Reg Langlois' Occupation memories
My WW2 War Time Memories ...
... as far as I can remember them
By Reg Langlois
I was born in 1936 and now I am over 70. I lived through the occupation in Jersey and before I got too old I thought I would write little stories about my life during the Second World War for my grand children. Most of the last generation has passed away and now it is left to me to tell them all about their family from the past before I forget.
St Saviour farms
A year after I was born, my father, mother and myself moved from my grandfather Langlois’s home at Sion Hall, to a farm called Gros Puit at Bagot in the parish of St Saviour, only some two miles away. I think we moved because my father wanted his independence. We spent three years there. My father grew tomatoes, potatoes and loads of green vegetables. We also had cows and pigs, but it was hard work for my father as he was just starting out to farm by himself. In 1939 he suffered a big setback when he discovered that he had arthritis at the top of his spine, which confined him to bed, where he spent most of the next 18 months on his back. Our next-door neighbours, the Pallot family, and work people from Sion Hall came every day to keep the farm going. They were a great help, as we could not have continued without them.
In 1940 I was four years old and beginning to understand a lot of what was going on around me. My father was in bed, my mother was very worried and friends and family were calling at all hours. I remember a lot of shouting and arguing from which all I could make out was that we were going to move away somewhere. I later discovered that the friends and family were trying to persuade us to leave the island because the Germans were coming and my father would not have been able to work for them, had he been made to.
However Dad had the final word. He said: " We are staying". Mum had started packing and crying all at once. She just wanted to do what was best for everybody, and did not want to go either. I have no memory of the Germans arriving in the island but I do recall them being here very well.
One afternoon we were looking out over the fields from my father's room watching the German soldiers going around doing their exercises. They were running, jumping and crawling about on the muddy ground, leaping over low walls and climbing over high ones, when one of the German soldiers had the bright idea of using a wooden barrel he had found nearby to help them over a very high wall. It worked well until some 20-odd soldiers had passed over the wall with the help of the barrel but, with only two or three men to go, the barrel started to collapse, the bottom gave way and the next man trying to get over disappeared inside. We were too far away to see if they were laughing, but fortunately they could not see us doubled up with laughter.
At the farm my sister learnt to drive at a very early age. She cannot have been more than two and a half when she got onto a Fordson tractor that was parked on a slope and somehow managed to take the brake off. The tractor took off with her sitting on it but she kept it in a straight line and parked it half in and half out of an asbestos garage. Considering her age, she had done pretty well. Unfortunately, she had taken the gable end with her. We had to forgive her for asbestos is not very tough, is it?
Transport was something to remember. My father's back problem had been improving when he managed to find a very heavy bicycle somewhere. As before the occupation he had always used a car, he must have found this kind of transport very hard work. As we were only permitted to use our tractor for farm work, he made a luxury trailer for my sister and myself to tow us behind his bicycle. The body of the trailer was made from a heavy cabin trunk and the big fat wheels and tyres came off a couple of large wheelbarrows.
One fine day my father, very proud of his invention, took us in the new trailer for its maiden journey. Only a couple of miles on its test run we were on the way home when he must have lost concentration for a split second and hit the curb pretty hard. We bounced around like a ball because of the big balloon tyres and turned right over, tipping us out onto the hard pavement. Strangely enough I can remember that incident as if it was yesterday.
On the move
In 1941, when I was five and my sister three and a half, we were on the move again. We moved to another farm where, this time, the soil was very good. It was well drained and had better shelter from the cold easterly winds. This was Stirling Castle Farm whose buildings dated from c1590 - a wonderful place where everything was small, even the only toilet around the corner behind the house. Compared to Sion Hall this was a dolls house, and I have many good memories of this farm. The farmhouse is situated halfway up the side of a valley and the land branches away from it. Near the house we had glass frames to bring on young plants and on the larger fields we grew wheat and oats for the cattle and for making bread. We also kept cows for milking.
