LETTERS FROM GAP 1969 - 1970

Sent by Maurice Billingsley
to his parents and brothers.

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


If and when you see Bro Benedict, ask him pointedly if he got my letter.

The cards were made in Strasbourg by some White Father student(s) with nowt better to do.
It’s a good job we got them though, for cards here cost a bomb. (Illustrated). For anything respectable it’s at least 1 franc = 1/6, and with postage to England at 70 centimes = 1/1d [now 80c], you can imagine how I’d have been after the holiday! It’s bad enough now, money seems to dissolve on nothing at times.
The skiing, however, cost nothing, bar the rail fare back. We were staying at a sort of Youth Hostel up in the Alps, at the invitation of the people who run it. It was a bed for the time we were there, and plenty of food, and good food too, so no complaints!

In all we had 3 days of skiing, one at the hostel, one at a resort nearby, and one further away at another resort,way up in the mountains.

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, it’s 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 isn’t 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 I’d 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 John’s, 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.

Serre Eyraud
September 23rd 1969

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 don’t 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 it’s the wrong one.
Life here goes on.  There are now 7 WFs here; the others were unable to get a job anywhere else, but there is still plenty to be done here before we go. We have now vanished shutters, eaves, staircases and ceilings, painted walls, pipes and radiators, made hay, harvested raspberries and climbed two mountains.
The painting and varnishing is pretty much as any other painting and varnishing, except for two jobs, the radiators and the eaves. The radiators and their brush seem designed to get the minimum on the radiator and the maximum on the painter; the eaves job entails sitting on top of a 30 ft ladder with a four foot long brush and painting at all sorts of absolutely crazy angles. Most uncomfortable, and most nerve-wracking.
Mountain climbing was the way we decided to spend our day off. It meant in effect taking Monday off to recover.
We got up at 5.00 for our first breakfast, then set of up the mountainside with M Giraud, our host. For the first part of the journey we were accompanied by 3 sheep which had been in the village to recover from foot injures and were now ready to return to the flock. They were quite a handful, even though they were tied on a choke lead. Eventually we reached the shepherd’s cabin at 6370 ft up, where we stayed 2 hours to allow him to bring down the sheep from the hills to the fold. He and M Giraud then went among them, checking their feet for cuts etc.
Then we had our second breakfast, bread, wine, cheese and chocolate, and set off once again uphill for the Grande Autane d’Orcieres, our first mountain, 9035 ft high.
At first it was easy enough, even going up the loose rock face. Nearer the summit we had to pass on a shoulder of the mountain, with a more or less sheer drop of a thousand feet on either side.

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 that’s 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 didn’t 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 can’t dispute that, but they all looked much the same, dark grey and snow capped. It’s 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 don’t 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! Let’s hope so; progress is slow, but progress is progress.
Until the next letter then,
Good bye,
God Bless,

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Peres Blancs, 05 – Gap, France
4th December 1969

Dear All

Many thanks for all letters.

The snow has arrived. I woke up at 3.00 this morning to see it coming down, all Xmas Greetingsy, and I half expected to see reindeer, Fr Xmas and women in long coats and mufflers appear, with a stage coach and robins, etc, however, everyone else in Gap was asleep, so I went back to sleep as well, there being nothing happening, other than snow.

By real morning there was a bit more and those who had never seen snow before went barmy. [We had two Lebanese students from an order with links to the WFs] They seem to be enjoying it now; by May they'll probably be fed up to the teeth with it. I reckon that I will be, anyway. We couldn't play football this evening for a start.

The French postman's Union wanted a strike yesterday but: good old postmen! They had their eye on the Xmas box that might disappear by consequence, so no strike!

We've just heard the happy news that the Albion are through to the final of the League Cup at Wembley. Perhaps after all I should have gone to Dorking! We've certainly got the professional look here, with the Robinson Crusoe or Jimmy Hill image firmly established among the English if nobody else. Quite a few of the French players [at the local Football club, SCOG, Sporting Club Olympique Gapencais where some of us trained] have hairy lips of one sort or another as well, so we aren't altogether out on a limb. Pere Paulin is beginning to get worried about it though, so I guess a cut will have to come soon.

On Tuesday we went down to the hospital to give blood. Amid lots of gory books about how to reset a slipped disc and heart machines and other gory colour posters, we drank coffee and then got shown to a room full of gory ads about blood. Here they did their Dracula act and then gave us sugar lumps.

