Invaders of the Isles 1 Coast


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Invaders of the Isles 1

Nick Crane looks at how Guernsey fared during World War II and, previously, the Napoleonic Wars. Ruth Goodman reveals how the Isle of Man came to host the infamous TT road race.


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This is Coast.

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The wild islands of the British Isles.

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Splinters of land, oceans of water.

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At times the sea protects, at others, it attacks!

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Rocky islets rise like sparkling jewels, ripe for the taking,

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a tempting target for invaders.

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From hostile incursions to the welcome influx of wildlife.

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We'll reveal surprising stories of invasions around our shores.

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My base of operations is on the Channel Islands,

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where remarkably, some German strongholds are still unexplored.

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Now I'm gearing up for an invasion of my own.

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I'm breaking into a sealed Nazi bunker.

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Nobody's seen this for more than 60 years.

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These stories tell of the Invaders of the Isles.

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My island destination

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sits in the firing line between England and France.

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I'm heading to Guernsey.

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Guernsey's the ideal place to recall both the risks

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and the rewards of invasion.

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Its islanders made good money from historic battles with France.

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I'll be exploring how swashbuckling Guernsey sailors

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ran rings around Napoleon's navy.

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But in the Second World War

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the people felt the full force of Hitler's invading army.

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Now the heavens explode each year to mark the end of German occupation.

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Guernsey is celebrating its liberty.

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A night that burns bright with the memories of invasion.

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In June 1940, it wasn't friendly fire that lit up the skies.

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The dark hand of the Third Reich was about to grasp the Isle of Guernsey.

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With invasion inevitable, islanders had a stark choice, stay or go.

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I've got here a copy of the Guernsey newspaper, The Evening Press,

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dated Wednesday June 19th, 1940. It reads, "Evacuation of Children.

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"Parents must report this evening."

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Well, these parents were being given just a few hours to decide

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whether to stay or to leave the island.

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The following morning, that quayside over there was packed with people

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queuing up to board ships back to England.

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CHILD CRIES

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Seven-year-old Paulette Tapp's mother was dead

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and her father was away fighting,

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so her grandmother decided Paulette should be evacuated.

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Is this you in this photograph?

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This is my grandmother. And that was me when I was three years old.

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-Did she go with you?

-No, no.

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I was on my own. Completely on my own, there was nobody.

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While Paulette left for an uncertain future in England,

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on Guernsey, a little boy remained on the quayside.

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-Very good to meet you.

-How do you do?

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'Stanley Bichard was the middle one of three boys,

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'who with their mum and dad were about to experience invasion.'

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Just days after the evacuations Guernsey's harbour was bombed,

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many were killed.

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Two days later the island was occupied.

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'The German invaders took their pick of the houses

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'including the one next door to Stanley's family.'

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-Strange neighbours.

-Yeah. And the week after,

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they came and they knocked at the back door at my mum's

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and said, "We'd like you to do some washing for the Germans."

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So Mum said, "No, I don't do a wash for the German soldiers."

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They said, "You will wash for the soldiers

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"or you will vacate your premises by the end of the week."

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And, of course, there's five of us in the family,

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you know, where are we going?

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Many island children had gone to seek safety on the mainland.

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Seven-year-old Paulette, travelling alone, was evacuated to Cheshire,

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to be looked after by nuns.

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This homesick little girl

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was about to acquire a very special guardian angel.

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Remember, in this country

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the gift must be based on your ability to give.

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First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt

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was coaxing American women to do their bit for the war effort.

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Mrs Roosevelt sought a young pen pal,

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she received a letter from a lonely girl in Cheshire.

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"Dear Mrs Roosevelt, first of all,

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"I hope you are well and in good health.

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"Please give my best regards to President Roosevelt.

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"Thank you very much for the pretty green dress. It fits me just fine

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"and I love the blouse to go with it.

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"Your loving foster child, Paulette."

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Meanwhile, guardian angels were in short supply on Guernsey.

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As the occupation wore on, rations were meagre.

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Four ounces of meat a week for the family of five.

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-That's nothing!

-Eggs were very hard to come by,

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because everybody killed the chickens to have food for eating.

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"We had a lovely supper, lemonade, cakes and biscuits.

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"Then for tea we all had a bar of chocolate."

