When people come to stay with us we often feel under pressure to entertain our guests. We want to make sure that they have a memorable visit. That can be tricky when they are visiting for the 5th time and we only live on a tiny island. However, despite its relatively small size, Jersey does have much to offer, especially in the summer months when we are spoilt for choice when it comes to the glorious beaches. Yet, on one of the most glorious and hottest Saturdays so far this year, we found ourselves rejecting the beach in favour of the Jersey War Tunnels.
Making Up For Liberation Day
We thought that my brother would appreciate the history behind the tunnels and as we spent Liberation Day trapped indoors due to a chickenpox outbreak, we decided it would be good for the children to learn more about the history behind this important day. We wanted them to appreciate that it’s so much more than just a bonus day off school. We arrived at the tunnels early afternoon and we were a little surprised to see that the car park was nearly empty. As it was the day of the royal wedding and the FA cup, I suspect people were busy enjoying the sunshine and firing up the BBQs.
Tunnels And Hangovers
The last time we had ventured into the war tunnels was a couple of years ago and Youngest was too young to remember it and I suspect that Oldest didn’t have much recollection. For me, the day is etched into my memory, not just because it was a fascinating insight into the history of Jersey but also because Mr C was dealing with a monumental hangover from the rugby and, as such, our trip round the tunnels was a bit rushed due to Mr C suffering waves of nausea and wanting to retreat back to his bed.
Therefore, I was glad of the excuse to revisit the Jersey War Tunnels. On entering the tunnels you are immediately hit by the cold air. Despite the balmy temperatures outside I found myself shivering, it wasn’t just the cold air that was causing me to shiver, it was also the eerie feeling of the tunnels. Even on a hot day you will want to bring a jumper with you. However, visiting the Jersey War Tunnels offers you some respite from the sweltering heat outside and it felt rather nice to place our hands on the grooves of the cold tunnels walls.
The Jersey War Tunnels might be dealing with Jersey under the Nazi occupation but it’s not all hard going. The exhibitions are very interactive and both my two were entranced by it all. You hear what Jersey was like from the people living under the occupation and also the German soldiers who found themselves sent to Jersey. Youngest particularly loved the talking soldiers who ask you questions, which put you in an ethical dilemma. Youngest was asked whether she would accept an ice-cream from the soldier and she didn’t hesitate, it was a resounding yes. Never stand between Youngest and her ice-cream.
We All Need To Visit
Everybody should visit the Jersey War Tunnels to have a real appreciation for what life was like in Jersey during the occupation. Many people don’t really appreciate how life changed for people in the Channel Islands. How life could be incredibly tough and how there were amazing acts of bravery and clever demonstrations of resistance. We take our way of life on Jersey for granted but it could have been very different and we all need to remember that.
I do think that the occupation is something that isn’t really discussed on the mainland. Perhaps it’s because it’s almost like a shameful secret. The Channel Islands were effectively abandoned and left defenceless. They didn’t stand a chance against the occupying forces. All over Jersey you will see reminders of the occupation, the Railway Walk and bunkers to name a few. However, the Jersey War Tunnels are one of the more stark reminders of the occupation.
Why Jersey Has The War Tunnels
Over 5,000 slave labourers worked on the tunnels that are dug deep into the hillside. These maze of tunnels were designed to withstand the Allied air raids and bombardment in the event of an invasion. Hitler was convinced that Winston Churchill would strike an attack so that he could protect the islands. That attack never came and I can’t imagine how the Jersey people must have felt. They must have felt like they had been cruelly abandoned and thrown to the slaughter. In 1943 the tunnels were converted into an emergency hospital.
As you walk deeper and deeper into the tunnels, the air around you becomes quieter and you almost become accustomed to the chill that has now settled in your bones. The overriding feeling of the exhibition is that life for the Channel Islanders became about the unknown, which reflects your feelings as you make your way deeper into the tunnels. You’re never quite sure what you are going to find at the next turn of the tunnel.
What Would You Do?
The islanders were put in impossible situations and forced to make difficult decisions. One of the first choices they had to make was to decide if they stay and wait for the enemy, the occupying forces, or if they should leave and head to the mainland. That choice might not be as straightforward as you think. Imagine having less than 48 hours to make that decision, knowing that if you go you would be leaving family and your possessions behind and not knowing what life awaited you on the mainland.
The Jersey War Tunnels brilliantly depicts what life was like for islanders. How they had to learn to live with their occupiers, how their lives became increasingly restricted and how they dealt with all of the food shortages. You also learn how these incredibly stressful times fractured friendships and almost destroyed communities. How islanders became unsure of who to trust. The amazing exhibitions force you to think about the difficulties of life under the occupation and makes you think about how you would have reacted.
What these tunnels made me realise about the occupation is that nothing is straightforward. Like those tunnels you can find yourself in a maze, unsure of what is the right thing to do and wondering who to believe. Much like those tunnels, living under the occupation must have felt very dark and lonely and the islanders must have wondered if they would ever see the light again. As I rounded another corner, I came across a huge gate that offered me a window into the outside world, and suddenly my heart lifted and it really rammed home how lucky we are. Those slave labourers would have worked in the darkness, and it would have been long gruelling days. We mustn’t ever take our freedom for granted, I must never stop appreciating the beauty of the islands and I must never stop listening to birdsong.
We All Need To Vist The Jersey War Tunnels
We all enormously enjoyed the Jersey War Tunnels and came out with renewed vigour. As well as the tunnels, there is the Escape Room that would make for a fun activity to do with a group of friends, there are also toilets, cafe, shop and the Nest Art Studio where you can create your own gifts.
Admission Prices: Adults £13 Children £7
Opening Times: 10am – 6pm