June 1st, 1917

It is the evening of June 1st, 1917. The Great War has been raging for nearly three years and for the first time in history a Guernsey-badged regiment is about to leave the island.

This extract from Glint of Light on Broken Glass contains ‘spoilers’

“Henry Bazin, George, Jack and Edith found themselves a good position on the sea wall, overlooking the quayside on the White Rock. A crowd soon grew around them, come to see the RGLI embark for England. At the head of the battalion came the band – even from the White Rock it could be heard making its way through Town. Crowds lined the route all the way down Fountain Street, all along the waterfront, and all along the quayside to where the steamer waited.

 

Guernsey Museum

At last they came, playing ‘The Light Horseman’.

Guernsey Museum

Heading the parade was Joey the donkey, the regiment’s mascot dressed up in an embroidered blanket of Guernsey green. Stubborn old Guernsey had to have a donkey for its mascot: small, grey and unassuming, faithful and plodding, hardy and tough, slow to anger but ready with that vicious kick when its patience snapped. Behind the band strode the officers and the standards, and then the troops in khaki marching in fours. George pinched his eyes to spy Artie, but Edith saw him first.

 

‘Artie!’ she waved frantically, but if he glanced her way he kept his head straight to the front. He was marching smartly to the tune, right arm swinging, left arm carrying a rifle at the slope. Six or seven hundred of Guernsey’s finest young men came to the halt by command.

Tears rolled down Edith’s cheeks. Cheer, cry, wave, be proud, be sad, be brave; so much came at once she felt like she would burst.

George’s glasses had misted. For some reason he was wearing his old ones. Beside him, Henry Bazin had a glint of wetness in his own eyes. All along the waterfront, pride mixed with fear.

Commands were issued, the soldiers broke ranks and filed up the gangplank on to the ship. Then came the wait as the steamer prepared to leave. The crowd became restless, wanting the tension to be over, wanting the excuse to give one last cheer. Energy began to seep away, enthusiasm ebbed. Children began to wail. One or two families started to walk back towards the shore.

Guernsey Museum

‘There’s Artie!’ Edith said. She had clutched a white lace handkerchief ready for the moment, so now waved it frantically. ‘Artie! Artie Bazin!’

 

Guernsey Museum

A distant figure in muddy brown waved. All the men were waving, but this waving arm was special. At that moment the ship rumbled into life, its cables were cast off and it began to move sluggishly into the harbour pool. Belching black smoke it carefully made the turn in front of the castle so that it was pointing seaward. Slowly gaining speed it headed straight between the pier heads, its bow pointing to France.

 

 

The crowd roared. Cheers went up: hip-hip-hooray. Flags, hats and hankies waved. Men yelled encouragements, women screamed best wishes and children sat on the shoulders of their grandfathers. A generation vanished over the horizon, to England, then to war.

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