Jersey Liberation Event
Well our first trip 'abroad' this year for the Garrison began with a day of hanging around at Tilbury Fort for the low loaders to arrive. It was quite a dull windy day down there and it was with some relief I think when everything had been loaded up ready for the run down to Portsmouth. On arriving we unloaded the guns/limbers/Quads and Tilly, and headed over the pub. After what had been a long day it was time to try and get some sleep, as it would be an early start tomorrow. Fred and I had a rather uncomfortable night in the Tilly and all too soon it was time to shake a leg. I was shivering for about half an hour and it took a hot cup of coffee to warm up a bit - British Summertime - bah! When I got back to the car park, everyone had moved their vehicles over the far side, then we moved to the docks and were shunted from pillar to post by Condor Ferries. I don’t think they quite knew what to do with us! By now the two C8s had arrived plus QL, Don’s van and the rest of the group. At last, we were on the boat and settling down for the 10 hour crossing. Some of the lads busied themselves sewing on their Force 135 badges. Fred’s stitching left something to be desired so offers to sew on badges were politely refused! After something to eat and drink, I felt a bit more human, but there wasn’t much to do/see on board.
After the short hop to Jersey via Guernsey it was time to disembark and form up on the docks. I was signaled to follow some of the Land Rovers out of the docks so I dutifully followed, trying to keep up as I hadn’t a clue where I was going! On arrival at the campsite, I spotted Keith standing all alone with his little pile of luggage (the rest of which was in the Tilly). Once the rest of the group had arrived we set to banging up tents before it got too dark. So ended the first day.
Friday dawned dull and windy - had we come all this way to get Tilbury weather?! After staggering down to the Gents I was collared by Jane who was off to the Co-Op to get the provisions in. We must have looked a bit odd to the check out girls, me looking like something the cat had dragged in, and Jane in her pyjamas and greatcoat! It was only when I opened the van door to load up the shopping that I realised Don was still asleep in the back! After hunting down the showers in the community centre I got changed into uniform, but Jonathan was just heading off in the Quad with Paul, Gary and Dave Nesbitt to cover the 'school run'.
The rest of us had some time to finish off setting up the camp. Keith had a huge . . . flag which we hoisted up over our tent. It was so windy it unfurled completely and I did wonder if it would take off with the tent attached! Dave Petters and Steve Burnside offered to take us out in the C8s and do some bunker hunting. It was blowing a gale but the coastline was very beautiful with the waves crashing in. Dangerous managed to get in one of the bunkers we were looking around - it was full of canoes and surf boards so we locked it up quick. We then had a run into St.Helier as Steve wanted to find a garage and get his exhaust welded up. While that was being sorted out, we had a wander around the town and ened up in a café drinking tea. The sun was now out and although the wind didn’t relent during our whole visit, I sensed we were in for a good weekend. After dinner, we got some practice in with our nominated gun detachments for the Monday (albeit without the guns!) The rest of the evening was spent over the pub again where I spent half the night chatting to some 'locals'
Saturday was the first show day. We were blessed once again with good weather but the breeze kept us cool. Glenn Smith showed up on the campsite, having just flown over from Blighty (sensible chap!) Our first commitment for the day was the noonday gun, which all seemed to go off very well - we used Richard Le Broques’ 25 pounder for this. Later that afternoon we got ready for the skirmish. Those not in the gun detachments were given various firearms and took to the field in an infantry role alongside our old friends, the Hamsters. Although Jonathan had attended a pre-battle meeting, the Germans started firing straight away and the whole plot went pear shaped! Luckily, I don’t think the public noticed and we received quite an ovation. Nigel Hay, asked us to go along the crowd line with a collection for charity, and we must have raked in several hundred pounds. The show was free admission so I think the public were quite happy to make a donation. I suppose there were about 100 vehicles on site with some stalls and exhibitions (the Vietnam one was particularly good). So ended the first show day. Everything appeared to go well, and we headed off to community centre for the VE Party. Prawn cocktail, cold meat salad and a choice of dessert washed down with as much wine as you could drink! James and Graham were trying to float a bread basket with the helium balloons on the tables, and sort of succeeded but the Beauty Pageant put a stop to that as a group of attractive young ladies took to the stage in a bid to become the Parish Beauty Queen. James took a particular shine to one such girl, and I also noticed certain other members of the Garrison getting to know some of the locals on the dance floor. Jonathan gave a short speech on behalf of the group and also won a sweatshirt in the raffle! A very enjoyable evening though I think there were a few sore heads the next day!