We then had a super breakfast (two French ham sandwiches, biscuits, fruit and wine) before we came back here.

French Sandwich :

1. Cut loaf into four
2. Cut down half along centre
3. Open out and butter
4. Insert loads of ham biscuits

Two of them is pretty good going, you must agree, especially with fruit, biscuits and wine on top.

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,

God Bless,Maurice

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Compagnons d'Emmaus
Chateau de St André
06 St André de Nice

April 2 1970

Dear All

Greetings from my chateau on the French Riviera! We've been installed since Tuesday, and believe me, it's a welcome change from Gap! Everything is green down here, apart from the sky and the sea, which are both blue, and glorious with it.

We had the Holy Week ceremonies at Gap Cathedral, with a sermon each time from his Lordship who really doesn't look the part at all.

(Monsignor Cofy, Bishop of Gap, eventually became Cardinal Archbishop of Marseille)

Apart from a superabundance of too-precise MCs, too sloppy singers and too loud choirmasters, all went very well. (Have I learned tolerance since then? I hope so.)

Saturday, Sunday, Monday, I would have written but I was on the kitchen nearly all day. They tasted something, I can tell you. Only one minor disaster occurred, when I tried to throw some chips into the pan, not realising they were in 6” of water . . .

Being on the kitchen meant that I saw very little of our visitors, apart from at meal times. Among them, in order of appearance, a French lad who was here last year, but is now doing military service; Fr Duffy, whom I did see, since he was here at the beginning of Holy Week, a Dutch WF who arrived in unforgettable fashion by driving his little Citroen Dyane into 6” of mud (half-way up his wheels) and not driving out of it again; Moira Dempsey (of Erdington, Robbie's sister, who was in my class at the Abbey Primary school) who came with an Australian girl and a German lad who had driven them down. Finally there was Fr Durant, just back from a tour of England and Belgium, although he is more of a permanent fixture since he will be around till the end of the year.

(Fr Durant was attached to the Generalate and involved, I think, in historical research about the society – ask Robbie).

The military Frenchman spent a great deal of time in town so we saw little of him, apart from meals and Mass. Fr Duffy came just as the Swiss Provincial was going so they sat up talking all night. In true Bernard Duffy fashion he had spent two nights travelling without a berth and with only coffee and sandwiches to eat. He had dropped in at Strasbourg en route. (Where the French-speaking theology students were then based.)

He talked about all sorts of things, but we still don't know where we're going next year, and neither does he. He doesn't know either how he's going to sell St Columba's, Dorking and one other house in London, let alone get rid of Danby Hall. By the way, St Columba's is available for holidays this summer if it's not sold, and if you're interested.

The Dutch priest is working on promotion in Belgium. He came for a retreat and ended up spending half his time at the Cathedral doing the ceremonies, which were all concelebrated. For the Maundy Thursday Chrism Mass there were at least 50 priests concelebrating, the oldest being 85. Another priest, the patriarch of the diocese, said he couldn't come because he was ill, otherwise he'd have loved to. His age – 99 years, 11 months!

Moira Dempsey is working in Germany for the US Army. She speaks German but no French, her German friend speaks French but no English and the Australian speaks something very near English, but that's all ; communication was quite a problem especially when the French/ Spanish/ Arab guys wanted to speak with them. Anyway, apart from two days of awful weather (one of them their first, the other their last) they did all right here, though some thought Moira's maxi skirt was a cassock!

Anyway, on Tuesday we set off from Gap for Nice, under a grey sky which got worse as we went along, until at length there was a real downpour, which of course only made the journey longer, as anyone who has ever tried to drive a bus round a hairpin bend can surely understand.

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
April-May, 1970

Dear All

Many thanks for all your letters. I've got enough on in answering your questions, let alone giving you the News. Nevertheless, the first thing is a news item for Richard. When I asked the boss if it were possible for you to come here, his answer was 'Pourquoi pas?' I trust that is easily translated by one and all! I said you would probably be here from about August onwards.

(2005: Maurice's brother Richard did indeed go on to spend some time at Emmaus, St Andre de Nice.)

A question for Richard: what is a folk workshop?

Now for the benefit of all who've asked, a short attempt at describing the community and its work. I'll start with the work, as that's easiest to talk about anyway, and is also a good point of depart (2005: sic, already too long in France!) for the description of the community.

