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Saturday, 2 July 2011

L'Islet Fortress, Guernsey 1883 - 1982

L'Islet Fortress Today

Not only of recent times, but even in 1855 Guernsey was known as a Honeymoon Island. William and Catherine Booth, just recently married, decided to visit the Island for a two week stay. Each night of their stay, they preached as Methodists in St. Peter Port, in the building which in later years was to become the home for the St. Peter Port Corps at Clifton. There is still a commemorative plaque which can be seen today, which says "Many souls were won for Christ". Many years later, a local rag merchant, Joseph Gilbert by name, read about the newly formed religious movement called the Salvation Army in a War Cry which reached Guernsey. His interest aroused, he wrote to William Booth, requesting that the Salvation Army should commence work in the Island. Shortly after that the Jackson Sisters, Charlotte and Agnes, arrived by boat and were met by Joseph Gilbert, who eventually became one of their valued workers.

From the arrival of the Jackson Sisters, a Corps was established in St. Peter Port. 100 years further on it is difficult to imagine the type of impact that this New Movement made on Islanders, but there is a letter recorded in a January issue of The Guernsey Star 1883 which begins, "Sir, How much longer are the residents and neighbours of the Salvation Army hall to be subjected to the annoyance caused by the disorderly proceedings which have been of frequent occurrence there for many months past. Not only on weekdays, but more especially on a Sabbath evening a crowd of idle vagabonds congregate outside the Clifton Hall and disturb the neighbourhood with their uproar. Nobody objects to the members of the Army conducting Divine Worship within the building, but the residents have a claim to be protected from the ribald jests and profanation of those who come to scoff, and do not remain to pray. The shouting and yelling that goes on outside the hall every Sunday evening from 8 till 10 p.m. is a public scandal and discreditable to the authorities who permit it to continue unchecked. Yours etc".

It will be seen by the above letter that the Salvation Army was not welcomed by everyone in Guernsey, any more than in many other places where they were seeking to establish their work.

Around that time, so the story goes, there was dissatisfaction amongst certain members of the Capelles Methodist Church. Not able to resolve their differences within the Church, they decided to make a breakaway movement of their own. Unlearned and with no resources to further education, they realized that to carry this through without help was soon going to mean disaster. News of the new religion and the impact that was being made in St. Peter Port caused the so-called leaders, believed to be Messrs. Mahy, Le Page and Fred Bisson, to make it their business to go into St. Peter Port and see for themselves. Liking what they saw and heard, they shortly afterwards formulated a request that the Salvation Army send someone along to bond the newly made Mission together, and so the work of the second Corps in the island was started.

The work was established in the Grandes Rocques Barracks, altered and seated at the expense of Brother F. Bisson. Mr. Le Page became the first Corps Treasurer, and was still alive at the Jubilee Celebration of 1933. It was a day of great triumph for these three comrades on 20th march 1883 when the Grand Rocques Corps was opened.

To set the scene in which the Corps would be working, try to picture the coast road scattered with fishermen’s cottages, and inland mainly farms and fields. It was an isolated and stormy part of the island, with sparse habitation, the locals mainly earning their living as fishermen or toiling in the fields and quarrying. Many of them were unlearned and the appearance of the new styled religion must have caused quite a lot of excitement.

It is said that the other Churches were not happy at the onset of the Salvation Army, especially as they mainly preached to the working class and this, no doubt, heightened the discontent of their employers who would probably be Douzeniers and Constables. They saw it as a threat to their established way of life.

Flag Sergeant Torode had, on numerous occasions, to take the flag and wrap it around his body to prevent it being torn to shreds.

Willie Carre told the story of how as a small boy, he used to be told to hold the Lieutenant's hand as protection from the roughs. It was felt if she had a little child with her, the roughs would respect his safety rather than an adult. Another story he used to tell was of the day when a crowd of rowdies found a donkey in a field and chased it into the hall while a meeting was in progress.

From the scant information available, there must have been many converts in those early days who, after conversion, became respectable citizens improving their general standard of living, and laying the foundation of the L'Islet Corps as it is known today.

