Archive for October, 2008

Escape from France

I am writing this at the end of the first week of the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow. The chaos there is considerable and we have first-hand experience of it because my daughter-in-law, Jane, used it on the way to visit her daughters, Harriet and Louise, in Switzerland. “It is amazing the authorities could make such a mess after having plenty of time to sort out any problems. Will they never learn?” were William, my son’s, words. With the benefit of my longer memory the answer to this question is “No”. It is part of our British ness – our sense of humour and our never-absent optimism.

Early in September 1939 two of my Banks cousins, Honor and Margaret, asked me if I would take them to France for their holiday. I could use their Austin 10 car and as they had never been out of England they were much looking forward to the adventure. It was to turn out to be rather more of an adventure than they had expected!

I was not too sure that this was a good idea with the political situation at that moment, but finally decided to ‘give it a go’. We went from Dover and enjoyed a leisurely trip to Cannes as is appropriate in an Austin 10 with its maximum speed of 50/60 mph. We stopped frequently and enjoyed the French food and when we reached Cannes – which didn’t impress us very much – we decided to explore the coast. Menton looked lovely and we decided to make it our HQ for a week before setting out on the journey home. It was while we were there that Hitler marched into Poland………….
I was extremely worried as I felt responsible for my cousins and told them that we must return to England at once. We decided to start at daybreak the following day with the hope that we would not be too late to get a boat back home. With my knowledge to the German mind after my two recent years in Berlin, I knew we had landed ourselves in avery sticky spot.
Our journey back was frustrating. You can’t hurry in an Austin 10 and the situation was, I think, rather over my cousins’ understanding. We kept going throughout the day, not stopping for meals, only to refuel. It was well after dark when we reached Calais some twelve hours after we started to be told we were too late, there would be no more sailings. They had cancelled all boats to England. However, they believed Dunkirk was still operating – but with no certainty that we would find a boat with space there.
We hurried on and with much arguing, and the fact that we had fully paid return tickets for the car and ourselves that finally secured us got us on a boat. This was blacked out and sailed zigzag in case there were submarines about.
I don’t remember what time we reached Dover, but life seemed so calm after the previous 24 hours and we had an unhurried journey to Great Witley to deliver the car and my cousins back home. A few days later we heard Chamberlain announce on the radio that “A state of war now exists between ourselves and Germany” after giving Hitler the chance to back down.

The subject of this addition to my website seems to have wandered a little. It started when, my daughter Linden described the journey she and her husband, Adrian, had just completed in a single day returning from the Scottish Isles, after their holiday there. I suggested it would be interesting to compare their journey, 400 miles, in a modern car with two drivers, motorways but far more traffic, with mine in 1939, 600 miles, in a car with a maximum speed of 60 mph and only one driver. Of course I had more urge!

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