Guernsey’s annualHeritage Festivalis the perfect excuse for a spring getaway atThe Old Government House Hotel& Spa orThe Duke of Richmond. Taking place between 30thMarch – 10thMay,this year’s festival focuses on the most significant event in Guernsey’s modern history: the German occupation. By June 1940, the German army was storming through Europe, forcing the Allies to retreat and leaving Guernsey exposed. A five-year occupation ensued, taking the islanders from tragedy, to resilience, to their eventual liberation.
Over 300 festival events will be taking place across the Channel Islands, including talks from historians and Occupation survivors, film screenings, and plays. The liberation day parade on 9thMay, with food stalls and fireworks, is set to be the highlight of the festival. And as a bonus, the legendaryGuernsey Literary Festivalalso has events running concurrently.
Explore the Island’s formidable forts
Several German fortifications will be opened for first time, with guided tours bringing the past to life. The General Oberst Dollman battery’s imposing 22cm canon will be fired on the 6thMay, as a powerful reminder of war’s destructive potential. You can venture down into the tunnels of the enormous underground Mirus Gun Battery, to get an idea of how much firepower this fortress island packed. Discover also how the medievalCastle Cornet(akaStutzpunkt Hafenschloss) was refortified against sea and air attacks by exploring its hidden bunkers, shelters, and gun positions.
Travel back in time on a historical tour
Wehrmacht. The ‘Beaches, Batteries and Bunkers’ cycle tour offers the same experience on two wheels. A host of informative walking tours through Guernsey’s scenic countryside are scheduled, including ‘Panzers over Petit Bot’ and ‘Hitler’s Island Madness.’ There’s even ‘Kayak Commando Day,’ which gives participants the opportunity to retrace the steps (and the paddles) of the brave allied commandos who risked their lives on Operation Ambassador.
Uncover Guernsey’s fascinating history at a thought-provoking exhibition
The festival programme is full of exhibitions providing a first-hand account of what daily life was like during the Occupation. The ‘Memories of the Occupation Exhibition’ will run every day at the Sark Museum, exploring the experiences of islanders and occupiers through a collection of preserved items from the period. It’s also worth visiting the thought-provoking‘Reflections on Occupation’exhibition, which considers the impact of the occupation from a 21st century perspective.
Try out a host of family friendly activities
There’s something for everyone at the Guernsey Heritage Festival. Children can enjoy searching for clues across historic locations as part of the Island Explorers treasure hunt, or they can get creative by using a vintage printing press to make their own heritage postcards. Families will uncover a fascinating piece of island history, as well as some local marine life, by exploring the 150-year-old tunnels used by Germany to store ammunition, now repurposed into an aquarium.
For parents, theRocquette Cider Tourcomes complete with nine different varieties of cider and fruit liqueur, to help you unwind after a busy week attending festival events. The White Rock brewery will also be brewing some of the beers the islanders would have drank to keep their spirits up during the war years.