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Historian calls for new links with Island’s French ‘daughter’

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JERSEY should re-establish ties with a tiny French village which a past Bailiff described as ‘the Island’s adopted daughter’, a military historian has said.

Local military historian Ian Ronayne is an expert on Jersey’s First World War history

In the 1920s, Jersey contributed more than £1,000 (around £42,000 today) towards the reconstruction of Soyécourt – as part of a nationwide appeal to help France rebuild the hundreds of communities destroyed in the Great War.

Local military historian Ian Ronayne, who wrote a book about Jersey’s First World War soldiers in 2005, said that a renewed connection with the French village was long overdue.

Mr Ronayne said: ‘Like so much of our First World War history, Jersey has forgotten this period because of what occurred in the Occupation.

‘This means that we have forgotten the commitment the Island made to help rebuild a village in Northern France.’

Soyécourt is set in quiet farming country to the south of the Somme in Picardy, 12 miles from Amiens and 72 miles from Paris. Today it has a population of around 200.

After the Armistice in November 1918, the villagers returned to find their community devastated by industrial-scale warfare. At first they lived among the ruins and then in temporary structures provided by the French government and foreign aid.

To co-ordinate the UK’s aid effort, the British League of Help, for the devastated areas of France, was set up in June 1920 and Jersey was keen to play its part alongside 79 British cities and towns.

In 1921 the States agreed to support the reconstruction of Soyécourt where donated money was spent on a new water supply.

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It was the Bailiff of the time, Sir William Vernon, who described Soyécourt as the Island’s ‘adopted daughter.’

Mr Ronayne was largely responsible for restoring the memory of Islanders who died fighting on the Western Front in his book, Ours: The Jersey Pals in the First World War. It tells the story of the Jersey Contingent – the only officially formed Island unit sent to fight overseas. He hopes that once the Island has completed its centenary commemorations of the First World War, it will turn its attention to re-establishing the links with Soyécourt.

He said: ‘We did our duty then but we should have carried on with the relationship. I have taken some Jersey tour groups there, and there is a memorial in the village that mentions Jersey and the money it gave to help the people to rebuild their community.

‘We delivered out financial commitment to put the village back on its feet but Jersey lost the opportunity to cement the partnership with somewhere that had suffered so much in the Great War, just as the Island did during the Occupation.’

Paula Thelwell

By Paula Thelwell
author

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