The book begins, as it should, with a dedication…
MY MOTHER AND FATHER
I SUPPOSE nearly everyone has seen those old-fashioned glass snowstorm paper-weights standing on some writing-table. They present such a halcyon scene with snow covering the roof of some miniature cottage. Lift it up; shake it, and the scene changes to an animated whirl, the flakes darting here and there, high and low, slowly fluttering to rest again when the crystal is placed back on the table.
Somehow the inconsequent behaviour of those toys seems to provide a good simile to the wanderings of a traveller.
Suddenly one is shaken into a journey to the other end of the world, fluttering here and there like the snowflakes, finally to return again to rest at home.
Interesting as wanderings may be, half the pleasure of going is in the coming back. What a thrill it is for us to hear a barrel-organ outside Victoria Station, or for the American to gaze on the Golden Gate or the statue of Liberty, the Frenchman to see the Arc de Triomphe. It is good to travel, for apart from the cliché that it widens our outlook and increases our tolerance of other races, it also, inevitably, deepens affection for our own land.
I offer these “flutterings” into many strange places, professing no intricate knowledge of their ways or conditions, not claiming to have walked across India, flown over Siberia, or push-bicycled round the world. They are merely a few personal impressions that I have gathered with the aid of my “two eyes.” (Re-reading my text it is inevitable, alas, that in the following pages I should use many “I’s”!)
Perhaps I should apologise for a lot of things : if I have said that some of the children in Japan have dirty noses, that the Soviet of Russia frightened me ; if I have, as no doubt I have, left out many things that I should have inserted, I crave forgiveness. But I have never kept a diary, and, although my eyes are strong and the lens of my camera is sharp, impressions are apt to become blurred when locked away in the memory for any length of time.
Many of the people in this book have been associated with me in some of the happiest times in my life and I trust they will forgive me for including them in my narrative, if only for the sake that my readers may enjoy by proxy the pleasure of meeting them and entering into the happy episodes surround them.
For the rest, I hope my readers may obtain in these pages some momentary escape from the pressing cares of the moment, into the distant places of the earth.
V. C. BUCKLEY.
To an Englishman a visit to France is usually the “reading without tears” in foreign travel.
Nearly everyone has spent a holiday at one or other of the French seaside resorts, even if it has been only a day trip to Boulogne in August ; and /or read countless guide books, railway pamphlets, and literature of the type “With a Sketch Book in Brittany” by the Vicar’s daughter, all giving punctilious details details of travel in France, so I shall not encroach on these preserves but just move along the coast haphazard, to give some personal experiences with an occasional impression of some place that has particularly forced itself on the canvas of my memory—alas! that I cannot paint you nice water-colour sketches like the Vicar’s daughter! For I should like to have painted, on a spring day in 1914, a scene at Le Touquet, Pas de Calais, then quite a small French resort nestling amongst the pine woods and sand-dunes.
As we were sitting outside the golf club there was suddenly a great commotion, everyone pointing up to the sky, with the little caddies, boys and girls alike, all shouting: “c’est un avion, c’est un avion,”which, after much craning of our necks, we finally saw in the distance. To our amazement it came quite low, and after circling twice landed on the 18th fairway.
This happened to be the first aeroplane I had ever seen at close quarters, so I was among the first to run over and inspect it. I wondered if the pilot would take me for a flight; a daring dash across the Channel would make a grand story to tell when I got back to school, and I could almost hear myself telling my hero, the inevitable captain of the cricket XI—”and then we were 4000 feet up over the sea I realised that we were making for the coast of England.”
As we arrived, the pilot and a woman passenger were getting out of the cockpit, who, it afterwards transpired, were Monsieur Caudron, the famous inventor of the Caudron biplane, who had landed for a short rest, en route to Boulogne with his wife. The ‘plane, even for those days, looked a very frail affair: as I was gazing in admiration at the machine, with its wings painted a curious pale blue, and weaving all kinds of wonderful adventures round it, my mother and father came across to inspect it also. It was not such a great novelty to them for they had seen the machines of Blériot, Grahame-White, and Paulhan in England.
