The Jersey Diary, Day 3 (Part 1): Size Does Not Matter
This holds true for Jersey. Just nine miles by five, Jersey offers so much to its visitors and locals alike. Very quickly we picked up on this fact as today's itinerary comprised of several one-of-a-kinds: F-1 cars, an underground hospital, an artistic worshipping site, military rarities, and a patron saint's hermitage (of which the last three will be covered in our next blog).
A Winning Formula
Like clockwork, right after breakfast, we took the LibertyBus and arrived to our first tourist attraction, the Mansell Collection. I must be honest in saying that I had no idea who Nigel Mansell was and what to expect at the museum. To my surprise, the museum sat above a car dealership in a white and black Art Deco building, and this only added to my confusion.
The entrance fee included an audio guide of Nigel himself describing the many items on display. Although I would have appreciated an introduction of his background and what made him so great (now I know he was a Formula 1 World Champion and CART Indy Car World Series winner while holding both titles simultaneously) this proved to be very helpful and it gave it a very personal feel. Although relatively small in size, the entire floor and its walls were packed with memorabilia as small as coins and as large as his winning race cars. We all enjoyed our time there, and although we each had arrived with a different level of knowledge as to who Nigel Mansell is, we all walked away learning so much more - including the fact that he resides in Jersey.
Light at the End of the Tunnels
We hopped on the LibertyBus route #28 to the Jersey War Tunnels, also known as Hohlgangsanlage 8 (often abbreviated to Ho8) or as the German Underground Hospital, out in the parish of St. Lawrence. For a Monday morning it was extremely busy, and it was obvious this was the case prior to getting there for we had to wait for a second bus as the first one was full.
At the ticket counter we were each handed an identity card of a citizen of the Island. The idea behind this was to try to find out what happened to him/her during World War Two as one progressed through the exhibition galleries. I was handed Louisa May Gould's identity card and in great sadness I learned that she hid an escaped Russian slave worker without hesitation because she had lost a son in the war and was determined to do an act of kindness "for another mother's son". After two-and-a-half years Louisa was betrayed by a neighbour and while the Russian escaped she was sent to a concentration camp. She lost her life for it. Sadly enough, gut wrenching
stories like this one were not uncommon.
The museum comprised of a partially completed underground hospital complex, built by German occupying forces during World War II. Over 1 km (nearly a mile) of tunnels were completed by forced, and some paid, laborers sent to Jersey of which many were Polish, French, Russian or Republican Spaniards. At first, through Hitler's desire to fortify the Channel Islands in preparation for an invasion from the Allies, Ho8's purpose was to be a vast network of underground tunnels as an artillery repair facility and barracks store. However, by late 1943, when it was clear of an Allied invasion threat in Europe, Ho8 was converted into a casualty receiving station and an emergency hospital. Deep underground, the hospital was impenetrable to gas and air attack, thus a safe environment for treating up to 500 severely injured casualties. Despite the huge preparations and fortifications made to the Channel Islands, none were ever put into practice. The occupying forces in the Channel Islands surrendered on 9 May 1945 and Ho8 fell into disuse.
From the get-go, it was evident that the museum entailed a lot of reading. Hence, on this particular Monday morning, queues were inevitably encountered wherever we went. Needless to say, patience is a virtue and we were more than engrossed in learning and it was well worth the wait. For someone like me who had minimal history knowledge about Jersey and the German occupation forces, I felt that the museum was very well organized for it presented history in a clear and chronological order. I practically read every thing in front of me, which took me roughly two hours to get through it all. It was wonderful to see people of all ages there, but my personal opinion is that if sharing the experience with children, it is possibly most appropriate for children 7 and up, for it is not designed for younger aged kids.
After exiting the cavernous tunnel, I met up the rest of my family in the Café which offered a range of sandwiches, desserts, soups and drinks. I must admit that I wish we had had time to visit the Garden of Reflection where plaques prompt reflection and commemorate Jersey residents who died as a direct consequence of the Occupation. Overall, the Jersey War Tunnels was extremely moving. As I progressed through the exhibition, especially when reaching the unfinished portion of the tunnel, my heart sank for that vividly showed the brute conditions laborers had to endure. All four of us left feeling we had immensely benefitted from our time there for we had learned so much of this unique period - Jersey's occupation history from resistance, through starvation, and then to eventual liberation.
Our next stop would cover the other end of the spectrum - restoration to the human spirit. From the tunnels we took the bus and got off in front of an unassuming building, but one that would soon brilliantly surprise us.
Join us for our next blog when we continue our second half of day 3 discovering one-of-a-kinds in Jersey.
Happy reading and safe travels!
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