Girls Blazer Badge Boys Blazer Badge

Blois Episode

N. R. Bradshaw

AT A TIME, when for financial reasons, few family holidays were taken abroad, we had made it possible for boys to see life in other countries by means of camping. Such expeditions were valuable. But in every case we were viewing life from the outside.

In 1947 we were invited to go to Blois as guests of the Lycee there. Boys were to live in the homes of French counterparts or as boarders at the school. Many Frenchmen were sensitive about the rift which had occurred in Anglo-French friendship owing to the war, and were anxious to heal the wound. In March 1947, responding to an invitation from Blois, 67 boys with 2 masters set out for the French town. Since the decision to accept the invitation had been taken English and French boys had been "paired" and regular letters had been exchanged. Let a Sixth Former continue the story of the first visit.

The Boat "After beaming tolerantly at the Press photographers at Newhaven, we went aboard the Isle of Thanet at 5.30 p.m., had tea, and emerged to see the boat sweep out from the microcosm of the harbour into the macrocosm of the Channel and to watch the white cliffs gradually recede into the evening haze. But modesty forbids us to emulate the Gaelic imagination of a French newspaper article which referred to 'une Manche tres agitee par la tempete.' We can only describe the gentle swell and tactfully suggest the writer was not reporting but prophesying, for on the return crossing there was indeed much agitation both external and internal."

"At 11.30 p.m. the train - at Dieppe - crawled cautiously out into the night. At Paris we stepped out through an early morning drizzle into the waiting buses. We were whisked all too swiftly along the broad, glittering, silent streets to the Gare d'Austerlitz, from which we rattled uncomfortably through the pleasant undulating pays on the last stage of our journey. Thirty-six hours of travelling we endured by sea and land but compensation was provided by the reception we received at the station upon arriving on Tuesday morning."

Our local Sussex newspaper describes the "Lewes Party's wonderful week in France." "Arranged by the Prefect of the Department, sensational civic welcomes were given to 67 scholars of the County Grammar School for Boys, Lewes, on Tuesday last week when they arrived at Blois, France, where they spent a week's holiday that will long be remembered. Waiting at the railway station to meet the boys from England were the Mayor of Blois, the Headmaster of the High School, the Chief County Inspector of Education and the senior English master of the School. After dispersing to the homes of their hosts the party was entertained to an official tea. Speeches of warm welcome were made by the Chief Inspector, the Mayor and the Headmaster."

The newspaper continues its account of the visit with mention of a tour of "the famous Castles of the Loire - a wonderful experience," an inter-school football match, preceded by the playing of the two national anthems and the raising of the national flags "with both teams lined up on the field." Account is also given of a theatre evening, and a Saturday night ball at the Chateau with over 900 people present. "In the early hours of the morning, the tired but happy dancers wended their way home from the great and final event of a magnificent week. When the English visitors left Blois at 8.10 p.m. on Sunday, the railway station was one seething mass of French schoolboys and girls together with their elders who attended to say "au revoir" to their English friends. It was a moving and unforgettable experience."

Mention is also made of a visit to the wine cellars of Montmousseau and to one of the largest cocoa and chocolate factories in France. "As the result of their visit, nine of the party received and accepted invitations to spend their summer holidays with French families."

In heavy print the local Sussex newspaper then discussed a return visit. "Sometime in July a party of the French scholars from the Lycee at Blois will be spending a week's holiday at Lewes. In their visit to Blois last week the boys of the Lewes County Gramrnar School were accorded a welcome that was nothing less than sensational.

"The municipal authorities voted 50,000 francs from public funds towards the cost of entertaining the English schoolboys who were guests of French families."

"When the French boys arrive in Lewes their welcome should be on a similar scale as offered to our lads. It is beyond the capacity of an individual school, and is a matter that should receive immediate consideration by the East Sussex Education Committee and Lewes Town Council."

In July a return visit was made by fifty-nine boys, four girls and members of the Blois staff including the Headmaster. A full programme for the visit had been arranged. This was preceded by a civic reception by the Mayor and Borough Council at the Town Hall. The tricolour flew from the keep of the Castle throughout the visit. An exploration of Lewes was followed by a visit to Brighton where they saw a large and relatively modern seaside resort. By coach they visited West Sussex, stopping to investigate Arundel and Chichester. Also by coach they went to London and saw the landmarks of the capital.

Arrangements had been made for them to be present at our Speech Day and to participate in our Athictics Sports, while the climax of the visit was the dance in the packed Town Hall on Saturday night. The dance was also an insurance of financial solvency.

