Why do we still mark this day after 67 years, and do we celebrate it in the best way?
So first off, for those reading this not from Guernsey, Liberation Day on our island (and in Jersey and Sark, though theirs is a day later) celebrates and commemorates the end of five years of occupation during the Second World War as the islands were the only part of the British Isles to be invaded and controlled by Nazi forces.
So, every year in Guernsey we have a public holiday on May 9th and the seafront in St Peter Port is closed for a number of both, supposedly, celebratory and commemorative happenings, but, in recent years, there has been a shift in these events and they seem to have left many, myself included, feeling disconnected from the actual meaning of the day.
I’ll come to those later, but firstly why do we still mark this day and should we?
I think yes, we certainly should still mark this day and while the living memory of the occupation years may be slipping away, it is still important for both the identity of the island and for the maintenance of our democratic culture.
It is in the memory of remembrance of the occupation that I think there is an issue with how the day is marked.
While there is a church service and military and civil official parade in the morning on the day, and this is important to mark the respect for those who lost their lives fighting for our current freedoms (both in the Second World War and since), this event fails to engage many on the island, myself included and therefore doesn’t transmit the meaning of the day.
Aside from this the St Peter Port seafront is taken over for the afternoon and evening with some entertainment and many stands representing local organisations and charities and seemingly an over abundance of places to buy food.
While this is fine, and I think local charities should be promoted where ever possible, there was nothing to engage one with the meaning of the day and it just felt like someone had decided to put some stuff out in the open where it normally isn’t and include a few old-school fair ground rides for the kids and a ‘1940’s style’ band for the older folks.
So I have to admit I didn’t spend long in town and the highlight of my time in town was bumping into people I’d not seen in a while and having a chance to hang with friends in a relaxed environment.
It may be I was less cynical back then, but, up until 2005 (the 60th anniversary of the liberation) I remember the day in town being a much more celebratory and free affair, and not just because people could drink a lot where ever they wanted and there was a big fun fair on the North Beach.
My memory is that there was genuinely something for everyone going on in Town and it was the place to be on the day whether it was for a few hours in the afternoon with the family or staying in all day for a huge amount of live entertainment, from parades to live music and just having a relaxed good time.
Away from St Peter Port though, things still seem to have a bit more of a genuine spirit to them.
I headed up to The Last Post in St Andrew’s where the main road had been closed allowing children the freedom to play in the street and people to mill around and chat in a relaxed way without the worry of being run over, and the pub car park had live music for all to enjoy for free from local band The John Wesley Stone, whose country-skiffle sounds seemed to be going down well despite the over cast skies and occasional rain.
I think it is this genuine-ness which has been lost from the ‘official’ events in St Peter Port with them feeling distant and trying to appeal to everyone and reaching few in a meaningful way, while the simpler and more small scale events such as those in St Andrews or on The Bridge make a much more meaningful connection of celebrating our freedom.
Even the music event in the evening in St Peter Port comes across as forced these days and only there because it is what people expect, while in years past it has seemed genuinely celebratory and interesting (though I want to make it clear I don’t want this to discredit the musicians who are all talented and make some great music).
Moving forward, as we head for the 70th anniversary of our liberation, I think it is still important that the day is marked, but it seems to me a major overhaul is required of the ‘official’ end of the celebration to include a genuine sense of the island’s identity if the day is to mean anything for generations to come.
I also hope the real meaning of the day, that it is to celebrate the freedom we have from oppression (though this is still an ongoing battle in other ways), is still taught to the island’s youngsters as if we forget what was fought against we run the risk of repeating it – after all, if we can’t learn lessons from history then we are doomed as a race.
Hmm, that ending is a bit gloomy… all that said, I had a good day, but it was because I got to spend time with some great people, free in a society that accepts us for who we are, and listen to some great music, not because of any of the ‘official’ things going on.
Note: Sorry for the slightly outdated photos, pics from Liberation Day 2010 taken by me but property of BBC Guernsey.