KELSO 3RD AGE EXCHANGE
VISIT TO THEIRACHE IN FRANCE
Elsie Scott James Scott
Anne A. Lowrie Marion A. Lowrie
Grace Goldsztaja Sheila Shiells
Nancy Mc Arthur Archie Mc Arthur
Cathie Tinline Madge Hughes
Margaret Hood Alexander T. Hood
Margaret McElroy Irene Webster
Ellen Renwick Ethel Leddy
Jessie Renwick James Glendinning
Anne Hewit Thomas E. Little
Graham White Sheila Palmer
Mary Liz Brown
When Nancy and I visited France with the Kelso 3rd age French exchange in 1995 we each decided to keep a diary, and the following pages are written from the notes we both made at that time. Elizabeth Roberts, one of our two leaders, used our notes to produce a large booklet which was printed and sent to the many other Age groups throughout the country as an example of what could be achieved with good planning.
Archie Mc Arthur 33 Inchmead drive,
Kelso, TD5, 7LW.
In the month of December 1994 Mrs Elizabeth Roberts and Mrs Liz Brown spoke to a group of senior citizens in the Abbey Row Centre in Kelso, explaining that if enough of them were interested a cultural visit could be made to France, where we could meet French men and women of our own age group, and learn from them the various things we have in common, and any differences in our modes of living. From this meeting about 20 senior citizens agreed that they thought this was an excellent idea, and so the Kelso 3rd Age French Exchange was born. Elizabeth Roberts and Liz Brown started classes which were well attended to teach our members some basic French so that we would be able to converse, even in a small way with our French counterparts. Throughout the winter months, through the spring and late into the summer of 1995, our members were encouraged by the two Elizabeths to raise funds, and the response of the members enthusiastic. Appeals were made to many official bodies who encourage such trips by giving funds, the skills of our members and friends were used when some of them made a magnificent quilt which was raffled, coffee mornings, wine and cheese nights and a slide show, every means to raise funds was tried, and the overall result of all these activities was when 25 members met in the Knowes car park at 10.a.m. on Friday 1st of September 1995, to board a bus and begin their journey to France. Our driver, Stephen Webb, after assuring that all baggage was safely stored and every one was comfortably seated, set off for York, where we made a stop for refreshments at the “Wyevale” garden centre, “Poppleton”. After lunch we continued our journey to Hull, arriving there about 4-30p.m., and not long after this we boarded the North Seas ferry ship, “Norstar”. After the long trip south we were glad to get into our cabin to wash and rest before coming down to the ship’s spacious dining room to enjoy a first class five course dinner, visit the duty free shop, have some talk with our friends,and finally, getting into our bunks for a well earned rest.
Saturday 2nd September.
We wakened this morning and made our way to the dining room for an excellent breakfast, and as we had only overnight bags to pack it was not long before we were gathering in the ships lounge, ready to go ashore at the port of Zeebrugge, in Belgium. As we moved off we were greatly surprised and pleased to hear that a visit to Ypres had been arranged, and this was an added bonus to our trip. We were delighted to be able to view the Menin Gate, that truly magnificent monument raised to the memory of the fifty five thousand missing soldiers who gave their lives for our freedom in the 1914-18 war, and have no known graves. Our time schedule would not allow us to see it, but at eight o’clock every evening, no matter what the weather is, the Buglers of the Ypres fire brigade play “The Last Post” at this gate. In the centre square the dominant building is the “Cloth Hall”. About the year 1260 the Cloth hall was built next to the “Leperlee”, which was navigable at that time. During the 1914-18 war it was completely destroyed except for the lower portion of the belfry, and a few pieces of the west wing. In 1937 the Hall was re-built in its original form and is a credit to this fine city. We could have spent many more pleasant hours in Ypres admiring its varied architecture, but time waits for no man, so we boarded our bus and continued on our journey, passing through the well known town of Armentiers and on to Valenciennes where we stopped for lunch.Leaving Valenciennes we passed through some lovely countryside, entered France, and were soon being warmly greeted by our hosts, Monsieur Jaques Beboeuf and madame Beboeuf and their friends Monsieur Lucien and madame Simone, in the village of Sorbais, Thierache. Jaques made a fine welcoming speech in French, which Elizabeth translated for the benefit of those whose French was either too little, or non-existant. After a welcome snack of tea, coffee or juice and home-made cakes we were shown to our rooms, to unpack our gear, shower change and rest, before coming downstairs to tuck in to a well cooked meal of chicken, salad, apple cake and coffee. This was an interesting but tiring day which we had all enjoyed, and after sitting in the dining room talking or playing cards, one by one we said goodnight and retired to our rooms, and bed. Sunday 3rd September. Our sleep this morning was rudely interrupted by the cockle-doo da-dooing of an over proud cock, and if some of our members could have put their fingers round that cock’s neck, his