Young guardian of Jersey’s most important day
Paula Thelwell meets a 15-year-old with a strong sense of the past and a determination to help preserve the significance of Liberation Day.
The saying ‘following in your father’s footsteps’ – inspired by an old music hall song – may be a cliché but throughout history and in everyday life it is not uncommon for a man’s life to follow the paternal path.
Hautlieu student Gabriel Carter (15) is no exception. The son of Jersey Heritage director Jon Carter, this articulate teenager has inherited his father’s lifelong passion for the Island’s history, heritage, traditions and culture.
And that includes a strong belief in the significance of Liberation Day and why his generation must assume the guardianship of the Island’s most important day when the last survivor of the Occupation dies.
Gabriel is the eldest of four boys and lives in St Ouen’s Bay with his siblings, Fabian, Merrion and Sebastian, father Jon and mother Claire Stanley, a former journalist who now works as a communications officer for the States.
Like his peers, he is usually attached to a mobile phone but he has a keen appetite for learning, heartfelt principles and a deep religious conviction.
Spending an hour in his company at one of his regular haunts, the Jersey Arts Centre – he is also a keen amateur actor and member of the youtheatre – was refreshing and restored my faith in the youth of today.
It is rare to enjoy an intellectual conversation at any time but to discuss the topics of the day and to philosophise on the inherent faults in humankind with such a young man was remarkable.
On Wednesday the entire family will be in Liberation Square and Weighbridge Place celebrating freedom, democracy and the other human rights that people in the free world enjoy – and which Gabriel holds dear.
‘I have been going to the celebrations with my parents for as long as I can remember. It is a family tradition and we have always done something together to mark the day,’ he said. ‘I think it is very important to be involved, as it is a massive part of our own story and the Island’s history. History and heritage have been a big part of my life and I have always had an interest in history, which I probably get from my dad. It has always been part of my life and dad has really encouraged me as well.’
As with most Jersey-born Islanders he is descended from the Occupation generation, yet he has not gleaned a great deal of first-hand testimony from relatives.
While some of those who lived through the Occupation are always willing to share their memories, others are not, including, Gabriel says, his great-grandmother.
‘She never really talks about it much though she has talked about how nasty the rationing was and how they could not cope with the starvation,’ he said.
‘I think she finds it hard to talk about it, as having to live under such a nasty regime and way of life must be damaging.’
Gabriel admits he will be sad on Wednesday, as most of his friends will be heading to the beach and not paying much attention to the significance of the day.
‘We have got to think about the values behind Liberation Day and how they are relevant to today rather than just the opportunity to celebrate,’ he said.
‘These are the values of freedom from tyranny, freedom to express ourselves and not having to live in a society where we have to fight for the right to enjoy freedom of speech and from discrimination. There is no shortage of tyranny and authoritarianism in places around the world today but thankfully not in Jersey.
‘It is also important to reflect on that and how these totalitarian societies and regimes remain yet Nazism did not, and we have to think about the people who live under them and that are not as fortunate as us.
‘I think it is important to remember what it must have been like for those who lived under the Nazi regime and those who lived here, under occupation for five years. It is a huge part of what we have become, it is part of the physical environment through the fortifications and it is a big part of our lives in more ways than one.’
At times, he admits, he feels discriminated against because of his religious beliefs and for attending Quaker meetings every week with his family.
‘I am quite sad that young people are not that interested in religion in the way that I am, as it brings another aspect into my life which I would not have if I did not have a faith,’ he said.
‘I do get ridiculed sometimes but it was worse when I was younger, and unfortunately it is acceptable for people to have a go at Christians. That does annoy me because they just don’t realise that people with a strong faith exist. It is just bigotry against Christians and it is the same as racism or any other forms of discrimination.
‘If the same things were being said about followers of other religions it would not be permitted. It really makes me feel sad.’
While his generation seems indifferent to celebrating Liberation Day, he is confident as they grow and mature they will come round to the idea that it does matter.
‘As with every generation people become more interested as they get older and they begin to think about what matters more, and that celebrating Liberation Day will become more relevant than just going to the beach’ he said.
Gabriel’s passion for drama has introduced him to other aspects of the Occupation and how Islanders suffered at the hands of the enemy.
As a member of the Arts Centre youtheatre he played a key role in this year’s Holocaust Memorial Day commemoration. Held on 27 January every year across the world, on the anniversary of the liberation of the camps at Auschwitz, the local event remembers the 21 Islanders who died in German camps and prisons.
Gabriel chose and performed a relevant reading, and along with other young actors, helped to read out the name of each of the 21 victims as white roses were laid in their memory at the Lighthouse Memorial on the New North Quay.
Two months later he was among the cast of the youtheatre’s production of Animal Farm performed in southern Germany as part of cultural exchanges between young people, which have developed out of the twinning between St Helier and Bad Wurzach.
More than 600 Islanders, including families with young children, were deported from Jersey in 1942 and interned in the small town’s castle.
‘I did not know a huge amount about it until I went to Bad Wurzach, where I learned about the reconciliation that led to the twinning, and how it all started and what was involved,’ he said. ‘It really is an amazing story about how the two communities have come together.’
From staying with a local family he also discovered how Germany and its people came to terms with the past.
‘They accept the past because after the war they took the decision to be open and honest and to be become democratic and to go though a de-Nazification process,’ he said.
Nonetheless, the resurgence of the far right and Neo-Nazism across Europe troubles him.
‘Not all aspects of Facism have been displaced, as it is coming back, particularly somewhere like Hungary, which has not dealt in open terms with its fascist heritage,’ he said.
‘It is my generation that is going to have to live with what is happening in Europe and we certainly don’t want to be living in a fascist Europe.’