" Qu'est-ce que to fais malheureus, les oeufs sent la-bas," said the storekeeper patiently. Well how was I to know where the eggs were kept? There was I, an Englishman, serving behind the counter of a provision store in a French village, and it was no easy task. You may well ask how 1 came to be there, and the answer is, the War. France had been calling men to the colours for three weeks now, and she was almost fully mobilised. There were no reserved occupations and no exemptions; the whole male population took leave of their families and departed almost at a moment's notice, leaving their jobs to get along as best as possible. Everything was allowed to collapse, postal system, transport, newspapers, etc. that France might be able to put her whole strength into the field. Any hopes I might have had of starting for home when war was declared were immediately squashed by the fact that all the trains were being used for military purposes, so that I spent the first week of the war in Locquirec filling the place of a Frenchman who was now in the Army. At 5 o'clock each morning, as soon as it was light, I could be seen on the quayside with a party of fishermen mending nets and preparing for another trip. Mackerel were plentiful in the bay and we had an average catch of five hundred, which brought quite a good price in the neighbouring villages. Fortunately the weather was magnificent, and the sea was kind to me.
Then came the news on September 10th that there would be a civilian train going to Rennes. I hastily took leave of my friends, and as luck would have it I got into a carriage containing half a dozen half-drunk soldiers and two nuns. One of the soldiers gave the nuns a lecture on why England and France were at war, during the course of which he very emphatically expressed his opinion of Hitler and what he would do to him if he could only get near enough. I must admit that some of the words he used baffled me completely, and upon further investigation 1 discovered that they were nowhere to be found in even the best French dictionary. He then turned his attention to me, and having decided by my accent that I came from Marseilles, he muttered prophetically "Ah malheureux, vous serez bon pour remplacementl" When the train stopped at Rennes the eloquent soldier staggered down the platform, whereupon the guard asked him where he was going. "Moi," he said, "je vais a Berlin, allons a Berlin!" The cry was taken up by his friends: "a Berlin, a Berlin." The same spirit was evident in St. Malo. The French people were obviously prepared for this war, and would have attacked Germany long ago had it not been for the restraining influence of Great Britain.
At St. Malo I reported at "La Gare Maritime," only to learn that the next boat was in a week's time, and that it was only going as far as Jersey. I imagined that I was the only Englishman in the town, and was thankful for my slight knowledge of French, which enabled me to put up at a hotel (after convincing the landlord that there was nothing German about me at all). However, at the "Consulat Brittanique" next day I found that there were at least thirty Britishers in St. Malo. Some of them had travelled all the way from Turkey, Greece and Egypt, and had been turned away from Calais and Le Havre, for St. Malo was the only open port by now. One lad from Yorkshire had been engaged in a dock-hand fight at Bordeaux and had been hit so hard that he was unconscious for three days, while another youth from Cornwall had crossed half Europe in a cattle-truck. During the week quite a number of British colliers unloaded in the wharf, the Ferryhill, which was sunk in the North Sea not long ago, was one of them. While we were sight-seeing, however, a new difficulty arose. As it was war time, we had to have special permission to leave France. At first the French authorities insisted upon our going to Paris to obtain military visas, but after some gentle persuasion on the part of the British Consul we were spared the journey. The boat, which arrived painted with brilliant colours, was transformed during the night to a dull grey spectre gliding through the water. As we slid out of the harbour, and France was slowly swallowed up in the mist, we began to speculate on the chances of seeing any submarines. But as a French soldier had assured me "Il n'y a rien dans la Manche, pas un sousmarin." After spending the night in Jersey, we continued first to Guernsey and then on to Southampton, where we were greeted by a squadron of bombers and a fleet of mine-sweepers.
So ended a very interesting holiday, which might have been even more interesting had "Monsieur Hitler" so desired. For me the war began in a strange and rather bewildering way. It was an interesting experience to see our ally preparing herself for the struggle ahead, and although I was lucky to have such an opportunity, I was glad to set foot in England. The very next day after I arrived home I was in Ampthill. R. D. Barry (VI Lit.).
England through French Eyes 1946
I have been asking my friends what England, or rather Great Britain, means to them. There have been a great variety of answers. For some of these friends the word "England" invariably calls forth the picture of Pennistow Craig lashed by the north wind, which they saw in the film Wuthering Heights. For others, it means the Highlands and the Scottish lakes, but, generally speaking, most of them imagine England as a cold, grey, misty country, where sunshine is a thing unknown. Opinions on the English people are also very divided. Some envisage a race of very matter-of-fact, very stubborn, and very austere and self-centred people, who are always at loggerheads with other nations because of their over-developed national sentiment. "Their politics are selfish; they believe themselves too superior to others. They are capitalists who have no sympathy with us; they are our allies but not our friends, for that matter, they have nearly always been our enemies. We know that we owe them a great deal, but that is all." But if many hold this opinion, the others, and they are the majority, believe that the friendship which unites our countries is real, firm and able to stand up to time. "The English are brave and loyal, and, even if they are a little insular in their patriotism, they are not selfish because of it. On the contrary, they are courteous, young in heart, sensitive, and more sentimental than the French. Moreover, they are more seriously minded, their young men do not whisper the sweet nothings of love to the girls, as often as ours do, less easy of manner, and much more active in the type of life they lead." This is how the majority of us esteem and love England, although we do not know it very well, and sometimes, even, not at all . . .
