Colonel John Blashford-Snell, one of the world’s most renowned explorers shares his childhood memories of living in Jersey, with his grandsons.
Without doubt the best way to approach Jersey is by sea on a sunny, summer’s day.
One is greeted by the candle-like Corbière lighthouse standing sentry on its rocky outcrop, beyond which lie granite cliffs purpled with heather and the grey bunkers left by the German occupiers. Beyond that stretch the sands and Martello Towers built to keep the French at bay. I called my grandsons on deck, “To me this is the real symbol of home,” I explained to Jack (14) and Daniel (11) who had come to see where my taste for adventure was fostered.
For our visit we stayed in a squat 19th century tower at St. Ouen’s Bay where once a trio of heavy cannon guarded this open beach. Indeed it was here that the Parliamentary forces came ashore to sieze the Island from Royalists in 1651. Now, Jersey Heritage has comfortably refurbished the Kempt Tower to provide holiday accommodation.
As a teenager at Victoria College I spent my free time exploring the Island’s castles, combed the German tunnels for military souvenirs, climbed cliffs, boated and fished underwater. There were many scary moments as we squirmed through darkened tunnels and speared powerful conger eels that could bend one’s steel harpoon u-shaped. There were other exciting moments. In the open air swimming pool at Havre des Pas a six foot shark swam in with the tide and in St. Brelade’s Bay I had tested a German U boat escape apparatus, with near fatal results!
Little did I realise then that in 1962 I would return as a Royal Engineer lieutenant to survey the German tunnels after the tragic death of two boys overcome by gas, rumoured to be cyanide, stored for the execution of prisoners. Fortunately the vapours turned out to be carbon monoxide from a fire lit inside the shaft, but working underground we encountered a strange smell and fearing poison gas, got out fast. However, we discovered the source was rusting barrels of carbide used to produce inflammable gas for lamps. Luckily we did not light a match in there!
Today the Channel Islands Occupation Society are preserving and refurbishing many of the German defences and my grandsons enjoyed touring bunkers and the fascinating Jersey War tunnels which hold an excellent exhibition telling the compelling story of the occupation.
At the Maritime Museum we saw marvellous interactive displays and a monumental tapestry depicting life under the swastika.
No visit to Jersey is complete without a tour of the massive medieval Mont Orgueil castle and a few hours at the Durrell Wildlife Park.
Having just returned from seeking the elusive spectacled bear in Peru, I was delighted to see two living happily here, whilst the boys adored the gorillas and the orang-utans.
We also watched the annual Battle of Flowers; and its parade of floats imaginatively festooned with flowers. What a carnival!
Jersey is a young person’s paradise with activities to keep even the most energetic occupied and also hold the interest of their elders. Speeding back to Weymouth, Jack asked, “When can we come back, Grandpa?”