There were German soldiers everywhere, probably because it was a valley and it gave them plenty of shelter from RAF or USA aircraft flying overhead. Although it was forbidden to collect leaflets off the ground, my mother used to find it satisfying to get them before the Germans did and collect arms full of paper and silver foil. Every time we harvested our crops we had by law to hand over a large amount to the Germans, at least half I think.
One day the Germans turned up in the yard with a very heavy wagon drawn by two very large shire-type horses to collect the straw that was due to them. They set about in a very business like way loading the wagon and the load got higher and higher with a man working by stacking the straw squarely on the top, when suddenly the horses who had been standing very still took fright and moved, dislodging the man on the top of the load. He must have fallen at least 15 feet onto the cobbled yard on his head, from which blood was pouring.
Without hesitation, my mother dashed indoors for a bowl of water with Dettol and offered to clean the wound, but the officer in charge pushed her out of the way, tipping the bowl at the same time, and proceeded to clean the man’s head with a newspaper. My mother was even more upset when she saw the damage on the man's head, yet she was not allowed to help in any way. He was taken on to the road and had to wait until the soldiers had finished loading before being taken off for treatment. Throughout the Occupation she never forgave the Germans for the treatment they gave to that man.
Being a youngster during the Occupation was not as bad as it was for adults, who were always looking around for things on which to survive. It was even harder for people living in the town, who had to come out to the farms to glean in the fields after the corn had been cut. They had to pick the grains by hand off the ground to make bread and I would try to help them, but my fingers soon became sore as the dry stalks cut into them
My German friend
I was playing in the fields one day when a German soldier turned up with a spade to do some digging. I remember that he gave me a grin and offered me the spade and, when I shook my head, he grinned again. I thought that I had made a friend. He looked about the garden for a while and started walking towards the farmhouse. I followed my new friend and stayed nearby when he started digging on high ground near a pathway close to the house.
He must have been there a long time because he had dug a hole as big as a table. It was so deep that, from where I was standing, I could not see the bottom. When I think about it now, he had done a fine job of making a neat hole with straight sides and he had even cleaned up the soil that he had taken from the hole. As my new friend could not speak my language, when I asked him why he had dug the hole he just smiled and, when he had finished, he shook my hand and went.
I never saw him again, although I sat near the hole for several days waiting for him to come back. Fed up, I went indoors and told my mother about him. She said that he seemed a nice man. I asked her how she knew and she said that she had been looking through the window all the time while he had been digging that hole. (She called it a"dug out"). Nobody came near it for weeks, so, bit by bit, I took it over. I dug steps into the sides and put bamboo canes close together on the top to make a roof out of bits and pieces, door knobs, nails, tin cans and so on, I could turn that hole into anything I wanted - a plane, a tank or even a submarine. My new friend had given me the best present I had ever had. I heard my father telling someone once that he reckoned the German had dug that hole near the pathway and close to the house just for me.
A short distance from the house, just over the brow of the hill, there was a windmill used for pumping water up to a large water tank for the cattle. The windmill was constructed of steel and was quite tall, as it was erected in a draughty valley. It had four giant legs and a wooden shaft that came down from the vane into the ground, the idea being that the shaft goes up and down about 20 inches and pumps water from a well.
What a great plaything for someone like me. I used to go over the hill and down the valley to play on this windmill. I would climb up the shaft to about ten feet and wrap my legs around it, going up and down for what seemed like hours. Well, that was until my father caught me. My mother and father had been looking for me for ages. Dad would always shout at me when he was angry but Mum would always give me a piece of her mind and then smack me. I remember this time she smacked me across her ironing table in the kitchen.
Talking about that kitchen, the doctor turned up to give my sister and myself our vaccination injections and I ran away to hide. I did not wait to see where my sister went, nor did I care. I hid in my dugout, but my father knew that I would be there and was all right about it. Once I was with him in the top field near a water storage tank, while he was milking the cows by hand, when there was gunfire nearby.
