DIEPPE and OUR RETURN TO LONDON
9th-10th July 2015.
There were a number of reasons why we decided to use the port of Dieppe as our departure point for England.
Dieppe was from where my travelling companion Ian and I exited France at the end of our 1970 overland drive and I wanted to write about the exit; I wanted to look more closely at the geology in the vicinity; we were curious as to why so many artists were drawn to the region; I wanted to experience first hand its WW2 history; and finally, avoid possible long delays at ports to the north, especially Calais.
At Calais there was considerable chaos due to attempts by refugees from the Middle Eastern and North African countries to get across the channel into the UK. Between 2000 and 5000 men, women and children were at the port of Calais waiting for the opportunity to stow away on trucks heading for England. Some desperate souls even attempted to walk through the Eurotunnel, at great personal risk.
Chalk is a soft, white, porous sedimentary carbonate rock composed of the mineral calcite. The horizontal strata in the cliffs are layers of flints which, when released by erosion, form shingle beaches.
The cliffs are of a sedimentary nature and were formed during the Cretaceous period 145 million years ago, (give or take 4 to 60 million years) when sea levels were much higher than they are today.
Dieppe is the closest seaside town to Paris so one has to be choosy when one visits to avoid the crowds. I imagine it would be very crowded during both the English and French school holidays.
The name Dieppe is derived from the Dutch ‘diep’ meaning ‘deep’ and that applied to the deep River Arques. Dieppe to the French is like Portsmouth or Plymouth to the English. Many explorers and naval expeditions left from the port to explore and conquer. Because of its maritime importance it has been the centre of hostilities over the centuries. In 1694 an Anglo-Dutch force destroyed the town but the most recent calamity was in August 1942 during WW2 when the Dieppe Raid took place. After the fall of France in 1940 Dieppe was occupied by the Germans until liberation in 1944.
The Dieppe Raid was an Allied attack on the German-occupied port. The intention was to occupy the town for a short time and whilst there destroy defences, radar installations, docks, petrol dumps in the vicinity, capture prisoners, gain intelligence and, as has been recently purported, to raid German headquarters nearby with the aim of securing secret documents and hopefully an encryption machine. One interesting comment I found on the web relating to the raid follows: ‘Could the single biggest raid of the war simply have been a diversion for the real objective…a commando ‘pinch’ operation to steal German naval codes and encryption machines?’ According to secret documents released in 2013 playing a leading role in the top-secret mission was legendary spymaster Ian Fleming who would later gain fame as author of the James Bond 007 series.
Some historians believe the raid was no more than a trial run for the D Day landings at Normandy to the south which, if true, could go down as one of the greatest military blunders of WW2.
The Allied Forces comprising British, Americans and mostly Canadians landed on beaches up and down the coast from Dieppe however they lasted less than ten hours after sixty per cent of the total invading force of just over six thousand had been killed, wounded or captured. The town remained garrisoned by the Germans until the conclusion of the Battle Of Normandy.
One feature of the Dieppe beachfront is the open green recreation area dividing the main residential area and the beach. Napoleon lll and his wife Eugenie, the last empress of France, spent their honeymoon in Dieppe and the empress was instrumental in ensuring the grassed open area was not developed.
Some indigenous Australians believe that stones contain the spirits of their ancestors and by talking to or playing music to the stones they keep in contact with those who have passed over. If we could speak with these beach stones where Allied soldiers fell they would no doubt relate stories of the suffering and despair of war.
At various locations around Dieppe there are posters with fish on bikes and in light of my curious nature and my interest in bikes I had to ask why. At first I thought the poster was associated with the local authority’s efforts to promote the coastal bike trails of the region but after a little research it came to light that the poster relates to the Dieppe annual herring festival.
Using fish on bikes as a promotional tool might seem obscure but it is certainly eye catching. When I looked into the subject further I found many references on the web and one particular entry fired my imagination. It was The Fish and Bicycle Pages by John S Allen where there is a thought-provoking cartoon.
The Alabaster Coast is by nature of its geology and geography an artistic place so not surprisingly it has attracted droves of artists over the years, including famous impressionists such as Monet’s mentor, Boudin, who painted along the Normandy and Brittany coasts during the 1850s and early 1860s. Maybe the impressionist style was inspired by the ever-changing infused salty air of the region.
Eva Gonzales was positioned above the town of Dieppe, near where the German observation dome was located.
The ride from Dieppe town to the ferry terminal was a pleasant ride but the scars of war were present. Along the way were reminders of ‘The Raid’, bullets still embedded in walls and power poles. Today all is quiet on the Dieppe waterfront however there are indications the local French authorities think this may not continue as judging by the defences around the port I think they are worried about a possible refugee influx akin to what is happening at the port of Calais.