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.

The man at the phone notes down what there is to collect and where, and gives the note to one of the lorry drivers the next time he's going that way. Usually there are two or three houses to be visited each morning and the same in the afternoon, for each lorry. There are two lorries which do this work, both of them with covered backs. The big one does the longer journeys while the other works only in Nice. Anyway, they bring the stuff back and it is soon unloaded at the unloading platform.

Here it is sorted out. Some things, like good furniture in good condition, can be put on sale straight away, and are sent to the 'hangar' or warehouse. Furniture which can be repaired is given to the carpenters, who also scavenge any decent pieces of furniture that can't.

We get lots of divans and mattresses. Good ones go on sale, bad ones are taken apart because certain kinds of stuffings can be sold. Last Tuesday we had one which was stuffed, among other things, with Louis Phillippe coins. (King Louis Phillippe was deposed in 1848). What is left of mattresses and furniture is then burned.

Clothing is sorted out – either way it is sold, whether it be as rags or as second-hand clothes.

Washing machines, fridges and stoves are repaired by the electricians, if its worth the bother. Otherwise they are broken up; the iron and steel going to the scrapyard and other metals, such as copper and aluminium, are sorted by the metals department.

For bikes, motorbikes, pedal cars etc, the same thing is done by the mechanics, which includes me. We also get painting jobs for metal tables etc, since we've got the spray gun. Books are either sold as books or as waste paper, along with all sorts of magazines, newspapers and so on. Nothing is wasted.

Sales are dealt with in the hangar, as a rule, although sometimes people order things before they've been put right. This is often the case with the mechanics dept – people order a moped and we make it up as soon as we've got the parts. The go-karts are usually ordered beforehand, but each one needs 2 motor scooters to provide engine and wheels. That can take time. Other jobs are around the house as well – cooks, gardener, painter, housekeeper, secretary, bookkeeper.

We work an 8 hour day with a 2 hour, continental style, lunch break. As well as board and lodging, each man gets 80 fags = 6 francs + 15 francs per week. What's left after that goes to help the work of Emmaus abroad or in France; in France they build homes for the homeless, but at present they have the problem of the community at Cabries which was burnt down recently. The idea is one of service – by the very fact that the men know that their work is of service to other people, they begin to realise that they themselves are of service to other people, they begin to reform their ways.

That of course brings me to the men themselves. Many of them are ex-tramps, nearly all are alcoholics, though not all of them are cured. Some are young and come from an unhappy childhood; others are older – for them it may be a question of a broken marriage or any number of things which have caused them to opt out of the normal life in society.


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.

Some leave, once they've found their feet, others unfortunately have to go, either of their own accord or because they're asked to – this because they don't try for, or don't really want the same things as the rest of the community. Others again stay on,and this for a whole variety of reasons – to help others in the community; because they are more secure and happy there themselves, because its very difficult to find work outside, especially if you're over forty and unskilled, and from Emmaus.

(People seem to think they're all ex-convicts and criminals on the run.) For many the community is the only happy home they've had – for others it's the only place they can keep off the wine, because it's the only place where they're not alone. As you can see there are all manner of reasons, and for none is it a simple case of one or the other.

The movement was started in Paris in the early 50s, after the War, by Abbé Pierre, a priest and MP. He had intended, and had opened a Youth Hostel, but, as much by chance as by design, he ended up with a number of tramps etc living with him. During one winter a baby died of cold and hunger in a shanty town nearby, and from then on the housing work began. The rag and bone men side of the business, which is of course the backbone of the system financially, was the suggestion of one of the first tramps. Since then it has spread all over the world: 28 communities in France and others everywhere from Japan to Peru.

(2005: Though the first in England was only opened in the 1990s in Cambridge.)

I think that should satisfy most of your questions. And now a newsflash: I've just seen a falcon swoop down on a rat and take it back off to its nest, which seems to be way up on the hillside, somewhere in the woods, and probably quite inaccessible.

May Day in France is a Bank Holiday. I spent the day on the beach – or rather on the rocks, trying to catch fish. It's not worth the bother here, the biggest you can catch from the shore are sardine sized. In the blue clear water there are other things to make up for this – pink seaweed, bright red anenomes, crabs, but mostly small, shrimps, shellfish and so on. And of course there is the sun, which is usually very much in evidence. On Friday we watched a yacht race and plenty of other shipping as well, including the Corsican ferry, Napoleon by name.

