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School Trip 1961

Germany and Switzerland

With photos and recollections from Ray Henning

Extract from the Sussex Express - August 1961


School Party

The party outside the school before leaving by coach for Dover

"Carrying rucksacks, duffel bags and suitcases, nearly 50 pupils of Lewes County Grammar School for Boys - most of them wearing plastic macs in the drizzle - left Lewes for a fortnight’s holiday in Germany and Switzerland on Monday. They gathered in small groups in the school hall, waiting for the moment of departure to come, hoping that the rain would stop".

"Pretty morbid coming back here in the holidays" murmured one, looking along the deserted corridors. In another corner a youth was explaining, "You take a couple of these little pills and you’re all right", presumably thinking of the choppy passage ahead."

"Two Seaford boys, Mark Dalton and David Harrison, were both making their second trip abroad. Neither spoke German but that wasn’t worrying them. "We’ve got a phrase book and a dictionary" said Mark, "and if that doesn’t do we’ll use signs." Were they hoping to meet German schoolboys? David laughed, "We’re not worried about meeting boys, we’d like to meet some girls though. I expect they’ll be able to speak English."

Travel by coach

"The idea is to travel from centre to centre by coach but during the day, when staying at a town, the boys will be free to do more or less what they like. Some will walk, some will visit museums, and others will just see the sights."

"Alan Seal of Lewes, John Cottingham of Uckfield, Donald Fraser of Newhaven and Richard Williams of Seaford were also cheerful about not knowing any German. "We speak a bit of French." said Alan, "and if they don’t understand that or English we’ve got phrase books with us." Donald explained that they would be given money for lunch and would have to make their own arrangements as to where they would lunch. "If it's self-service we can just point," he added with a laugh."

"In charge of the party is Mr. M. J. Norgrove, German master at the school, who is assisted by Mr. P. Jackson, the metal work master, and Mr. R. C. Cosham, a former master and old boy of the school. The boys are expected to arrive at Freiburg on Tuesday and then tour staying at youth hostels through the Black Forest and Switzerland, including Lucerne and Berne. They are due back on September 4."

Recollections of the trip by Ray Henning in 2004

When we finally reached Dover, the weather had worsened and it was by then blowing a full gale. The sight that greeted us of the ferry rising and falling a good ten feet on the swell in the harbour caused a few of the faint hearted to question the wisdom of making the crossing. After boarding, we set off for Oostende and the fun really began when the ship left the shelter of the outer breakwater. The ferry pitched and rolled like a crazy fairground ride in the huge swell that was surging up the Channel. The old ferries in those days did not have the stability of the modern ships that people are now more familiar with when crossing the Channel.

After watching Dover and the White Cliffs fade into the mist and murk of driving rain, several of us made our way down to the restaurant to see what we could find to eat. The biggest challenge was to keep our plates in front of us as they kept sliding from one end of the table to the other. When looking out of the window all we could see was a succession of angry grey sea topped with white surf and then sky as the ship rolled on the waves.

It was then time to explore the ship and after making our way past numerous people being seasick who were professing the desire to lie down and die. A group of us settled down on the sheltered side of the deck to see if the world was round and that we did not fall off the flat edge. For many of us it was our first trip abroad.

After about 4 hours, we eventually spied the French coast and thought we were nearly there. Because the sea had been so rough, the ferry had made straight across to Dunkerque and would sail up the channel for another hour in the lee of the land before reaching Oostende.

We then all made it to the station where we boarded a train bound for Germany travelling all night and having our passports checked on the train as we crossed the frontier into Germany. I could not sleep on the train so I was wide-awake when we pulled into Manheim station at about 4 am with an hour to wait to change trains to travel on to Freibourg. After the warmth of the train, it seemed bitterly cold on that draughty station. Even the waiting room was locked so all we could do was huddle up on the platform to try to keep warm. What a relief when at 5am the train we were waiting for arrived and we clambered in to warm up.

