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Jersey: A British Channel Island that Rose from the Depths of Despair
June 1940. Winston Churchill is about to make a decision that will send a cold shiver through the whole population of Jersey. The Nazis are knocking on the back door of Britain and Jersey will not be defended.
British troops, military equipment and any islanders who want to leave will be evacuated by ship but out of 23,000 islanders who register nearly three quarters of them bravely change their minds and decide to stick it out under German occupation.
By the end of the month St. Helier harbour and La Rocque are bombed by German planes. They needn’t have bothered. The islanders fly white flags from their homes and within days the island is lost. The Channel Islands become the only part of Britain to fall into the hands of the Germans during World War ll. For five years Hitler has a free reign to fortify Jersey with massive gun emplacements, build a huge network of defensive beach walls and bunkers and construct an underground hospital with beds for 500 casualties.
It left Hitler smiling and Churchill nursing a bad case of “black dog.” Liberation finally came on May 9 th 1945 with the arrival of two Royal Navy destroyers, an event that is enthusiastically celebrated every year by Jersey residents and no wonder. Life was hard under the Germans and many residents died from starvation. They tried to live off the land by making tea and soup from acorns, pea pods, brambles and potato peelings. Bitterness, hatred and distrust ran through the islanders like a disease and all British-born residents were deported to Germany. Informants were rife, women, known as “Jerry-Bags,” fraternised with the soldiers. Then, towards the end of the occupation, came a glimmer of hope. Red Cross food parcels made it to the island and saved many more lives and the islanders realised that they had not been completely abandoned.
This is the heart-rending story of Jersey. And when you arrive on its welcoming shores today it is impossible to believe that this tiny island 100 miles south of mainland Britain and only fourteen miles from the French coast could have suffered so much deprivation and yet managed to turn itself into one of the great tax havens of the world swimming in money. In pristine country houses overlooking acres of picture-perfect countryside and spectacular sea views some very rich people have taken up residence in this the most southerly of the Channel Islands where the Gulf Stream keeps winter temperatures mild enough to grow palm trees.
In a land of twenty per cent income tax and no inheritance tax, 33,000 registered companies do business here. Oh, and it’s very easy to pop into the bank because there are fifty five to choose from! Add to that three quarters of a million tourists visiting the island every year and you begin to see why the place is buzzing. For an island measuring a mere nine miles by five miles, Jersey has a lot going on!
But Jersey life is not all about money. The beaches are spectacular. At low tide they reveal huge areas of sand and jagged rocks. In some places it is possible to walk more than two miles towards the sea from high water mark! But beware; tidal currents can be very dangerous. The delightful countryside is made up of small fields, wonderful hedges and winding lanes. Some of them are called Green Lanes where the speed limit is a sensible 15mph. Jersey cows with sexy eyelashes graze the lush grass and wonderful potatoes grow in the soil.
We were heading for Longueville Manor. During the war German officers had taken a fancy to it as well and commandeered it for their living quarters. We first came here seven years ago and were eager to come back and meet up again with Malcolm Lewis, the owner. “I’m afraid the Germans left it in quite a state after the war, but my grandparents bought it and with a lot of hard work turned it into a hotel."
From the moment you arrive at Longueville you know there is someone striving to keep it at the top of what’s best in small hotels. For a start it’s been a member of the prestigious Relais & Chateaux hotel group since 1972. And yet Lewis didn’t come willingly into the family business. He was living in London when he got the call from his parents to come and help out back in the recession-hit eighties. But not long after coming home he began to realise working in the hotel business was indeed his destiny and since then he’s thrown everything into it.
The secret of Longueville has a lot to do with escaping the rat race. There is no spa or gym, so no treadmills beckoning you to run off a few more pounds before going to the dining room for a sumptuous meal. Around a refreshing swimming pool there are gardens to relax in and woods to walk and of course the peace of Jersey itself to lap up. Pedro Bento is Lewis’s manager and right hand man. Over nearly twenty years he worked his way up from being head waiter to manager and a nicer, friendlier face you won’t find. The Head Chef, Andrew Baird is also long serving. His favourite fish by the way is turbot and scallops – worth remembering when you check in. We ate delicious meals in the fine panelled dining room which is said to have been salvaged from Spanish galleons that were washed up during the Spanish Amada.
On our final night we ate at Suma’s, a beachside restaurant which the Lewis’s have developed over the last few years. It sits overlooking Mont Orgueil Castle and draws the locals like butterflies to buddleia. We had a table on the terrace and while eating delicious lobster and local scallops we watched the tide race in over the endless sands.
Longueville Manor Hotel and Restaurant
Owners: Malcolm Lewis and Susan Dufty
General Manager: Malcolm Lewis
Telephone: +44 (0) 1534 725501.
Suma’s Restaurant, St Martin, Jersey. Bookings: + 44(0) 1534 853291.
Jersey Tourism: + 44 (0) 1534 500777www.jersey.com
Connecting flights to Jersey: www.flybe.com
Fly directly to London Heathrow or Gatwick and then take connecting flight to Jersey. Longueville Manor is 6 miles from Jersey airport. The flight to Jersey is about half an hour. For connecting flights try: www.flybe.com
What to take
Longueville Manor is a long established member of Relais & Chateaux. Dress up as much as you like! However, smart casual is quite acceptable in the dining room. Summers can be warm in Jersey so casual cotton or linen clothes for daytime are ideal. Take a warm sweater in case of chilly nights. Don’t forget your swimming costume! Remember to take comfortable shoes for walking and a light waterproof jacket. Jersey is a most attractive island with wonderful beaches.
A good pair of binoculars will help you spot all the wildlife and look more closely at the wild, New Forest ponies. We always carry Zeiss pocket binoculars 8x30 Victory Compact. Waterproof and lightweight, they hang easily round your neck. Is Jersey part of the UK? Jersey is not part of the UK or a colony, but the island is part of the British Isles. The island has its own legislative assembly called the States of Jersey so it has a system of local administration, fiscal and legal systems and its own courts of law. The state of New Jersey in the US is named after the island of Jersey.
Husband and wife, Keith Allan and Lynne Gray are travel writers and photographers based in Berwick upon Tweed on the English/Scottish border. They have worked for The Times, Daily Telegraph, Financial Times, House and Garden, Scotland onSunday and The Herald. For more than twenty years they have worked as freelance producers and reporters for BBC Radio, working from their own independent studio for BBC Radio 4, Radio 5 and Radio Scotland as well as the BBC’s World Service.