They were firing at a large aircraft passing over the island when, suddenly, there was a loud crash. A chunk of an aircraft had fallen in the field and a lot of small fires appeared. They turned out to be pieces of hot shrapnel. My father suddenly scooped me up and we dived under the water tank, just in time as another piece of the aircraft dropped onto the field very close to us.
Across the road from our farm was a brick built, three-storey house that could be called a chateau. It was set in its own grounds but my memory of the house and land is a little blurred. It was empty during the Occupation and was looked after by caretakers. One was called Bob and he, his sister and brother used to take it in turns to come from town every day.
I would walk around the house with them and was fascinated with the beehive they had up on the top floor. They let me travel by the dumb waiter (a mini lift just large enough to hold me). Outside in the garden they had a petrol motor that powered a water pump and, because they were not too good on mechanical maintenance, their pump took a lot of patience to get started. They always took the spark plug out, laid it on an oily rag soaked in petrol and lit it to heat it up. It worked most times but, if not, it would grow cold and they would have to go through the whole process again. What I remember most is the huge sunken rose garden. I wonder if it is still there. At the top of the hill the Germans had taken up residence in a large property called Oaklands, where they had a fuel tank dump. My father thought it was very convenient that he had someone who worked for him on the farm that knew how to siphon petrol for the tractor and, at night, he would take a little from the German's fuel tanks and put it into smaller tanks on the other side of the hedge.
He would only siphon a small amount from one or two of the hundreds that were there. Thank goodness they never caught him, as he was good with engines. He got a BSA three-wheel motor vehicle running. It had a flat platform on the back and helped a great deal when my father needed to carry light weights around. As the platform extended well over the rear axel, the driver had to remember to load up the front first. We lived on a very steep hill and, if the BSA had been badly loaded, the little vehicle would have lifted up in the air and there was every chance the load would have come off.
One day my father and I with the little BSA were climbing up this hill empty when we passed some German soldiers. They laughed at us and tried to hitch a lift. My father said he would take a couple of them, but that we might tip up if we took more. Two jumped on and off we went, steadily, but some of the others we passed thought that they would take a lift as well and, although the first two told them to get off, it was too late.
The little three-wheeler reared up and discharged its load, landing the soldiers on the roadway. My father thought there would be trouble, but the soldiers sitting on the road laughed and waved to us in a friendly way.
In the last year at Stirling Castle Farm I started junior school with my eldest sister (by the way, at this time I had another sister who was born in a nursing home in St Helier). It was principally a girls' school called the Convent FCJ. A few young men were accepted if they had sisters at the same school and also a few non-catholics like myself. Perhaps the war made them bend the rules a little. At assembly in the mornings the non-catholic boys had to sit at the back of the hall, whereas non-catholic girls could sit with all the others. I was quite happy as I had two or three other non-catholic boys for company. That school was dear to my heart.
I learnt how to make jewellery boxes out of used post cards. You have to make holes all around the cards then place the cards back to back. Using blanket stitch you then joined them all together and they even had a hinged lid. I have never forgotten those boxes. I also learnt to tie up my laces. When I kicked off my shoes one day in front of the teacher, she suggested that I might like to learn how to untie and tie them up properly. It took a week to learn and she made me do it twenty times. I cannot remember learning anything else.
Oh yes! We learnt how to be kind to others. Each of us in the class had to collect money for our own adopted boy or girl from another country. I chose a black boy from Africa because I liked the kind look in his eyes and I think that I managed to collect five pennies for him. One more thing - you were not allowed to carry matches.
One day the teacher asked us all to empty our pockets to play a game of something or other and, to the class's horror, I took a matchbox out of my pocket. It was spotted by the teacher who was very angry with me, even when I told her that there was nothing in it. She picked up the box, shook it and it rattled. She was fuming and was even more upset when a little, curled up woodlouse fell out. We had never seen her so angry.
