If you’ve ever wanted to see a six metre high family of tigers or witness the magical world of with Alice in Wonderland or perhaps thought about climbing on board Captain Hook’s pirate ship, Battle day is when dreams come alive.
The festival’s origins date back over a century ago when Islanders wanted to celebrate the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra and decided to stage a one off parade on the 9 August 1902. It was such a success that the organisers decided to stage it again the following year and thus began a summer tradition which has carried on to this very day. In fact, there have only been two periods since when large world events meant understandably that there was no battle – the Great War of 1914-1918 and similarly during the Second World War when indeed Jersey was occupied by the Nazi regime. It was only in 1951 that some local businessmen decided that a reinstatement and revival of the Battle would bring a much needed community focus and also be an attraction for Jersey’s growing tourism industry.
Back in the very early days, the floral floats were horse drawn and the tradition at the time, to encourage a bit of ‘audience participation’, was for flowers and petals to be torn off and thrown into the crowd – particularly at the ladies – in the hope that they would be thrown back! This practise was stopped in 1964 as things could often get a bit unruly and of course there would be the clean-up operation afterwards to think about.
Over the years as Jersey Battle of Flowers grew, so did the types of floats and of course the horses have been replaced by carefully hidden motorised machinery. Spurred on by a bit of healthy competitive rivalry, these days the floats produced by each of Jersey’s 12 parishes (and other local groups, schools and even families) have become more and more sophisticated in their creative design, animation and motorisation. Ideas and concepts are brainstormed at the beginning of each year and then people of all ages and work tirelessly for many months bringing everything to life. All the fresh flowers need to be cut and cooled and so the evening before is the most critical point as this is when they are glued onto the floats. Creations can be over 45 foot in length and, as part of the competition rules, every part must be meticulously covered in flower heads.
The flowers used are predominantly chrysanthemums brought in from the UK and Holland as well as locally grown asters and dried flowers and hares tails are also applied to create the intricate designs and patterns.
As this is competition with the highly sought after and coveted accolade of Prix d’Honneur, each float remains a huge closely kept secret until Battle day itself when they head through the country lanes in the very early hours of the morning onto Victoria Avenue ready for the festivities to start.
And later that afternoon with the time-honoured cry of ‘Let Battle Commence!’, the spectacular works of art are revealed to the spectators who have lined the streets to enjoy the carnival atmosphere. Dancers, bands, majorettes and street entertainers all lead the way and are focussed on getting the party started by having a great time themselves.
Each year, there is also an Island wide pageant to select a Miss Battle who gets to ride on her own specially designed float. In 2016, this honour will go to Aimee Le Brun who will be accompanied by musical theatre star, Joe McElderry and Miss Junior Battle of Flowers, 11 year old Lucy-Anne Richford.
What’s more, there is an enchanting night-time Moonlight Parade to enjoy the following evening when the floats are shown again this time all illuminated by thousands of small colourful lights. This is the opportunity for the exhibitors to let their hair down after all their hard work and dance under the stars with everyone before the festival ends with a breath taking fireworks display.
The Jersey Battle of Flowers is now of the largest floral carnivals in Europe and truly one of Jersey’s best loved celebrations. Undoubtedly a highlight for the summer calendar for everyone on the Island so come see for yourselves and join in the fun!
Visit the official website for dates, tickets and more information about this year’s Jersey Battle of Flowers.