Category Archives: History of Alderney

In WW1 Victor returns injured to Riduna (Alderney) ~ the island of his birth

In Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home I have tried to tell less well known tales of the Great War. Having said that, each of the Newton family from Woolston, Southampton played plausible roles in WW1 taking them as far as Turkey and even India. Here Victor, an injured soldier, returns to Riduna (Alderney) the island of his birth, to play his part in the ‘home guard.’ In order to support his family he also went fishing ~ for solace as well as sustenance – although it did not always achieve the peace he longed for: 

When Victor first returned to Riduna (Alderney) he could often be seen fishing on the rocky shoreline to the right of Fort Raz on Longy Bay, a lone silhouette of a figure standing statuesque off an outcrop not far from the sweeping sandy bay. In fact, at first glance he almost looked like a dark rock himself, protruding upright from the shore: a reflection of the Hanging Rock nearby.

Unfortunately, this familiar place where he had always loved to fish with his father and grandfather before him gave him no peace. The coast of France was clearly visible to him. Even with the sound of the sea, it was impossible to block out the echo of distant gunfire, fetching the true reality of the war right to the shoreline. There was no real way of escaping the horrors and the memories.

Instead he began to join the many young lads, fishing for mackerel and mullet off the Breakwater. He stood cheek by jowl, with just enough room to cast the twine into the sea from his long heavy pole. His younger brother William stood on the ledge behind him, attaching the bait and retrieving the captured mackerel, which Victor flicked expertly, as near to William as he could. Their catch was certainly adequate to fulfil the bodily needs of his family, although he still yearned to fish in solitude.

One afternoon he could bear it no more and so, instead of heading for the Breakwater, he began to clamber over the rocks by Fort Doyle. With his brother William holding the rod and bait, skipping lithely from rock to rock, Victor was embarrassed as he struggled and slid over the wet rocks, using both hands to steady himself as he coped with his painful shoulder and injured leg. Many times William looked back and wanted to give Victor support but in the end looked onwards, knowing full well that his older brother would be too proud to accept help. Finally they reached a ledge of rocks which jutted right out into the swirling waters and Victor settled there to gain his breath. William prepared the line for him, untangled the twine from the quill and cork float and attached some mackerel flesh to the hook as bait, carefully squeezing it between his thumb and forefinger. He handed the rod to his brother, knowing instinctively that Victor wanted to fish alone and then went to look for shrimps in the rock pools nearby.

                Before Victor cast the line he sat and looked around him. His eyes spanned between Fort Groznez to his right, standing with pride to defend the harbour and breakwater, to the imposing sight of Fort Tourgis to his left, and the long barracks sweeping down from the horizon towards the stony shores of Clonque Bay. Just across the sea from Fort Tourgis lay the deserted island of Burhou, with dangerous waters swirling around outcrops of rocks as far as the eye could see. As Victor’s eyes swept along the bay and out towards the open sea, he sighed with a rare moment of contentment. He cast his line and as he watched the float bob in the waters in front of him he began to relax. He breathed in the salty air, filling his lungs and clearing his mind. His thoughts drifted in and out of a pleasant emptiness.”

Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home is Diana Jackson’s second novel, set between 1910 and 1920 telling the stories of members of the Newton family as they embark on their own role on The Great War.

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Filed under Alderney, Ancasta, Channel Islands, History of Alderney, The Great War, WW1

Migration and Immigration ~ Nothing New

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.

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Filed under Channel Islands, History of Alderney

Women and Island Life over 100 years ago

aysta66In the next few posts, during August I am going to address issues regarding women in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. It was a period of great change, a contrast you will see if you read my two novels ‘Riduna‘ and ‘Ancasta Guide me Swiftly Home.’

Riduna is set in the mid to late 19th Century and on the island of Riduna (Alderney) the role of single women was certainly to work in service or in the important tourist industry. They would be maids in the various larger homes or boarding houses or waitresses or cleaning staff in the few hotels. Travelling was important to the Victorians of means and destinations like Alderney provided a desired break from everyday life at home. (Nothing changes)

On Alderney the majority of children went to school, although the girls would have focussed on reading, writing and needlework. Only a few would have enjoyed a wider curriculum. It is interesting to me that my Great Grandmother, living on Alderney at the time, was literate, whereas her husband, a Guernseyman could barely sign his own name at the time of their marriage. By 16 year, all the girls would be employed to provide a meagre income to contribute to household expenses until they were married. Then they would have to give up work, unless they continued in the family business, whether in a shop such as a bakers or an inn or boarding house.

Added to the life of the islanders the population was swelled by various migrating groups which had an impact on the social dynamics of late 19th Century Alderney. Firstly there were professionals from mainland Britain….for example doctors and teachers who would bring their families with them and to a certain extent a different set of values. Aspirations of the daughter of an island doctor would differ from that of an island girl. A female teacher would have been a spinster with a vocation. What happened if she  was tempted to marry? How would the islanders react. Her attitude to the dilemma would be more considered and rational than that of a young island girl, but it would none the less give a conflict of emotion.

The other unsettling dimension to life on Alderney at that time was caused by the workers on the various Forts and defences on the islands. These included migrants from the UK, Ireland and even Italy; those moving to wherever there was work to make a living for their family, who would travel with them. Thus communities around the Crabby Bay area swelled and to a certain extent kept to themselves. Often they would educate their children at home and have their own churches. Mix between these groups and islanders was not always encouraged.

The other migrant workers of influence were the military. Wouldn’t the dashing red-coated soldiers turn the heads of many simple island girls? Wouldn’t their presence cause a stiffening of attitude from the island elders as they wished to protect the virtue of their young people?

The other major factor was the island itself. In a big city there is a certain amount of anonymity but on an island gossip abounds. One persons private business is known by the whole island within a very short time. Life on an island can be idyllic but it also can be claustrophobic, so much so that some dreamt of the wider world. Yet again there is a divide of the sexes here, because opportunities to leave the island were far more available for young men than girls, unless they married a visitor.

If you’d like to read more about these conflicts, my first novel ‘Riduna’ gives you a flavour of island life at that time. All these issues gave colour to the underlying storyline, adding a community dimension to the lives of the main characters Harriet and Edward.



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Filed under Alderney, Channel Islands, Historical Fiction, History of Alderney, Riduna