Todtnauberg Youth HostelI think we arrived at Freibourg station somewhere around 8am. I know that when I finally got off the train I felt as if I was swaying from side to side. A most strange sensation, which took several hours to cease, caused by the continual motion of the ship and train. I understand sailors who have been at sea a long time used to walk with a drunken rolling gait suffering from the same condition. It certainly was not any thing alcoholic! We then all piled into two coaches and set off for our first Youth Hostel at Todtnauberg high in the Black Forrest.

I remember not being very impressed with the red cabbage that we had for supper and in the morning when, for the first time, I experienced a Continental breakfast. Where were the bacon and eggs I wondered? Our salvation came in the form of a Cafe down and across the road where we could get real food washed down with the real thing, (remember the old curved glass Coca Cola bottles?) and listen to the juke box while we ate.

From Feldberg 1500mWe went on a day trip by coach to the summit of Feldberg at 1500 metres the highest point in the Black Forrest with stunning views across to the Alps. We took the easy route up by chair lift and a few of us went to explore a ski jump, which looked very incongruous without any snow. As a result, I gained a healthy respect for ski jumpers after standing at the top of the jump, which sloped down at an impossible angle and pondered on their apparent insanity by throwing themselves down to almost certain death. I still to this day enjoy watching ski jumping on the TV admiring the skill and courage of those young men. We then travelled on to Lake Titisee before returning to the Youth Hostel.

Down the Ski LiftThe evenings were very chilly due to the altitude despite it being the end of August. I had taken my transistor radio and I remember listening to Radio Luxemburg. The tunes I remember were Kon Tiki by the Shadows and Hello Mary Lou by Ricky Nelson which was on the juke box at the Café. It was great being able to listen when I liked, as Dad would not let us have Rock & Roll music on at home. My how things have changed! I remember trying to cope with my sons Heavy Metal fad back in the1980’s. Nothing changes, does it?

Luzern Youth HostelOur next stop on our journey after crossing the boarder into Switzerland was the Youth Hostel at Luzern, which was in the town not far from the lake. It was there that my lack of basic knowledge of the German language resulted in an unfortunate episode, which made me quite ill. During a stroll by the lake on the paddle steamer jetty, I spied a large basket of bread outside a kiosk and decided to buy a small loaf to eat. That night I was violently sick and very much the worse for wear the next morning. When I explained what had happened, I was told that the bread was to feed the swans and ducks on the lake and a notice, which I could not read, stated that it was unfit for human consumption! looking back now I can see the funny side, I expect the people in the kiosk who must have seen me thought I was rather odd!

The Model House by the CaféIt was from Luzern that we set of on a memorable trip to the Rhone Glacier. We climbed aboard two coaches, one larger than the other, and a group of us took up prime spot in the back of the larger coach. We stopped at a café on the way by the lake. I remember a model village nearby, and I took a photo of one of the model houses. Note the size of the flowerpot on the right of the model house.

Lake Luzern Paddle SteamerThen it was time to go we left the café and hastily climbed into the coaches and off we went. A while later I discovered to my horror that I had left my Dad’s camera, which he had given me to take photos on the trip, behind at the café. To make matters worse I discovered we would not be returning that way, as we were doing a circular route and all I could think about for the rest of the way was my Father's words threatening to skin me alive if I lost it!

After awhile the threat receded in my head as things upfront were getting decidedly interesting. We were by now climbing up at a very steep angle rounding very tight hairpin bends on our way ever upwards towards the snow line. The views were becoming quite stunning of steep drops and looming mountains across the other side of the valley.

The thing we did notice was that there were no guardrails on the side of the road only small concrete pillars marking the edge of the road. We crested the top of the pass and started down towards the glacier. That was when things got very interesting indeed. Our coach, which was the larger of the two, came upon a very tight right hand hairpin bend and could not make it round the corner. The driver then had to reverse to try to make the turn. The first attempt resulted in the engine stalling and the coach lurching forwards towards the edge of the road and the white posts. From the rear seat, all we could see was open space ahead across the valley and a mountain rising up the other side! If you remember the film, 'The Italian Job' the coach ends up hanging over the drop. The inspiration for that must have come from our predicament.

