Researching migration between the Channel Islands and the United Kingdom and beyond, gave me a wider perspective on issues regarding immigration in general. As the prosperity of each of the islands has ebbed and flowed, islanders have sought work elsewhere or mainlanders have moved to Guernsey and Alderney in search of work or a better life style. (Of course there were exceptional circumstances through both world wars)
As I have spoken before, the Victorians had a substantial Fort building programme, initially to protect the realms of the crown from Napoleon, but certainly to protect our islands from invaders and these are clearly visible along the South Coast and surround The Channel Islands. These objectives would never have been achieved if it hadn’t been for migrant workers from England, Ireland and Italy.
Once the fortresses were complete, then each had to be manned and so next came visiting regiments from England, who were there to supplement the small local Militia.
Other groups of migrants on the islands were related to trade, although the numbers who stayed were probably negligible. Coal was imported and cattle and stone were the main exports through the 19th Century. It was a coal ship that originally brought my great grandfather to Alderney from the mainland where he met and married Jane Renier. They lived for a time in Liverpool, once he was a sea-captain, leaving their daughter behind on Alderney, but other ships also came from Plymouth, The Isles of Scilly, Glasgow, London and the wider world too.
Much of the exports of cattle of the famous Alderney and Guernsey cows went as far away as America and Nova Scotia and it was customary for the lads, who knew the animals well, to accompany them on the long and difficult voyages. Many of these lads subsequently settled in Canada. It is this history I would like to research in-depth one day, with the aim of writing a prequel to ‘Riduna.’
Moving on to the wider mainland of Britain, which is still of course an island, we have had people from all over the world arrive and settle over the centuries. Seamen from China and Russia; French Protestants and Jews escaping persecution bringing skills, trade and finance; Irish to help build the infrastructure of roads and rail; Italians in the catering industry and in the 1950’s we encouraged workers from India and the Caribbean to come to work in the brick industry and for British Rail.
All of these people added value to the country we call Great Britain and although illegal immigration is wrong, and anyone trying to abuse our welfare and benefits system needs to be sought out, we must be careful not to alienate those people who have come to see Britain as their home and have given enormous contributions to its prosperity.
Of what descent are you? Norman, Viking, Celt, Anglo Saxon……or further afield. I think it is our diversity which has given us an inquisitive intelligence, an adventurous spirit and an entrepreneurial motivation.