My mother’s first words were: “Don’t stand so near! You never know what these aeroplanes will do! They are most dangerous and treacherous. I have always said, ‘If God meant us to fly, He would have given us wings.’ Your father thinks this too,” she added. “These machines are unnatural and terribly unsafe. Come away at once now, I don’t want the thing to start off and knock us all down.”
I replied peevishly that it was quite safe as the engine was switched off and it could not possibly move, but my mother was firm, and insisted that anyway it was tea-time, and I could not stand staring at it all afternoon. After tea, however, she conceded that if the thing was still there I could go and take some snapshots. From the windows of the Golf Hotel it looked like a gigantic pale blue “daddy-long-legs” standing in the sunlight with its frail wings and tiny body.
Those were the days when Le Touquet was in its infancy, the Golf Hotel, the Hermitage and the Des Anglais being about the only places to stay, and the clientèle of the Casino was very small. Only since the War has it turned into a second Deauville, with its polo, tennis and golf tournaments, quantities of lovely villas and vast new hotels, battles of flowers, races, and Concours de Pyjamas, de Bébés et d’ Automobiles.
It always seems singular to me that we, as a nation, travel abroad so extensively; being insular, one would think, especially with an often rough Channel to cross, we would stay at home; and yet if one looks at the growth of a place like Le Touquet it has been we who have made it the popular and fashionable resort it is.
Letting the years pass, to the autumn of 1920, what unbelievable strides had been made in flying during those six years, due, no doubt, to that explanation of everything bad and a few things good—the War.
There was now a daily service between London and Paris, and civilian flying was considered quite a safe way of travel.
My family decided to go over to France in September 1920, stay a week in Paris, then visit the battlefields. At lunch one day I said: “How about flying to Paris when we go? I know mother is dead against flying, but surely it must be quite safe. Look at the thousands of people that have crossed the Channel safely; they would never risk money on a regular air service if it wasn’t reasonably safe. After all, we have advanced a long way since we saw that frail-looking machine at Le Touquet before the War.”
“I don’t care if they are made now of solid steel,” my mother said. “They are not at all safe, and as I have always said, ‘if we were meant to fly, we should have been given wings’—besides, I certainly don’t think we should all get killed together. Who would look after your young brother?”
The argument ended there for the oment, but after lunch I went to my father and asked him to try and persuade my mother to agree that he and I should go by ‘plane and she could go by boat. After several days, in which there was a lot of talk about aeroplane accidents, and why did some people want to get killed, it was decided that my father and I were to fly across and meet my mother in Paris; she was perforce left to deal with the luggage as we could only take a small suit-case containing the proverbial tooth-brush—and pyjamas.
I immediately rushed down to the offices of “The Aircraft Transport and Travel Company,” in PallMall, which then ran the London-Paris service, to book the tickets. In those days the cost of two single tickets to Paris was £20, which included motor transport from Leicester Square to Croydon and from Le Bourget aerodrome to one’s Paris hotel.
My mother still gloomed over the whole project, and just before we left for the aerodrome, informed us she had insured our lives for £1000 each in the event of death, and £1000 for the loss of two limbs or two eyes, and so forth; not a cheering piece of information as we were about to make a start. However, in the excitement, we did not pay much attention. Our only thought was to be on our adventure. It was, happily, a lovely golden September afternoon when we arrived in Croydon Aerodrome, which, in those days, was to what it is to-day as a ploughed field Wimbledon turf. There was only a small wooden Customs shed, a waiting-room and a few hangars—a staggering contrast to the regular “Victoria Station of the Air” that has now been erected there.
Our ‘plane, which had “Aircraft Transport and Travel Ltd.” painted on its side, was standing out on the landing-field. It was a single-engined machine, built to carry three passengers as well as the pilot. We found that we two were to be the sole passengers that day. Several friends had come to see us off, and there was much photographing and a good many stupid remarks such as: “don’t fall out into the Channel,” and “What will happen if you feel sick? there will be no steward to bring you basins and brandy.” But we laughed these off, and prepared to get in. First we were encased in life-belts; then, with the aid of a ladder, we climbed into our section of the machine, which had small windows each side, through which we waved to our friends. A mechanic climbed up the ladder and closed a glass top down over heads, fastening it with a bolt. We felt we were now in a sort of glass coffin, not a very cheering sensation to inaugurate our flight!
