The Occupation Tapestry was the biggest community art project ever undertaken in Jersey, and made by Islanders for Islanders. It was conceived in order to tell the story of what life was like during the five years of German occupation. The original idea about creating a tapestry came about when, in the lead-up to the 50th anniversary of the Liberation, suitable projects were sought which would have a enduring life after the anniversary.
In a collaboration between Doug Ford, who worked for the Jersey Museum, and Wayne Audrain, a local artist, the tapestry evolved from a single panel to the twelve panels, each of which depicted a scene of local life during the German Occupation. Each of these panels was designed by Wayne who gave guidelines on colours to be used on the key elements of the panels to ensure consistency.
Each panel was then woven by one of the twelve parishes which make up the Island, following those guidelines set by Wayne. They did, however, have a degree of flexibility, and could use their own artistic talent in the colours used in the skies and sea .
What is amazing about the project is that although there were a core of “stitchers” in each parish, over the few years that it took for all the panels to be completed, thousands of Islanders, as well as visitors to Jersey, put a few stitches in the Occupation Tapestry panels.
The Occupation Tapestry was unveiled by Prince Charles, the Prince of Wales, on 9th May 1995, fifty years after the first English “Tommy” soldiers came ashore to liberate Jersey after the surrender of the German garrison on the same day. After being displayed in the Jersey Museum for a year, in the following year, the Occupation Tapestry was moved to a purpose built gallery in one of the old quayside warehouses on the New North Quay, just over the road from Liberation Square, the scene of jubilant liberation in 1945.
Today the Occupation Tapestry is still in that gallery, having been joined by a thirteenth panel on the seventieth anniversary of Liberation in 1995. This commemorates how Jersey people continue to remember acts of heroism and the victims of Nazism.
And if you think that visiting a tapestry is likely to be boring, that is far from the truth. Apart from sheer beauty of each of the panels, the story of the German Occupation unfolds as you move around the gallery. Each of the tapestry panels has an interactive screen in front of it. By touching the screen, information, including photographs and film, tell you about the tapestry, and also what life was like back then. There is an explanation as to why certain images have been included in each scene, their significance and how it is part of the overall story.
There are also first hand stories told of those who lived through the Occupation, and in many cases, the individuals telling their stories, have also been involved in creating their own parish panel. In addition to a couple of display cases containing historic artefacts, there is also a film on loop telling the story of the Tapestry and other stories from the Occupation on the large screen in the area at the back of the gallery.
My mother (with her parents) remained in Jersey throughout those five years. She, with my sister, was one of the core stitchers for St Martin, who produced the panel titled “Red Cross”. This panel shows the Red Cross ship SS Vega, which made a total of 5 voyages to Jersey (and Guernsey) delivering food parcels, which certainly saved many an Islander from starvation in the winter and spring of 1944-45.
The other thing which is worth noting are the statistics relating to the Occupation Tapestry.
Material used: 1,418of 25 gram hanks of Appletons Crewel wool, comprising 275 shades of 52 different colours; 24 metres by 100cm wide, 16 threads to the inch, Single Brown Canvas.
Each of the threads per inch in the canvas represents one stitch in the finished work. This means that there are 256 stitches per inch. As each panel measures 72 inches by 34 inches, there are 626,688 stitches per panel. In all, the twelve panels contain 7,520,256 stitches!!
It is estimated that each parish panel took about two and a half thousand hours! The stitch used in the tapestry was the Basket Weave Tent Stitch.
Whilst I attach some of the images of the Occupation Tapestry, there really isn’t any substitute in actually going to see it personally. It’s beauty and scale are fantastic! The story that it tells with the benefit of modern digital media is extremely well done and thought provoking!
History Alive! / Jersey Military Tours
(All the images of the Jersey Occupation Tapestry panels can be found on https://www.facebook.com/JerseyMilitaryTours/ )