1889 must have been a memorable year, as history tells us it was the year the first Band was formed, and also the old L'Islet Fortress at Les Tracheries was opened. This was the first purpose built Salvation Army Hall in the Island and the land was bought for £60. At that time, there were many quarries around and much of the granite could have been given. There is no record of how much the building actually cost. Captain Edward Higgins, later to become General, visited the Island to conduct the opening of the new hall.

It is said of the Grandes Rocques Barracks they were built as a defence against the enemy, and finished their useful life as a defence against a greater enemy. Some of the earliest names recorded as associated with the Corps are Torode, Radford, Carre, Many, Bisson, Martel, Ozanne, Harvey and Henry. For a time it is thought that the Island belonged to the French Territory, and would explain why so many of the early day Cadets were trained in France.

The first Band that was formed consisted of Jack Sebire (cornet), James Priaulx (baritone). Henry Mahy (drum). Mr. McDougal, a Scotsman, was paid to teach them music. Lieutenant Ajsbury (later to be known as Mrs. Dorey) recalled at the Jubilee Celebration of 1933 that it was her duty, as a Lieutenant, on a Saturday night to take the instruments in a box to town to get them soldered in time for use on a Sunday. One wonders what her means of travel was.

Another memory, recorded by Captain Roguve and concerning 1891, recalls that on several occasions the roughs whitewashed and tarred the front of the hall.

So, while William Booth was making news in the National press by asking for £5,000 from the Annual Self Denial Appeal, and a little later asking for deposits of £5 for a period of time at fixed interest, so the L’Islet Corps became established.

Time precludes a full search through the Guernsey Star, and early copies of the Guernsey Press, but one or two interesting reports have been found, which give an insight into the Corps of those early days.

Guernsey Star: 21st April 1883: The Salvation Army. Mr Herbert Booth, son of General Booth, arrived this morning from Jersey, after staying there only one day, and according to placards extensively posted is to hold a series of revival services during the ensuing week. In spite of the Constable prohibition against processions for the members of the Salvation Army – the Harbour Master, we are informed, in exercise of his authority, permitted the Band to escort Mr. Booth and his followers along the quay as far as the Weighbridge.

Guernsey Star: 4th March 1886: General Booth held meetings in St. Julian’s Hall. In the afternoon the large platform was occupied by members from Grandes Rocques, St. Sampsons and Town. Booth Clibborn accompanied the General, who had spent the previous day in Jersey.

Guernsey Star: 2nd September 1886: Finances of the Salvation Army causing concern. 4th-11th September they seek to raise £5,000.

Guernsey Press: 23rd August 1897: Brigadier Hammond of the Salvation Army Headquarters is in Guernsey and holding a series of special services. He held a special service at L'Islet Citadel on Sunday last. There was, as usual, a crowded attendance and the result was considered most satisfactory all round.

An interesting insight into the work of the Y.P. Corps is recorded in Guernsey Press of 4th September 1897.

"Distribution of Prizes at the Salvation Army, L'Islet Fortress. A most pleasant evening was spent at the Fortress, L'Is1et on Thursday, when the parents and friends of the children attending the Junior Soldiers Sunday School assembled on the occasion of the distribution of prizes to the children who had earned them. Needless to say when the children arrived they came with happy smiling faces, and the pleasant illumination of their features increased when they caught sight of the pile of books.They had been carefully chosen by Lt. Brown while he was at Headquarters, London.

The prizes were distributed by Sectional Officer Carey. The meeting opened with a hymn and a prayer was offered by Junior Soldier Sgt/Major F. Bisson. Entitled to First Prize, (but the money has been put by to purchase Bib1es)were Mabel Martel, Emile Falla, Jane Priaulx, Mabel Radford, Alf Priaulx, Peter Le Poidevin, John Edwards, Eliza Tostevin, and Alfred and Dan Dorey

The Salvation Army has achieved remarkable success in the L'Islet district for which a great part of the praise, especially in the Juvenile Department, is due to Sgt/Major F. Bisson, the Treasurer F. McCormack and the junior workers generally. The children are assembled with great regularity every Sunday in the year and meetings are bright and happy, enlivened by the strains of the local Salvation Army Band. No greater proof of the success attained will be desired than was presented by this prize meeting.

