IT is a landmark moment in our island’s history, yet no lasting memorial at home or abroad marks the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry’s heroic role in the Great War.
Today, a fundraising campaign to provide tributes in Guernsey and France in memory of the 327 Guernseymen killed and 667 wounded or missing in one notorious conflict is being officially launched, with the Guernsey Press as media partner.
The ‘Guernsey’s Finest Hour’ appeal is the culmination of years of research by military historian Chris Oliver, together with Lt-Col Colin Vaudin, who joined forces to set up a charitable trust to establish the memorials in this, the battle’s centenary year.
They also want to ensure the story of this local British Army infantry regiment – who conscripted ‘to do their bit’ despite the horrors of the First World War having become clear – is remembered forever.
Already the scheme, revealed at the end of last year, has gained official support from Guernsey and French authorities.
Now the pair hope funds can be found to see a piece of Guernsey granite laid in November at the small town of Masnieres near Cambrai, on the exact road junction in Les Rues Vertes where the regiment’s A Company waged a heroic defence of the small suburb against massed German attacks.
Although 13 graves are there, more than 200 men were never recovered and still lie undiscovered in the vicinity.
This tribute would not only mark their sacrifice but offer a place of remembrance for islanders to visit.
In Guernsey a dedicated plaque of Portland stone would be installed in the Town Church next to the battalion’s colours, which the trust also hopes to preserve as part of its ongoing legacy work.
Mr Oliver said: ‘We want to ensure the contribution of all those Guernseymen who served receives its rightful acknowledgment and this centenary year felt like it was now or never.
‘Generations of our island families were changed forever by this conflict and its impact lives on today.
‘As some of those men will never come home we felt taking a piece of Guernsey to them was a fitting and lasting tribute, and already the public’s response has been overwhelming.’
Lt-Col Vaudin said the trust hoped the tributes could be funded via public donations so they would be forever seen as ‘people’s memorials’ to the island’s lost sons.
‘The soldiers of the RGLI are not faceless uniforms who fought in a war long ago. They were fathers, brothers and sons who loved, and were loved, laughed and lived their lives here on Guernsey before they fell in France.
‘As a former soldier I believe that we owe it to them to remember them as people.
‘So a “people’s memorial” funded by numerous public donations allows us all to remember them as individuals and we can all own some of the stone that will be their lasting tribute.’
The newspaper will be featuring a ‘roll of honour’ for any contributors who wish to record their donation, no matter how small, along with their reasons, such as family connection, for supporting Guernsey’s Finest Hour.
Already £6,500 has been donated to the trust after recent coverage of the plans.
The target is for at least £30,000, although the final total will determine the finish of the memorials, such as whether they have gold leaf inscriptions and feature a brass reproduction of the regiment’s iconic cap badge.