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Jersey Maritime Museum FrontBy the summer of 1945, there was scarcely a dog or cat left on the island of Jersey. They had been eaten by the island’s inhabitants who were on the verge of starvation; their invaders were in a similar parlous state. Jersey and its neighbouring Channel islands were under German occupation for five long years, and following the Allied invasion of France in 1944 food imports were cut off at a stroke. The Channel Islands were of little strategic importance to the Nazis: the occupation being more of a symbolic takeover of British territory, but they expended considerable efforts to fortify them against an Allied operation to reclaim them and you are never far from reminders of the War years. Concrete costal emplacements dominate most promontories, some of them converted to living space or coastguard stations, and one on Jersey houses a turbot farm.

 There are a number of museums holding wartime memorabilia: the Jersey Maritime Museum located on the harbour at St Helier in old warehouses has, not only a superb collection of ship models, but also houses the amazing Occupation Tapestry. This tells the story, of the how the invasion came about, how life changed under Nazi rule and of the eventual liberation of the Channel Islands. The tapestry took 300 islanders 3,000 hours and employed 7,500,000 stitches. There are twelve sections, one for each Jersey parish, and a thirteenth is in preparation to mark the 70th anniversary of the liberation.

Jersey Maritime Museum Globe I reached Jersey by fast Condor catamaran from Poole - a journey taking four and a half hours including a call at Guernsey. One trapped wartime inhabitant chose a slower mode of escape – by rowing boat – and he made it the South Coast of England (eventually). His tiny craft can still be viewed in the 1km-long War Tunnels excavated by the Germans by slave labourers from those among the 16,000 brought from the occupied territories. The invaders imposed a number of restrictions on daily life: the Islands were forced to adopt German time, the language became compulsory in schools, traffic had to drive on the right, cameras were banned and it became illegal to own a radio. Failure to observe the regulations resulted in deportation to German prison camps for many islanders.

The museum focuses very much on the islanders’ relationship with the sea. Jersey’s people elected to become British citizens as far back as 1215, the year when King John was forced to agree to the Magna Carta, rather than throw in their lot with France. Nevertheless their links with the French are still close (the nearest point to its mainland being just 14 miles away).

Naturally, sea transport has been vital for the Jersey islanders, not least for exporting Jersey Royal potatoes, a type unique to the island. Growers once employed seaweed as a fertiliser, but no more due to EU regulations; connoisseurs claim that the taste of the potato has changed subtly as a result. Take the Petit Train (Road Train), which runs from nearby Liberation Square, and you get a superb 3-mile- trip along the coast complemented by an excellent commentary. one surprising fact highlighted is that coastal land reclamation has caused a subsidiary problem with the accumulation of seaweed around St Aubin, where the train ends its journey.

Jersey Maritime Museum Sculpture Pride of place among the museum’s maritime models goes to the Red Cross ship Vega: an unpretentious little coaster which brought food to the hungry locals from 1944 onwards. Children wheeled prams to the harbour to transport parcels to their home: one of the youngsters being commemorated on a tapestry panel.

The museum shows excellent videos of local people emphasizing how much they rely on the sea. Those taking part include the fishmonger,the lady who conducts seaweed tours and the RNLI lifeboatwoman. This is a highly-interactive museum with particularly good hands-on exhibits illustrating the relationship of wind to wave formation. There is a human-size automaton/moving sculpture with a definitely piscine make- up dubbed the Spear Fisherman and a giant globe showing voyage routes. In the Boat Shop you can watch conservation in progress on historically-important craft.

Definitely a museum for all the family as evidenced by the wide age-range of visitors.

Read the rest of this article with additional pictures in Sea Breezes Magazine - April 2016 Issue
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