cockle-doo-da-dooing days would have been over. However, being wakened early gave some of us the chance to see the village where we would be resident for the next four days, and to view the house where we would live. The house was the “Maison des Stages”, and was a residential facility made available by the local authority to community groups of all ages. Children’s parties used the house for short stays, as did older groups, such as we. The larger rooms of this house had been partitioned by plaster board walls to make two and sometimes three rooms, some with wash hand basins and some not. Showers and toilets were on the landings, and as we had been told before leaving Kelso, the accommodation would be basic, but adequate. The bedrooms were all on the upper floors, while the kitchen and dining room and lounge were on the ground floor. Here was an example of a forward looking council, encouraging groups of all ages to visit their district and bring trade to their village. The village itself was comprised of a church, a small pub, and dwelling houses. After breakfast we left Sorbais at 9.00a.m. setting out for the village of MARTIGNY where we were greeted by a man and woman team who had gathered military memorabilia over many years, and created a museum which exhibited the many modes of soldiers dress, equipment and arms, from the late 1800s to recent times. Entering the yard outside the building we saw a tracked troop carrier, a world war one tank, and an ancient wheel chair, on which we photographed one of our less ancient ladies. Entering the Museum proper we were amazed at the variety of exhibits, here were some 150 life size models of soldiers dressed in the uniforms of their day, some from the wars of the 1800s, others from the 1914-18 war, and on to the more recent war of 1939-45. A parachutist gliding from the sky, a machine-gun crew at action stations, a group of resistance fighters planning another coup to thwart the German invader, photographs, newspapers, guns swords and posters, motor cycles with side cars and a telephone exchange, everything was here that was necessary to give future generations an insight into how the soldiers and civilians of bye-gone days lived and dressed. It was about 11-15a.m. when a cry, reminiscent of the cry that one of our party is missing---was heard. After some searching it was reported that sounds were coming from behind a door in the entrance hall-----was this some ghostly voice from the past----but no, fortunately for our party it was soon revealed that one of our ladies had inadvertently locked herself in the loo, and was pleading to be set free. This duty was very skilfully done by a number of volunteers, and the fair damsel was relieved of her distress, and was able to join the rest of our group in congratulating the French couple who had put together this most interesting museum. Steve Webb, our driver, having checked that all were aboard the bus, drove us through some very nice scenery to the town of FOURMIES, where we were greeted by the sound of music from a brass band, which was performing outside a large building in which an exhibition of the textile industry and social life was being held. On entering this building we were transported back in time to the days of the 1890s, and introduced to the living and working conditions of that time through working models, shops, schools, looms, machines for working all the various processes of wool making, a hat makers shop, a tavern, everything to make one familiar with a kind of life long since gone from France. An old fashioned type of nickleodeon in perfect working order gave us musical entertainment, while some of our ladies were viewing a Victorian hairdressers shop and some very old sewing machines. Many exhibits and pictures showed the terrible conditions in the peoples lives in those 1890s. Adults and children working a 12 hour day in those spinning mills, with many lives being shortened by the diseases resulting from horrible working conditions. We could have spent much more time looking over the many other exhibits in this museum, but we were now feeling hungry so we welcomed the invite to sit down and enjoy a meal of sausage and chips, washed down with a light French beer. During our lunch we could hear a school band playing outside, and soon after 2-p.m. we went out to enjoy the lovely music they were playing. A group of MIMERS with a pram, their faces painted white and their features set in a fixed manner, walked around the large crowd who had gathered to listen to the band, and try as we might, we could not make them smile. Just round the corner near the exhibition was a house with a plaque on the wall which stated that “FRANCIOS DELAPLACE” had died for France, and was a martyr for the resistance. Once more it was time to move on and we were soon making our way through the greenery of the scenic route to a lake called the “VAL JOLY”, where we saw many cyclists preparing for a rally, and as we walked along the shore of the lake we noted that this was an extensive play area, with excellent facilities for boating, fishing, camping, picnicking and many other outdoor activities, the whole scene was a reminder of the KIELDER DAM. Leaving the VAL JOLY we made our way back towards Sorbais making only one more stop, when the men left the bus to be photographed beside the signboard of the village of “WILLIES”. After dinner a quiet night brought our day to a close.