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-Remember being hungry?

-Oh, yeah. Yeah.

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Yes, a few times.

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-It must have been very difficult for your mother knowing that.

-Yeah.

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Mum and Dad suffered a lot at different times.

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-Yeah. How do you feed a family of five when you've got nothing?

-Yeah.

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Paulette had a full stomach but an empty heart.

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Her gran on occupied Guernsey couldn't get letters out.

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My only person that I really loved was my grandmother,

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I missed her cuddles and hugs, you know, because we didn't get many.

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They were good, the nuns, but we didn't have the love.

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Paulette's safe surroundings were tinged with sadness.

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For young Stanley, the lush landscape of Guernsey may have been

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a war zone, but it was still his playground.

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A favourite prank was pelting passing cars with lumps of turf.

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It was just along there somewhere,

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lovely turf about as big as my hand there.

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So when a car came, if the window was open,

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I didn't know it was a German,

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I wasn't being brave or anything like that,

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but I spiffed the turf over the edge,

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it went straight through the window

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and hit the officer straight in the face.

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And, of course, there was a squeak of the tyres and we hid.

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We were petrified then.

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The headmaster of the school said they were going to take hostages,

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because they thought it was an act of sabotage,

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it wasn't sabotage, it was a game, like, you know?

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And we got away with it by writing a letter of apology

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to the Commandant. They let us get away with it.

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German rule ground on for nearly five years.

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By the end the invaders were as much prisoners as the islanders -

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both were starving.

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After D-Day in Normandy there was nothing coming in at all

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and also the Germans were suffering,

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a lot of cats went missing during the war.

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-They ate them?

-Oh, yeah. And dogs. They had my dog.

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-They ate your dog?

-Oh, yeah.

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But you couldn't buy anything cos nothing was coming in.

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The desperate days ended on the 8th of May, 1945.

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With the war over, Paulette came home,

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but she's never met Stanley

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to share their different experiences of invasion.

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Is it better to leave home and be fed

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or to stay with your family and go hungry?

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I couldn't let my children go.

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I'd want them with me. I would try and do everything I could.

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If somebody had been able to cuddle me, you know.

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-And you miss that, don't you, when you're children?

-Oh, yeah.

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So in that way, I suffered more emotionally

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-and you suffered more with your food.

-Oh, without a doubt.

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Without a doubt.

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BOTH CHUCKLE

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In our fights for survival,

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we've created some remarkable artificial islands.

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Forts that helped keep foreign aggressors at bay.

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But some in the British Isles have suffered conquest in living memory.

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I'm on Guernsey.

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In the Second World War on the Channel Islands,

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attackers soon became defenders.

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The invaders of these isles left a grim legacy.

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German bunkers that outlasted the Third Reich.

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Some 1,000 Nazi fortifications were embedded in the rock of Guernsey,

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potent symbols of the propaganda value to be gained

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by occupying British Crown Territory.

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Hitler wouldn't give up the Channel Islands without a fight.

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Now I'm gearing up for an invasion of my own.

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Many of these tombs of tyranny were sealed at the end of the last war,

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but one of the bunkers is about to be re-opened

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for the first time in over 60 years.

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I'm going to be a Nazi tomb raider.

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On a beach-side golf course,

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they're excavating the entrance to the forgotten underground bunker.

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To see what could lie in store, I'm visiting another site.

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This gun emplacement was only re-opened in 2010.

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My guide is bunker specialist Paul Bourgaize.

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-Chilly and dark, isn't it?

-Just watch these steps here.

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We're in a small square... room, what have we got over here?

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This is actually a fortress telephone.

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So this is a hand-cranked telephone?

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-Yep.

-So what does this say?

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"Achtung Feind host nit!" was a warning you'd find above all phones,

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and it basically says, "Warning, the enemy is listening,"

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so it was just, "Watch what you're saying."

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-Very smooth, isn't it?

-Yeah.

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It's approximately a tonne of steel that's moving there.

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-Top quality German engineering.

-Yeah.

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This portal cut into the concrete

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was the firing position for an anti-tank gun.

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Its crew were charged with repelling a possible beach invasion.

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Historians on Guernsey are re-discovering

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the secrets of fortifications across the island.