Most if not all of our guests returned to Blois with happy memories of their visit and with warm feelings of friendship. The visit also served another purpose. We had not yet revived an important feature of our pre-war activities - the annual camp. Through our visit to Blois we were able to arrange with the help of the Director of Youth Organisations for Loir-et-Cher, a camp in the grounds of the Chateau de Chaumont and from there explore the Loire Valley and its famous Chateaux. Once more the French school and civic authorities made every possible effort to smooth out difficulties, accommodating the boys on a midnight arrival at Blois with beds at the Lycee and providing breakfast next morning. On the return journey the Lewes boys again spent a night in the dormitories of the Lycee and ate a morning breakfast of eggs and bacon cooked by the Headmaster's wife.

Ultimately the East Sussex Education Committee agreed to make a grant of £2 per head in necessitous cases to boys visiting Blois and to guarantee a sum of £30 if required towards the expenses of a return visit.

The success of the exchange visits in 1947 had been unqualified and a continuance in 1948 was taken for granted. With slight variations in the programmes, both at Blois and Lewes, the second exchange followed the pattern of the first and was marked by the same warmth and success.

In 1949 important developments occurred. In April, when our school party of about 70 boys visited Blois, they were accompanied, at the request of the Blois authorities by the Mayor and Mayoress of Lewes. Thus, what had hitherto been a purely school function, had now attained civic proportions. This was emphatically demonstrated when our Blois friends came to Lewes in September 1949. In addition to a full representation of the school, as on the previous two visits, the French party also included the Mayor of Blois and other civic representatives. Moreover, contacts had also been established between the Rotary Clubs of the two towns and the French club sent its President, Vice-President, Secretary and several other members as guests of the Lewes Club. The Mayor of Lewes received our French guests in the Council Chamber and entertained adult visitors to a Civic dinner in the leading Lewes hotel. The Mayor of Brighton invited them to take tea at the Royal Pavilion and the French Rotarians attended the weekly luncheon of the Lewes Rotary Club. The French party were also guests of the Mayors of Arundel and Rye and of course an expedition to London and an Anglo-French Ball in the Lewes Town Hall were important features of the visit.

The inclusion of three constituent parties -- school, civic representatives and Rotarians -- had resulted in a separate programme for our young guests. When our boys had visited Blois in the Spring a more leisurely approach had been followed. "We were not always being rushed about to see, hear, and do various things" wrote a Sixth Former. "We were given time to 'stand and stare' and to acquire that feeling of 'belonging', which is so important if one wants to understand a French family. We were given two days to 'find our feet' as it were, and then we began the programme which had been arranged for us, a programme which while being satisfying, left us to our own devices for a good part of the time. We all attended school in the morning and we did obtain some idea of the atmosphere and conditions under which French boys work."

"By the end of the fortnight we were beginning to feel quite at home in Blois. We had worked at the same lessons, played at the same games, and laughed at the same jokes as our young French friends. Consequently we had come to understand them and in this lay the true value of our visit."

So at Lewes in September, when no organised excursion or other activity had been arranged, French boys attended ordinary sessions at our school. As the official printed programme proclaimed, "Life is not all 'cakes and ale'. Our young friends 'in statu pupillari' will attend ordinary sessions at the County Grammar School when no organised excursion has been arranged." These sessions included lessons on aspects of English life, language and literature given by members of the Lewes Staff, French colleagues replacing them and giving lessons on things French to the young Anglo-Saxons. So passed a memorable fortnight, for the length of the visit had been extended.

Before our visitors returned to Blois adults and schoolboys alike had explored Sussex and in London had visited the Guildhall, Mansion House, Houses of Parliament, St. Pauls, Whitehall, Westminster Abbey and Buckingham Palace.

Preface in official programme:-

Franco-British Fortnight - 15-30 September 1949

"From the ancient town of Blois, our visitors arrive as guests of the historic Borough of Lewes. On the invitation of the Borough Council come representatives of the Municipality of Blois. The Rotary Club of Lewes will receive French Rotarians from the Rotary Club of Blois. Our County Grammar School is welcoming masters and pupils from its linked school, the Lycee Augustin Thierry of Blois.


This programme is designed to inform you, the residents of Lewes, how our guests will be entertained.

Having this knowledge, we hope that you will share in the welcome we proffer to our French friends and attend the two dances that we propose to hold in their honour in the Town Hall.

We believe that it is on the foundations of contacts such as these that international friendship will be built."

If anyone has interesting photos to illustrate this page please contact your webmaster.