Sunday was really a repeat of Saturday as far as I can remember. James was dropped off at the camp early morning. I don’t know quite what that girl had been doing to him all night, but he certainly looked 'drained' to me. He certainly got the third degree off the rest of the lads, but I think they were just jealous really! I bought a nice Canadian Red Cross Parcels box for £8. The last one I saw in the UK was £55, but they seem to be quite common in Jersey. The noon day gun was fired by the local Barclays Bank Manager, who were sponsoring the event. Later that afternoon, it was time for the battle again, followed by a parade of the vehicles in the arena. Richard Le Broque seemed happy with how it had gone off. The public certainly enjoyed it. We had a brief meeting in the hospitality tent after the show to get the low down on the parade going on on Monday - also took the opportunity to sample some of the Force 135 beer! After some more bunker hunting, we headed off to the Chinese for our dinner and a chance to unwind/chill out a bit.
And so the Big Day arrived. After breakfast, we formed up the convoy with yours truly as lead vehicle (well, OK, behind the Police car!) and the Quads/guns/limbers just behind. The convoy crawled along, so much so that Graham’s 101 broke down, so he got a bit of a ribbing over that later on! After forming up for a static display, we were allowed on the beach to set up our 21 gun salute. We had several hours to kill but all the charges had to be prepared and the guns serviced to try and ensure there were no hiccups later on. Tony Banner did his bit to disperse the crowds off the causeway so the Force 135 convoy could get off the beach from the landing craft. The re-enactment of this choked me up a bit as you can imagine the elation felt by the islanders 60 years ago after 5 years of occupation. The Red Arrows put on their usual spectacular display right overhead and after a practice dummy run, everything was set. The whole thing went off like clockwork and we were all quite chuffed with ourselves afterwards. There was a brief celebration in a pub later on where everyone was commended for a job well done. After returning to camp ,we had to spruce ourselves up for a celebratory dinner at the Lighthouse Restaurant, organised by one of Tony’s friends, Carol for the Gold Beach Group. A very nice meal (paid for the by the Garrison!) and a fitting end to the show. Steve’s C8 had a fuel problem on the way back to camp, so Tony Banner towed him back. This was sorted out next day. Back at the camp, the hospitality tent was open and some of the lads went over for a few beers. I was getting a bit cold so turned in for the night (well, I am officially an old git now!) just in time for the rock band to start up. After listening in bed to Sharp Dressed Man and Smoke on the Water, I nearly got up to do a bit of head banging! Keith found out we had all been on telly that night both in the UK and locally.
Last Day: Those on the fast boat had to make an early exit but the rest of us had a chance to do a bit of sightseeing, first visiting the Underground Hospital and then Elizabeth Castle, where we were entertained by a local 18th Century gunner in period costume, who roped Dangerous in to help amongst others. After an enjoyable finale to our visit, it was time to head back and strike camp. Andy Davis’ QL had a bit of trouble starting up but once she got going she was OK. I even had a go at the wheel (as did Dave Petters) and then Fred had a go in the Tilly before we set off for the docks.
After more confusion/angst with Condor Ferries booking in, we were on board and after dinner, settled in to the bar for a few bevies then to our cabins for some well deserved shut eye. I didn’t get much as I had a cold coming on but fried breakfast in the morning helped a bit (baked beans up each nostril stems a runny nose!) After disembarking, some headed home and some stayed to wait for the low loaders. After a fairly uneventful journey back to Tilbury, we unloaded everything and I finally arrived home mid/late afternoon.
What a great trip to remember? So many laughs and good times plus we did the Garrison proud. Thanks to Jane and Fred for the catering, to Jonathan and Keith and Tony for organising, to Geoff Leese and the Gold Beach group and to everyone else for making the whole thing so successful. The Jersey Evening Post ran a particularly good spread on the 60th Liberation, including us, plus the TV footage is worth seeing.