What is my personal opinion? Oh. I shut my eyes to all the little defects, which, like all nations, the English possess, in order to see that great England which I hope I shall soon get to know, that great England upon whom we may always rely.
College de Jeunes Filles de Nevers
It was at the beginning of March that J. and I decided to go on the tour. It was organised by the Historical Association, and we were to stay at Avignon and visit many of the surrounding towns. The tour began during the last week in August, and in the two months before this we accumulated some cigarettes, soap, and some packets of saccharines, which we, thought we could sell or exchange in France; however, except for a few cigarettes which proved extremely useful as tips, we returned home accompanied by this same merchandise, having discovered that there were already adequate saccharines in France, and that although inferior to our own, cigarettes were just as abundant in France as in England, and also far cheaper.
At last, after over five months of patient waiting, the day of departure finally arrived. Our first night was to be spent in Paris, and it was about half-past eleven when our train drew into the well-lit city. Because it was my first visit to Paris, we decided to go out and see some of the sights. The whole city was celebrating, for the day marked the liberation of Paris: in every square were fairs: there was dancing in the streets; and every cafe along the boulevards was full of rejoicing Parisians. After a ride on the "dodgems" at the fair in the Place de 1a Bastille, we made our way to the metro, and finally arrived at the Cathedral of Notre Dame, where J. wanted me to see the famous flying-buttresses, which I had so often admired in photographs. (Returning to England we spent another night in Paris, this time arriving an hour earlier, at 10.30. We saw the Arc de Triomphe and the Unknown Warrior's tomb and from there walked down the Champs Elysees with its numerous cafes, as far as the Place de la Concorde,where the public executions used to take place. It was there that I met the only humiliating experience of my holiday. In the darkness neither J. nor I could see the metro station. In my very best French accent I asked a passer-by : " Ou est le metro, s'il vous plait?" The obliging Frenchman answered promptly: " Over there, behind that light!"
It takes eleven hours to travel front Paris to Avignon, eleven hours not of the usual boredom of travel, but of sheer delight. Between Paris and Lyons the most interesting tract of the country lies just north of Dijon. Here the train passes through masses of high thickly-wooded hills, among which an occasional village or building can be seen, and between which lie narrow, cultivated valleys.
As soon as one reaches Lyons, one is struck by the sudden change in landscape. The Saone joins the Rhone to form a river of great expanse, which Daudet describes in Le Petit Chose, as "si grand qu'on voyait a peine ses rives;" the meadows gradually merge into vineyards; melons become abundant; well-forested hills soon disappear, and instead hills are seen covered in maquis with large, protruding, pure white rocks; barren earth dotted with gnarlcd and stunted olive trees, takes the place of orchards; mules and oxen replace horses; and the towns assume a white character caused by the stucco walls of the houses. Perhaps the most outstanding feature of this part of France is formed by the barriers constructed, always in an east-west direction, to form a protection against the mistral: these are usually constructed by growing a row of tall trees and by afterwards filling any gap with dried reeds, sometimes the entire barrier is built of these reeds, which grow in plenitude along the roadsides. From the windows on either side of the carriage we could clearly see the hills bounding the Rhone valley, where the most beautiful and picturesque scenery of the whole of France is found.
It is impossible to give a detailed description of the many places, which J. and I visited, for our party had at its convenience a coach, which took us to several different places on each day. We saw many Roman amphitheatres, magnificent structures, which are used even to-day for bullfights; and, indeed; the one at Nimes is used as an open-air cinema. We visited the Pont du Gard, an aqueduct built by the Romans, and one of their most remarkable feats of engineering: it is tall and graceful as it crosses a river valley, and is completly surrounded by maquis-covered hills. Another remarkable place is Les Baux, an old medieval town, which like many towns in this part of France is semi-deserted and mostly in ruins. It is situated high in the hills bounding the Rhone valley, and from the ruins of the old castle there one can see for many miles around, even as far as the Mediterranean. Under the bright blue sky, we saw, hundreds of feet below us, vineyards, fields of olive trees, and acres upon acres of barren land, all stretching out as far as we could see. In the other direction rose masses of maquis-covered hills, whose dark brown colour presented a startling contrast to the blueness of the sky.
Another day we went as far south as the Mediterranean. We traversed miles of swamp, where we saw herds of bulls, which are bred for the bull fights, flamingoes, buzzards, numerous and colourful
wild flowers, cicadas, and emerald-green frogs, whilst lizards and magpies were exceptionally abundant there. We visited Aigues Mortes (" Dead Waters "), a picturesque old town, whose entire walls together with a watch-tower are still standing complete and in perfect condition. We also saw Les Saintes Maries and while we were there, J. and I took the opportunity of swimming in the warm, blue water of the Mediterranean. The most interesting feature of the town is its church, which is very strangely constructed. For a few days every year, the Catholics give this church over to the gypsies, who go there from all parts of France for their heathen worship. In the crypt we saw piles of gypsies' clothes, for it is their belief that by leaving an article of clothing there for a whole year they receive good fortune.
