Liberation Day: A Grand Celebration
It was my last day in Jersey. I awoke early to get downtown, ensuring I’d be able to check out as many of the festivities I could before my evening flight back to London. Little did I know, that morning as I munched on my toast, looking out over the Havre des Pas seafront that today would start a change in the way I traveled.
I was in Jersey, a wee island that’s a part of a chain of islands called The Channel Islands. Located in the English Channel, just off the coast of France, Jersey is only 8 kilometres long and 14 kilometres wide. I was there to visit the Durrell Wildlife Park, a dream come true as the founder, Gerald Durrell is a hero of mine because of his incredible conservation work and witty stories that brought strange and endangered species into my life. It was truly a memorable and life changing visit. It transformed the way I look at zoos. That visit was made even more amazing as I was able to stay onsite in the Durrell Wildlife Hostel, with scientists, international and otherwise. Discussing the fate of lemurs and Ploughshare tortoises in Madagascar and training methods of young Komodo dragons over cereal in the mornings.
But all that aside, I knew little of Jersey, The Channel Islands, their history, or anything else. But I at least knew there was more than one Jersey! Most people when I expressed I was traveling there – to Jersey, thought I meant New Jersey.
I planned to stay a few extra days after my time at Durrell. I booked a charming hotel right on the coast, Maison Chaussey Guest House, in St. Helier – Jersey’s capital city. One day I took a guided tour of the island, stopping at some of its top sights like; Mont Orgueil Castle, The Pearle, and driving along its picturesque coastline. Another day I simply wandered the streets and parks of St. Helier, listening to the mix of English and French spoken by locals. But, it was my last day there that really stood out. It was May 9th, and it was Jersey’s Liberation Day.
During World War II the Channel Islands were occupied by German forces. It was the only British Empire to be occupied. There were curfews, civilians were issued identity cards, and radios were forbidden. But on May 9th, 1945 they were liberated. And the year I visited Jersey marked the 70th anniversary.
I awoke early and excited to check out the festivities. After breakfast I made my way downtown. There was an eerie quiet on the usually busy streets. A dark menacing cloud loomed overhead. When I arrived at Liberation Square I realized that everyone was already beginning to gather.
I secured a spot right at the barrier. Here is where the Liberation Day opening ceremonies would take place. Shortly after I arrived the crowds began to assemble and tuck in around me. A gray haze hung over St. Helier and a damp drizzle ran chills through my bones. But, there was a buzz in the air. The atmosphere was electric, like a warm cottage stove being stoked by joy and gratitude. As we stood shoulder to shoulder, young, old, and a few who were there that fateful day, the rain didn’t dampen spirits. It was like the closeness to fellow man created a feeling of warmth.
Then the ceremonies began. People sang, cheers erupted, and a euphoria was almost palpable. And when they hung the flag from the Pomme D’or Hotel across the street, just as they had on that historic May 9th, and reenacted every year after, the crowd erupted with jubilation.
Goosebumps ran over my arms. A gun salute echoed in the bay, scattering pigeons and gulls overhead. I held back tears as I realized how important this day truly was to each and every one in attendance. Those who survived the war, children remembering their grandparents who have now passed, and me – a spectator fortunate to never have had to go through a harrowing time like that, but honoured to be here to celebrate with them.
The day was filled with parades, performances, a mid-way, and so much more. I loved every second of that day. I’d never attended or celebrated a momentous day like this in a foreign country before, let alone while traveling solo. I relished in the festivities, the songs, and talking with people about what it meant to them. And even though the day began overcast and damp, by mid-morning the sun broke free, as though the energy and hope pulled it through the dark clouds. Like the spirit of Jersey folk. I bopped to the beat as couples dressed in 40’s garb jived in Liberty Wharf, St. Helier’s covered shopping centre, I snapped photo after photo of the old classic and wartime vehicles driving by in the parade, and loved browsing the antiques for sale in the stalls at People’s Park as children cried with excitement as they rode the mid-way. The spirit of the country came alive and its electricity was contagious.
I felt closer to this wee island and its people for having celebrated Liberation Day with them. And I realized that I wanted to attend more events like this on my travels. It’s days like these that you truly experience a place, really get to know its people, and learn to appreciate their story.
Have you ever attended an event like Liberation Day on your travels?
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