The lighthouse keeper's son
John James Turpin's memories of growing up in occupied Jersey at La Corbière lighthouse. Born in 1930.
My father was a full time naval man. Having served before the First World War up until the late twenties, he joined the lighthouse service. He was then in a position to bring his family to the lighthouse cottage which consisted of my mother, my two brothers, my sister and of course myself. Our furniture was transported in the usual way by open lorry. My parents, I am told, were praying for fine weather, so as to keep the family possessions from the rain that was forecast for that October day in 1930. We duly arrived, I am told, all in one piece at the cottage that was to play such an important part in the years to follow my mother pushed my pram past the first cottage. The lady we become to know as Mrs. Lolly looked into the pram and said “will it live?” I must have looked a sorry site, my legs were in bad shape and my feet were both facing inwards. That was the way they were until the engineer in charge of installing the engine room and diaphone house saw me, and said he knew an osteopath that could do something for me. He, being a man of his word, duly brought his osteopath friend along to the cottage and performed what I now know was nothing short of a miracle. After he straightened my legs, he would not hear of any payment. Mainly, I suspect, he knew my parents were struggling at that time. However, I was to be kept off my feet for the next eighteen months, which must have been very difficult for my mother. But with the aid of my sister, who kept me amused for some of the time by riding me around in a wheelbarrow but of course we had the odd accident, she being only two years older than myself had a job at times to keep me amused she would lose concentration and the end result would be for me to be tipped out and hitting the floor with a bump and then she had the task of picking me up which was no small job for one so small she done her best I will be grateful to her forever.
Having explained how we became to take up residence at the cottage I will endeavour to fill in a few more years, The next few years were quite un-eventful and I suppose you might say we enjoyed an ideal way of life, my mother ran her small tea room during the thirteen weeks which was the recognised summer holiday period, with making beach trays and a few tables under an awning outside to protect people from the sun, she also had three tables inside in case the weather took a turn for the worst. She must have had a hard time running the tea room and looking after four growing kids plus my dad during those summer months, Artists used to come regular to draw and paint the lighthouse with the sun setting behind in the west, [which was to become an artists dream and drew them from far and wide,]
My sister and I have had our portraits painted and drawn many times over the years, And have spent hours sitting for the artists, one of the most famous ones was whistler - who was also commissioned to paint a portrait of Winston Churchill, my sisters portrait was in black but mine was in pastel colours which I still have and hope to be able to scan to enter in my book.
My father worked on the lighthouse 92 hours on 92 off and his time off was spent setting fishing lines, also fishing for crab and lobster, conger and anything that was edible or could exchange with the local farmers for farm produce. We kids spent our time swimming fishing, and generally having a good time but alas it was not to last, but came to an abrupt end in 1939.
However as we now know these idyllic days would have to be put on hold for a further 5 years, I was in town [ST. HELIER] that is, with my mother walking through the square, when I looked up I noticed white flags were being flown from the town hall building. A man was stood on the town hall steps putting up a bulletin declaring Jersey an open town, which of course was the beginning of the Channel Islands about to be occupied by the German forces. The Germans dropped a few small bombs around the harbour area before landing even ao an open town had been declared, I can now only believe it was a show of strength. Soon slowly and surely the Germans showed their might by landing their troops by sea and air, black uniforms for the tank corps green for the ordinary soldiers, a darker green for the marines then of course the usual blue for the navy. The navy of course were the ones who took over the lighthouse and installed themselves till war was over. My dad and the first lighthouse keeper were suddenly whisked away by the Germans, They were then accused of signalling to the enemy [British that is],and we were all amazed when they both came walking down the hill unharmed, having been released without charge, I suspect it was to put the wind up them, nobody explained or gave any reason for releasing them, but we were all delighted they were unharmed. Things gradually changed I used to sit on the steps just watching. And as a young boy of nine and a half was both surprised and fascinated by this huge Zundapp motorcycle and sidecar complete with mounted machine gun and three armed soldiers about to take the lighthouse by storm, they continued to travel to and fro and then I noticed another crew complete with cine camera which I now assume to be their version of Pathe news taking a propaganda film capturing the lighthouse. I assume this film was made for the benefit of the German cinema audiences to give the impression that there were scores of motor cycle and sidecars taking the lighthouse by storm. The German navy occupied the lighthouse and the area where we lived become a military zone, they then duly barbed wired our area off, fitted a rolling barbed wire gate at the top of the hill and marked the roads with a red line indicating a military zone. That meant we had to have identity cards complete with photos.