I suppose, if the truth be known, this was a War machine that had been converted into a passenger-carrier. Anyway I shall never forget the look of horror on the faces of those who had come to see us off, as the top was fastened down on us. I expect they were thinking, as I must confess I did, how could we get out if the ‘plane was to crash or come down in the sea? we could never have unfastened that roof in a hurry. But it was too late to think of these things as the engine roared and we were soon heading for the Coast. We left Croydon punctually at schedule time—4.40—and landed at Le Bourget at 6.50, after a most comfortable journey over much the same route used by giant air liners of 1932, but flying at 4000 feet most of the way, which is considerably higher than the London to Paris ‘planes fly to-day.
Having flown safely from London, we narrowly escaped death on a car which drove us to our hotel in Paris. The chauffeur must have been drunk or mad, for he tore through the streets regardless of everything, about fifty times more recklessly than the average Paris taxi, which is saying a lot; it seemed that we were bound to crash before we got to the hotel, but he somehow swerved and dashed and hooted his way safely to the Rue de Rivoli. How we did not crash I cannot think, unless it was all due to the white heather, horse-shoes, and lucky pigs given us before starting on the air journey. We dared not lean out and remonstrate with the driver, for fear lest, in turning round to speak to us, he would, at the terrible speed he was going, dash straight into the Eiffel Tower, or up the steps of the Madeleine.
Thus ended my first cross-channel trip by air. Vieux jeu, for it seems as if we fly through life all the time to-day in every sense of the word.
The Victorians ambled to places in carriages; the Edwardians drove in motor-cars; and we Georgians fly. Ten years later on a hot July morning in 1030, I was walking down Charles Street, Haymarket, and passing the Imperial Airways office, I happened to notice in their window that the price of a return ticket to Le Touquet had come down to as low as £6.
At the time my family was spending the summer holiday at the Golf Hotel there, and, wanting to discuss some important business with them, I strolled into the Airways office and enquired if they had a seat on the afternoon ‘plane for Le Touquet to return thence next morning, getting back to my office by midday. They had a vacant set on both ‘planes, and having booked these, they told me to be at the office not later than 3.30 p.m.
I dispatched a wire from the post office next door saying, “Flying over for the night. Engage room.” It really only seemed like yesterday we had looked at an aeroplane on the golf course at Le Touquet as if it had been something form another world. What astounding strides in sixteen years! I had booked a seat in a ‘plane, just as I would for any railway journey. Does this mean that in 1946 we shall be flying to New York to spend a couple of days there? At the present rate of progress it is not at all impossible.
The Imperial Airways ‘bus starts form outside their offices opposite the side of His Majesty’s Theatre. While I stood waiting for it to start that afternoon, Ivy St. Helier, that pocket genius of the stage, drew up in her car for the matinée performance of Noel Coward’s play, Bitter Sweet, in which she was playing. I ran across the road and waylaid her as she was going through the stage door.
“Why, what on earth are you doing here?” she said. I explained. As she was late she had to hurry in and change, but while I was waiting by the ‘bus, Ivy came to the window of her dressing-room once or twice and waved me good-bye. In a few minutes she would be plunged into the atmosphere of “bustles” while I should be flying at 100 miles an hour over the Channel.
Soon all our passengers had arrived, and the big twenty-seater ‘bus started sharp at 3.40. I had not seen the Croydon Aerodrome since 1920, and was utterly amazed at the huge Air Port that it had grown into from the few hangars and huts of ten years before; which, by the way, were on the far side of the field to the present location of the buildings. It now resembles a thorough-paced railway station—its large central hall, with all the various air line companies and their ticket and information bureaux, the board with the times of all the incoming and outgoing ‘planes, bookstall, passport office, and refreshment buffet.
Next door is a hotel and restaurant for the use of passengers and their friends, and where the general public who wish to watch the activities of the air port can do so form a flat roof whence a good view is obtainable. Let me recommend a visit here one afternoon. It is a most interesting sight watching all the giant air liners come in from Berlin, Amsterdam, Paris, and even Moscow, and ideal outing if you have any schoolboy relations you want to entertain.