Razor wire or barbed tape such as shown above has evolved from common barbed wire which had its origins as far back as the mid 1800s in America. Razor wire is named after its appearance and is much sharper than standard barbed wire as its points are very sharp and made to grab onto clothing and flesh. The erection of barbed and razor wire fences has a strong psychological effect on those wishing to pass through and with the advent of high tensile steels modern razor wire is very difficult to cut. No longer is it possible to cut through a fence with ordinary bolt cutters, a cordless angle grinder might be more appropriate these days to effect passage and even then extreme care would be needed as when the hardened core is cut it unfurls and the wire lashes out.
Today there is kilometre after kilometre of razor wire fences being erected in Europe and I wondered who was making the beastly stuff and whilst searching for the answer I came across this newspaper article published in German magazine Die Welt. ‘Two leading German manufacturers have turned their back on contracts worth hundreds of thousands of euros to help build up Hungary’s border with Serbia. Despite the gesture, more and more countries are fencing themselves off from the flow of asylum seekers into Europe….. Mutanox, a Berlin-based manufacturer said it refused to put forward a bid on principle. A company representative said, ‘Razor wire is designed to prevent criminal acts, like a burglary. Fleeing children and adults are not criminals’.
Regardless of the German manufacturer’s stand there are many other manufacturers ready to answer the call. One such factory is within a high-security prison north of Budapest. History is repeating itself. I can’t help but think about the Iron Curtain that ran along the Hungarian border during the cold war period.
Not all of the ride to the ferry terminal is fraught with past suffering and possible future despair. There are many historic buildings worthy of note. Following are a few examples.
Buildings which were destroyed during WW2 are easy to recognise. For example, in the above photograph I’m guessing the two buildings on the right are new ones and the two to the left are originals.
On the ferry we met Laurent, a French-born national living permanently in London. We talked at length about our travels, including the story when I last crossed from Dieppe to Newhaven nearing the end of my 1970 overland journey with friend Ian whom I met when surveying in western NSW. Ian and I hitched a ride from Colombo to London with an Englishman who had driven from London to Colombo. No doubt our chauffeur was overland-wise as he knew which route was safest and less travelled. He also seemed to know quite a number of wheelers and dealers along the way and from what we could make out he intended setting up an import business when he returned to England. His interests ranged from the importation of ivory knitting needles, gramophone needles, small native mammals and other items such as guns and marijuana. When we enquired about the legality of taking guns into England he indicated he had a licence and everything was above board. When we did question the validity of his statement he shrugged it off saying, ‘If I don’t satisfy the demand someone else will’.
In retrospect I think Ian and I were his respectability ticket as we were not typical of the long-haired hippies on the road from London to Kathmandu at the time. The long-haired travellers were shunned by border officials who couldn’t actually refuse entry to them purposely but made it difficult by refusing to stamp entry documents until other more reputable travellers had been attended to. Ian and I were clean cut and respectable-looking so we breezed through immigration and customs without a second glance.
The items stashed in the Landrover sub frame chassis by our chauffeur were a worry to us because just by association if he was caught we simply might go down with him. Before boarding the Newhaven ferry we extracted our backpacks from the Landrover, stood our distance and watched the customs inspection proceedings. Getting out of France was easy, there were no mirrors on sticks to look under vehicles as used by customs officials at other border crossings. On the personal front, due to my interest in geology and particularly gemstones, I bought a number of stones in India. The following photograph shows one particularly stunning piece. At the time I wasn’t sure if it was legal to take such stones into England so to be on the safe side I concealed it in a jar of sugar.
Metaphysical experts suggest citrine brings good fortune and helps the owner achieve success in business and is sometimes called the Merchant’s Stone. In addition to delivering abundance it also imparts energies of generosity.
Following is an extract from my 1970 overland diary relating to the area in which our chauffeur bought the small monkey like creatures.
BANGALORE 13th SEPTEMBER 1970. Ian and I ventured out from the hotel early but we didn’t get far before we were bailed up. Just outside the main entrance to the hotel there was an old bloke, who, for a fee would set a mongoose and a cobra into a death battle. He said the mongoose usually won and if it did he would skin the snake on the spot, take it to a tannery and have it made into a belt by the end of the day. We declined the offer for a couple of reasons. We didn’t want to see the animals set onto each other and we didn’t like the idea of a snake skin belt. On the other hand our intrepid leader did a deal with the old boy, not for a snakeskin belt but for two monkey-like creatures for which he said ‘a number of private zoos in England would pay top money for them’.
There is no other word than cute to describe them and soon after our leader bought them Ian came up with names for them. He called the smaller one Mildred and the larger male, Tiger.
