Saturday, 11 October 2008


Before settling down to full time study again, there was a long summer vacation ahead of me, and I was about to take my first trip abroad. There were no school holidays abroad during the war of course, or student exchanges, but I did have a pen friend in France, which had been arranged for me while I was in school. I had now received an invitation to go and stay with her, and so it was arranged that I should go for a few weeks during the summer of 1947, before the university term began.

It is strange, but I hardly remember playing any part in all the arrangements that were made for me after leaving school. They certainly had my agreement, but I think my mother must have done all the hard work involved in making enquiries and setting things up. And it can't have been as easy as it is now with the internet. Today, I imagine young women do not rely on their parents in quite the same way, although I certainly tried to do as much for my sons in their turn.

So, at the beginning of July I would set off to spend a month with the family of my pen friend Lucette Durand, who lived with her family at Pont-sainte-Maxence, on the River Oise in the Picardie region. Preparations for the journey had to be made, and as I had been living in London while I completed my French and Spanish studies, and so had to move all my stuff to the home of my father's sister Phyllis - or 'Pete' as she was commonly known.

There were tight currency restrictions at that time: I was allowed to take travellers' cheques, but only £20 in English currrency; if you brought some home again with you, the amount was written in your passport and credited to you for your next trip abroad! I also had £5 or 2,300 French francs in currency. My second class train ticket from London to Paris (1st class on the boat) cost £3.0s.6d, plus 9/6d (9s 6d) commission on the exchange. Food was still rationed at that time, so I drew all the rations I could on my Ration Book before leaving, with the intention of taking them with me as an offering to my hosts. Before leaving London, I also went along to the London School of Economics to put my name down for one of the women's halls of residence, as the LSE was not a residential college. On my last day my aunt took me out to lunch and to the theatre, and then on the following day saw me safely onto the boat train.

My Aunt Phyllis outside her home in Chelsea

You will find my account of my trip to France on my blog LETTERS FROM ABROAD.


annie said...

What fun, Judith, to go back to the Forties with you to France. Europe was so far away from us as I looked out across the Atlantic to a world that I never expected to see in those years-- so the thought of someone actually going there would have amazed me. I just love those letters and to see France though your 1947 eyes is
delightful, especially a France that people-- not tourists--lived. Because when you get to share the lives of the people, there, you are really something other than a tourist, aren't you?

Judith said...

So glad you are enjoying the letters, Annie. They seem very bitty, not what I would consider 'writing' these days, but when absolutely everything is new that is how things strike you I suppose.