Battle of Jersey bicentenary celebrations

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This article was first published in the 1981 Annual Bulletin of La Société Jersiaise

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Sunday 4 January 1981 saw the start of a week of celebrations of this famous victory, with a commemorative service, and a flower festival on the theme 'A Time to Remember', in the Parish Church of Grouville. Here in the churchyard there stands a handsome stone monument inscribed "Erected to the Memory of these Brave Men by the Principal Inhabitants of the Parish" and bearing the names of the seven grenadiers of the 83rd Regiment who were killed in the counter-attack on the French who had captured the Fort at Platte Rocque.

After the service wreaths were laid at the monument by His Excellency the Lieut-Governor, General Sir Peter Whiteley; the Bailiff, Sir Frank Ereaut and the president of the Royal Ulster Rifles' Association, Major-General Norman Wheeler, in the presence of pipers and buglers from the Royal Irish Rangers, a regiment that is descended from the 83rd. At the reception in the Parish Hall, which followed the service, the assembled company saw and heard the results of a study of the Battle that had been made by the children of the Parish School of Grouville.

Later on, the Constable of Grouville, Alan Le Maistre, unveiled two plaques, one on the wall above the Pier at La Rocque, where the French force landed on the night of 5/6 January 1781 and the other at Fort Henry (which was then known as Fort Albert) where part of the 83rd Regiment was stationed at the time of the battle. Once more Major-General Wheeler and men from the 2nd Royal Irish Rangers were present.

Grouville concluded its part in the celebrations with a parish dinner on 6 January that was aptly described as a 'Soiree Franglaise' since it included conger soup and a selection of Jersey, French and English dishes. It was here that Maj-Gen Wheeler pointed out another link between the island and the 83rd Regiment. When the "Original Jersey Contingent" left for the First World War in March 1915 it was sent to join the Royal Irish Rifles who were the 83rd's descendants.

St Helier

On Monday 5 January Major Peirson's family was brought in when, at a vin d'honneur in the Town Hall,Dr and Mrs E A Foster and Mr and Mrs G H Williams, who had flown to the island as guests of the Battle of Jersey Commemoration Committee, were welcomed. Mrs Foster and Mrs Williams are the closest living descendants of Major Peirson. Rather surprisingly, two French connections of the Peirson family also came to Jersey in the persons of the Marquis and Marquise de Ste Preuve, one of whose ancestors, while a refugee in England from the French revolution, met and married a Miss Peirson.

The actual anniversary, Tuesday 6 January, saw the island's official commemorations during which victor and vanquished alike were honoured. In the morning the Lieut¬Governor, and the Bailiff led a procession of Jurats, States' Members and senior Jersey officials from the Royal Court to the Parish Church of St Helier where they were joined by a large number of the people of Jersey in a service conducted by the Dean of Jersey, the Very Rev Tom Goss. In his sermon the Dean reminded the congregation that at the time of the French attack, not only were the Governor and the Bailiff both absent from the island, but so were the commanding officers of the three English regiments of the garrison, the 78th, 83rd and the 95th. This left the Lieut-Governor, Moise Corbet, in an unenviable position and a young major, only 24 years old, Francis Peirson, in command of all the English troops. As His Excellency commented later in the morning, there can have been few men whose single action, on a single day, altered the course of history for a whole community.

After the service wreaths were laid on the stone in the Royal Square pavement which marks the site of the Battle, by the Lieut-Governor and by the Bailiff on behalf of the people of Jersey. These were followed by the Constable of St Helier, Mr Peter Baker; the Lord Lieutenant of Orkney, Col R A S Macrae: Major H E Le Brocq for the Jersey Militia; Brigadier T Troy for the British Legion and the Consul de France, Monsieur J J Roos. His excellency then unveiled a commemorative plaque on the wall of the Peirson Hotel which at the time of the Battle was the house of Dr Philippe Lerrier. It was just outside this house that Peirson was killed and inside it that Baron de Rullecourt, the French commander, died of his wounds a few hours later. From there the official party moved back to the Royal Court where the Bailiff unveiled a marble bust of Major Peirson, placed where it can be seen by all who enter. Finally the party returned to St Helier's churchyard where HE, the Bailiff, the Constable and the Consul de France each laid a second wreath on the stone marking the grave of de Rullecourt.

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