Churches Together in Leatherhead visit to Triel-sur-Seine
Frances Presley's personal recollection
from the November 2005 Parish Church magazine
Eight-thirty on a Saturday morning is not my best time of day; ask Ron! But on 22nd October it found us both on the bus, packed and ready to leave for the Shuttle. Ann, our Guide from Pax, who was to be with us for the week, and David, did a head count; the 27 expected were all there, so Eddie, our more than capable driver (with a tendency to forget his jacket!) moved off. By 2.15 we were through the tunnel and stopped at an aire [an autoroute service area] with the most incredible views over the North French coast where we had our first taste of French coffee and patisserie!
The first four nights were to be at Vernon, but we detoured to Corbie, one of hundreds of WW1 Cemeteries. David had found out that one of the graves was that of 2nd Lt Grey de Leche Leach, killed saving others from a bomb on 3rd September 1916. His memorial tablet is in the Church; he lived in Vale Lodge, which I found very poignant - I like to think that his father, who was a great benefactor in Leatherhead, would have been gladdened.
Vernon was badly bombed during the D-Day landings but has been rebuilt and is a bustling little town. We left early the next morning (we left early every morning!) for Triel, our twinned town, where we were warmly welcomed.
We joined them for their 10.30 Mass, with David as part of the officiating team; their organist greeted us with Land of Hope and Glory played on his English organ! We were then wined and dined in the Old Mairie overlooking the Seine and welcomed by the Mayor. On our way back we stopped off at a very old ruined castle with the most spectacular views over the Seine - the chalk cliffs there have a common origin to our own North and South Downs.
The next day we were in Chartres whose Cathedral can never fail to inspire. David was able to preside over the Eucharist just for us in the long, dark but spiritual Crypt. The stained glass windows are just breathtaking and you need at least a week to learn about the building.
Tuesday was Giverny day, always amazing at any time of the year, and then on to the Abbaye Notre-Dame du Bec, founded in the 11th century. Now much reduced in size after a long and interesting history, it still has a community of monks and a most beautiful Chapel created from the old Refectory where we celebrated Communion with them at their Midday Mass.
Before we reached our destination, Caen, we stopped in Lisieux to go to the tomb, birthplace and Basilica of St Teresa, or Little Teresa, as she liked to be known. There is not room to relate her story here, but the way she is remembered for her short life gave rise to much discussion when we were back on the coach.
Caen is very close to Bayeux, where we spent the next morning at the tapestry and the Cathedral, both fascinating in their own ways.
Next, we visited Arromanches, the site of the British Gold Beach landing; you cannot be in Normandy and be unaware of Le Debarquement, as it is known. It was very difficult to visualise the realities of 1944 on such a cloudless beautiful day with the incredible beaches stretching for miles both East and West. However, in the newly built circular cinema, for 20 minutes we plunged into the noise, the dirt and absolute horror of the landings and advance of the armies, giving a brief glimpse of the "Price of Liberty". What we were watching was making a deep impression on everyone as they turned and twisted to watch all the screens.
Outside again it was warm enough to swim, but a paddle had to suffice to look at some of the massive sections of the artificial harbour that are still there and may well be for many years to come.
So what was the object of our Pilgrimage? My Thesaurus calls it travelling to a sacred place as an act of religious devotion, and a holiday is a time of recreation. Being wished a good holiday before we left, David immediately protested it was not a holiday. No, it was not a holiday and we certainly travelled to sacred places, but our pilgrimage would have had no significance had David not put so much work into advance preparation and planning and then implementing his plans. For that we must all thank him.
What will my memories be? It was great to have the opportunity to get to know people I had never met and to get to know better those who I already knew. I shall always remember Jennifer Louis talking about her early life in Russia, Tom Lunnon just being with us all, Chris playing his mandolin for a hymn and Rene Vokes' twinkly eyes enjoying every moment.