Chelsea Pensioners celebrate Liberation Day on the Channel Islands
Every year the Chelsea Pensioners are welcome guests on the Channel Islands, for a celebration of history, Liberation and reconciliation.
As any Chelsea Pensioner with a keen grasp of history will tell you, the Royal Hospital Chelsea has links with the Channel Islands stretching as far back as King Charles II. The monarch used the island of Jersey as a Royalist safe-haven in the years before his restoration to the throne, and his subsequent founding of the Royal Hospital Chelsea in 1682. In more recent years, the principle islands of Guernsey and Jersey have hosted the Chelsea Pensioners as part of their annual marking of Liberation Day, 9th May – celebrating the end of Nazi occupation of the Channel Islands in 1945. A group of Pensioners are also invited to help commemorate Remembrance Day each year, on 11 November.
Liberation Day is the most important day of the year for the Channel Islands. This public holiday – which on the island of Sark occurs a day later on 10th May – is a colourful day filled with ceremonies, events and parades organised through a collaboration between the local governments of each island and charities such as the Royal British Legion.
The Chelsea Pensioners, along with members of the Army, Navy and Air Force, have been invited every year by the government of Guernsey to attend these celebrations, with a smaller group of Chelsea Pensioners also paying a visit to Jersey.
Lt Col Rupert Lucas, Captain of Invalids to the Chelsea Pensioners (below photo, second row, fourth from left), has been making the journey down every year since he joined the Royal Hospital in 2009.
“It’s a very rewarding trip for the Chelsea Pensioners. The locals are extremely friendly, and especially enjoy seeing the visiting veterans. The link is very strong. It’s a partnership going back 50 or so years. At that time, a collection was organised around Guernsey by the late John Gallienne MBE, to raise money to pay for the Chelsea Pensioners to come over for a week. This would include them taking part in some of the Liberation Day ceremonies, which we have done ever since.”
The visits, Col Lucas explains, also have personal significance for him:“Both myself and my wife Michelle come from Jersey – in fact it is where we met – so we are Jersey folk and have longstanding links. In fact Michelle’s grandfather was the Bailiff (Chief Justice) of Jersey during the occupation and actually had to deal with the Germans on a day-to-day basis.”
That the islands were the only part of the British Isles to be occupied by German forces is a fact not lost on the Chelsea Pensioners. Chelsea Pensioner Gordon “Sandy” Sanders,
who regularly attends Liberation Day events on Guernsey, explains: “The Channel Islands were unique. Because they were islands, the Allied troops took longer to reach them. When
they eventually did, the islanders (and for that matter the Germans themselves) were starving and drained of supplies, as occupation can be a very draining process.
“When we go there to mark Liberation Day every May, we feel such warmth from the Islanders – there is a great affinity between the people and the veterans.”
This message of inclusivity is extended not only to members of each of the three Armed Forces. In 2010, members of the Gurkhas were also invited over to join the Liberation Day events.
“The Prime Minister of Guernsey actually met a group of Gurkhas at the Royal Hospital Chelsea’s annual Founder’s Day parade in 2010,” explains Col Lucas. “He got talking to them and decided to invite all 10 of them over to Guernsey for the next year’s Liberation Day.”
“The Gurkhas and the Chelsea Pensioners get on really well, and communication difficulties are mostly overcome – frequently over a glass of beer! The partnership works very well.”
In addition to the Gurkhas, some more surprising guests have started to attend Liberation Day.
“Recently, surviving members of the German Garrison stationed on the islands during occupation have also been invited. This collaboration is special. It gives the celebrations an air not just of remembrance, but of reconciliation.”
The Chelsea Pensioners are looking forward to visiting Jersey and Guernsey again this November for Remembrance, and to maintaining their long standing links with the generous people of the Channel Islands.