In Jersey, Liberation Day (Jèrriais: Jour d’la Libéthâtion) is celebrated each year on 9 May, to mark the end of the occupation by Nazi Germany during World War II. It is celebrated as Jersey’s national day. On 9 May 1945, HMS Beagle, which had set out from Plymouth, arrived in Jersey to accept the surrender of the occupying forces. Two naval officers, one of whom was Surgeon Lt Ronald McDonald, were met by the Harbour Master who escorted them to the Harbour Master’s Office where they together hoisted the Union Jack, before also raising it on the flagstaff of the Pomme D’Or Hotel. This has been re-enacted every year on Liberation Day since 1995. From 2003 to 2011 Harbour Master and Jerseyman Captain Howard Le Cornu performed this annually. His father John E. Le Cornu and uncle David M. Le Cornu had been in the crowds and had witnessed the occasion on 9 May 1945.
Since the 50th anniversary of Liberation in 1995, a pattern of official ceremonies has developed based in and around Liberation Square in Saint Helier where the events at the Harbour Master’s Office and Pomme D’Or Hotel occurred in 1945. Following a special sitting of the States of Jersey in the morning, States Members, clergy, the Bailiff of Jersey, the Lieutenant-Governor, Jurats, Crown Officers and other officials process from the Royal Square to Liberation Square accompanied by the Royal Mace and the Bailiff’s Seal. An open air ecumenical service takes place in Liberation Square followed by the singing of “Man Bieau P’tit Jèrri”/”Beautiful Jersey” (in Jèrriais and English) and a re-enactment of the raising of flags (including that at Fort Regent). A parade of vintage and military vehicles, bands and service organizations is reviewed by the official party. An official ceremony also takes place at the Crematorium where there is a memorial to victims and slave workers of various nationalities. Representatives of affected nationalities take part in the commemoration.
Jersey is part of the ancient Duchy of Normandy, and is ruled by the Duke of Normandy—a title held by the reigning monarch of the United Kingdom, though unrelated to those duties as king or queen of the UK. The title goes back to the days of William the Conqueror who, as Duke of Normandy, conquered and united England in 1066 (one of those memorable dates if you happen to be English). It lies just off the coast of Normandy in the English Channel. Jersey is a self-governing parliamentary democracy under a constitutional monarchy, with its own financial, legal and judicial systems, and the power of self-determination.
The island of Jersey is the largest of the Channel Islands. Although the Bailiwicks of Jersey and Guernsey are often referred to collectively as the Channel Islands, the “Channel Islands” are not a constitutional or political unit. Jersey has a separate relationship to the British Crown from the other Crown dependencies of Guernsey and the Isle of Man. It is not part of the United Kingdom, and has an international identity separate from that of the UK but the United Kingdom is constitutionally responsible for the defense of Jersey. Jersey is not fully part of the European Union but has a special relationship with it, notably being treated as within the European Community for the purposes of free trade in goods.
Jersey history is influenced by its strategic location between the northern coast of France and the southern coast of England. The island’s recorded history extends over a thousand years. La Cotte de St Brelade is a Palaeolithic site inhabited before rising sea levels transformed Jersey into an island. Jersey was a centre of Neolithic activity, as demonstrated by the concentration of dolmens. Evidence of Bronze Age and early Iron Age settlements can be found in many locations around the island. In June 2012 it was announced that two people with metal detectors had uncovered in Grouville what could be Europe’s largest hoard of Iron Age coins, which may be worth up to £10 M, after a search spanning 30 years. It was reported that the hoard weighed about three quarters of a metric ton and could contain up to 50,000 Roman and Celtic coins. This came after an earlier find of 60 Iron Age coins, in the same area, by the same people. Further archaeological evidence of Roman influence has been found, in particular the coastal headland site at Le Pinacle, Les Landes, where remains of a primitive structure are attributed to Gallo-Roman temple worship.