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The digger's scoop has just revealed the top of a doorway.

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Nobody's seen this for more than 60 years.

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Buried for decades.

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Now we're the first to enter a forgotten lair of Hitler's army.

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This was once a staircase

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that a six-foot man could walk down,

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now... it's like a cave entrance.

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Incredible! Look at this on the roof, miniature stalactites of rust.

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Very nasty gunk all over the floor,

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this seems to be oil more than water.

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Cos this is a personnel bunker, these are the hooks for the beds

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or the bunks, still original, all fixed to the wall.

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-So these hooks...?

-That's where the bunks would have been.

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-Hooked on there?

-There would have been a chain

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hanging from the ceiling attached to those hooks.

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-Oh, here?

-Yeah.

-So these are like ship's bunks. Did they fold away?

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They do fold away, yes.

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'Up to ten men slept in this windowless tomb -

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'their job, to man the gun emplacements.'

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This is smaller, what was this space for?

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Yeah, this is a ventilation escape shaft as well.

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Where did you escape? There's no way out.

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This is the escape shaft here.

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It would have been quite tricky to get out of here,

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you've got a steel door, you'd have had two rows of steel girders

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across there in those recesses that had to be pulled out,

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you've then got a brick wall that needs to be demolished,

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and then the whole escape shaft which goes right up to the surface

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was filled with sand. All that had to come in

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before anybody could go out.

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Why did they make it so difficult to get out?

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Well, they don't want people coming in either, so...

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So this was a last resort if you were completely trapped down here?

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A gas attack or anything like that.

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-You'd dig your way out?

-Absolutely.

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This up here, by the looks of it,

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was some sort of newspaper or article but it's all in German.

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-The second word is "Fuhrer".

-That's very exciting, that.

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'It translates as, "Sworn to the Fuhrer".'

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-Perhaps there was a picture.

-Of Hitler?

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-Definitely a possibility.

-Yeah.

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You might think the soldiers who once sheltered in these dank vaults

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would want to purge the island from their memories.

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But some, like Fritz Kunz, who was stationed in a bunker,

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still return to Guernsey.

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In 1943, aged just 17, Fritz found himself in charge of a gunnery crew.

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All the other soldiers came to Russia,

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and I was the only who knows the gun

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and so became high commander of the gun.

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-But you were lucky not to go to Russia.

-Of course.

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-Yeah. The Eastern Front was a bad place to be.

-Yes.

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We came here and we was thinking we came in the paradise.

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-Really?

-Yes.

-You thought it was paradise?

-Yes.

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What did you think when you saw the bunker being opened over there,

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how did you find that?

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Oh, it was... awful.

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It was a horrible thing.

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-Do you remember when Guernsey was liberated?

-Yes.

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-What happened?

-It was... going out.

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-A huge relief?

-Oh, now it is peace.

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-Finished?

-Finished.

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We're on a journey to explore invasions of our isles.

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It's a story they know all too well on the Isle of Man.

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This island has been occupied by the Norse...

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the Scots...

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and the English.

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Today, though, it's fiercely independent.

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Surprising then, that the Manx people open their arms to one race

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that lays siege to their isle every year.

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Ruth Goodman is bracing herself for an epic invasion.

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Out there beyond the sea, the leather-clad clans are gathering.

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An army is assembling from around Britain and far beyond.

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They mount their two-wheeled chariots bound for the Isle of Man.

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The locals, ready to do battle... for business.

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Burgers, buns, beer - the TT is in town.

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For two weeks in early summer, the sound of high-speed combustion

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and the smell of leather cover the island...whatever the weather.

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Day and night, wave after wave of boats

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disgorge disciples of the most dangerous bike-fest on Earth.

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TT stands for Tourist Trophy, and these days it attracts

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over 30,000 tourists, who bring around 10,000 motorbikes.

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So what's in it for the bikers, and how do the locals feel about

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this friendly invasion of their small isle?

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The hotels can't accommodate the sudden influx of bodies.

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Bikers are berthed in private houses all over the island.

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Everybody mucks in to keep the TT on track.

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And the restaurants stock up for a briefly lived bonanza.

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He's huge...!

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That's the female.

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It's a female. How can you tell?

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And that's the male. That bit there carries the eggs.

