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Travelling through time: Dancing in French streets in 1952

Nan's photo album from her European travels in 1952

As I continue to retrace my grandmother’s journey through Europe as a solo female traveller in 1952, I get a glimpse of her sense of humour and her spontaneity – qualities I don’t particularly remember in her. She was also quite the dancer, too, or so it would seem. Maybe that’s where I get it from (I’ve danced since I was 8). I’ve always wondered, because I don’t think I  get my rhythm from my parents… (no offence Mum and Dad!)

31st July 1952

To JK & M, Savoy House then to 58 for balance of luggage and back to Ealing.

1st August 1952

Interviewed Lucas re CAV parts. Met a Ms Provan – went to bank and back to Ealing to do some washing, etc. Had an accident with ink all over front of pink jersey frock so had to wash that out.

2nd August 1952

Saturday, a quiet day getting ready for trips on Sunday.

3rd August 1952

Sunday, went to Mass and Communion. Met a nice lady, Mrs Dowd – wants me to visit her on return.

Left for Dover with Mary and John about 9.45. Collected a letter before leaving.

Travelling via Rochester, Canterbury, Westgate, and Mergate. Very interesting Cathedral at Canterbury – a very early walled English city, went through part of Kings School and saw a building created by Australian subscription which bore Australian coat of Arms.

Margate was just what I always thought English beaches to be. Had our photos taken on the Pier with me sitting on an artificial cow, John pretending to milk it and Marje standing behind.

Margate Pier, England 1952

Margate Pier, England 1952

Reached Dover about 5pm and found accommodation. Visited Dover Castle, one of the strongest built castles in England. The hills are all tunnelled underground and at strategic points shoots are installed where in case of enemy approaching they were trapped by means of doors being brought down and then boiling oil and molten lead being poured through the slots.

4th August 2952

Embarked at about 8.30 by driving into the ship – still in our car. Customs were no bother, didn’t look at luggage. When aboard got out of car and up on deck. Had lunch on board being served by a rather rough and ready Cockney, however, quite an enjoyable meal.

White Cliffs of Dover 1952

Arrived Boulogne about 12.30pm and got into car, drove off ship through customs very quickly and so into France. Immediately, John of course had to get into right hand side of road. There were quite a stream of overseas cars but it was not long before we were through Boulogne and out into the country, where on either side of road stretched delightful farmlands – wheat, corn, vegetables and hay stocked for drying. The farmsteads all look most attractive and clean. They are mostly red flat type tiles and white coloured walls – the country from Boulogne to St Oller was undulating and sometimes we climbed quite high and could look back over glorious panorama of farmlands.

The hay carts were mostly horse-drawn, usually two draft horses pulling a huge load of hay. In the fields could be seen whole families at work – dad, mother and children – and the workers seem to favour blue dungaree type work clothes, which colours stood out very clearly.

Visited a wonderful old cathedral of Notre Dame at St Oller. The altars were beautifully decorated the atmosphere very impressive with people praying here and there. Made our first purchases here and found cakes pretty expensive.

On across French and then Belgium border and on to Ypres where we booked overnight accommodation. Quite cheap too, only 11/3d in for bed and breakfast (English). Walked around inspecting famous cathedrals which, during the 1914-18 war, was almost a total ruin and the high altar was magnificent with gloriously carpeted floor and colourfully upholstered. Had a look at the Cloth Hall being rebuilt after war damage.

Had a picnic tea and had a few beers, which were very nice and on par with Swan – only 5frs-9. Wandered round after tea, followed the sound of music and came to an open air dance cabaret type of place, which was situated on a small island which was appraoched over a small bridge. Cost us 10frs each and so we went in and found a table giving us a good view of the activities. Ordered drinks had a dance with John and generally felt in good spirits.

The dance floor was marble and the band very, very good. After a while, a nice gent came and said “dance mamselle”, so away I went. Unfortunately he didn’t speak much English, but danced very well and the particular dance was a circular type of waltz and we went round and round at a speed I have never gone before. It was so enjoyable and yet could not converse much, but he did tell me he was in the police force as a plain clothes man and his ‘comrade’ with him was also a plain clothes P.M. He danced with me about four times. Oh, but you do need to know the language – at least to learn anything about a place.

Then another had danced with me several times and he could speak English and had quite an interesting conversation. Learnt there were about 16,000 population at Ypres, very little amusement – tennis unheard of, except for wealthy people – main recreational sport team games basketball, etc.

Then there was a third man – dressed in a brown suit and who appeared to have only just had his teeth removed. Well, he just kept looking at me and standing near my chair and eventually sat in the chair next to me – I felt very uncomfortable and just hoped he wouldn’t ask me to dance as I didn’t care about his appearance. However, before the evening was out the lights fused and just before we left and had got up to go, didn’t he appear next to me with a ‘posy’ – flowers apparently pulled from nearby and wanted me to take them – said “are you going?” – to which I said “yes – and no thank you”. It was a most amusing incident and very laughable.

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