Interview with Sir Robert Le Masurier

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The official portrait of Sir Robert which hangs in the Royal Court

From Jersey Topic, 1966

If it is a bright sunny day, no matter what time of year, Jersey's Bailiff, Robert Le Masurier, will walk the long way home from his chambers in Royal Square to his comfortable house in Green Street, via the Harbour and Mount Bingham. This gives him a chance to look at the boats at anchor and particularly at his own new ten-ton sloop Broad Axe.

Love for the sea

He jokes about his great love for the sea. "It has been said of me that I carry a picture of my boat with me instead of my wife and children", he says. "They never add what I think is really important - that it's a coloured picture."

He called his sloop Broad Axe for a variety of reasons. The main one was that there was once a schooner called Broad Axe that first appeared in Jersey waters about 1799. As a former Commodore of the St Helier Yacht Club, the burgee of which has the crossed-axe motif of the coat of arms of the Fish of St Helier, the parish in which he was born, he felt it to be an appropriate name.

Family

The salt in his veins goes back to his ancestors. His grandfather was a ship's carpenter who eventually settled in Peru and his own father was born there. The family returned to Jersey because of the outbreak of the Peruvian-Chile war.

"Grandfather only managed to stick this out for a short time before getting the urge to wander again. One day he left home - and was never heard of again. My grandmother was left with a large family to bring up and she did this remarkably well".

His father, William Smythe le Masurier, later became one of the most respected lawyers in Jersey as well as a Deputy in the States for nearly 30 years.

The Bailiff has inherited, along with his love of the sea, a pair of carpenter's hands. In the tool shed at the bottom of his well-tended garden, stacked with neat rows of chisels and saws, he relaxes from the cares of being Bailiff by making things. Typically, nearly everything he makes is for the boat.

"Every time I see the two drawers from a kitchen dresser that I promised to mend two years ago I feel guilty" he says.

Jolly man

He has a reputation in Jersey for a sharp, and at times, cutting wit. And you can see this in his eyes. Even when he is being serious - which is much of the time - you somehow feel that any minute he is going to break into his jolly, hearty laugh.

For in truth he is a jolly man. He is like this when he recalls the part he played in the last war, when he won a DSC. This he utterly refuses to be serious about. He sums up his war career in these words: "I started as a sub-lieutenant on a paddle boat called the Gracie Fields, which was an Isle of Wight ferry boat and which was being used as a minesweeper in the Straits of Dover. I was given command of a converted fishing trawler and, until February 1944, operated mostly in the North Sea. During all that time I swept about 13 mines."

He added: "That was the unpleasant part. But I also met my wife - and for this I am grateful."

His meeting with his charming wife Helen was a remarkable coincidence. He had known her before, because she had been nanny to his sister's children in 1934. He lost touch with her until 1940, when both happened to find themselves in Lowestoft, he on the way from Scapa Flow to Dunkirk, which he never reached, and she in the Signals Division of the WRNS. "I signed the receipt for a signal which provoked from the Wren on signal duty the question 'Are you Bob from Jersey?'" A year later they were married.

They have three children-Susan (23), an assistant Almoner at a Bristol hospital, Martin (20) reading law at Southampton University and Marianne (18) a pupil at the Jersey College for Girls, who is waiting to go to England to study to be a physical training instructor.

Drink

He has a seafaring man's taste for a drink now and then, and in true Royal Navy tradition prefers gin to anything. It was this liking for the odd drink that saved his life. On returning home from leave, on one occasion, he met a friend at the dockyard gate who suggested a drink on his own ship. As they were boarding it a bomb fell at the head of the gangway of the Bailiff's ship, which was lying on the opposite side of the dock.

"Had I been a teetotaller I would not be here today," he says.

Lifestyle

Being Bailiff has changed his attitude to life very little. He has always hated pomposity and humbug. A friend of his told me: "Because he is Bailiff does not stop him diving overboard from a boat in his underpants to free a fouled propellor". I once overtook him riding his daughter's bicycle up Mount Bingham with one trouser stuffed into his sock. He had picked the bicycle up from a repair shop and it seemed quite the normal thing to ride it home.

However, being Bailiff has changed his home life and he regrets that, because of the heavy social functions, he now sees so little of his friends. When he does have time to relax, he loves being at home where he enjoys television - Z Cars is his favourite programme - and he reads a great deal.

"Mostly historical biographies" he says. He is fascinated by the life of Peter the Great and by Russia in particular. He visited the country in 1938 and would like to go back - "to see how it's changed".

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