Monday, 14 May 2018

I Went To Guernsey and Saw Nary a Cow

We went to Guernsey and didn’t see a single cow.

There is some disappointment in that, but I can honestly say that there were greater highlights of the day rather than viewing some flatulent old namesake bovine or sampling her ice cream or chocolate.

There is great history to be devoured here in Guernsey and in the Channel Islands as a whole. The Castle Cornet has been guarding the harbour against pirates and smugglers for centuries. Guernsey has ping-ponged back and forth between British and French control for hundreds of years, finally settling in under Her Majesty’s control and protection. The still-functioning lighthouse at the point is reminiscent of Victoria and Albert’s time.

We hopped aboard a stuffed, cramped, dank, hot, and miserable tender in order to cross the rocky channel and onto Guernsey. God bless the decent and lovely woman sitting beside me who allowed me to penetrate her space so that I might look out the window and keep my breakfast where it belongs. There is no doubt in my mind now as to how badly the Nazis underestimated the fickle prevailing winds and rocky seas of that small strip of English water. We are experiencing glorious weather today and still the winds and waves crested almost at will. When we finally hit terra firma once again, the best remedy for all of us was to walk and regain our bearings. I kept having this recurring image of German soldiers and sailors disembarking in Guernsey during WWII and promptly puking their lungs out. It actually lightened my load just a tad.

The Channel Islands were the only British land that was occupied by the Nazis during the war. They used Guernsey and the other islands as supply depots and were hoping to utilize it as the next step toward Great Britain. Slave labour built the Underground Hospital and Munitions Store. Today, that incredible space houses a war museum dedicated to keeping alive the history and resilience of the Islanders during their five-year occupation. It was there, I met Molly.

As we viewed the German war paraphernalia, dated propaganda posters, and photos and stories of island resistance, I noticed an elderly woman sitting in front of a display with a table full of books. The poster behind her told the story of a young girl and what she had lived through during the war. There were faded photographs of the girl and her family and I was struck by how much the girl in the photos resembled the senior sitting at the table. Her pale blue eyes danced as she followed me and finally it hit me.

“Are you her?” I asked.

“I am indeed,” she replied with a smile.

Molly was just nine years old when the Germans invaded her home on Guernsey in 1940. She and her family lived out the war, and pretty much the entirety of her childhood, with Nazi soldiers occupy her house and others on the island. She told me stories of the large guns that were directly behind her house and how her grandfather quietly tried to get messages back and forth to the mainland. They stayed, even as they ran short of food and clothing, and even as the Germans began to pillage the community for anything still usable. She had written her stories down into three self-published books and was selling them for a modest sum at the museum. I insisted we buy one and Molly happily autographed it and dated it for us. I was just so amazed that there was still a survivor of the times willing to share her tales. She happily posed for me. I will remember those blue eyes for the rest of my life.

I think I can handle not seeing a cow after that experience.

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