The annual Channel Islands Heritage Festival is a celebration of a group of small islands with a big history, and this year’s theme of heroes, myths and legends offers the chance to uncover a wealth of stories. One of the biggest being the hazards and derring-do of the Occupation, retold by Dr Gilly Carr at The Old Government House Hotel & Spa as part of the festival on 22nd April.
The Old Government House Hotel has an incredible history of its own, having been home to a succession of the island’s Governors between 1796 and 1858 (hence the name). In the last 150 years, the only period of change was during the Second World War, when the Germans used it as their General Staff Headquarters.
It was fitting, therefore, that as part of the festival the hotel played host to a talk by Senior Lecturer at the University of Cambridge, Dr Gilly Carr, about her Occupation hero, Frank Falla. Around 50 guests attended a specially-themed Afternoon Tea, with traditional Guernsey Gâche and Guernsey dairy butter on the menu together with Strawberry trifle and Victoria sponge cake.
In a captivating hour, Dr Gilly explained why her talk was titled ‘A stub of pencil for a piece of bread’, with Frank’s decision to trade his daily ration of bread while in a German prison for a pencil, meaning he could secretly record the fate of fellow islanders. This record was vital post-war and gave relatives much-needed information about their loved ones.
Dr Gilly said it was a treat in be in Guernsey to speak at the event. “Frank is my hero because he was a spokesperson for Channel Islanders who had suffered and died in Nazi prisons and concentration camps – a subject which has been little spoken or known about for 70 years,” she observed.
One excerpt is worth quoting in full: “After working on an underground newsletter, Guernsey Underground News Service (Guns), Frank was sent to Frankfurt and Naumburg prisons and wrote down the names of islander friends as they died. He helped people get compensation from the Germans in 1965. Thanks to his archive, I’ve tracked down the grave of his GUNS colleague, Joseph Gillingham, and am creating a website on all deported islanders. Thank you Frank Falla!”
Many of those in the audience had close personal links to the Occupation, with direct relatives of Mr Falla and others who took part in resistance work attending.
Dr Gilly Carr is Senior Lecturer and Academic Director in Archaeology, University of Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education, Fellow and Director of Studies in HSPS (Archaeology and Anthropology), St Catharine’s College. Member of the UK Delegation of IHRA (www.holocaustremembrance.com). This year’s CI Heritage Festival takes place between 8th April and 10th May 2017.
Image Credits: Dr Gilly Carr, Guarding the Atlantic Wall © iStock/danielvoisey.