Thursday, 20 September 2012

Darkness in the sun

Jersey beach

There is one part of the UK that was under Nazi occupation. The Channel Islands along the French Coast were occupied for almost five years between 1940 and 1945. The beautiful beaches in Jersey are dotted with watch towers, and the public can visit bunkers and tunnels at different locations on the island. The other islands have similar monuments but for family reasons I keep visiting Jersey.

The island provides wide sandy beaches with dunes and moorland. On a fair day the sea is blue and turquoise, and you have the vineyards and agricultural land inland with cattle herds and endless rows of potato. For a long time the occupation heritage was not discussed much but lately there has been a lot of activity in order to gather more information from the dwindling population who can still remember those times and to make people aware of the past.

The Channel Islands Occupation Society has looked after the building works since the 1960s but a Cambridge researcher with Guernsey roots has been studying the different aspects of the Occupation legacy and its materiality lately. Dr Gillian Carr has four current research projects, running or about to start, devoted to the archaeological evidence from this period. Her first project discusses the heritage of the Second World War and the German Occupation on the islands, whereas the second project looks at the material culture of the prisoners of war during that period. The third project explores the more comfortable aspects of the occupation, namely protest and resistance against the occupiers. Her fourth project will be on the archaeology and heritage of forced and slave labour as part of a European research project related to the Atlantic Wall.

This research activity and the related exhibitions, conferences and seminars allow revisiting this dark period at a moment, when enough time has passed for the collection of its memories to become urgent but also more palatable. The monuments around Jersey always tell a walker about the heritage of the island. However, the megaliths of Jersey remind of a more positive distant past that does not require reminding people about past deportations and other horrors.

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