Addressing the crowds at the Great War Memorial Arch at the Weighbridge, the Bailiff, Sir William Bailhache, said: ‘Let no one doubt the bravery, commitment and suffering of the Jersey Pals.’
He spoke before a procession set off to take a very special piece of granite – the heart of the Guillemont Stone and the symbol of the Island’s debt to its First World War soldiers – to the Royal Square.
The heart stone’s journey began in September, when it was removed from a memorial on the Somme to the Jersey Contingent of the 7th Irish Rifles.
‘More than 100 men from Jersey lost their lives in the Battle of the Somme, either fighting in the British Army – many in the Jersey Contingent – or fighting for France, committed through their nationality to serve in the French armed forces,’ Sir William said.
‘The Guillemont Memorial was created because so many died there, although of course the Island’s losses were much wider, as is reflected by the tribute on the Great War Arch.
‘So the heart of the Guillemont Stone has been brought back to Jersey. It is as I said in July 2016 [when the memorial was unveiled in Guillemont] doubly symbolic; reflecting that the Jerseymen died abroad in the service of their country but their hearts remain here, and also reflecting the opportunity for us to hold a part of them in our hearts forever.
‘Let no one doubt the bravery, commitment and suffering of the Jersey Pals. It is a privilege to walk behind this heart of the memorial standing to them in Guillemont, that small village in north-eastern France.’
Led by the Band of the Island of Jersey, members of the Jersey Field Squadron carried the small cylinder of Jersey’s bedrock on a stretcher. They were followed by the Bailiff; the Lieutenant-Governor, Air Chief Marshal Sir Stephen Dalton; States Members and Jurats; Jersey’s cadet forces; and the public.
The scene was reminiscent of 2 March 1915, when thousands packed the Royal Square, lined streets and thronged the piers of St Helier Harbour to bid farewell to the Jersey Contingent.
Last night the stone was carried into the Royal Court Building by candlelight. It will be laid in its final resting place on the steps to the building on 9 November.
Historian and author Ian Ronayne, whose 2009 book Ours: The Jersey Pals in the First World War was the catalyst for resurrecting their significance to the Island’s memory, saw the heart stone come home.
‘While researching the Jersey Contingent story I realised that what happened in the Royal Square and subsequently on 2 March 1915 was a very historic and symbolic moment for Jersey,’ he said.
‘Crowds of Islanders turned out to see this small group of volunteers leave, wishing them every good fortune for the future. Now, 103 years on, Islanders have turned again to see a symbol of Jersey’s commitment and sacrifice in the First World War return. Their story has come full circle and it was very special.’