Jersey was part of Neustria with the same Gallo-Frankish population as the continental mainland. Jersey, the whole Channel Islands and the Cotentin peninsula (probably with the Avranchin) came formerly under the control of the duke of Brittany during the Viking invasions, because the king of the Franks was unable to defend them, however they remained in the archbishopric of Rouen. Jersey was invaded by Vikings in the ninth century, and was eventually annexed to the future Duchy of Normandy, together with the other Channel Islands, Cotentin and Avranchin, by William Longsword, count of Rouen in 933 and it became one of the Norman Islands. When William’s descendant, William the Conqueror, conquered England in 1066, the Duchy of Normandy and the kingdom of England were governed under one monarch. The Dukes of Normandy owned considerable estates in the island, and Norman families living on their estates established many of the historical Norman-French Jersey family names. King John lost all his territories in mainland Normandy in 1204 to King Philip II Augustus, but retained possession of Jersey and the other Channel Islands. The islands have been internally self-governing since then.
Islanders traveled across the North Atlantic to participate in the Newfoundland fisheries in the late 16th century. In recognition for help given to him during his exile in Jersey in the 1640s, Charles II gave George Carteret, bailiff and governor, a large grant of land in the North American colonies in between the Hudson and Delaware rivers which he promptly named New Jersey. Although popularly known for industrial cities, organized crime, and highway congestion, much of New Jersey is agricultural and pastoral land (it’s called the Garden State), and is surprisingly reminiscent of Jersey in places — particularly in the north.
Following the withdrawal of defenses by the British government and German bombardment, Jersey was occupied by German troops between 1940 and 1945. The Channel Islands were the only British soil occupied by German troops in World War II. This period of occupation saw about 8,000 islanders evacuated, 1,200 islanders deported to camps in Germany and over 300 islanders being sentenced to the prison and concentration camps of mainland Europe. 20 died as a result. During this time the Germans constructed many fortifications using Soviet slave labor. The islanders endured near-starvation in the winter of 1944-45, after the Channel Islands had been cut off from German-occupied Europe by Allied forces advancing from the Normandy beachheads, avoided only by the arrival of the Red Cross supply ship Vega in December 1944.
The indigenous language of Jersey is Jèrriais, a dialect of the Norman language that once predominated in all Normandy. It has been in decline over the past century as English has increasingly become the language of education, commerce and administration. There are very few people now who speak Jèrriais as a first language and, owing to the age of the remaining speakers, their numbers decrease annually. Despite this, efforts are being made to keep the language alive.
Although Jèrriais is occasionally misleadingly described as a mixture of Norse and French, it would be more linguistically accurate to say that when the Norse-speaking Normans/Vikings conquered the territory that is now called Normandy they started speaking the langue d’oïl of their new subjects. The Norman language is therefore basically a Romance language with a certain amount of vocabulary of Norse origin, plus later loanwords from other languages. Jèrriais is only partially intelligible to speakers of standard (Parisian) French.
Seafood has traditionally been important to the cuisine of Jersey: mussels, oysters, lobster and crabs – especially spider crabs – ormers, and conger. Cream and butter, from the milk of world famous Jersey cows, are also major ingredients in cooking. Surprisingly, there is no indigenous tradition of cheese making, contrary to the custom of mainland Normandy, but some cheese is produced commercially. Ironically, Jersey fudge is very popular with tourists but is actually imported although it is made with milk from Jersey herds. Jersey Royal potatoes are the local variety of new potato, and the island is famous for its early crop of Chats (small potatoes) from the south-facing côtils (steeply sloping fields). They were originally grown using vraic (seaweed) as a natural fertilizer giving them their own individual taste. Now only a small portion of those grown in the island still use this method.
Apples historically were an important crop. Bourdélots are apple dumplings, but the most typical speciality is black butter (lé nièr beurre), a dark spicy spread prepared from apples, cider, and spices. Cider used to be an important export. After decline and near-disappearance in the late 20th century, apple production is being increased and promoted. Besides cider, apple brandy is produced. Other production of alcohol drinks includes wine, and in 2013 the first commercial vodkas made from Jersey Royal potatoes were marketed. Among other traditional dishes are cabbage loaf, Jersey wonders (les mèrvelles), fliottes, bean crock (les pais au fou), nettle (ortchie) soup, and vraic buns.
Today’s “recipe” is a video of the making of lé nièr beurre on the island. You really cannot make this at home; it is a classic terroir dish – you have to have Jersey apples and Jersey cider. The video also helps show how lé nièr beurre fits within the larger cultural context of life on Jersey.