Saying that she would have to smack me, she turned around and picked up a piece of stick. She had tears in her eyes when she turned back and told me to hold out my hand. At seven years old you can fake being brave but, when I held out my hand, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it did not hurt - the piece of wood she was using was elderberry which is quite soft. Within half an hour the whole school knew that Mother Carmel had beaten me. Twenty years or more after I left that school Mother Carmel still had my photograph up on the wall. She always kept her favourite pupils on that wall.
It was Grandpa hiding
I asked my father one day what the noise was coming from in the loft and he said that it was probably a mouse or perhaps a bird that had got caught up there. He went up to take a look and came down saying that he could not see anything and he was sure that it was not a bird. A few days later when I heard the noise again, I thought it was a mouse but I said nothing that time or on other occasions when I heard it. We had a lot of mice around the farm and they did not appear to do any harm.
It was only at the end of the occupation that I discovered that Grandpa Hodgetts had spent three weeks up in our loft in the dark. He had been born in Birmingham in England and, had he been found, would have been deported to Germany, as were the other English people here. I remember Grandpa Hodgetts cultivating a patch of about 30 perch of land at the farm and spending many hours there, as he wanted to be self-sufficient, which was a credit to him. He grew five perch of potatoes and 25 perch of tobacco.
The family considered he had his priorities right. When Grandpa cultivated the tobacco crop, he bundled the giant leaves together and hung them up in the rafters around the farm buildings to dry. He then placed them in a homemade press, which were only about 18 inches long and five inches wide. It had a lump of wood on the top of it to squeeze the juice out of the leaves and I can just see him now tightening the screw down bolts every day with loving care.
During the Occupation lighter fuel was non-existent and matches were hard to find, so you either had to do without or think up means of igniting your homegrown cigarettes or pipes. Grandpa had a friend in the motor trade who came up with the idea of using a four-cylinder impulse magneto, which, by joining all the leads, produced a longer spark that worked well.
Grandpa had the idea of using a tin with a hole in the lid with a piece of window sash cord through it as a wick. The oil in the tin came from many sources such as used engine oil, fish oil, and chicken fat and sometimes all three. I shall never forget the horrible smells of the burning oil and of grandpa's pipe.
I have good memories of Stirling Castle Farm, which we left at the end of 1943 when I was seven years old. My father had spread his wings and it was then time to return to Sion Hall to work with his father again. What a change it was for my father. Instead of a thriving tomato growing industry, the packing sheds and the land looked more like a ghost town with only a few potatoes planted and a mere five people working there instead of the 50 or so there had been before the war.
Every year during the Occupation grandpa Langlois made sure that the tomato seed had been sown, the seedlings pricked out and that thousands of plants were ready for planting. He said throughout that the war could not last forever and that, when it was over, everyone would want tomatoes. He was right and he was ready. When Jersey was liberated on 9t May 1945 my father and grandfather immediately organised the planting of all the tomato plants they had prepared months ahead. My grandfather's foresight had paid off.
I should explain a little about Sion Hall. My grandfather Langlois bought it in the 1920s. It was a very large house with many bedrooms, probably 15 or more, and all the rooms were very large with large windows looking out over the countryside. Approaching it from the front, you would first notice the enormous pillars supporting the balcony, which ran its full length. I was told that, had you visited the house in the early 1930s, you would have seen four or five full-size white marble statues of beautiful, scantily dressed ladies near the main doors.
My grandmother had them removed because her four sons would not stop painting them. The building was divided into two homes with us living on the left side and my grandfather on the other.
There were many more rooms on my grandfather's side, of which the most memorable was about 50 feet long and 20 feet wide with a large open fireplace at one end surrounded by giant sized armchairs and huge sofas. In the centre there was a heavy, ornate black oak table that opened out to nearly 14 feet with matching chairs and sideboards and, at the other end of the room, there was a full-sized billiard table with all its accessories, including boxed-in overhead lamps. Against the wall, there was a rack holding many cues, as everyone in the family had their own.