Monday 4th September,
Having breakfasted we travelled to the town of “LA CAPELLE” where we were met by Monsieur Beboeuf, who conducted us through the “HIPPODROME DE LA CAPELLE”, one of France’s most important and unique race-courses. This race-course at La Capelle is the only one in France that uses the mile as its measure. We were delighted to be able to watch the horses being exercised, drawing their carts behind them, and the explanations given by Jacques to our questions added to our pleasure. Jacques stayed with us when we left the Hippodrome and accompanied us to a cheese fair which was being held in La Capelle. Arriving at the site of the cheese fair we saw stalls set up outside the main building, selling garlic, onions, and various other vegetables. Inside the cheese fair proper we saw row after row of traders stands, exhibiting their variety of cheeses and wines. We could have filled our stomachs with the great assortment of wines and cheeses which each stand offered to us in small nibbles. Entertaining the visitors were Morris dancers from Liverpool,, who performed at irregular times during the day. There was a BORDERS stand on a balcony, distributing Scottish fare and offering their customers a small tot of whisky. Visitors to this stand were entertained by a male piper and a female drummer, from Lauder. About 1-00p.m. we met in a large restaurant adjoining the main exhibition, where we sat down to a lunch of several courses which lasted for about three hours. This hall was set out to seat 300 people from various countries, and most of these folks were senior citizens. During the lunch the Morris dancers, the piper and drummer from Lauder, and an accordianist entertained the diners. We left la Capelle at 4-30p.m. and made our way back to Sorbais, where after dinner we played French boules.
Tuesday 5th September.
We had an early breakfast this morning and left our house, which was named “MAISON De ESTAGE”about 8-30a.m. Our destination was the city of LAON, where after our driver had negotiated some very tight bends and very steep hills, we arrived at the Laon Cathedral of NOTRE DAME. This magnificent Cathedral was completed in 1235 and is a fine example of early Gothic architecture. Its towers are seen for many miles around, and from its elevated position there is a wonderful panoramic view of the newer city below. Inside the Cathedral the 110 metre nave roof belies description, and the great organ is a fitting end piece to the glorious nave. Leaving the Notre Dame Cathedral we made our way to the Council chambers of Laon, (The equivalent of our Regional Council) for one of the highlights of our cultural visit to France. Our party sat in the semi-circular area where the councillors would normally sit, while Monsieur Roi, the vice-president of the general council sat on the president’s chair, with Monsieur Beboeuf and Elizabeth Roberts on either side. Monsieur Roi gave an interesting talk on the politics of the region, and Elizabeth translated for our benefit. After our discussion we were taken to one of the Chambers hospitality rooms where champagne and biscuits were served. About 1-00p.m. we said our goodbyes to our hosts and went to a restaurant named “Maison de Juines et de la culture”for a lunch of melon, ham salad, a sweet and soft drinks. Having enjoyed this repast we made our way to the bus, walking along streets with a variety of small shops, which we had to ignore owing to pressure of time. Our next stop after leaving Laon was the “CHATEAU THIERRY” which is situated in the MARNE valley, and has a myriad of caves containing millions of bottles of champagne stored in its cool atmosphere. We were received into a cinema type room where an audio visual presentation of the vine-yards was shown, and this was followed by a guided tour of the medieval cellars. Over the next hour our guide showed us the various stacking areas and in a humorous manner showed us how each bottle is moved so many degrees daily, and she was speaking of millions of bottles. We eventually arrived at a large room where a round table was set with champagne glasses and our guide told us that we would be tasting some of the bottles of champagne. As two of our members were celebrating their birthdays today, two birthday cakes were put on the table and both Jessie Renwick and Graham White were toasted with the singing of Happy Birthday and the drinking of champagne. This completed our days schedule and returning to Sorbais we had dinner, played boules, blethered about the days happenings, and retired to our rooms.
