Jersey Scouts

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The Scout Mill on Jersey is surrounded by wildlife 

Throughout WW2, Nazi troops invaded the island of Jersey, banning all Scout activity on its shores. But that didn’t stop one Troop from meeting in secret.

Here, Holly Morel of the 1st Jersey Sea Scout Group introduces us to the small but magnificent island she calls home, and shares a slice of its fascinating history

I live in Jersey, a nine by five mile island in the English Channel. Being a Scout here is a little different to being a Scout elsewhere. Everyone knows everyone, and it’s smaller than most people expect when they realise we have seven active Scout Groups. 

Our island is divided into 12 parishes, each connected to the beach. Having lived in Jersey all my life, I find it astounding—and a little sad—that some Scouts have never even seen the sea, when I swim in it almost every day in the summer.

Scouts began in Jersey around the same time it was founded. During the Second World War, Winston Churchill—Prime Minister at the time—believed the Channel Islands were of no strategic importance to the defending of Britain. Nazi troops—unaware that the islands were undefended—went on to bomb Jersey and Guernsey. They later invaded.

Throughout the occupation, Scout activities were strictly banned, but at least one Troop continued to meet in secret. Scouts have always had a strong presence here. Without the guidance of their leaders, young people took matters into their own hands, teaching themselves essential Scout skills from books, like Baden’s Powell’s Scouting For Boys. It’s believed more than four hundred people continued to Scout on Jersey for the duration of the war, helping out in the community, and having covert adventures. They lent a hand to my own family during this time, when, on 14 June 1944, a British plane—piloted by Belgian Squadron Leader Henri Gonay—crash-landed on my grandfather’s house. Thankfully, no one was home. When they returned, all that was left standing were the walls.

In the aftermath, Scouts on the island sourced materials so my family could rebuild the house from scratch. Jersey was cut off from the rest of the world and had virtually no resources at the time, but—in typical Scout fashion—they found a way.

Sadly, it’s nearly impossible to tell who was behind these good deeds, because the Scouts were in hiding, and because my grandfather was only five years old at the time, and has limited memories of what happened. 

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1st St Ouen Scout Group meet regularly to have adventures and learn skills together

My own Sea Scout Group was created in 2000, when two groups—the 5th Jersey Sea Scouts and the 18th Jersey Scouts—merged.

The main difference between Scouts and Sea Scouts is that we incorporate more water-based activities into what we do.

In the summer, you’ll often find us messing around on the beach, racing the rafts or coracles we’ve built, power boating, kayaking, and—for the first time this summer—paddle boarding (a personal favourite!). As part of our programme, we get to grips with water safety, and learn what to do in an emergency at sea.

During the colder months, we tend to focus more on doing more practical tasks like boat and equipment checks (more recently we scrubbed barnacles off the bottom of one of our powerboats), and badge work.

Jersey is brimming with all sorts of wildlife, such as dolphins, puffins and cows. Living here impacts what we do at Scouts very positively. Some Sea Scout Groups only have access to one beach, or a lake. If the wind is blowing in the wrong direction, this means they could be forced to cancel activities. But, because we have access to so many beaches, we can pick and choose where we Scout based on the weather conditions.

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Holly credits Scouts for introducing her to her closet friends

St Ouen’s beach runs nearly along the whole width of the island, and in every bay there is a fortress or castle of some kind. One of these, Elizabeth Castle, was the hiding place of Charles the Second when he had to go into exile. I’ve been very lucky to grow up in such a place, surrounded by history, nature and good food.

Being a Scout has taught me skills I couldn’t have gained elsewhere. I’ve learned First Aid, practised leading a team, and gone on countless camps. I know these skills will accompany me throughout my life, and I still have so much more to see and do. 

That’s what I enjoy most about Scouts. I get to learn things I’d never pick up at school, and interact with people I wouldn’t get to meet otherwise. I’ve met some of my best friends at Scouts; made memories that will last a lifetime. I don’t know what I’d do without it.

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