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Beautiful colour.

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This is probably our busiest time.

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It's a big part of the year. Eat and drink, isn't it?

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-Yeah, party time.

-Party time.

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As long as they eat it, we'll catch it.

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Look at that, it's like one enormous giant prawn. Delicious.

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Every bite, lick and chip swells the bank balance of the Isle of Man.

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This is an invasion any island would welcome.

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So how did this small, self-contained community

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come to host the world's ultimate motorbike road race?

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'I'm heading for a private viewing of some rare film that takes us

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'right back to the beginning.

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'This little picture palace is about as old as the TT -

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'a century and counting.

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'I'm meeting social historian and TT expert Matthew Richardson.'

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-Hi.

-Hello.

-What's this then?

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Well, this is some early footage of one of the first TT races

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on the Isle of Man.

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Oh, blinking 'eck!

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He just picked himself up and got back on the bike.

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That's a pretty low speed crash.

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It's... It's all relative.

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The 1911 Junior TT, the winner won at just over 40 mph.

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The current lap record is just over 130 mph.

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They still look like pushbikes with motors on, don't they?

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Well, they were. Technology was very primitive.

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The TT races began after speed regulations were imposed on

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British roads in 1903, a 20mph limit was set on the mainland.

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The self-governing Isle of Man had no such restrictions.

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In the early days it wasn't all about speed, it was very much

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a trial of reliability, one of the early riders comments that

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although he won the race, he had to stop to mend a puncture.

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Pushing the bikes to breaking point year after year

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created the TT's global reputation for thrills and spills.

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Go anywhere in the world,

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people might not be sure where the Isle of Man is,

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but there's a fair chance they'll have heard of the TT races.

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'They say to understand someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes.'

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I'd never normally wear trousers at the beach.

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'Or ride a mile in their leathers.'

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But then, tights and bikes don't really mix.

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I'm joining the tribe that has taken over the island,

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for a ride with one of the race's royals.

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Sidecar passenger Rose Hanks was the queen of the TT in the '60s.

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And Roy was her prince.

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Roy Hanks has been TT racing since 1966 - a sidecar legend.

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Now Rose has agreed to turn her husband over to me,

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and she is a hard act to follow!

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In 1968, Rose became the first woman ever to get on the podium.

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There she is, proud moment, yeah.

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Absolutely. Rose was the first.

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I remember when I first met her, she impressed me then,

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but when she was dressed in black leather

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she was even better looking and...

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Rose's skill in the sidecar made her a star in the '60s.

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Today, she's happiest steering the family bike business

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out of the limelight.

0:22:290:22:31

Cos there wasn't so many girls around doing it

0:22:310:22:33

you got more attention, so...

0:22:330:22:36

They wanted me to wear make-up.

0:22:360:22:37

I says "No, I don't wear make-up racing."

0:22:370:22:41

They were good days, they were, the best.

0:22:410:22:44

-That was the year she was presented to...

-Prince Philip.

-Prince Philip.

0:22:440:22:48

See the mop of hair, there. Not on Prince Philip, on Rose!

0:22:480:22:51

For riders like Rose, the glamour of the TT

0:22:530:22:56

goes hand-in-glove with the danger.

0:22:560:22:58

The infamous mountain course is considered the world's most lethal.

0:23:050:23:10

Over 130 riders have been killed on the road.

0:23:100:23:14

Sometimes I get a bit worried and concerned

0:23:170:23:20

how dangerous it could be and has been.

0:23:200:23:22

But once I'm on my bike racing...

0:23:240:23:27

..I'm 21 again.

0:23:290:23:31

Who wouldn't want to be 21 again?

0:23:330:23:36

I'm along for the ride, Roy's at the handlebars.

0:23:360:23:39

The tarmac of the TT beckons.

0:23:390:23:42

Whoa...!

0:23:430:23:45

From my sidecar seat, the future rolls out ahead.

0:23:520:23:56

But echoes of the past are never far behind.

0:23:560:23:59

Wow, what a view!

0:24:020:24:04

Now I can see why bikers enjoy overtaking the island each year.

0:24:070:24:11

-Ah, marvellous!

-SHE LAUGHS

0:24:130:24:16

Fragile isles face many perils.