Wednesday 6th September,
This was our last day in Sorbais and it was to turn out to be one of our best. We started off about 9-00a.m. and travelled to the town of “La Capelle” where the “Villa Pasques” was situated, and where we were to meet some officials who worked with the elderly, and some French O.A.P,s like ourselves. The “Villa Pasques” is a very historic house, for it was in this house that the German Generals came to sign the armistice agreement in 1945. Monsieur Jacques Beboeuf introduced us to the Mayor of La Capelle and the other officials, and with these courtesies over we were to put any questions we wanted, to either the French O.A.P,s or the officials. Before leaving Kelso we had drawn upa set of questions and printed them in both French and English, so that all present would know what question was being asked. Questions such as “At what age do French workers retire”. “Do you pay for hospital treatment or prescriptions”. “Do you travel free on bus or train”. “Do you have works Pensions schemes”. There was quite along discussion on these and other subjects, and when lack of time forced us to cease our questions we knew a lot more about the French O.A.P. than we did prior to this meeting. Retiring from the Council Chambers we were taken to a room where champagne and biscuits were served, and having thanked our hosts for their many kindnesses, we returned to Sorbais for lunch. After lunch we made our way to Saint Michel Abbey. This beautiful Abbey was founded in 940 by an Irishman who had travelled through Melrose in Scotland to France. The Abbey was burned down five times and in 1789 the Mayor purchased it and gave it to the Commune. Attached to this ancient building is a museum of rural culture, and entering the vestuble we were amazed to see a full size model of a milking cow, complete with milking stool. Graham White, who was one of the first to enter, sat on the milking stool as if he was milking the cow, and some photographs were taken of this humorous episode as a memoir. Walking round this rural museum we saw examples of old wooden butter churns, wood turning equipment both hand and foot operated, old farming tools of all kinds, almost the same relics of past agricultural methods as we would see in our own Border museums. One of the more exciting exhibits in St. Michel’s museum is the series of frescos depicting the life of “BENOIT”, These frescos are of the Carmalite and Benidict orders, and the story is told that a group of young Borderers, who were working on a summer project to help renovate the Abbey, were engaged in doing some job on one of the abbey walls when he accidently removed some plaster or paint, and an 18th. Century fresco was revealed. The council of the Borders region donated a sum of money so that more of those Frescos could be unveiled. It is interesting to note that Benedictine Monks from France were later to come to the Borders and establish Melrose and Dryburgh Abbeys. Leaving this ancient Abbey we proceeded to “WIMY” where one of many fortified churches of the region is situated. These churches were built in the manner of a Fortress, with slots for firing arrows at an enemy, small entrances where in byegone one would have to crawl to gain entry, fireplaces, ovens, food storage, wells, everything to accommodate the local parishioners and sustain them during a siege. Having seen this fine example of a fortified church, we boarded the bus to return to Sorbais. This evening we were holding a Scottish night to entertain our French friends. While we were still in Kelso our members had put together a parcel of small gifts to give to our hosts, and the two Elizabeths had made up a hamper of Scottish fare. Smoked salmon, smoked venison, Selkirk bannocks, cheeses, Hawick balls, Jethart snails, Edinburgh rock and whisky were some of the various goodies laid out for everyone to enjoy. Elizabeth and Liz were both excellent hostesses to our guests, while Sandy Hood and Jim Scott attended to the bar, keeping both French and Scottish well supplied with refreshments. Anne Lowrie and her daughter Marion sang duets and Anne read a French poem. Ina pleased the company by singing some Scots songs, and Archie recited Burns’s “A Parcel of Rouges in a Nation”. Our French guests played their part in the entertainment by singing, playing a guitar, and generally joining in the fun. This night was voted a fitting climax to our cultural visit to France, and we Scots hope that our visit to THIERACHE will seal a bond of friendship between the Kelso 3rd age exchange and our French counterparts.
Thursday 7th September,
Having breakfasted, packed, and said our farewells to our French hosts, we started our journey to BRUSSELS, where we were to visit the European Parliament. Leaving France and entering Belgium we travelled through some lovely scenery, and as we had quite a tight schedule to keep to, we ate a packed lunch of bagette ham sandwiches and an apple, which Jacques and his friends had made for us, on the bus. Our driver proved his worth when we entered Brussels, double parking on all sides, one way narrow streets were skilfully negotiated, and we were all pleased to disembark from the bus and enter the Delta Hotel. We did not have much time to spare at this stop, a quick wash, rejoin the bus, and make our way to the European parliament. This was a great experience, here was the building where all those irritating laws were made, and we were having the chance to be here and question some officials and perhaps listen to a debate. Entering the parliament building we were met by an Irishman, Niall O Neill, who proved himself to be not only a courteous courier, but also a mine of information which he imparted to us in a clear and oftimes humorous manner. We were given the opportunity to question this gentlman on any subject concerning European laws or customs, and all our queries were answered to our complete satisfaction. Niall took us to where the the parliament was sitting and we were pleased to be able to listen to a debate about the agricultural policy, the speaker speaking in German, while we heard the translation in English. This brought to a close our most interesting visit to the Parliament of Europe, and our thanks to Niall and the two Elizabeths for making the day a memorable one. Returning to the Delta hotel we had dinner, a relaxing evening, and an early bed. Next morning we awoke to the sound of pouring rain, and after packing we ran to the bus to prevent being soaked. Making our way out of Brussels we travelled to BRUGES, where we had intended to spend the whole day sightseeing and shopping, but alas, we were forced by the rain to seek some kind of shelter, get lunch, and many of our group were glad when it was time to board the bus and head for ZEEBRUGGE, to board the ship. The next morning found our party in Hull, and heading for Kelso. This was a most interesting and informative visit to France, we learned much more about our French O.A.P. equivalents than we could if we had read a dozen books.