The time passed away with wonderful rapidity and all too soon the time for closing arrived, and the meeting terminated with an eloquent prayer by Ensign Hubbard”.

7th September, 1897 - Harvest Festival at L'Islet

The Salvation Army held their Harvest Festival with an array of flowers, fruit and vegetables supplied by members and friends. The morning attendance was very good and in the afternoon the Band gave a Musical Festival, when solos were sung by Brother John Le Page, Brother Fred Vaudin, William Carre, Hedley Bougourd, Dan Bougourd and a splendid selection of music given by the Band. At the evening service the Fortress was crowded.

18th March, 1898. Once again the Salvation Army forced itself upon us. This time it is through the medium of their week of prayer and self-denial.

Last year the Indian Famine called for special aid. This year its effect is still felt and part of the year's Self Denial Fund will go to help support 370 famine orphans who have been handed over to the Salvation Army.

Just one further reference to an open air at Cambridge Park. The usual collection was taken for the purpose, as one of the members pointed out, of keeping the wheels of the old chariot well-greased.

And so the foundations of the L'Islet Corps were well and truly laid.

In 1910, an enlightening article was printed in All the World entitled ‘Grandes Rocques Corps’, although by that time, the Corps was operating in their own purpose built hall at Les Tracheries. The officers of that day, Ensign and Mrs. McVeigh, made no secret of the fact that their lines had fallen in pleasant places. It is recorded that during their stay, 27 new names were placed on the register and several converted instrumentalists were added to the Band's fighting strength. Attendances were listed as 150 on a Sunday afternoon, and 300 at night, consisting of congregation of growers, quarrymen, fishermen labourers, to say nothing of their happy and smiling wives and children.

A further interesting comment, says "The people are industrious, earnest, and not unduly inclined to enthuse, except on occasion when they can surprise themselves. They are kind of heart and commend the Army for its great work amongst those who were more especially in need of its help. There are some in its local ranks who were notorious characters, but no good purpose will be served by trumpeting their shortcomings on the housetops - suffice to say they are now amongst the worthiest and most respected of the L'Islet community.

The First War 1914-18 had its effect on the Corps. Some comrades were called up, especially when conscription saw those aged between 17-45 years of age liable for Service. As in the 1939-45 War, some of these never returned. Those who did had seen a completely new way of life. The horizons were widening. The advent of motorisation brought cars, buses and lorries, new methods of transport and equipment.

1932 saw the beginning of the tomato industry and a general upgrading in the standard of living. Better education became available. Many Islanders started up in businesses of their own. All these changes were shown in the life of the L'Islet Corps.

1925 saw the building of a new bungalow at Grande Havre for the officers at a cost of £500 14s. Od. The Corps History Book records a year or so later that the cost of redecorating the exterior was £12! (A postscript added by the Divisional Commander says this was too much) .

One of the outstanding features of the early 1930's must have been the size of the Sunday School. Remarks recorded in the History Book mention an occasion when 320 young people and friends sat down to the tea at the Y.P. Outing.

To many visitors the Sunday Morning Holiness Meeting was a Spiritual Highlight of the year, and it is difficult to define what made it so. Likewise the late Sunday Evening March to Le Picquerel for the open-air was also another outstanding feature.

1933 brought Jubilee Celebrations with several old Officers taking part. Some of those comrades by this time had married locally, and took part in these meetings which were conducted by Colonel George Holmes.

And so L'Islet Corps prospered, both in numbers and spiritual growth. Life seemed good, but little did the comrades realise to what extent their resources were going to be taxed and their faith tested in the ensuing years. War clouds were gathering, but never did the Channel Islanders expect that the rise to power of Hitler in Germany during the 1930's was going to so disastrously affect their way of life. But affect it - it did;

"Your wish cannot be granted" was the curt reply received by Commandant Griffiths to the letter he had sent to the German Feldkommandt dated 19th January, 1941. Six months earlier, some 70 adults together with 66 children had left the Island, as had also the Commanding Officers Major and Mrs. Leavesley.

