At the start of the Occupation of the Channel Islands in 1940, as worry and panic began to set in across the Islands and businesses ceased trading, one man refused to be shaken.
Alexander E Picot chose to stand firm and keep his accountancy firm open for business.
Andrew Le Cheminant, Director of Alex Picot Trust, explains how this brave decision lead to the successful continuation of what has become one of Jersey’s longest-established, independent trust companies.
When World War II broke out, Alexander E Picot was the principle of Alex E. Picot & Co, an accountancy practice with a 55-year Jersey heritage and prominent offices in Hill Street, St Helier.
Five long years later, on the day that Islanders gathered in St Helier to witness the Liberation of Jersey from German occupation, we like to imagine that Alex and his loyal staff would have taken their rightful place among the crowds to join the celebrations.
Not only had they withstood personal hardships but together they had successfully protected the heritage of a Jersey firm with roots tracing back to the late 19th Century.
Our history began in 1885 when premises at 12 Hill Street were registered as a firm of ‘agents for commission’ and the address was attributed to one Mr. Charles G. Roberts, the founder of the firm. Some 20 years later, he was joined in Hill Street by Charles H. Brocklehurst, an Associate Member of the Society for Incorporated Accountants. When Roberts retired in 1904 he appointed his long-term friend Brocklehurst as his successor, and left the firm to him.
Brocklehurst continued alone for several years before employing an ambitious and capable individual, Alexander E Picot and by 1915, the partnership of Brocklehurst & Picot was established. By 1926 the firm had become known as Alex E. Picot & Co.
The occupation years
The German occupation brought imminent disruption to the Picot firm, yet never one to accept defeat, Alexander E Picot decided to brave it out. Faced with the threat of invasion, he gave his staff, including his two sons, their final pay and implored them to “do what you think best.”
The following morning, he and a handful of his loyal team, including Lilian du Feu, remained.
Over the coming months, while other local businesses sadly ceased trading, they made the best of things and even looked to take on a couple of additional employees including, Hedley Luce.
One notable aspect of the work done during the Occupation was the formation of the Jersey Insurance Pool, in which Alex and Hedley played a prominent part. Local insurance policyholders were maintained, and premiums collected, resulting in a sizeable insurance pool ready to be turned over to the appropriate insurance companies.
Not only did this help to preserve a feeling of normality for the Island, but it also enhanced the firm’s reputation for trust and reliability. One notable instance was when Abraham de Gruchy & Co sought a claim for extensive fire damage to their premises and it was promptly settled “without making a drama out of a crisis”.
The Liberation of 1945 brought a very welcome end to the Island’s occupation and set in motion the healing process of Jersey; and of the Picot firm.
Familiar faces returned home, including Alex’s sons Donald and Leslie, and the strong foundation that Alex had maintained in their absence offered a stable platform for a new incarnation to form from.
Upon his death just three years after Liberation day, Alex’s sons took over the firm.
Upholding traditional values
Today, we remain committed to the traditional values upheld by our predecessors with two familiar themes running throughout our history; loyalty and a commitment to the community.
We are hugely grateful to Alex Picot and his team for their unflinching resilience and determination to keep going despite the Occupation years; in remembrance of them, we are very pleased to partner with Jersey Heritage as corporate sponsor of its Liberation 75 exhibition.
The exhibition celebrates Islanders who, like Alex and Lilian, endured unimaginable hardship to protect Jersey for generations to come. Regretfully we do not have any evidence of how Alex celebrated this day but thanks to this exhibition we able to glimpse how he might have been feeling by listening to the stories of his contemporaries.
The exhibition, ‘A Day to Remember – Liberation 75’ is a short immersive projected film that tells the dramatic story of those heady days of freedom from the perspectives of those who lived through them in Jersey.
It is open daily in the Jersey Museum and Art Gallery, Weighbridge Place and is free to visit.