Occupation memories which were taken round the world

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IN the 73 years since the Liberation of Jersey, Islanders who lived through the Occupation have moved away and the community has been made more diverse by the arrival of many other nationalities, including Portuguese and Polish people, for whom the Island is now their home.

Those who emigrated from Jersey to Australia, New Zealand, Canada and America took their stories of the Occupation with them and handed them down to their children and grandchildren over the years. And the post-war arrivals have their own family history and stories to tell.

Anne Renouf – Canada: In the 1970s, Anne Renouf visited Jersey with her parents and one of the first places they took her was to the Royal Square to see the V for Victory sign that had been laid in the flagstones during the Occupation.

‘I grew up in Toronto, Canada, and my parents often talked about their wartime memories of their Island home,’ she said.

‘My father, John Renouf, was studying at Oxford when the war broke out and my mother, Esmé Mollet, was evacuated to England with her family before the Germans arrived to occupy the Island in the summer of 1940.

‘My father joined the Navy and in 1943 he married Esmé in Shrewsbury, where her family were renting a house. Sadly her parents both died in the months after her wedding and so they never saw their Island home again. But I still have a number of Red Cross letters that were exchanged with friends and family who had stayed in Jersey during the Occupation.

‘My father was one of the first naval personnel to arrive in Jersey to liberate it from the Germans. The excitement of that day is captured in a letter – written to my mother just days after the Liberation – by a friend who had spotted him in the crowd and was reunited with him that day. My mother kept that letter all her life and passed it on to me with all her stories of the war years.

‘After the war, my parents stayed in England and decided to emigrate to Canada in 1951 because of the hardships of post-war Britain and in the hope of better job prospects.’

Jacqueline Guernier – Africa: When the Second World War broke out in September 1939, Jacqueline Guernier’s father, Bert, ran a grocery shop at 65 King Street where he lived with with his wife, Aline, and their 16-month-old son, André. Jacqueline was born three months later.

When Bert left to fight in 1940, Aline stayed behind with the children. She continued to run the business until their provisions ran out.

‘Although I was so young, one of my most vivid memories is of the crystal radio set that mum kept in the cupboard under the stairs,’ Jacqueline told Jersey Heritage.

‘She knew she would not be able to keep the knowledge from us. So she showed it to André and me, told us what it was for, and allowed us to listen to music while we sat in the cupboard. She then told us that if anyone learned of its existence, she might be taken away and we might never see her again.

‘With the end of the war came the long-awaited reunion of families. The day my father returned was met with mixed emotions. André locked himself in the toilet and I shot off on my scooter for an hour or more.

‘Both mum and dad had spent time overseas as a young people and they yearned to see more of the world. When the opportunity arose to emigrate to what was then Southern Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), they jumped at the chance.

‘When dad retired in 1978, my parents decided to follow my husband and me to Australia, and the rest of the family gradually joined us in the following years.’

Sheila Le Sueur – US: Shelia Le Sueur was born in Jersey in 1927. When the war began her father enlisted, yet at that time Jersey was not considered to be under threat, so life went on with no inkling of what was about to happen.

‘Spring arrived and the news on the wireless was not as expected,’ Sheila recalled in 2015. ‘The Germans were making advances but still the Home Office in London saw no need to provide protection.

‘By June 1940 Islanders began to experience the horrors of war as the evacuations took place and air raids and bombing followed. We had to brace ourselves for occupation.

‘When I arrived in New York at the age of 25 it was the start of a big adventure. I settled here and became an American citizen.

‘But my thoughts have often turned to the beautiful Island I left behind and I have visited several times over the years. After my retirement, I became very interested in the subject of democracy and my desire to become a more informed voter caused me to look at my own life and the events that have shaped it.

‘My experience of living under enemy occupation has had a very profound impact on my life.’

Johanna Francis – Australia: During the Occupation, Johanna Francis née Greier’s family lived in Samarès Avenue in St Clement.

‘I particularly remember the large changing rooms of the FB Playing Fields at the bottom of the avenue that were taken over by the Germans who made them into stables for the very big heavy horses they had brought over with them from Germany,’ she recalled.

‘Rides on the backs of these giants was great fun, plus the occasional ride on a hay cart. We kids loved it all and soon became friends with the ordinary German soldiers who had the care of these animals.

‘I left the Island in 1956 and after 18 months in London I followed a friend to Australia to see this big red land for myself.

‘I fully intended on returning home. However, fate had other ideas and I am happily residing in Adelaide, South Australia, with my family and lots of friends. I have been fortunate in returning to Jersey on holiday many times during these years.’

She added: ‘I have no photographs of my family during the Occupation, although I have some Red Cross letters of my mother’s, sent between her and her sisters in England.

‘I have, of course, spoken to my children and grandchildren of my early days in Jersey and over the years I have written down my life story for future generations here in Australia.’

Ronald Podrow – US: Ronald Podrow, who died in 2004, was raised in Jersey until his family, who were Jewish, were evacuated just before the Germans arrived in June 1940.

He trained as a jeweller, married and went on to live in Cape Town, South Africa, where his two sons were born. In the 1950s the Podrows moved to Los Angeles.

Inspired by the life and work of a woman known as ‘Peace Pilgrim’, in 1989 he abandoned his personal possessions and began walking for peace, relying on people to give him shelter and fasting until provided with food.

He spent his remaining years travelling across America and Canada, giving public talks and spreading a message of peace.

He became known as ‘Peace Pilgrim II’.

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