The stories of our soldiers
Thursday 19th November 2009, 3:00PM GMT.
THE first real evidence of the Island having a formal military organisation was in 1337, when Edward III ordered the Warden of Jersey to enrol all able-bodied men, provide them with arms and appoint officers.
This is considered by many as being the origin of the Jersey Militia.
In conjunction with the Royal Jersey Militia, troops were regularly stationed at Mont Orgueil Castle, Elizabeth Castle, Fort Regent and later at St Peter’s Barracks. It is important to recognise the distinction between the regular troops of the British armed forces and the local militia organisation, as their records are held in different places.
The last major battle to take place on the soil of the British Isles was the Battle of Jersey. Major Francis Peirson has since been immortalised in Islanders’ hearts as the catalyst of a local victory, although he did lose his life in battle.
In February 1781 the States of Jersey met for the first time since the Battle of Jersey and it was unanimously agreed that a letter of thanks should be sent to Major Peirson’s parents. The letter has been recorded in the States of Jersey minute books and is fascinating to read.
The States of Jersey wrote: ‘We hope and trust it will in due time be a powerful motive of Consolation to you on this severe Trial to reflect that your Son, in whom every military and moral virtue shone so conspicuous, finish’d his Career in the Dawn of Life; in a manner the greatest Heroes have ever wished to finish theirs. He fell, Sir, in the Moment of Victory, saving a free and loyal Island from impending Tyranny and Opression [sic].’
However, the garrisoned soldiers in Jersey were not always seen in such a favourable light, and the early court books show some of the less salubrious activities of the garrison.
In 1797 James Collings and Thomas Parbut of the Loyal Cheshire Fencibles were found guilty of stealing a number of items. It was found that they had scaled a wall and forced a number of doors in order to reach a house. They were caught when their tent was searched and the offending items were found in their haversack.
As a result of the seriousness and premeditation of the crime, as well as the value of the items stolen, Collings and Parbut were sentenced to execution.
Obviously wanting to avoid this grisly fate, they managed to escape by climbing over the walls of the prison to freedom. A writ of arrest was issued, but that was unnecessary because on 23 December their bodies were found in the bay of St Ouen, having drowned while attempting to escape the Island.
In another case in 1798, Lieutenant John Williams was found in bed with the wife of Jean Le Brun. Angry at being discovered, Williams attacked Le Brun with a sabre, injuring his head and stomach.
Williams returned the next day to threaten him, further battering him with a baton and forcing Le Brun to flee the house in fear of his life. Lieutenant Williams was eventually fined £50 for the offence.
In fact, so many soldiers were getting into trouble in the 1790s that a request appears in the court that some of the prisoners who were soldiers be moved to the castle.
However, relations between the civilian population and soldiers were not always so strained. A fine example of this is the Priestwood family.
The 1851 census reveals that Mark Priestwood, a Royal Artillery gunner and driver, was living with his wife Margaret at Elizabeth Castle. Mark was born in Ireland and
Margaret was born in St Martin.
A look at the 1861 census is even more revealing. At this point, Mark and Margaret were living at Fort Regent. They had five children who were all born at military bases in the Island. Barbara and George were born at Elizabeth Castle and Edward, Mary and William were born at Fort Regent.
Also of interest is Margaret’s birthplace. Rather than just saying that she was born in St Martin, it specifies that she was actually born at Mont Orgueil Castle. This suggests that Margaret’s father was also in the military and she settled here as a result of his being posted to the Island.
The Militia was an integral part of Island life. Local civilians took part in drill training and stood on duty guarding the coast from potential attack. Militia service was compulsory until 1929, but the troops were not without their critics.
In 1888 G E Merry wrote to the Secretary of State complaining about the situation. He wrote: ‘I have seen a good many military displays in England, but I never saw such a miserable turn-out as that on Her Majesty’s birthday this week in Jersey.’
The court records reveal that Militiamen were often accused of neglecting their duty, with guards being caught asleep, or not attending their post.
However, on one tragic occasion, members of the Militia were over-zealous. In September 1797 William Scarborough, Jean Dumaresq and Francois Perrot were on guard duty in St Helier. Upon hearing somebody approaching, they challenged them three times. Having received no response, Scarborough shot and wounded the offender.
Unfortunately, it was not an enemy, as Scarborough had thought, but the Chief of the Guard, Jean Binard. The wound led to Binard’s death and Scarborough was put on trial for murder. He was eventually found guilty of murder without premeditation and was sentenced to 15 days in prison.
Members of the Militia could also display acts of great bravery. On 4 June 1804 the Royal Standard was raised to commemorate the King’s birthday and a salute was fired. Later that evening Philippe Lys, the signals officer, heard that smoke had been spotted coming from a powder magazine on the site of the future Fort Regent.
Many fled from the scene but Lys, together with Edouard Touzel, a local carpenter, and Private William Penteney of the 31st Regiment, broke down the door of the store to see if they could extinguish the flames. The flames charred a barrel of gunpowder, but the men were successful in putting out the flames before it could ignite.
It is easy to forget the human aspect of war when looking at the official records. One of the most touching collections held by the Jersey Archive is a series of letters written by Bernard Saville Faulder, a soldier who served during the First World War, to his family. There are more than 30 letters in the series, starting in January 1917 with a letter recommending Bernard to Lieutenant Browne as a good man to join the Guards. The letters are filled with the mundanities of everyday life and Bernard’s progress in the forces.
His last letter was written to his mother on 20 November 1917. He wrote: ‘You must not worry if you don’t receive any letters from me very often, as we are now on the move. We are on our way to the trenches and I suppose we shall get there tomorrow.’
The final letter is addressed to Mrs Faulder from Corporal J R Lindsay on 17 December. It reads: ‘I have just got you adress [sic] and so I thought I would take the opportunity of writing you, to tell you of the sad news. On the 25th of last month your son Bernard fell by my side and the platoon joins me in sending you there deepest sympathy, as he was a very active young soldier and did his duty bravely. I must say that we lost fairly heavy that day.’
Troops leave Fort Regent
The Militia camp at Fort Regent in May 1906