Grosse Rocque flag to hang in church for year after blessing on slip

A BLESSED Guernsey flag which would normally be stored in a drawer for a year is to go on display.

Each year a flag is blessed in a ceremony on the Cobo slipway before going up on Grosse Rocque the following year.

But St Matthew’s vicar the Rev. Scott Lamb said that would change.

The annual slipway service at Cobo is being held at 10am as usual on Liberation Day. However, this year, instead of being put into storage, the newly-blessed flag will be hung in St Matthew’s Church for the first time.

Once the flag has been raised in the church, the service will move to the Cobo Community Centre for a coffee morning.

The idea is that the blessed flag can stay in the church for the year before being taken out to the Grosse Rocque near to Liberation Day the following year when tides and weather permit.

In the not-too-distant future, it is hoped that an information plaque will be added with an explanation for visitors to the church.

Mr Lamb said it seemed sad that the flag was blessed and then not used for 11 months.

‘It’s a small development, but one that coincides with the parish emphasis of celebrations this year,’ he said.

A flag was always blessed on Liberation Day, but it was the previous year’s flag that was hung on the rock ahead of 9 May to ensure there was a Guernsey flag flying on the day, so bad weather did not prevent it going out there. That was the flag that would fly for the year.

The 2019 flag flying on Grosse Rocque. (29513744)

No official ceremony was held last year, but the service will be back at 10am on Liberation Day this year.

‘The 2019 flag has gone out on the rock,’ Mr Lamb said.

A new flag will be blessed on Liberation Day to go out in 2022.

‘It seemed a bit sad for it to just sit in a drawer for a year,’ he said.

‘So we thought we could hang it in St Matthew’s. So for the first time this year it will be blessed on the slipway, then hung in the church for a year.’

History of the flag of Grosse Rocque

THERE is no record in official archives of a flagpole being erected on Grosse Rocque, one mile west of Cobo.

But it is believed one was put up in 1930 by the Robilliard family, who owned the Piette Saw Mills and lived at Cobo. There is a painting by Mervyn Peake in 1931 clearly showing a pole on the rock.

During the Second World War it disappeared as the coast was heavily fortified.

Many islanders were evacuated to the UK, including the young family of local man Fred Martel.

He joined the Merchant Navy in 1937 and his family later evacuated, but they were repatriated to Guernsey in late 1945.

They settled at Cobo and he, together with others, discussed the idea of raising a flag on Grosse Rocque on 9 May each year to commemorate the island’s Liberation.

In May 1946, local fisherman and boat builder Henry Guilbert rowed Mr Martel out to the rock. Using driftwood found on the west side of the rock, they erected a makeshift pole and hoisted the Union Flag.

They did this the following year and, in 1948, the flag was blessed in a simple service ashore which called for the protection of sailors at sea.

This tradition has continued ever since and, until the early 1950s, Mr Guilbert continued to row Mr Martel out to perform the task until that role was taken on by Herbie Nichols.

In 1985 a telegraph pole was towed out to the rock and cemented into a crack near the summit.

Unfortunately, the crack was deeper than they had thought so they returned to collect a scaffolding pole, which was then bolted to the telegraph pole. Supporting stays and a halyard were subsequently attached. This construction remains to the present day.

On the 40th anniversary of Liberation, the Union Flag was replaced by the new Guernsey flag and that year the Guernsey flag was raised by Paul Benstead, Mr Martel’s grandson.

In 2010 there were difficulties in finding a flag supplier and former deputy Roy Bisson undertook to provide one and his generosity continues to this day.

The flags are now made of polyester, double hemmed with heavy reinforcing to withstand the winter gales, hence flying throughout the year.

However the pole and supporting equipment are also subject to the battle with the elements and Mr Martel’s family, at their own expense and with the help of a local marine trader, have over the years maintained the pole and kept the flag flying.

Top Stories

More From The Guernsey Press

UK & International News