Menacing echoes from the Occupation

FROM outside the Victoria pub, start walking up Route de l’Aleval or ‘the German Road’, as it’s more commonly known. Unsurprisingly, we soon encounter a first reminder of the Occupation, the yawning and gated tunnel entrance on the left.

This is HO1 (HO standing for Hohlgangsanlage, or cave passage installation), a massive bombproof complex designed by German engineers to store supplies - one of several in Jersey, the most famous being HO8, better known today as the Jersey War Tunnels. The most infamous lies hidden among the foliage on the other side of the road.

HO1 was built by the German State Labour Service (note its emblem above the entrance). HO2 opposite was mostly built by Russian and French North African labourers. Unlike its counterpart, the entrances were never completed leaving them in a perilous state today. On no account attempt to enter the tunnels.

People did creep into HO2 in the past, however, lured by mouldering piles of German equipment deposited there after Liberation. In 1962, it led to tragedy when two boys were overcome by deadly fumes while inside, sadly losing their lives.

Continue up the road, noting the skeletal remains of a wartime stone crusher on the right and further evidence of tunnelling beyond. The upper entrance to HO1 is partly concealed by equipment from its mushroom growing days. More or less opposite it’s possible to see the second entrance to HO2, and gain an impression of the scale of wartime work carried out in this valley.

The road itself is another reminder of how military history has transformed our Island. Before 1941, the valley was deeper and only contained a rough track. The Germans filled it with rock extracted from the tunnels, however, both as a means of disposal and to create an access road.

Continue up the enigmatic valley, turning right at the top into the interestingly named Le Pissot. At its end, turn left and along Rue de la Ville au Bas until arriving at St Matthew’s Church.

The church opened in 1872, primarily in response to the growing presence of a new community living deep in the countryside. Jersey’s booming potato industry needed a ready source of cheap, hardworking labour and found it in nearby Brittany and Normandy, then impoverished mostly agricultural regions. Initially, French workers just came for the season, but soon put down roots. By the start of WW1 over 6,000 French nationals were living in the Island.

We can enter the church through the side door to view the interior. At the back is a plaque bearing 49 names, men from Jersey who died during the First World War serving in the British… and French armies. In August 1914 alone around 2,000 Frenchmen left to fight. A wander around the fascinating cemetery outside is a strong reminder of their presence in Jersey.

Leave the church, turning left to follow Rue Berchervaise. Note the huge building opposite St Matthew’s, once a convent run by the Faithful Companions of Jesus (FCJ). At the end of the road, turn right and then left into Rue Berchervaise. After 500 metres, turn left into Rue l’Aleval. Stop near the mobile phone mast and examine the field banks either side. Protruding lumps of concrete once mounted anti-aircraft guns protecting the German fortress headquarters, deep in the countryside.

The Kernwerk complex (Kern meaning heart or core) consisted principally of three massive two-storey command bunkers and two associated communication bunkers. One lies hidden today among the Living Legend buildings reached at the end of Rue l’Aleval. But turn right and take a look at the house standing on the junction with Rue du Coin Varin. It’s constructed around one of the command bunkers, complete with false chimney pots. A little further along another house is built around one of the communication bunkers.

Walk down Rue du Coin Varin for around 300 metres to see another Kernwerk bunker in a field on the left. This two-storey construction, complete with false chimney pots and windows along with a sloping roof to make it resemble a house, is today in Channel Islands’ Occupation Society hands and opens to the public occasionally.

Leaving the hugely impressive and somewhat menacing symbol of our military history behind, continue along Rue du Coin Varin and then straight into Rue du Panigot, which eventually winds back down to end near to the Victoria pub in the valley where our walk started.

Information

Distance: 2.5 miles

Start and end outside the Victoria pub

Difficulty: Mostly easy

Toilets: Refreshment stops at the Victoria pub or Greenhills Hotel

Meet your Guide - Ian Ronayne

Ian Ronayne is a local historian, author and guide who specialises in Jersey’s military history. His fascination with the subject has led to a number of books, including Jersey War Walks (available locally and online) containing 20 self-guided military history tours around the Island. For a number of years, Ian has guided private tours and offered walks as part of the Jersey Tourism’s walking week events.

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