Gap is an Alpine crossroads nestled in a high
valley, carved out by a glacier, 2,406 feet above sea level. The
town is at the intersection of D994 and Route National 85 [the Route Napoléon],
102 miles north of Toulon. It lies along the right bank of the Luye
River and is the capital of the Département of Hautes-Alpes.
The town of Gap was originally founded by the Gauls. Roman emperor Augustus seized the town, around 14 BC, naming it Vapincum. The Romans used the town as a staging post along the Roman road that ran between Turin and Valence.
Gap was Christianized early and was ruled as an Episcopal see until 1512. France annexed the town in the same year.
Gap is both an agricultural and industrial center.
Reproduced in stages, by kind permission of the author
and when you see Bro Benedict, ask him pointedly if he got my
The first day we learned how to go downhill on skis, something reasonably easy, considering the laws of gravity and friction are pretty much on your side. The second day we learned how to stop in front of ladies, and still keep your dignity. The third day, turning was more or less mastered.
Day one, as I said, was easy enough. Given a hillside, some snow, two skis and two batons, its reasonably within the realms of human capability to go down a hill. Problems arose as we descended however. How to avoid that tree, and still stay upright, how to stop and still stay upright being the most important of them.
Tree avoidance sounds easy but isnt quite. It involves more than you see on TV, so we tried all sorts of awkward tricks before discovering the knack the next day.
Stopping can be quite effectively achieved, simply by sitting down on the ground in between the skis. However, if, as I said before, you want the same result but in keeping with the Dignity of the Priesthood Heb. 5.10 (and Id not be so glib with Ch and V today!) a certain amount of work has to be done on the subject. So we watched for the first part of the second day and tried again. Then we asked advice, and tried again. Then we watched, and this time it began to work.
|1. Bro Benedict had taught many of us
at St Johns, a young and dynamic teacher who took enough interest
to visit me at home one summer.
2. Strasbourg was then one of the international Theology centres for the WFs; they had, I think, a foot in the door at the university there.
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Serre Eyraud, 23rd September 1969
We from the British Province arrived in Gap, a city in the High Alps of France, to start our noviciate, having travelled by train and the old Normannia ferry from Dover Marine. She was a Dunkirk veteran, we were raw recruits, despite the Priory and/ or Blacklion. Other non-Francophones had spent three weeks in a language school in nearby Briançon. We knew nothing about this till we arrived. Serre Eyraud was a village 30 miles away where a group of us were sent to live and work with local families. Earlier letters lost.
Your letter, thanks to the train strike,
took the best part of a week to reach me. It seems the best way to get
things into the country is to wrap in newspapers which themselves
are welcome, since although French papers carry a good deal of major
British news they dont have football results, and you need a bit
of time and a dictionary to read them properly. As a rule it is easy
enough to get a rough idea, but sometimes its the wrong one.
|Soon it began to get cold
no wonder, since there was snow on the path. Near the summit we
had to move onto another shoulder about four feet across, with on one
side what must have been a drop of 3,000 feet mind you, round here
thats nothing. Some of the rock faces alone seem as tall as any
Pennine or Welsh hills.
Once we got to the top the view was very good. Gap was clearly visible, but without binoculars we didnt bother trying to discern the house. Apart from the town of Gap and the valley in which we are staying, everything else was mountains; some we were told were in Italy I cant dispute that, but they all looked much the same, dark grey and snow capped. Its absolutely barren at the top, even without snow. The surface is like that of a newly demolished slum, stony and dry.
The second hill, the Petite Autane, was difficult to reach, because the ridge was blocked by a large spur of rock about as big and as climbable as a house. It had at either end an area of smooth, slippery, dangerous rock. To avoid this we had to go down about 100ft and make a detour across snow and loose rocks, which again was not exactly easy. Once again a good view, but the summit was crowned by a large cross to the memory of someone who fell from there to his death far below.
With this glorious encouragement we set off down the somewhat greener slope of the Petite Autane and came eventually to a forest full of young cattle, all wearing bells (one inscribed US Army), then down, down to the road and home to Serre Eyraud, footsore and tired.
Since then it has been more painting and more balancing on ladders. I got some family slides back yesterday; I dont know what customs are like about letting them into the UK I suppose you can find out from the Post Office.
I believe we go into retreat on Sunday evening or Monday, but God only knows if the French will stand up to it! Lets hope so; progress is slow, but progress is progress.
Until the next letter then,
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||We then had a super breakfast (two French ham sandwiches,
biscuits, fruit and wine) before we came back here.
Another good French thing is celery baked with milk and cheese. I don't know the quantities, but it should be easy.
By the way AJ & Greg [2 youngest brothers, who played with a toy version] you might like to know that the French do use Citroen ambulances, complete with red crosses on doors, flags, and super sirens. I don't know how good they are and I certainly don't intend to find out.
The woman in the Post Office who sells stamps hates Englishmen! It's our fault, nobody else ever asks her for 1 centime (less than 1/5 of 1d) stamps. Unfortunately, when I asked her for 1c, she'd run out, Peter having bought her whole stock last week. However, I did get some 2c to send this time.