There was a model of the Napoleon (70 cars, 1200 passengers) in the ship museum. It was worth the 1 franc I paid, but not the normal 2f. That student card I got in Ireland certainly came in useful. I have definitely saved my money's worth on that.

The museum is in the tower of the castle at Nice, which like the castle here is very strongly placed. Not that there's much of it left – I think that what is really castle is mostly to be seen in a big hole in the ground.

The gardens make up for it though – mostly informal, and of course very well kept up. The view form up there is magnificent in all directions, especially on a clear day after the rain. Last Sunday it rained in the morning and the sky was absolutely clear by the afternoon.

Yesterday I spent at Cimiez, otherwise known as CEMENELUM, famous for its Roman sewage system and baths. Right now the place is a real high-class suburb but there is a big park with the ruins in it. These include three baths, a genuine Roman gents, a museum with Roman bits in it, and a gallery full of Matisse. There is also a Roman arena, of which more later.A Vth Century Cathedral was built on top of the women's baths (identified by the quantities of hair pins in the sewers). It is shaped. X is the foundation stone of the altar, which was probably like this and of course facing the people. Behind it, Y, the dotted line in the picture, is the bench in stone that runs around the sanctuary for the priests (concelebrating) to sit on. It's about 2 ft high. Also there is a stone reliquary.

The Baptistry: baptism was performed standing up to one's knees in the hexagonal hole with steps in the middle of the pillars. The font is in red Roman concrete. It is thought to have been like so.

The museum must wait because I'm on the lorry this week & in 10 mins I'm off to Monaco. I saw Jack Brabham's stuff there this morning in preparation for the Grand Prix, also a Lamborghini and an old Austin 7 full of Hippies.

Goodbye for now, Maurice

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Gap, Thursday 4th June, 1970

Dear All

Greetings and many thanks for all letters.

As regards coming home, it's rather difficult to work it all out, since neither the railway station nor the travel agents know all of what I want. However, because there is a reduction of 25% on travel between France and Belgium for those under 21, I expect I will go Gap – Paris – Brussels – Bruges – Oostende – Harwich – Doncaster – Pontefract [the Billingsley family were living in Castleford, W Yorks, at this time ] or something like that, stopping off at Paris, Brussels and Bruges (where there are free beds at WF houses).

This will be cheaper (I get Gap – Bruges for the price of Gap – Paris normally) and more interesting. Total cost will be about £15, for which I shall have to borrow some money, as I stand at £13/7/6 at present. [ Going back via Fribourg allowed Robbie and me to earn our fares as we were on WF business. ]

I shall probably be back the evening of July 2nd, if that's the Thursday – four weeks from now in fact. Apparently the weekend after that is the start of the big holidays in Belgium, so there's no sense in getting mixed up in that lot.

Life here goes on more or less as normal, bar terrible hangovers in the mornings as a result of too much midnight football. Still, it's been worth it so far, there's been a couple of good games on show.

Gap Football Club are in the middle of a row. [ A mixed bunch of WF students had joined to keep fit and learn French. Jose Parodi, the World Cup hero from Paraguay, was club coach and captain. ] They finished top of the Ligue de Provence Div II, but the league say that 2 points which they should have got for a win were deducted because of a fight on the field. This puts them 2nd. If first, they'd be promoted at once, if second they have to play-off with the 2nd bottom of the 1st Division. Gap point out that:

1 The team that day was from Marseille
2 The Ref * * * * * * * * *
3 Gap were by far the better team (4 – 0)
4 The other team began the fight
5 Gap had no reason to fight
6 It has been known before for refs to be beaten up if a Marseille team has lost against one from elsewhere before a Marseille ref.
7 The majority of the teams and officials in the League are from Marseille.
8 The team that now goes straight up is from Marseille.
9 The other team hasn't suffered.

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.

On Sunday we have a common or garden fête here, in aid of the local Handicapped People's Trust. Having seen some of their organisation before, I have my doubts about this one. Still, we'll see what comes of it. At present it's very much D.V. Since the clouds are beginning to pile up and there's a touch of thunder in the air.
By the way, did I tell you they're closing down Blacklion? We heard last month, and Raymond [ Murphy, from East Kilbride ] has since confirmed the fact. He's in the middle of exams at the moment. It's a bit much putting on exams with the World Cup, but I daresay he can manage them both.