0:24:370:24:40

But some, like Guernsey, rise to the challenge.

0:24:440:24:48

For centuries, the islanders succeeded in turning the threat of war

0:24:510:24:55

into a money-making venture.

0:24:550:24:58

Towers like this that pepper the shore are some 200 years old -

0:25:000:25:05

defences against possible invasion by the French

0:25:050:25:09

running rampant under Napoleon.

0:25:090:25:12

The islanders learned that during times of war

0:25:140:25:17

different rules apply - rules that can be bent to your advantage.

0:25:170:25:23

As the threat of invasion rose, riches rolled in with the waves.

0:25:250:25:31

Guernsey became a "treasure island"

0:25:320:25:34

thanks to the ill-gotten gains of the infamous Guernsey privateers.

0:25:340:25:40

CANNON FIRE

0:25:400:25:43

Described as the Despair of France,

0:25:430:25:45

these private warships were fast and heavily armed with determined crews.

0:25:450:25:51

Guernsey was the ideal base for privateers to strike

0:25:530:25:57

at rich cargo vessels sailing the English Channel.

0:25:570:26:00

But how could these Guernsey bandits get away with plundering booty

0:26:020:26:07

from the big boys of Europe?

0:26:070:26:09

I'm searching for evidence of their exploits.

0:26:120:26:15

Some locals still benefit from those long lost wars.

0:26:160:26:20

'Peter de Sausmarez is a descendant of a famous Guernsey privateer.

0:26:210:26:26

'To the family, he's Grand Matthieu - Great Matthew.'

0:26:270:26:32

But this is the Grand Matthieu.

0:26:320:26:34

Centre-stage in your portrait gallery here?

0:26:340:26:36

Well, very important. Yes. We're all descended from him.

0:26:360:26:40

And, of course, he was the one who sowed the seeds

0:26:400:26:42

of the family recovery and fortune again.

0:26:420:26:45

And what evidence do you have that he was involved in privateering?

0:26:450:26:49

Well, I've got a few letters he wrote, and these are examples

0:26:490:26:52

of letter books. But these we found are of...1712.

0:26:520:26:57

So very early on.

0:26:570:26:59

-So Matthew is in at the beginning.

-Right at the beginning. Absolutely.

0:26:590:27:02

And here is a letter here saying, erm,

0:27:020:27:04

"I'm writing on behalf of Thomas de Marchant

0:27:040:27:08

"to offer him a privateer ship of eight guns,

0:27:080:27:10

"and to recruit some sailors."

0:27:100:27:12

You had to have weapons of inducement.

0:27:120:27:15

And we've got some rather fine examples here.

0:27:150:27:18

This is what the seamen would be using.

0:27:180:27:20

This is interesting because this is French. Erm...

0:27:200:27:24

You can see it's very basic and very simple,

0:27:240:27:27

but one thing that's absolutely tip-top is the blade.

0:27:270:27:30

-Look at that.

-So all the effort was put into this blade.

-Indeed, yes.

0:27:300:27:33

If you can imagine people coming aboard, and waving these. You know.

0:27:330:27:37

-Is that a stick...?

-Or slash, I think. Yeah.

0:27:370:27:41

Back in the scabbard now, do you think?

0:27:410:27:43

Perhaps it'd be safer there, wouldn't it? Yeah.

0:27:430:27:46

Very good. Erm, I think you'd make quite a good privateer.

0:27:460:27:49

Do you think? It would be quite fun, wouldn't it?

0:27:490:27:53

Strong-arm tactics soon built up fortunes.

0:27:570:28:00

The gains may have been ill-gotten, but these weren't pirates.

0:28:000:28:05

The privateers had powerful friends.

0:28:050:28:07

The British, worried about French invasion,

0:28:100:28:13

welcomed attacks on the foreign ships.

0:28:130:28:16

So much so, the privateers got a contract from the King.

0:28:160:28:21

This is a Letter of Marque -

0:28:210:28:23

basically, a pirate's licence to operate legally.

0:28:230:28:27

It's dated "the year of our Lord 1804".

0:28:270:28:33

At the top up here is a wonderful portrait of King George III,

0:28:330:28:40

and down on the bottom is the King's royal seal.