There are some lovely machines in the shops called various things, depending on whether they are American, Sno Kat or Japanese Chenille Neige which mean caterpillar-snow in French. Very expensive, but nice to look at. They hold 2 people, like the infamous one horse open sleigh.
Noel shopping is well started and many well known French brands are on sale: Cadbury, Lego, Matchbox cars, Polo mints without holes . . .
Don't be surprised to get some newspapers from me, by the way. I may use them for Christmas presents. [this seemed to work well, in those days when customs duty was payable between UK and the Common Market.]
If this is to have a chance to get in the post before Mom's birthday it must stop, so more next week.
Many Happy returns,
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On the way we passed Sisteron and Entrevaux which I have told you about before. A ten minute break at St André des Alpes was welcome, but we didn't see much of it.
By the time we reached Digne there were already signs of Spring. The traffic island had been planted as a carpet bed already, with different coloured pansies tracing out the coat of arms. No problem there, with their coat of arms, which is simply red, yellow and blue stripes with a crown on top.
Between Digne and Nice we saw two narrow gauge trains. One was two diesel rail cars with a couple of cement wagons slung behind. The first railcar (autorail or micheline) was blue and white, the second red and grey. The other train was simply a railcar, red and grey this time. I shall try and get some pics of them before I go.
I didn't know till yesterday (Saturday) that Monaco churns out its own money, till one of us got a Monegasque franc in change.
Anyway, to return to the journey. As we got closer to Nice, the countryside began to get greener, especially as we ran along the bottom of the wide valley, where there were little smallholdings all over the place, with palm trees, those cypress trees you see in old photos, cactus plants of all sorts (we've got some here in the grounds, six foot and more high) and just coming into blossom, the orange and almond trees. We ate our sandwiches in the bus station and were met by the car from here, who took our luggage while we got the bus.
St André is little Italy (as Nice was till 1860).The chateau is definitely Italian and so are most of the houses; even the church, which is barely 10 years old and plays the Lourdes Hymn on the bells, is Italian in design. Right next to the chateau is a quarry, massive, with regular, now hardly noticed, blastings. The situation is marvellous. We are in a valley, with steep sides and plenty of trees on the rocky slopes which look like those 'impossible' Victorian engravings. Most of the trees are already in leaf, or evergreen. Holm Oaks are very common but there are many trees I've not seen before. At the end of the valley there are now lots of little - and big houses going up, spoiling the view. The chateau I will describe later.
Flowers. A quick note: laburnum, broom, almond, orange, daffodils, orchids, (2 sorts), wild lavender and thyme, plus the usual daisies, dandelions, etc. Also wild allysum and many more I don't know.
Birds: a few new ones include a long-tailed tit we've got them at Gap too and stonechat.
Animals: lizards everywhere, a large black and white wood louse greeted me on the hillside and here at the house you are greeted by Dick and Alex. Dick looks like a smaller, slimmer (miraculously the way he eats) version of the infamous Sam Billingsley. Alex looks like 3 of his grandparents were alsatians and the other a dustbin dog. They have Samlike natures and are always in trouble. Alex is very shy though, but he's only 10 months old.
There are also two cats or there were when we came, a tabby and a tortoiseshell. Two days later there were three, since the tortoiseshell had a baby, another tortoiseshell, but nearly all white. It is still blind and helpless but very popular.
There are three finches as well, two yellow ones and a big grey one. To complete the zoo we have 2 pigeons, 6 assorted goldfish and a carp.
I must finish here and continue later. Your card reached me here. I look forward to Wales again.
Best wishes and Good bye from the Sun.
God Bless, Maurice
(source : Maurice Billingsley)
Maurice writes (29th December 2005) :
"Robbie Dempsey and Peter Hurrell may remember this place. It was something of an eye-opener for a lad raised in a relatively restrained English church to find all these pictures of people rescued from near death by the intercession of Our Lady, but surely they had something to be grateful for!
It looks like one of those roads the Monte Carlo Rally takes at high speed; perhaps the guys in black were speeding but blamed it all on women drivers. But both vehicles seem to be on the wrong side of the road for France . . . "
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Sunday Morning Nice
The work starts with a telephone call as a rule
somebody rings up and says they've got such and such a thing to be picked
up they may be moving out, spring cleaning, buying new furniture,
and they're left with things they want to get rid of; they've heard
we can use them so they give them to us.
Everyone has his own story; often of course it is the fact that he
is an alcoholic that lies behind it all this has led to the breakup
of the marriage and so on. It is certainly sad, but the purpose of the
community is to turn the sadness into joy. Once the man can put the
bottle behind him and say that he can live without it, then success
is well on the way. The community gives him the chance and the motive
to do so.
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Gap, Thursday 4th June, 1970
We await the result with interest they've
already appealed to the League, the Regional Association, and are now
preparing a paper to sent to Paris if need be.
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(Source : photo from Robbie Dempsey and envelope from Maurice)
The trio as mentioned above (L-R) : Joseph, Robbie (by the car) and Maurice.
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(source: Robbie Dempsey)
This version is just to prove that whatever these three will tell you, it wasn't all grey and boring.