They also want to get rid of Dorking and buy a house either in Lancs or Leeds, for fairly obvious reasons. That could be next year or the year after, depending on all sorts of things.

Preparations are now under way for those going to Canada, who have to give their word they aren't Communist etc before they can get visas, work permits, breath permits, student permits . . .

Fr Jaansens from Belgium and Mali, who was here earlier in the year on a visit, passed through with his sister who is a nun in Burundi. They have a new Volkswagen jeep, which is like a thick-skinned beetle, a brand-new model, and in the best VW tradition, dead ugly. He got it for free of course. As a holiday they've been running a country parish near Nice.

I enclose a cheque for £5 which if you could cash and send over in a letter I would be most grateful. It should keep me till I get back, even with shopping and sightseeing on the way home.

Right then, that's about it. It just remains to wish happy birthday to all three [my sister, grandmother and youngest brother, in order of birthdays ] and to hope all exams are running as well as Lester's horse in the Derby.

Good bye and God bless,
till later,


Peres Blancs

Tuesday 30th June 1970

Dear All

Robbie, Joseph and I left Gap on Saturday morning at 7.30, and got here 12 hrs later, after taking five assorted trains – from Gap to Grenoble in an autorail – i.e. railcar – there were 4 joined together. At Grenoble we had 2 hrs wait so we went and had Guinness and sandwiches. Once we got back to Grenoble station we had a glimpse of the Talgo, a Trans-Europe Express which does Barcelona-Geneva. It is special for 2 reasons: 1) it starts off on 7 ft rails and changes to 4’8?” without stopping ; 2) the coaches are very short in length and the bellows thing between each coach is almost the full width of it. The train is called Our Lady of Lourdes. It was very noisy.
We had a good half hour before our train deigned to turn up and of course it got worse. The countryside was lovely – mountains, forests and waterfalls – and at Chambery a mountain with a great cross in concrete or stone, visible for miles. We also had the chance to see some of the SNCF’s old electric trains used for the alpine tunnels.

By the time we got to Aix-les-bains it was so late they turned our train round and we got an Italian one to Culoz, where we watched the shunting. Then our train, if you could call it that, arrived. That got us eventually to Geneva where a superb express was waiting for us – the first that day that ran to time.

We went all along Lake Geneva and it was really lovely. A thunderstorm at the east end, and at the west, a golden, glorious evening, such as you never saw. The whole carriage was fixed upon the windows over our side. With the whole of the sky at the end a terrific soft flame colour and the lake a bright shining gold, with the mountains haloed by the glow and the lake steamers rippling across the water it was a sight not to be missed. (And it would have been if the WFs had paid up for TEE tickets on the Spanish Express!!)
We arrived at Fribourg at 7 o’clock and had to go under a tunnel beneath the railway. While we were underneath a storm broke out and we were stranded for a good ten minutes. We eventually got to the house and our first decent meal of the day.
We’ve been able to visit the town a bit in the evenings. The Cathedral has art nouveau windows but is otherwise very old, complete with saints and devils in appropriate places. The town itself is very old as well, with a town hall clock with little men to ring bells, its own flag (Fribourg is one of the cantons of the Swiss Federation), its own trolley buses, two private railways, lots of churches, very old town walls with a roof all around, a river with a steep bank and so on.


One of the private railways is a funicular. There are two cars which are tied to each other and go up and down a slope of about ? mile, helped by weight of the one going down and the force of the sewage pumped in at the top and out at the bottom. It costs 30 Swiss centimes which is about 6d, so when we found ourselves at the bottom we decided to go up – a shaky ride, but different.

The second private railway has an antique bus service and delivers all railway parcels. Its van was up here. It folds up (or down) to unload and back to normal for driving.

Among Fribourg’s attractions is the Belleregard brewery. There is a magnificent front onto the road with 7 big copper vats all polished up amid green tiles. There is also a man with a control panel.

It’s getting late, and I’m tired with a healthy mix of work and walk. If my trunk arrives before me (it should) don’t be afraid to open it, but don’t let the kids loose on it either. It should have keys with it for HM Customs.
Goodbye and God bless to all,


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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.

Click below on the 'GAP' page you wish to view :