I remember that there were huge pictures and heavy curtains. Grandma Langlois' favourite party trick, which greatly annoyed grandpa Langlois, was to persuade Buddy, the large St Bernard who weighed in at over 200 pounds, to jump up on the billiard table, lay on his back and have his tummy tickled. The grandchildren loved that game.
It is strange the memories that come back to you as you grow older. As I write this, I remember the large, D-shaped fishpond filled with large, white water lilies. Behind this there was a dark tunnel of rough stones. Inside it was spooky, with the strange sound of water always dripping on to the stones, which I now realize were lava rocks filtering the water before it returned to the pond. We none of us ever dared go through it.
Can you imagine a house with its own ballroom? At Sion Hall that was to be expected. The huge room with a proper dance floor also had a long conservatory leading off it, which was filled with geraniums. During the Ooccupation, not only those who lived nearby, but people from all over the island came to the dances, which were held every two weeks. The music came from either a wind-up gramophone or, better still, a live band, led by Eric Harrison.
The dances started fairly early in the evening, as the dancers would have to be back home before curfew at about nine o'clock. Those people living a fair distance from Sion Hall must have had difficulty dodging the German patrols if they left the dances too late. I would sit on the window ledge three stories up, with my legs overhanging the sill, waving to the people going home. It was some time before my parents found out what I was doing, while my sisters were asleep in their beds. We were supposed to have had a young woman looking after us while the dance was on but she must have joined them.
I remember the time I painted my bicycle with old paint that I had found in a shed. I mixed together a little out of each tin I found and it came out a sort of grey-pink. A couple of weeks later I asked grandpa Hodgetts, my sign writer grandfather, why the paint on my newly painted bicycle was still soft and sticky. He said that I should have mixed the paint in the cans before using it and that I must have only used the top of the paint with the linseed oil. He offered to repaint it but I said: "No thank you. I will wait for it to dry." Grandpa smiled. He knew better.
On another occasion I remember my father putting new tyres on my bicycle. They were made of rubber hosepipe, which he wrapped around the wheels, threading a length of thick wire through the hose and tightening it with a pair of pliers to keep the tyres on. When I was on my bicycle, I could count the number of times the wheel turned because, each time, there was a small bump where there was a join in the hose.
Sion Hall had its own electricity plant - 110 volts - and the family had to be careful not to turn on too many lights at one time to avoid burning out the complete system. The Lister single cylinder engine had a large and very heavy flywheel and took two men to start it They would crank up the starting handle into the right position, take a deep breath, shout “Go!” and swing that handle as fast as they could. It did not always start but, when it did, all the lights that had been left on would come on as if it was daylight.
No one was allowed in that engine room and no one was allowed to smoke anywhere nearby. When I peeped through the doorway one day, I saw rows of glass tanks with wires going from one to the other. They made strange, fizzing sounds that puzzled me as I could not understand what was going on. Even the clocks on the walls bore no resemblance to those I saw in our house. What a mad world when you are young!
The farm fire
One night we were over at grandpa's house with a few cousins, aunts and uncles having a noisy party, as was usual when we were all together, when there was a loud banging and shouting at the back door. Dad and grandpa rushed outside, calling over their shoulders: "Get out of the house! The shed is on fire.”
Without any hesitation, grandma Langlois took charge as she did in any emergency, though not usually as worrying as this. We were herded out of the house through the front door and into the garden, where she made sure that we were all together. We could not stay there as huge lumps of burning straw were blowing over the house and over our heads. We had to run across the road and up into the field to get out of danger. The noise coming from the direction of the fire was horrendous and it was difficult to hear anyone speaking. The smell from the fire was unforgettable and indescribable.
We must have sat for some considerable time in that field by its light, when my father came across to tell us we would not be able to go back into the house as there was a danger the sparks could set it alight. We had to go up to uncle Jim's farm at Val Poucin, about half a mile away over the brow of the hill.