During this time Commandant Griffiths had rallied the remaining forces, and for six months, the comrades continued to hold their services and to the best of their ability continued the work of the Army in the L'Islet area.

A tribute here must be recorded to the initiative of Commandant Griffiths who met every contingency with a spirit of dedication and foresight during what must have been a very dark and distressing period in the lives of the Islanders.
The L'Islet Joyful News had a circulation of 9 dozen copies a week. This was produced when it was realised that they would be unable to receive the Army periodicals from the mainland.

A portrait of William Booth was hung at the back of the platform on Sunday 14th July, and a large congregation celebrated Founders Day. The Local Officers under their self appointed Leader were determined that the Corps would continue to the best of their ability.

The sense of foreboding and frustration which must have come to them when, after a personal interview with the German Commandant, Commandant Griffiths was banned from publishing the Joyful News, to be followed just a matter of weeks later by the prohibition of uniform wearing.

Then came the final blow, after a further application to the German Feldkommandt, the order came for the comrades to Cease Fire. On the 18th January a telephone message was received from the Bailiff's Office:

"German Authorities order all Salvation Army meetings to cease forthwith".

And so the Fortress was closed, but this was not the end to Commandant Griffiths intrepid efforts. The same night he met the Local Officers informing them that he would continue to occupy the Officers quarters. That the Finance Locals, together with himself, would 'Carry On' as far as possible. Cartridges would still be received and duly recorded. Apart from that, all official books would be closed. He, Commandant Griffiths, would spend his time and energy helping to keep the Spirit alive by visitation.

The L'lslet Methodist Church was to be looked on as their Spiritual Home for the time being. All the musical instruments, including piano, two organs together with Flags, Bibles, Song Books, Forms, Chairs and furniture were removed from both halls and stored. A quote in the Corps History Book says of these days "Troubled, yet not distressed, perplexed, but not in despair, cast down, but not destroyed". (2 Corinthians 4 v 8 & 9). Many of the Salvation Army's celebrations and customs were still observed together with their Methodist friends. Anniversaries and Harvest Festivals all had an Army flavour to them.

Many stories could no doubt be told of those dark and distressing days. One of them is recorded in some memoirs written by Mr. William Bougourd. Mr. Bougourd records:

"One dark winter's evening, cycling along on my way to visit Frank (White) Martel who was then living at Portinfer, everything was blacked out, the darkness could have been cut with a knife. It seemed the world had gone dead.

Approaching Salem Church, I heard a Band, as I got nearer there appeared a figure in the dark. At first, I thought it was a German. After stalking one another for a few moments, I discovered it was Commandant Griffiths, who was keeping watch outside while inside, some bandsmen were having a blow. The music got louder and louder and Commandant Griffiths beat a hasty retreat into the Church to quieten them.

To Mr. Bougourd, he says "This event was a great boost to my faith, and a tonic". Eventually Mr. Bougourd went on his way, but later he was told by one of the players, "We just got carried away””.

Meanwhile, those of the Corps who were evacuated were dispersed all over the U.K. Some served in the Forces, and for a time it was difficult to trace relatives etc. This was helped by The Musician publishing names and addresses of various comrades. Anxiety was the common experience of comrades who had evacuated and those who remained. On 1st July, 1940 Amos Duquemin received a letter from his brother Wilfred, telling him of his intention to leave the Island by a fishing boat, departing from Grande Havre under the cover of darkness. The Musician recorded in April, 1941:

“God does answer prayer, and never more so than on that night, when I took my life in my hands on an open boat with about 120 miles to travel. We miss the L'Islet Corps and we long for happier days when God willing, we shall safely return to our loved ones left behind, and join in praising God's name in the Fortress”.

It was 10 months later that the Duquemin Family received Red Cross messages confirming the success of Wilfred's escape.
As the Occupation lengthened into years, days got darker and more difficult. Coal and gas supplies ceased. Milk and meat rations were very low, bread rations reduced and for three weeks ceased altogether. Not only were the Islanders suffering, but so were the foreigners in their midst. Sickness, death, suffering and privation were prevalent. Thieving was on the increase.