A word must be said as to the food, for though we feared there would be a shortage, never have we eaten more. We were lucky enough to arrive in Avignon just after the fruit-harvest, and every-day we bought at least one kilo of grapes, and some peaches, fresh figs, or a melon. We both ate snails during our stay there, although J. was not impressed by them, for the taste of the snail, a small leathery piece of meat drawn from its shell by a large pin, was smothered by the flavour of the many herbs in which it was cooked.
Unfortunately, the two weeks of our holiday flashed by, and we soon found ourselves seated in the train returning home. But still, is the apparent swiftness of time not a proof that it was a wonderful
As instructed by the organiser of the "Seventh Paris Cultural Holiday," the four of us, Hall, McColgan, Whiter, D.J.Wilson, arrived at Victoria Station on the morning of April 17 with our baggage, but, contrary to instructions, without our "distinctive, light-blue" rosettes. Judging by some of the others on view, the general tendency seemed to be one of trying to sport the biggest "bloom" of all, and the varying colours and sizes would have put a florist's window to shame.
After much ado about nothing, we left at 10.30, arriving at Newhaven just before mid-day. After a calm crossing, notable only for the fact that "D.J." threw the lens hood of his camera instead of the customary crumbs to the seagulls, we docked at Dieppe, there to learn that owing to the railway strike then in force, we would travel to Paris by coach. Discomfort is tolerable: when it lasts for three and a half hours, it is pretty awful; but when it costs twenty-four shillings each, it is unprintable, for that is what it cost us (extra)) to stand all the way to the French capital.
Nevertheless, we quickly settled down in the primitive conditions of the College Stanislas, which was our resting place and restaurant for the length of our stay. Having viewed the "horse-trough" wash room (running cold water laid on), we decided to make its acquaintance as infrequently as possible. (This was one of the few resolutions we kept.) The dormitories were adequate, but the prevailing atmosphere was that of a Borstal institution, this being in no degree lessened by our presence. Indeed, the eagerness to create general, nocturnal pandemonium was blunted only by the infrequent inspections made by a master in charge. Having thus made ourselves at home, we proceeded to assimilate the beauties of Paris in the Spring, even if it was merely through the windows of the lecture room, and the coaches, which, when they arrived, took us to all the renowned beauty spots, the "musts" in the city, as well as to the Palace of Versailles, which, together with its extensive gardens, provided us with an extremely interesting, if tiring, afternoon.
The work involved in this "Cultural Holiday" consisted of lectures and "cours pratiques," in which we practised translation and conversation. This occupied most mornings, the afternoons generally being used for organised visits. During the mornings, which were usually free, we were supposed to escort the young ladies in the group, which was made up of 800 girls and 300 boys, around the town, in order to protect them from would be assailants (whose number was perhaps smaller than the girls would have liked). Though refreshing and stimulating, this experiment usually left us much lighter in pocket than was desirable, but who were we to resist the charm of the fair sex?
One of the most notable features of our stay was the guidance we received from "Hampstead Harry," a young French student with relatives in Hampstead, an intimate knowledge of Hendon Greyhound Stadium (gained at the age of twelve) and of most of the "pubs" in North-West London, and possessed of an extraordinarily good Cockney accent. This latter attribute (?) caused us a good deal of amusement, particularly in the museums and palaces, whose treasures he would dismiss as "a lot of ol' junk." These lapses into the London vernacular were very frequent, and often led listeners to believe they were hearing a genuine Eastender, rather than a well-educated Parisian electrical engineer.
At the end of our ten days we left Paris behind, and brought back only happy memories and a few bottles over of the duty-free limit imposed by the Customs. We were all agreed that our time in France had been well spent, as had our pocket money, and that the educational value alone made it wholly worthwhile. Our sincere hope is that we can make use of these advantages in our exams., and prove to Mr. Hyde that his efforts have not gone unheeded and unrewarded in enabling us to enjoy our Easter in a far less mundane manner than would have been possible in the "Dodgems" at the Fair on Chingford Plain.
Part of our work at the Sorbonne included a competition which entailed the writing of a French essay on the subject "Preferez-vous le Paris des musees et des monuments ou le Paris des boulevards?" McColgan's natural modesty prevented him from mentioning in the above report that he was awarded the "Louis Themoin" first prize, which consisted of a cheque for five pounds, a magnificent book and a medal to commemorate the occasion. The true immensity of this achievement is not fully realised until one remembers that he was competing with eleven hundred sixth-formers from all over the country. It must also he recorded that Whiter was awarded a consolation prize. Both McColgan and Whiter deserve the heartiest congratulations.