Trip to France (1958)

Trip to Avignon, France. Summer 1958
Memories from Rob Dunning

I can only remember snippets of my trip to Avignon, and they are somewhat disjointed in my mind, but here goes.

We somehow found ourselves in a field at Lympne Airport in Kent, where our aircraft awaited us to take us across the Channel. It was a Dakota DC-3, which was not the most salubrious of aircraft. (To see the aircraft we flew in, and its sister aircraft, please click on this link:

I remember boarding the plane and having to climb, almost like climbing a steep mountain, to my seat, which was by a window, alongside the wing.


Having strapped ourselves in, we set off across a really bumpy grass runway. We seemed to travel miles before we showed any sign of taking off, by which time there was a row of trees ahead, and just beyond that, the Kent cliffs, just south of Folkestone. We climbed very slowly above the tree tops, and we were still only a few feet from the ground when suddenly terra firma left us and way below us was water – the English Channel. So, I settled back to, hopefully, enjoy the flight (my first ever) to Beauvais airport, in France.


Soon after, however, I looked out of the window, and noticed that a cover in the wing, which appeared to be made of leather, had split, and what looked like oil was exuding from it, over the wing and off into the atmosphere. I was, to say the least, very alarmed at this situation, and I summoned the Stewardess to report this situation. She calmly looked out of the window and said “Oh yes. It is nothing to worry about. It seems to happen almost every trip. I do not know why, nor what the exact consequence might be, - but we have not suffered a crash – yet” At that, she walked off to tend to the needs of one of the other passengers. Fortunately, she was right, and we landed safely in France about an hour after take off.


My next recollection was that we, obviously having taken a train from the airport to Paris, arrived at the Gard du Nord Railway Station, for a whistle bus tour of Paris, before we set off on another train to Avignon, our destination.


Whilst touring Paris, we stopped off for our picnic lunch under the Arc de Triomphe. Having partaken of our lunch, we set off across a very busy, wide road, to walk down the Champs Elysee. Having walked about a hundred yards, I realised that I had left my duffle bag back at the Arc de Triomphe. I reported to one of the teachers, who told me to return, collect my bag and hurry back to the group, who would be walking slowly down the Champs. I rushed back to the Arc, and found my bag. However, trying to cross this very wide road, traffic milling everywhere, and travelling in the wrong direction, petrified me, and I spent a very long time trying to find a gap in the traffic to cross back to the Champs. After what seemed like hours, I finally succeeded, and joined the group, almost at the far end of the Champs. I was given a tremendous dressing down for having taken so long.


We continued our walk, which took us to the Eiffel Tower, which we were allowed to climb if we wished. We were only allowed to the second “floor”, since the top portion had been blocked off for some sort of security reasons. However, the view over Paris was stunning. We descended to the first level by lift, but had to walk down to the bottom. I remember to this day, there are 146 steps from the first level to the ground.


The next thing I recall was arriving in Avignon, to stay in a Convent that had been evacuated by the nuns, whilst they went on their holiday. The dormitories were very basic, but adequate. The food was very good, but the red wine, which was available at meal times, was like vinegar. Outside the convent, many of the locals used to assemble to play their traditional game of boules – a little like bowls.


We went on various excursions throughout the region, the most exciting of all for me, was to the Camargue, where we saw some of the French Cowboys, native to this area. Whilst on the coach, en route, we stopped for a break, and a large hornet entered the coach, which caused havoc amongst us all. I think we all managed to escape being stung by the beast, fortunately.


Apart from visiting the famous bridge (Le Pont D’Avignon), and singing a verse of the song appertaining to it, the only other recollection I have of the town, was when I walked along a street trying to find a newspaper Vendor, and being confronted by Police with automatic rifles in their hands.


I have just one other recollection of my holiday to Avignon. Our return journey, from there back to Paris was 800 miles on an overnight train. The seats in the carriages were bench-like, across the width of the carriage, with a net-like luggage rack above. I put my duffle bag in the rack, complete with a two litre bottle of Coca Cola, which I had opened, but resealed with a push in plastic bung. Having made myself comfortable, I settled in my seat and fell asleep. I had a dream that I was in the sea, drowning, and felt very wet and cold. Suddenly, I awoke to find that the bottle of Coke had burst open, and cascaded the contents of the bottle all over myself, and a Soldier passenger, sitting next to me. As you can imagine, the Soldier was not best amused, and I was most embarrassed, not to mention, uncomfortable, especially when I realised that my suitcase was stowed in the Goods compartment of the train, which I could not access until I arrived in  Paris.

The remainder of the journey home must have been fairly uneventful, since I have no recollection of the return flight, nor the journey from Lympne to home.   

Steve Bacon writes -

"The staff involved in the Summer 1958 trip to Avignon were Messrs. Baker, Astbury, Thomas and Jefford."


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