Dark and difficult indeed were the closing days of 1944. About this time a Red Cross message was sent to General George Carpenter in London. It read:

"All members of the family here send greetings. When together speak of you all, and sing songs we used to sing. Anxiously awaiting our re-union".

On 20th December a ray of light appeared in the form of a message that a Relief Boat was on the way and due to arrive on Christmas Day. No boat arrived but in spite of this a Christmas Tree Party was organised to which 100 children were invited. Nothing was available in the way of food, but by some means or another, they were able to supply hot drink.

Eventually The Vega arrived on 27th December bringing Red Cross parcels which were distributed and must have appeared like manna from Heaven. Because of this, Thanksgiving Services were held on Sunday 31st December, 1944. However dark December days had been, February and March must have been much darker. Stocks of food were almost exhausted. Island community feeding centres closed down. 1 1b per head of potatoes were distributed on 16th March, the last in stock. In spite of the depressing physical conditions Good Friday saw a uniting of the Salvationists of the three Corps at L'lslet in the Methodist Church.

This was described by Commandant Griffiths as a typical Army meeting. A solemn assembly around the Cross. The Methodist choir assisted, and a small Band composed of L'Islet Bandsmen took part.

“The British are here;” This cry heralded the arrival of the first British ship to enter the harbour, and berth at the New Jetty on Wednesday 9th May, 1945. That same day, the L'Islet Corps held its first public meeting at L'lslet Cross Roads. A 'Thanksgiving Service' indeed. The Band, sixteen in number, accompanied the singing. Commandant and Mrs. Griffiths in uniform conducted the Service. Headed by both the Corps and Band Flags, they marched to Salem Methodist Church to unite with them in their Service of Thanksgiving. From then on, gradually more and more Salvation Army activities were resumed.

The Fortress was re-opened on Sunday 3rd June, 1945. A march of witness preceded a Dedication Service where the comrades re-dedicated the Fortress, and themselves, to God. Some time later. Commandant Griffiths revealed that the "Thanksgiving Service' held on Liberation Day, had been prepared twelve months earlier. Surely a tribute to the faith these comrades held during those unforgettable years

First to visit the Island from Headquarters was Brigadier Hal Beckett, the Divisional Commander. He spent 8 days between the Islands, meeting, rejoicing and assessing the situation with the Salvationists who had been trapped in the Islands during those dark and difficult years.

Gradually comrades returned, uniforms were got out of hiding, practices resumed, Y.P. work re-established and the Singing Company was brought into being and a Boy's music class organised, - so records Commandant Griffiths in the Corps History Book. The Period and State of Emergency closed with the appointment of new officers, Adjutant and Mrs. Daniel Thomas. God has been our sufficiency - with gratitude for past mercies and confidence in Him who has never failed us, we pray most earnestly that blessing may attend future operations of the Corps.

1946 saw a progression towards establishing normal activities. Visitors came, as did the Merthyr Tydfil Band for a Bank Holiday weekend visit, to be followed in June 1947 by a visit from the Assurance Songsters.

In September 1947, Commandant Griffiths was promoted to Glory. Many were the tributes paid to the enormous influence and faith that this stalwart had shown amongst the Island community during the days of the Occupation. "He will be greatly missed" so recorded the Commanding Officer of that day, Major Buxton.

These years saw much consistent service presented by the L'Islet comrades. A succession of Commanding Officers who have all given of their own particular abilities and leadership to the Corps. Visitors in the form of Bands, Musical Groups, Officers and Leaders from other places have left many happy memories, and spiritual blessings have been showered on the Corps in many ways.

1976 saw the opening of the New Fortress at Le Picquerel. This building, dedicated to the Glory of God on 1st July, 1976, was officially opened by Commissioner Geoffrey Dalziel, the then British Commissioner.

This building had many additional facilities to the old Fortress at Les Tracheries. Designed for the purpose of community work by Captain Ray Oakley, it has, over the years, gradually widened its scope of activities to meet some of the needs of the present age.

What of the future? It is in God's Hands. May the achievement of the first 100 years be built upon, to the Glory of God in the ensuing century.

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