Marking Guernsey’s ‘finest hour’

IT HAS been hailed ‘Guernsey’s finest hour’, yet visit the scene of the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry’s most historic battle and there is neither a reminder nor memorial. The local infantry regiment of the British Army, formed in 1916, would a year later fight in the now notorious Battle of Cambrai, defending the small French town of Les Rues Vertes against German counter-attacks. Fated to become a place name ingrained on the island’s memory forever it was the scene of appalling losses, with 40% of the regiment either killed, wounded or missing.

History would go on to reveal a toll of 327 casualties, along with a further 667 men wounded or missing from the 2,280 who set out to fight on the Western Front – a cost so great the RGLI was left finished as an effective fighting unit.

A campaign to install memorials in Guernsey and at the battle site in France is timely, ahead of the conflict’s forthcoming 100-year anniversary and as we commemorate the centenary of the Great War.

The plan to place a piece of inscribed Guernsey granite in a foreign field to commemorate all those buried there in unmarked graves, is particularly poignant.

Equally fitting is the aim to install a memorial here at home to honour the memories of our lost RGLI servicemen – who included those who faced later final action at Doulieu – reminding us forever of their sacrifice.

It has been said that by the end of the war in 1918, virtually every family in the island had been touched by loss.

The population fell drastically, and not just because of those killed or wounded.

Some battle-scarred soldiers could not face returning to old lives. Many were left devastated after witnessing the war’s shocking death toll and the horrors of trench warfare.

Those who did return were a far cry from the brave, excited troops who set off from their homeland to flag-waving crowds and cheers – many with family and friends by their side.

As those behind the memorial rightly say, if we fail to celebrate their finest hour now, it will pass from memory forever.

Assuring their legacy is noted is a debt we all owe.