Tunnels, Towers and Fairyland

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Tunnels, Towers and Fairyland

Posted on December 16 by Jill Downie
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The Moretti and Falla mysteries are set on the Channel Island of Guernsey, where I once lived.  An island of contrasts, it is rich in themes for a writer, with ancient traditions and fairy lore, but it is also haunted by more recent presences.  The Channel Islands were occupied during the Second World War, and the battlements and fortifications of that traumatic time still stand, many of them now resurrected and refurbished, sharing the landscape and the tourists with fairy rings, prehistoric dolmens, and caves believed to be the gates to fairyland.

The tower in the photograph is the German Naval Observation Tower at Pleinmont, high on the cliffs of the island’s spectacular south coast.  When I was a child, living on the island soon after the war, it was an empty shell, dominating the headland.   But its former occupants were very much with us, because they had left in such haste after the Nazi surrender.  Some of the more dangerous sites were fenced off, but you could still see through the bars gas-masks, discarded helmets, the debris of war.  My brother acquired a helmet with the name of the previous owner still on it:  Oberleutnant Anton Lang.  Immediately an abstract presence became a person of flesh and blood. 

The Naval Observation Tower is now reconstructed as it was during the Occupation, including a mock-up of the soldiers’ quarters, where they had their meals and rested between shifts, looking over the ocean for the enemy who never came.  Not one single shot was ever fired in anger on orders from the tower, no man died in an act of war.  Boredom would have been their enemy as they whiled away the hours, hoping not to be sent to the Russian Front.

But there are other presences from that time, whose lives are beyond imagining.  Beneath the surface of the island lies a labyrinth of tunnels and caves, many of which have only been uncovered and documented in the past decade, the paranoid vision of a madman, built by slave labour: Poles, Ukrainians, Russians, Frenchmen.  Some are elaborate, with chambers and galleries, passages and storage areas, ventilation and escape shafts.  The underground hospital holds four-hundred beds, some tunnels are big enough to hold tanks, and rumour has it there is a splendid Nazi staff car buried in a tunnel too dangerous to explore.

No one knows how many died, working in the tunnels.

At Houmet, on the west coast, there is a megalithic passage cave called the Creux és Fées, said to be the gate to fairyland.  The mica in the granite walls glistens like fairy dust, leading you into a spacious hall, with dishes and goblets on a stone table.  Or so the legends say, but it is hard to believe a subterranean world of wonder exists alongside that underground world of suffering.

Between those two worlds lies the inspiration for Blood Will Out, the third book in the Moretti and Falla mystery series.            


*Photo description: German Naval Observation Tower, Guernsey. 

Jill Downie

Posted by Kendra on October 30, 2014

Jill Downie

Jill Downie is the winner of the Drummer General's Award for A Passionate Pen and the Hamilton and Region Arts Council Literary Award for Non-Fiction for Storming the Castle. The first title in the Moretti and Falla series, Daggers and Men’s Smiles, was published in 2011. The second, A Grave Waiting, followed in 2012. Jill lives in Ancaster, Ontario.