enough – the wind was rather chilly – and went off.

I wasn’t there for the Bailliff’s speech but I’ve read it since.

William Bailhache spoke of what he called the "harsher side" of the Nazi occupation during the World War Two. Quoting from a diary of the time, he described accounts of well-known residents "fleeing like rats" in 1940.

Jean McLaughlin, from Jersey Evacuees' Association, said the comments were hurtful. She said: "I felt very sick, very hurt and I felt for our family, for my mum and dad who were not here.

"Everybody left this island for different reasons. My father took me away for my safety. They were courageous to leave their families and possessions."

But in fact he was saying something very different. He began by citing three different stories from Liberation:

“A man is trying to light a cigarette but his lighter fails. He asks you if you can give him a match. Your human instinct is to say ‘Yes of course’. But you turn away, say nothing because this is March 1941 and you are British living in Jersey and he is a German. So you are angry because you have just been petty; and angry because he just shouldn’t be here; and frightened in case he is one of those “who abuses power and you simply do not know what the consequences of that might be

“On 9th May 1945 by mid-afternoon a large crowd had gathered in the area of the Pomme d’Or and indeed the re-enactment ceremony, which was conducted this morning, show the events that followed. All the German soldiers who had been billeted there and in the Royal Yacht Hotel were ordered to be out of town by that evening. A contemporary diarist recalls that “Some Jerry bags – the name given to a girl or woman who had been friendly or associated with the Germans, were beaten up pretty badly. Some had their clothes torn off and had to find their way home …………..with a mob following behind”.

“The same diarist described the events of June 1940 in this way:- “Hundreds then rushed to register for evacuation which lasted Thursday, Friday and Saturday. As I had a pass, I saw practically the whole of the evacuation and was really surprised to see some of the best known residents fleeing like rats”.

And then he commented on those stories – not with praise – not praise at all! – but to show how they were examples of “extreme positions”.

“These are three stories of the Occupation to set alongside the re-enactment to which I have just referred. It is somehow comforting to concentrate on that familiar re-enactment story isn’t it? Those who were here on 9th May 1945, if they are old enough, will remember people smiling and laughing, perhaps for the first time in years, and a huge sense of relief, of joy and of optimism.”

“But those three stories tell their own rather harsher tales of some of the effects of invasion and occupation, when ordinary people do things they would not normally do, or take up extreme positions which they would not normally take up.”

Notice those words – he is actually saying that those three examples were bad things – people behaving in ways that were unworthy of them because of the effects of Occupation. He is most definitely not saying that they are right, or that they should be approved.

He goes on to say:

“It is important to recognise that when times are hard people can react both heroically or less than heroically, and sometimes the elements of a person’s character or their circumstances are mixed up only slightly differently to produce one outcome or the other. If we recognise that, it is possible to reconcile ourselves to each other, whether those points of difference arose in 1940, 1945 or at any time thereafter.”

In other words, he is saying that those three ways or reacting – lack of basic courtesy, condemning people to left out of hand, and attacking girls who had formed attachments with the Germans – were people acting “less than heroically”.

In fact he said, that

“It is sometimes said that Liberation day belongs to those who were here in Jersey on 9th May 1945. I think it belongs to others too - the day is important not only for those who suffered the Occupation here as children, but also for the families of those who evacuated, whether for safety or to join His Majesty’s Forces in defence of the realm and were unable to return to their homes and families for five years; and to those who were deported.”

“As a matter of history Liberation Day is directly about all three groups – evacuees, deportees and those suffering the Occupation in Jersey – and the 70th anniversary of liberation naturally has these three groups as its primary focus.”

So he has been condemned by having his words taken out of context, whereas he is actually reclaiming the liberation story for those who were evacuated!

And what of the Jerrybags? He doesn’t mention their story.So I will. 

Now it is probably true that some local girls took advantage of the kudos and status to lord it over others, There is certainly evidence of that happening, where woman gained special privileges or protection.

But that was not the whole story, and if we just tell the one story, again and again, we demonise people who also should have their stories of liberation through love.

In 2002, the Daily Mail published the story of Guernseywoman, Gladys:

“Gladys was an exceptionally pretty 27-year-old when she met Hugo Fach, the young German soldier she still calls the love of her life. It was a year after the invasion of the islands in 1940. Her two daughters, June, then nine, and seven-year-old Sally (Jemima Harrison's mother), had already been evacuated to Cheshire and Gladys was trapped in a loveless marriage to Laurie, a violent, drunken wife-beater who was having an affair with a woman who worked alongside him at the German officers' billet”

“Gladys was lonely and desperately missing her children, who were allowed just two 25-word letters home a year. Then, one afternoon, cycling back from her mother's house, she had an encounter with two German soldiers that would change her life. 'I was pushing my bicycle up a hill and there were two soldiers coming down,' she recalls.”

“During the early days of the War, before the desperate food shortages and D-Day landings, the relationship between the occupiers and islanders was relatively civilised - even friendly - so Gladys was not unduly concerned when one of them caught hold of her bike.”

“'He wouldn't let go,' she says. 'I kind of pulled and pulled and he still wouldn't let go. Then he said, "If you will meet me tomorrow I'll let your bicycle go." In the end I said yes.' Within days her flirtation with the handsome Hugo, a gentle, kindly father of two, had escalated into a fully fledged affair. The pair would sneak off secretly whenever they could to a favourite clifftop hideaway. There they would sunbathe, picnic and talk about the War, life and their families. Hugo's two daughters were the same age as Gladys's”

“None the less, the lovers faced huge risks if their secret affair had become known. He was an occupying enemy soldier, banned from romance with the local girls; she risked a lifetime of ostracism. Even so, Gladys's worries about what the Germans or other islanders might do to her were nothing compared to her fear of her husband's reaction if he found out her secret. Even though he was having his own affair, she is confident that Laurie would have killed her.”

“Today, Gladys refuses to acknowledge the term 'Jerrybag', with its implications of a short, meaningless affair with the enemy. 'This was genuine. I loved him, and still do,' she says simply.”

Although separated after the war, he in East Germany, they corresponded fitfully, and met once again. But he had responsibilities and returned to his family.

“In 1979, a couple of days before he died, he called his granddaughter to his bedside and asked her to translate into English his last letter so that Gladys could read it in her own language. Today, a frail old lady, she keeps the letter on top of a bundle with a white ribbon around it. In stilted English, but nevertheless drenched in emotion, it describes how much Gladys had meant to him, how the memory of their times together on the clifftop in Guernsey sustained him - and how he never, ever forgot her.”

This was not a “casual fling”, and it was not the only such romance which was heartfelt and genuine. There was no gain, no flaunting it, no special privileges as a result. 

And Gladys story is not the only one of true love; there are others which run counter to the idea that all “Jerrybags” were bad.

If love cannot break down and overcome the barriers of war, what hope is there for the human race?

1 comment:

Póló said...

You might be interested in this story if you are not already aware of it.