We spent two or three days with uncle Jim and aunt Dorrie, who let us do whatever we wanted. We had almost forgotten about the fire at Sion Hall until dad came up to take us back home. Although it was close to home, we had not been able to see or smell it from uncle Jim's farm. It was only as we walked along the yard behind Sion Hall that the smell of the smoke and the heat of the fire made me feel ill, but this was forgotten when we were confronted by a German soldier standing about 50 yards from it, warming himself with the heat of the dying embers.
My father said that he had been there since the day before because he had had instructions from his commander to keep everyone away, and he was not going to move for anyone. He saluted my father as we passed him. There were water pipes everywhere and, when I was told that the fire engine was coming back to collect them, I realised what I had missed.
"That would have been even more exciting than the fire!" Suddenly an enormous explosion from the centre of the damped down fire shook the whole area. It erupted like a volcano with straw, bamboo canes, timber, and steam being hurled up into the air. As dad and I hurried away, someone called out, "the fire engine is on its way back". The fire ignited itself many times over the following three weeks and I would only have to throw a stone into the ashes for it to ignite again.
The German guards only stayed for a week. On one occasion when the German guard had left, I was on my own near the fire, fascinated by its bluish colour as it spread across the top of the hard, crusty, charcoal embers, when suddenly a blue flame shot out like a tongue. It began to lick the bottom of one of the railway lines that had been used for supporting the roof of the shed. I watched it for a few minutes and could not believe my eyes. The upright was falling down and that tongue of fire had cut through the metal.
For weeks after the fire had dampened down, family and friends dug large deep holes and buried the burnt out electric motors and tools and anything else that the Germans might have seen. Luckily the German guard had stayed at his post at all times and had not seen what was lying in the ashes. Had he seen the burnt out motors or the charred carcasses of pigs, he would have reported the Langlois family and some of us would have been on their way to Germany.
Ours was the biggest farm fire during the Occupation. For years after the Occupation, my grandfather Langlois would tell his friends how he had lost one million new bamboo canes, hundreds of bales of hay, boats, a car and two lorries, some owned by others, that were hidden behind the straw and the stacks of bamboos. There were a couple of dozen large electric motors that the Germans would have liked to get their hands on, as well as a load of tools and tons of nails that were to be used for making tomato packing boxes.
Hidden in the shed from the Germans was a complete mill for grinding wheat and corn. Thankfully I was not told about the 60 pigs that had perished in the fire while they were hidden from the Germans in soundproofed pens well screened from prying eyes.
The fire at the Palace Hotel at Mont Millais in 1945 was thought to have been started deliberately by anti-Nazis causing an explosion in the cordite store. It was the worst fire that Jersey saw during the Occupation. I understand German naval students used the hotel.
As I returned to school the following afternoon, I heard small explosions and saw soldiers picking up things in the surrounding fields and gardens and putting them in sacks. There were craters all over the area as if there had been an earthquake. To this day I do not know what they were collecting with such urgency.
A wonderful home
Sion Hall was a wonderful home. It was a fun place; always open to family and friends with people dropping in all the time. Thinking about it now, it seemed to be an oasis in another world. Germans were everywhere on the island but I do not remember them coming around our home. Every half mile or so they had built lookout posts, some up trees, some built into walls. There were ammunition dumps and fuel dumps and just about everything you could imagine.
The German soldiers used fields as if they owned them, they drove about in tanks, they rode and pulled wagons with horses, they did their manoeuvres, but the only time they ever came on to our land was to erect tall steel or concrete posts with thick wire on the tops to prevent enemy aircraft from landing.
Grandpa Langlois and my father considered them a hazard when they ploughed the fields so they removed them. They cut the wires, pulled the ten feet or so long posts down and dragged them into deep trenches that they had made earlier. Sion Hall was a very large building, the type the Germans might well have requisitioned for their own use, so I could never understand why they did not. Our farm was not very active during the last two years of the Occupation. I think that we must have just been ticking over, growing small amounts of produce such as wheat, green crops, root crops and sugar beet. Sugar beet was a new crop to the farm. It had many uses and I remember grandma Langlois drying it in the Aga cooker for making tea as well as bottling it as a sweet syrup for just about anything that needed sweetening.
