The war ended for them twenty-four hours later than it did in London and ever since have kept May 9th as a very special day. As the people of the Channel Islands marked seventy years since they were freed from Nazi occupation, The Countess of Wessex visited the two largest Channel Islands to represent The Queen at events marking the 70th anniversary.
Sophie’s day began on Guernsey, the second largest Channel Island, where she headed to Footes Lane for a ceremony marking the occasion. The Countess saw a march past and, as part of the service; she read a letter from The Queen which made reference to the difficult times of the Occupation. ‘I was interested to learn’, the letter said, ‘that the commemoration and thanksgiving service will involve people who were evacuated, some who were deported, others who were present in Guernsey or Sark at the Liberation and others who served in the Armed Forces, as well as many young people’.
After the solemn event had finished, The Countess of Wessex met several young people who had taken part in the ceremony and 101 year old Miriam Mahy who once wrote a book about the islands in World War Two.
The Channel Islands were occupied for five years after Nazi forces arrived in June 1940. Around 30,000 people were evacuated in the months leading up to the occupation. Those who stayed suffered food shortages and some were deported to Germany. Those who tried to escape were imprisoned or shot. Allied forces arrived to free Jersey, Guernsey, Alderney, Sark and Herm on May 9th, 1945 – the day after VE Day. And ever since the residents of these islands hold their own commemorations a day after everyone else.
As the seventieth-anniversary celebrations continued, The Countess headed to Jersey, which was holding one of its biggest ever Liberation Day events. Over 1000 people took part in a parade that started in Liberation Square, the first place Allied troops removed Nazi flags after coming ashore on the morning of May 9th. The parade made its way to People’s Park where a special open air meeting of the States of Jersey took place to mark the anniversary.
As part of that event, The Countess of Wessex read a letter from The Queen to the people of Jersey. In this missive, The Queen recalled the many hardships the island community suffered during the five years of occupation. Mentioned was the pain endured by those who left as the Nazi forces arrived and who were separated from their homes and their loved ones for five years. The Queen’s letter continued: ‘Today is a day for all the survivors of that generation and for the people of Jersey, young and old, to come together to give thanks for the success of the Allied Forces and the Liberation of the Island and to pass on the spirit of reconciliation to future generations.’
After the ceremony, Sophie had a chance to meet many of the islanders who had come along to the celebration. The first Liberation Day event on Jersey was held in 1946, but this is among the biggest the island has ever seen. And the presence of a royal visitor ensured it will live on in the memories of those there for a long time to come.
Photo credit: Steve Falla @steve_falla