0:28:400:28:42

Now, this letter allows the bearer

0:28:420:28:47

to "lawfully apprehend, seize and take all ships, vessels and goods

0:28:470:28:53

"belonging to the French Republic."

0:28:530:28:57

This is a royal permit to plunder.

0:28:570:29:00

The Crown encouraged Guernsey boatmen to be a thorn in the side of the French,

0:29:050:29:10

and the privateers had home advantage against passing ships.

0:29:100:29:16

Skipper Roger Perrot has local knowledge of these treacherous seas.

0:29:160:29:20

What would it have been like trying to navigate through these islands

0:29:220:29:26

under sail, no engines, without an electronic chart-plotter

0:29:260:29:30

-like the one here?

-Well, just hell.

0:29:300:29:32

I would not like to have been sailing a really big ship around here.

0:29:320:29:36

In privateering time, they were brilliant sailors.

0:29:360:29:39

We're armchair sailors, really, aren't we?

0:29:390:29:42

This is a really dangerous part of the world.

0:29:430:29:46

We're going to go over some really rather nasty rocks, in a moment.

0:29:460:29:51

-Those rocks are quite close, aren't they?

-Yeah.

0:29:510:29:53

Fear not!

0:29:580:29:59

Daredevil sailors giving the French a bloody nose in the Napoleonic wars?

0:30:020:30:08

Is that how the islanders regarded the privateers?

0:30:080:30:11

In Guernsey society it was considered to be an honourable profession

0:30:110:30:15

until the 1820s, which is way after the end of the Napoleonic war.

0:30:150:30:19

So would privateers have been celebrated on shore?

0:30:190:30:22

Oh, yes, absolutely. And most of the ships were made in Guernsey, as well.

0:30:220:30:26

I suppose privateering was considered more of a middle-class occupation,

0:30:260:30:29

and when you became nouveau riche, and moved up an echelon,

0:30:290:30:32

then you went into the Navy - the Royal Navy -

0:30:320:30:35

where you could still make a lot of money.

0:30:350:30:39

Many of the islanders shared the spoils of the privateers'

0:30:450:30:48

plundering raids, as local historian Annette Henry knows.

0:30:480:30:54

They weren't exactly following the principles of fair trade, were they?

0:30:540:30:58

Not really, no, but in times of war you have to do what you can,

0:30:580:31:01

and living on an island we needed to make money.

0:31:010:31:03

-And was it lucrative?

-It was incredibly lucrative.

0:31:030:31:07

One could amass a fortune of...

0:31:070:31:08

Well, an instance in 1799 has a Mr LeMeseurier amassing a fortune

0:31:080:31:13

of £212,000 sterling then, in 1799.

0:31:130:31:18

Equate that to today's terms

0:31:180:31:19

and we're looking at a quarter of a billion pounds in one year.

0:31:190:31:22

It was said a fifth went to the sovereign,

0:31:230:31:26

two-thirds of the remainder went to the owner of the ship of war,

0:31:260:31:29

and the remainder went to the captain and crew.

0:31:290:31:32

The sovereign was very happy to issue as many Letters of Marques as possible.

0:31:320:31:36

The privateers played a dangerous game in their tiny boats

0:31:440:31:48

dodging the warring giants on both sides of the Channel.

0:31:480:31:53

But when peace settled on the seas, their game was up.

0:31:530:31:58

Our island shores bear the scars of conflicts long past.

0:32:080:32:13

But the dying sun hasn't quite obscured the age-old fears of invasion.

0:32:190:32:25

For some, the pain of conquest is a living memory

0:32:270:32:31

that makes freedom something to cherish.

0:32:310:32:34

Those who remember the long dark night of Nazi occupation

0:32:400:32:44

celebrate their liberty.

0:32:440:32:47

I'm proud to stand with them

0:32:470:32:49

and think of the price people paid facing the invaders of our isles.

0:32:490:32:55

Nick Crane looks at the remarkable history of Guernsey. He explores a German bunker that has been sealed since the end of the Second World War and also hears very different stories of the Nazi occupation from two survivors.

Nick then examines how the islanders of Guernsey had previously turned the threat of invasion into a money-making opportunity during the Napoleonic Wars.

Ruth Goodman reports on the Isle of Man TT, revealing how the small island came to host the most dangerous road race on Earth.