Grandpa was upset
I did not much care for the sugar beet syrup but preferred her dried carrot tea. Grandma was always busy in the house, for she had a large family to look after as well as people calling in all the time. Although her children, two daughters and four sons, were married, the boys would often go along to Sion Hall to have a meal.
One morning I remember the men were sitting around the huge kitchen table finishing their second breakfast of the day and putting the world to rights, when there was a loud crash. Grandpa had gone over backwards in his chair, banging his head on the wall behind him. Fortunately he had only dented his pride and his sons were all falling about laughing. It was his habit to lean backwards in his chair to relax and talk after his meal and he was a heavily built man, six feet tall and weighing about 230 pounds. Grandma had called out to him not to lean back, but it was too late. The day before, without telling him, she had moved the large dresser he used to lean against to do some decorating!
I cannot remember the date but I do remember going to the town prison where my uncle was being held because he had broken the law. He had sold or given an outboard motor to a group of young men so that they could escape from the island. They were only a short distance from the shore when the German soldiers fired on them and they were captured and questioned. Under pressure, they told the Germans where they had obtained the motor.
While in prison the family was allowed to take in food. Grandma Langlois considered that her son needed fattening, so she made sure that he had plenty. She made enough pies to feed uncle and half the prisoners. There were no half measures with grandma. The horse cart was full to bursting with the Langlois family when we set off to fetch uncle. It had a wagon style cover over it and Duke and Pineau, our two farm horses, pulled it with ease along the flat road, although they were not too happy when we reached the cobbled road inside the prison.
They jumped around a bit but soon settled down when we stopped. With Uncle on board and everyone cheering, the horses decided that they had had enough of the cobbled roadway between high granite walls and took off at the gallop for home. To onlookers it must have looked like a scene from the gold rush days.
Towards the end of the Occupation the Red Cross sent parcels to Jersey on a ship called the Vega. My father used to take me along with him, with Duke the horse and cart, to collect the Red Cross parcels for the local shops. They arrived just in time for the population, many of whom were suffering from malnutrition. The parcels contained mostly tinned goods such as Klim, which was powdered milk, Maple butter, syrup, prunes and chocolate - food no one had seen for years.
I will never forget the day the adults started acting strangely, dancing and calling out to each other. I was playing in the back yard when my father called me indoors to listen to the wireless. "What's a wireless?" I asked. He was indoors by then so I hurried in to join the family. In all the excitement I remember there was a lot of laughing and crying and everyone was hugging each other. My father stood over by the fireplace with a strange piece of equipment in his hand that I had never seen before. It was attached to a dark coloured box-shaped thing on the floor and had wires attached to something I recognized as a battery.
Sounds and voices came from it and my father told everyone to be quiet because Winston Churchill was going to speak. You could have heard a pin drop as Dad said softly "we have waited a long time for this moment ". We heard the British Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill, say: " Our dear Channel Islands are also to be freed today." There was silence in the room. It was hard to believe that the long war and the Occupation of our islands were over.
When I asked my father where the wireless had come from, he explained that it had been in the sitting room all the time, in a cupboard under the floor next to the fireplace. He went on to tell me that, when the Germans arrived in Jersey at the beginning of the occupation, they requisitioned his brand new Studebaker car but, before they took it away, he had very carefully removed the radio so that it did not look as if there had ever been one. If they had caught him with a radio he would have been punished or, worse still, sent to Germany. Many detainees were sent to Germany from Jersey and never returned. They died over there. My father's car was never returned to him but I have a memento - that radio is in my loft.
The British troops liberated us the day after our neighbouring island Guernsey. It was well worth the wait. We were up very early and went out into the yard, where my father was already cleaning the BSA three-wheeler and my mother was busy tying red, white and blue material all around it. They told us to be ready quickly as we were all going on the three-wheeler to see the British troops landing in the island.