The Indian name for the monkey-like creatures is Maymoon or Jepshardy, the English name is Slender or Slow Loris. They are a nocturnal primate found only in the rainforests of southern India and northern Sri Lanka. Insects are their mainstay although they will eat grass, flowers and shoots and occasionally bird eggs and nestlings. Slender Loris engage in urine washing, they urinate into their hands and rub the urine over their feet and face. It is thought the urine soothes the toxins excreted by insects as they are being consumed.
At the time of writing this post the Slender Loris is considered a threatened species due to habitat loss by fragmentation, slash and burn agricultural methods and the activities of poachers collecting animals for the exotic pet trade. On a regional scale they are killed for human consumption and for use in traditional medicine.
As illegal as it may have been for our driver to take Tiger and Mildred into England I’m hoping they survived and went on to raise a family. At least they would not have suffered the same fate as the poor creature in the above photograph.
The little creatures were not an inconvienence at anytime, in fact at some border crossings they eased our way through as border officials were amused by them and their antics.
The easiest insects for us to catch enroute were grasshoppers and the daily ritual became an educational experience. We surmised that no one in the world would know what species of grasshopper lived in countries from India to France. Keeping them warm in colder climes was not a problem, all that had to be done was add a little vodka to their nightly warm milk. The vodka also acted as a mild sedative so at potential border crossings where the could have been a problem having them a little under the weather was an advantage.
These days taking animals from one country to another is severely frowned upon, but the 1970s were very different times and international bio-diversity regulations didn’t exist.
Today (Friday 10th July) was a sorrowful day for us as we left French soil. Of all the European countries Bev and I have visited we both feel that France is our favourite and I’m sure it’s because of its ancientness, open landscape and friendly inhabitants. Some commentators say the country has an ephemeral feeling about it; we do not feel that at all. France is one of the few countries that has everything. The last farewell to France was by a local, French Lieutenant General Abraham Duquesne.
The reason the statue of Abraham Duquesne takes pride of place at the port of Dieppe is because he was born in Dieppe and was the French equivalent of Lord Nelson. At seventeen he commanded his own ship and eight French naval ships have been named after him, the latest being a high tech submarine.
As we sailed out of Dieppe harbour today the words of WW2 ‘Forces Sweetheart’ Vera Lynn’s famous song came to mind. She sang many songs to Allied troops across the channel in the battlefields during WW2.
We’ll meet again / Don’t know where / Don’t know when / But I know we’ll meet again some sunny day.
Vera Lynn released an album of wartime songs at the grand old age of 97 in 2014. There is one particular YouTube presentation worth an indulgence. Listen to it and think of the poor souls who were maimed and killed during WW2 defending freedom. Search Vera Lyn on YouTube singing We’ll Meet Again. It may well bring tears to your eyes…the futility of war.
The ferry crossing was without event and as I previously mentioned we teamed up with Laurent and he led us out of the port and to the railway station where we caught the train to Victoria Station. Buying a ticket via a machine even when the instructions are in English was a hassle especially for those not au fait with the electronic monsters. Bev has done a marvellous job to date coaxing machines to give her tickets, it only becomes stressful when you have no change and the train is pulling into the station.
On the train to Victoria we met with an older cyclist who was a wine connoisseur and I told him about the valuable bottle of French wine I was carrying in my pannier. He emphatically suggested we should not drink it as such wines are collectors’ items and it could also kill you if it had soured!
Laurent informed us that we would arrive at Victoria Station in the middle of peak hour and in light of there being a ban on bikes on the underground during peak hour times we would need to find a spot to while away an hour or two. He suggested we ride past Buckingham Palace to St James Park where we could feed the ducks and geese and watch the world go by. The ride could be described as nothing other than frightening: London buses, taxis and general traffic bore down on us from all angles, however we made it and we did exactly what Laurent suggested. We fed the ducks and geese and watched the world go by.
The above photograph was taken as we rode. I have a small digital camera in a pouch on my belt ready for quick draw. If I ever fall off my bike or ride under a truck or bus it will be when riding one-handed with the camera up to my eye.
The time in St James Park was a pleasant interlude but we were concerned about how we were going to fare getting back through the traffic to Victoria Station. Victoria Road which led back to the station was, as would be expected, jammed with traffic and I stood on the pavement assessing the potential danger. I decided the best plan was to join fellow cyclists and swarm to the station. To achieve an adrenalin hit some people bungy jump, others free fall from aeroplanes. Today our adrenalin hit was to plunge headlong into the London traffic.
That’s the end of post number one hundred and sixty nine. Post one hundred and seventy will relate to London once again, buying a new camera to replace the one stolen in Barcelona Spain. The story relating to buying a camera may sound a little mundane but I’m sure there will be tales to tell. Hope you stay with us.
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Following are two images showing where we are heading.
The Welsh proverb Araf deg mae mynd ymhell (Go slowly and go far) comes to mind.