The driver tried to reverse again and the same thing happened only this time we were even closer to the edge. On reflection, the amazing thing was we were not told to get off while this dangerous manoeuvre was carried out. For a third time the engine stalled and by now, we were getting quite concerned for our safety. At the fourth attempt he managed to reverse enough to make the corner and we pulled up to disembark in the village when we suddenly became aware of a commotion that was taking place between the driver and several armed policemen. A tape measure was produced and the length of the coach was measured. We headed up to the Glacier and left the animated shouting match behind.

Unfortunately the surroundings reminded me again of the missing camera but I decided that my fate was some way off and enjoyed the unique experience of walking inside the Glacier. When we returned to the coach we discovered that the police had ordered the driver to return the way he had come as the coach was too long for the onward journey over the Firkapass and should not have come up to the Glacier at all. Most of the party seemed disappointed not to be going on over the next Pass but I was ecstatic that we were returning the way we had come. Salvation seemed at hand, now all I had to do was hope and pray that the camera was still hanging on the back of the seat in the Café where I had left it. The coach driver was instructed to stop and I rushed into the Café with the words 'do not be long' ringing in my ears.

I looked at the seat in horror, no sign of the camera. My heart sank. But then the owner of the Café spied me looking around in desperation. I tried to explain in sign language about the camera and he disappeared from view into the rear of the building. I thought all was lost but he suddenly reappeared triumphantly waving the camera in the air. After repeating 'Danker' over and over again, I rushed out to rejoin the coach safe in the knowledge that my life would be spared when I got back home.

Bern Youth HostelWe next moved on to the Youth Hostel in Bern. I think we went on a trip to Interlaken. I can recall a high range of mountains in the background. Late afternoon that day, I saw the most beautiful sight. The snow on the Jungfrau was reflecting the rays of the setting sun, which had turned the whole of the mountain range a fantastic shade of pink. I cannot recall much else at Bern except a trip to Lausanne on Lake Geneva where there was an open-air swimming pool by the lake with a very high diving board. We may have been en-route to our final destination.

Freibourg Youth HostelWe crossed the border leaving Switzerland behind and back into Germany again making for the town of Freiburg to our final Youth Hostel. I recall going into Freibourg for the day and I remember standing in the street looking at posters of Willy Brant. The elections were coming up shortly when a man came up to me and started to speak excitedly in German pointing at the posters. I think he must have been a supporter, but as I had not managed to master the German language in the short time we were there, I had no idea what he was talking about. I said in English 'Sorry, I don’t understand German', he broke into a broad smile and said in perfect English that he had mistaken me for a German as he thought I looked German. It must be my ancestry with a surname of Henning. I boarded a tram for a trip around the town for the experience and still have the ticket.

Money was running short and although I had written home asking if it was possible for more to be sent but back in those days, before electronic transfers and hole in the wall machines, it would have taken too long to arrive. I think I survived the last two days on a couple of packets of sweets similar to Opal Fruits.

Homeward Bound - Ken Noble second from left We set off back on the train, arriving at the ferry port next morning only to find the English Channel flat calm and shrouded in fog. This made for a boring journey back compared to the outbound sailing. Eventually the white cliffs of Dover loomed up out of the mist and before long we were back in the coach heading for Lewes. I remember arriving home extremely hungry but well satisfied with myself after my first adventure abroad. The camera made it back in working order much to my Dad’s relief and all the photos all came out but sadly with no pictures of the Rhone glacier.


Ten years later in 1971, I returned to Switzerland and re-visited the Rhone glacier. I travelled on the route our coach was supposed to have taken to Luzern. All I can say is the police were right in making the driver turn round on our 1961 trip, as there was no way he would have made it around the hairpin bends on that route.

I would be interested to hear of other recollections of that trip in 1961.

Ray Henning