This was going to be exciting as we had never been on the truck together. My father had always insisted that the three-wheeler could only be used for farm work, as we only had a small amount of petrol. He had bolted a wooden rail around the back of the truck to keep us from falling off and must have worked all night to get ready.
It was a fine, sunny day when grandpa and grandma Langlois waved us off as we drove out of the yard. We were so proud to have transport to take us to see the arrival of the British troops. To be honest, I could not imagine what all the excitement was about until we reached the Longueville Road, where dozens of people were rushing towards the town and waving to us as we passed. We waved back and would have liked to give them a lift, but the small three-wheeler could not carry any more. My father passed me the horn with the rubber balloon on the end of it. It made a lovely raspberry sound and we all took turns to blow it.
As we approached the town, we had to slow right down because of the huge crowd going towards the Harbour. It was very noisy with people calling out to each other, the music of gramophones coming from the houses, the blowing of our horn and the noises made by our exhaust silencer, which had begun to split open. I do not know how we managed to get through to the area by the Victoria Harbour, but I do remember looking on, fascinated, at the sight of the boats coming out of the water on wheels and driving up the slipway by the life boat station.
Cheering arriving soldiers
We spent many hours cheering and watching the soldiers bringing equipment ashore. I had never heard such a cacophony of sound as I did that day from the crowds of people and the vehicles. We moved to the front of the Pomme d' Or Hotel on the Esplanade where the crowds were at their noisiest. They were calling out to the British troops "throw more sweets" and every so often, as a shower of sweets was thrown into the air and over the crowds, there would be more cheering. The people had not seen sweets for over four years.
We had stayed on the front for some time, making as much noise as everyone else, when my father said that we would go down towards First Tower to see the landing craft on the beach. As he had left the three-wheeler at the Victoria Harbour, because we would not have been able to drive through the crowds, we walked everywhere. We were almost carried by the crowds going in the same direction.
As we walked along the Esplanade in the front of the Grand Hotel, we saw three enormous landing craft like whales about half way down the beach. There were huge trucks and jeeps parked up on the top of the beach and vehicles, small and large, going to and fro to the landing craft. Soldiers and sailors were everywhere.
Right down at the water's edge, hundreds of men in uniform were lining up to go onto the landing craft. These were German prisoners who were to be transported to England. By contrast with the cheering crowds we had just left behind on the Esplanade, everyone here was quiet. You could have heard a pin drop as the people lined up along the sea wall to watch, with only the distant sound of the trucks breaking the silence.
The people sitting along that sea wall might have been thinking about the nightmare they had just experienced for the last four years, about their loved ones, family and friends, from whom they had been separated for those four years or about the member of their family who died at home because he or she was diabetic and unable to receive treatment for it during the Occupation.
They might have been thinking of seeing again the sons, the daughters or the husbands who had been called up or who had volunteered to join the services before the war. Some people just sat wondering what was going to happen next.
My father and grandfather returned to their business of growing tomatoes as soon as they could after the Occupation. The plants were waiting to be planted and the French workers were waiting to come to Jersey as they had before the war.
- Father: Reginald Saunders Langlois, born 21 August 1910
- Grandfather: James Ferdinand Charles Langlois, of Sion Hall, Longueville, St Saviour, born 23 April 1884
- Grandmother: Desiree Saunders, born 26 August 1882
- Mother: Kathleen Mary Phyllis Hodgetts, born 20 October 1910
- Grandfather: Percy Le Hardy Hodgetts, born 27 April 1882
- Grandmother: Gladys Pinel Anley, born 22 October 1884
- Great-grandfather: Auguste Louis Philippe Saunders, my great-grand father on my grand-mother’s side.
- Great-grandmother: Desiree Saunders
- Sisters: Annette Mary, Elizabeth Ann Rosemary