There have been many great women who have contributed to the history of The Islands of Guernsey.
This International Women’s Day, we want to tell some stories of brilliant women from history on The Islands of Guernsey. From martyrs during the English Reformation, to outspoken leaders during the Second World War, to present day heroes, the islands have a lot to be proud of. Here are just a few women who have helped contribute to Guernsey's place in history.
The Guernsey Martyrs were three women killed for their religious beliefs in 1556 during the English Reformation. Guillemine Gilbert and Perotine Massey were both sisters, who lived with their mother, Catherine Cauchés. The three were arrested for stealing a goblet and imprisoned. Many argued that they were not the kind to do such a thing and they were eventually found not guilty. However they were then arrested for heresy against the Catholic Church for their Protestant beliefs and sentenced to death. The three were burned at the stake, near the Tower Hill steps in St Peter Port where you can now find a memorial plaque. At the time of death, Perotine was pregnant, which caused great further uproar and controversy for years to come following the execution. You can visit the plaque and read the full story on the Tower Hill steps in the town centre.
Seigneurie Gardens, Sark
Sark was under German rule from June 1940 until their Liberation Day on 10th May 1945, a day after the other islands were liberated. Locals were offered the opportunity to evacuate at the beginning but most chose to stay in their island homes. The real hero of the island was the Seigneur of Sark at the time, Sibyl Hathaway, who acted as the main contact between the 470 residents and the German authorities. As a fluent German speaker, she was able to communicate well with them and keep spirits alive during the five years. Many didn't realise how well she protected the island until afterwards, when they heard of what had passed in Guernsey.
Major Marie Ozanne, a member of The Salvation Army, bravely protested against the treatment of labourers and prisoners of war in Guernsey against the German Occupation during the Second World War. In between caring for children, visiting the sick in hospital and preaching and protesting in the streets, she even studied German so that she could write to the German Commandant offering to take the place of people arrested for the resistance. She was eventually arrested herself and placed under house arrest with a German officer until just before her untimely death from appendicitis in 1943. She was posthumously honoured with a blue plaque on her former home on Dehus Lane on Guernsey and was hailed as a local inspiration at the unveiling. Her diaries from the Occupation are preserved and on record to read at the Island Archives on Guernsey.
International tennis player Heather Watson is best known for her magnificent achievement at Wimbledon in 2016, where along with Henri Kontinen, she was victorious in the mixed doubles tournament. However, while she is one of the leading lights of British tennis, she is also a proud Guernsey girl who treasures her island upbringing. Watson grew up in Guernsey where her father was the managing director of Guernsey Electricity until his retirement in 2010. “We never took it for granted that we had Herm, Sark and Alderney on our doorstep, and we regularly went over during the summer,” she told us a few years ago.
Now well known for being pivotal in Guernsey's fight against Covid-19, Dr Nicola Brink has become quite the local hero. Originally from South Africa, Guernsey’s Head of Public Health moved to Guernsey in 2003 after 12 years in the UK. With her expertise in virology, The Islands of Guernsey have counted themselves incredibly lucky to have had Dr Brink in charge during such unprecedented times. After 3 months of lockdown, in June 2020, restrictions in Guernsey were lifted and islanders were able to enjoy staycations and no social distancing until Jan 2021 when a second outbreak forced the island back into lockdown. Dr Brink received an MBE for her efforts last summer from the Queen and has become one of the most well known faces on the island.
While, sadly, border restrictions prevent us from allowing visitors, be sure to bookmark this post for your future visit to The Islands. We have missed hosting tourists on our islands and we look forward to welcoming you back to our shores when it is safe to do so.