We caught up with historian Dr Gilly Carr who was thrilled to unpause life after a difficult couple of years and get back to the Islands she loves.
Dr Gilly Carr has both personal and professional connections to our Islands, both as an author and historian but also through family connections. We recently caught up with her on how the past couple of years have been, her never-ending passion for Guernsey and her upcoming holiday plans on the Islands. She also told us about the new Resistance Trail, which is a wonderful activity for those interested in the history of the our Islands.
View over Moulin Huet, Guernsey
My name is Dr Gilly Carr and I'm a senior lecturer and academic director in archaeology at the University of Cambridge. I am also a fellow and director of studies in archaeology at St Catharine's College. I work in the fields of conflict archaeology and post-conflict heritage studies, but also publish in the fields of history and Holocaust studies. My specialism is the victims of Nazism in the Channel Islands.
My interest in Guernsey comes from my family background. My mum is a Guernsey girl and her forebear was a Huguenot refugee, Jacques Marriette, who came to Guernsey in 1680. On my dad's side, his mother was one of 10 siblings who all came to Guernsey from London between 1910 and 1947. The wartime experiences in my family therefore included occupation, evacuation to the UK and deportation to civilian internment camps in Germany. I also met my Guernsey-born husband in Guernsey in 2007 when I was doing fieldwork!
As for what parts of Guernsey heritage interest me the most, that's a very difficult question. I take a very broad view of what constitutes 'heritage', but I have a particular interest in markers or memorials in the landscape to mark what once happened there. There may be nothing left to mark the spot today, but certain places in the landscape meant something to so many victims of Nazism and I think that it's important to mark those places today as a tribute to them.
The Resistance Trail was designed as a way of marking the spot where important acts of resistance took place, or where important resisters lived, or places where resisters suffered for their actions. It was designed as a tribute to islanders who have often been overlooked. The short videos associated with each location can be found here.
The Little Chapel in Autumn
My top three spots in Guernsey are places I have to go to whenever I visit. The first is the Bluebell Wood, where I have to sit and inhale the lungfuls of wild garlic; the second is the Little Chapel (which I called the Gilly Chapel when I was a child as it was just the right size for me); and the third is the walk down to Moulin Huet, which is so beautiful and smells of sea air and vraic. They're all places I learned to love as a child. When I first got back to Guernsey a few days after it opened up, I burst into tears at baggage reclaim! We're all a bit fragile in the UK after 18 months of pandemic. It's worn away at our resilience. I need to sit quietly at Fermain and stare at the sea for a bit.
As I've visited Guernsey regularly since before I was born (my pregnant mother visited her family when carrying me), I have been to all of the Channel Islands many times. All of Guernsey's sister islands are perfect for de-stressing. A couple of hours of collecting shells on Shell Beach in Herm is the ultimate medicine for covid anxiety. Nothing beats Sark in springtime, and I think I am going to have to spend my next sabbatical hiding out there. I explain to friends in the UK that if fairies exist anywhere in Europe, then there's a colony in Sark. As for Alderney, I have been sending land-locked Cambridge work colleagues tantalising pictures of the sandy beach and turquoise sea beyond at Arch Bay. I think I've made myself very unpopular.
Dr Gilly Carr on a recent trip to Alderney
That is a very difficult question for a historian! There are so many periods of history and prehistory to view in the Bailiwick, but as an occupation historian, I would recommend to people to couple a visit to the Occupation Museum with the Resistance Trail, as that way they can see for themselves some of the important wartime experiences still situated in the landscape today. If they're extra keen, I'd pack them off to the Island Archives.
I have already visited Guernsey and Alderney in 2021! Within a few days of the island opening up, I came with work colleagues from IHRA (the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance) for meeting with politicians in both islands. The purpose of our trip was to share recommendations for how best to safeguard the sites of Nazi persecution and the Holocaust in Alderney. But I return next week to Guernsey for a holiday with my Guernsey husband. We will certainly be visiting Sark and Herm and are looking forward immensely to catching up with friends and family. I've told my cousin that I might just burst into tears in the middle of a crowded restaurant - it's been very fraught in the UK for a long time and the prospect of 'normal life' might be too much for me!
A huge thank you to Gilly for speaking to us again. We certainly hope that her upcoming return to the Islands is all she is hoping for - maybe without the tears!