The diary of a wide-eyed boy in France, 1947

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Indy Lifestyle Online
In the first of a new series reclaiming summers past, the broadcaster Frank Bough recalls his brief celebrity status when, two years after the war, he was selected to join the World Scout Jamboree in France

I couldn't believe my luck, Sydney Darricott couldn't go. His mum and dad wouldn't let him. He'd been chosen from the 3rd Oswestry Scout Troop of the Shropshire and Hereforshire contingent to join the World Scout Jamboree in Moisson in France. So I went instead. Today it's no big deal going to France. But in 1947, how different it was. People hadn't travelled. The odd eccentric, perhaps, the very rich. The nobility did the European Tour, but the great mass of people went, as we did, to Southport, Colwyn Bay or Aberystwyth for their week's summer holiday.

Sydney's mum and dad couldn't cope with the enormity of their 15 year old going to France. It simply didn't happen. Heavens, we'd been fighting a war there only two years previously. It was alien, foreign.

The plum fell into my lap. I wasn't quite old enough, to be honest, only 14 and a half. I was supposed to be 15 at least, but my scout master conveniently ignored the problem and my mum and dad were terrifically pleased I'd been chosen. People in my small Shropshire town came up to me and said "I hear you're going to France then, well well."

Just short of 50 years later, I'm quite pleased with the diary I kept of the trip. My young handwriting is much better then than now, and gramatically my English is reasonably sound.

We might bitch about public transport in 1996 but looking through my diary, I am reminded that in 1947 the train journey from Shropshire to London (about 180 miles) took nine hours, and even in France trains rarely managed more than 15 miles an hour. Now we have Concorde, and motorways, and 180mph trains, and we all go where we like, and as far as we like. What 14 year old of today is writing about that?

There's lot in my diary about food. I seem to have made the startling discovery that "The meals are Anglo Saxon and are in the following order - Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner and Supper". And there was never enough. "We had pears and peaches for dessert at lunch. They were very sweet and juicy. Being the days' cooks we had a couple extra." These were probably my first peaches.

Food, too, was very much on my mind during our scout's outing to Paris. This was how I recorded the trip in that summer of 1947...

Today we were to go to Paris. To most people it was like a dream. Paris seemed a long way away in our minds. Again the sun tore down when we got up. Although it was only 6.30 it was hot and an even hotter day seemed likely. We started off at about 7.15 and marched to the big camp bus station. The bus was on time and soon we were rolling through the French countryside to the station.

The trains of France are either good or bad. This one was good. It was a train the like of which I have never seen before and bore a tremendous engine. It was a special train and was full of scouts all bound either to Paris or beyond.

After about an hour's journey we arrived on the outskirts of Paris. The first thing that caught the eye, of course, was Eiffel Tower, the tallest of its kind in the world.

Our first impression of Paris was that it was just as we had expected it to be. Huge buildings and wide, tree-lined streets, with their cafes and chairs and tables outside. It was a wonderful sight. After we had a hunt round we contacted a French scout bus, which took us to the Scout Jamboree Canteen. (The Jamboree has a bus service and as this was an excursion organised by the authorities we could use these buses as we pleased).

At this Jamboree Canteen we were given a grand dinner. The only snag was that we had been expected to bring our own tools and we hadn't known this and the result was that we had to make do with scout knives and such like.

First on the menu was tomatoes and vinegar, with mint sauce. This was followed by corned beef and water to drink. After this came baked beans. With all these we had as much bread as we could demolish in the time given. It was a grand meal and what counted most was that there was plenty of it.

We filed outside. By this time the heat was killing. The sun beat down mercilessly and were were glad to get some of the draught offered us in the bus which was waiting outside.

Our next destination was the famous Eiffel Tower. All wondered if it would be possible to get to the top of the tower. As we grew nearer everyone was impressed by the tremendous height of the tower and its massive scale. The road ran underneath the four feet of the tower and on each side were ornamental gardens. It was like a picture from a story book.

Then inquiries showed that it was possible to get to the top of the tower. Lifts went up every quarter of an hour for 70 centimes. This was quite a reasonable price and most people went to the booking office to receive their tickets. Then a few minutes later we were rising in the big lift which was one of four which worked from the four feet at the bottom. We rose higher and higher until the whole of Paris was spread like a map beneath us. It was breathtaking. Words can hardly describe the scene. The Seine lay below and like a blue ribbon with all its bridges. Many famous buildings came into our view. The tomb of the unknown soldier was seen, the great two-spired cathedral of Notre-Dame. We stayed up there for half an hour viewing the marvellous scenery and drinking iced lemonade. It was a wonderful experience.

We descended after this and went to the Louvre. Here we were unlucky, for the famous gallery was closed. After this we sat in a cafe and had more drinks. Most of everybody's money was spent on either ice cream or lemonade. Another favourite drink was cider which was 12 centimes a glass. When we had finished cooling ourselves off we got on to the tube, or metro as it is called, and took a train for Notre-Dame.

Here a funny incident happened. Dan Wright came running along the platform to us and as the train before ours went out his hat blew off and the train went over it. After an official had retrieved it the brim was burnt and almost cut in two. Everyone roared with laughter. When order had been restored again, we climbed into our train and were whisked off to Cite, a station near to Notre Dame.

We looked over the latter then returned to the tube. We visited many more places including the Champs-Elysees and Arc de Triomphe and then at 8.30 boarded the same train that we had come on, back to camp."

In 1947 the cheapest train journey from London to Paris was from Victoria via Newhaven and Dieppe. This took 7 3/4 hours during the day, 9 hours at night.

In 1996 the Eurostar train journey from Waterloo to Gare du Nord takes 3 hours. A standard return ticket is currently pounds 69. Call Eurostar on 0345 881 881 for more details.

Frank Bough presents Travel Live on Travel, the cable television station.