We walked out through the hall on to a large cement-paved square. Thus in wet weather the giant air liners do not sink into the mud as they stand waiting to start and the passengers have a clean surface to walk on. There standing in the sun, was our giant eighteen-seater, three-engined ‘plane. Porters dashed to and from it with luggage, mails and freight. Its name was the City of Liverpool, written on the fuselage in white letters, just like any great ocean liner, and making the memory of the thee-seater little cross-Channel ‘plane of 1920 quite comic.
Cotton-wool is provided for passengers’ ears to deaden the noise of the engines, and also a small piece of chewing-gum, as a preventive for air-sickness. There are racks for one’s hat, a bowl under the seat in which (if, as is alas! sometimes the case) one may be ill, a steward who walks from time to time down the centre of the ‘plane serving light refreshments. In fact it is just like a small Pullman carriage. Sharp at 4.30, the engines roared, and after taxi-ing a short way across the aerodrome, the huge machine climbed into the air.
During the summer months certain of the Paris ‘planes descend at Berck Aerodrome, to deposit and collect Le Touquet’s passengers. This ‘plane I was taking was the usual Paris afternoon service, but would land at Berck, then fly straight on to Paris.
We landed at 5.40 p.m. at Berck Aerodrome, which is a few miles from Le Touquet, and after having my suit-case examined at a small Customs shed, one of the company’s motors drove me to the Golf Hotel, where I met my family. They were amazingly unimpressed, I felt, at this flying visit for one night, especially when I thought that only sixteen years ago, not 100 yards from where they were greeting me, my mother nearly fainted because I even stood near a ‘plane. They were infinitely more excited that a very High Personage had just arrived at the Golf Hotel, and how everyone said his golf had improved out of all recognition.
I felt rather cheated out of a grand entry.
After dinner, having discussed the business I had come over about, we went down to the Casino. The first person I saw in the room was a great friend, whom I call “Mother A.B.C.” because she is such a fund of information. I believe she could even quote you, correctly, the time of any train form a “Bradshaw”; certainly in the musical wotld there is nothing she could not tell one, knowing personally nearly all the great artistes of the day.
“Hello!” I said, “having any lick?”
“You know I never play,” she replied, “but I like to watch. I always wonder where the amusement comes in sitting for hours in an over-heated room and losing one’s money.”
At that moment a place became vacant at the table near us and I sat down, to try and win enough to pay my fare over in the ‘plane.
Sitting there, I wondered if in England we scattered a few casinos in our cathedral towns and beside our best gold courses, such as Sunningdale, North Berwick, Sandwich, and Westward Ho! would people come to France so much for their holidays. The rooms were packed, mostly with English visitors, but I feel the answer is that it is the whole change of scenery that attracts one, for, bar the Casono at Le Touquet, there is nothing that one cannot find of just as good quality in England. Le Touquet enjoys no interesting places near, and no particularly attractive scenery. No, it is getting away from what one sees constantly at home—for instance, masses of fat gentlemen in bowler hats driving small cars on Sundays along by-pass roads, notices like “Fancy Teas and Minerals,” motor-coaches barging one into the ditch, the eternal soup, joint, apple-tart, and stone-cold coffee that is the menu at all the hotels one ever stops at for a meal, and lastly—and mostly—always knowing what is, within narrow limits, going to happen. When one goes abroad, anything may happen. Somehow the notices like “Dubonnet vin tonique” (which are probably as irritating to the Frenchman as “Fancy Teas” are to us), are new and novel, the food is a change, and even the ugliest of people seem amusing—not merely drab.
Out to the village of Hardelot is the only drive worth mentioning form Le Touquet. I don’t know if many know it, but Madame Guy d’Hardelot, one of our most popular song writers, took her name from this village. I always love the story she once told me of how she and a friend were in a restaurant onne day and the orchestra happened to play “Because,” one of her most famous songs. At the next table a man was talking in rather a loud voice, and directly he heard “Because,” he said: “I know the man who wrote this song awfully well. It’s a good tune, but he is no good. He drinks like a fish and beats his wife!”
I failed to win my fare over and succeeded in losing at least a month’s salary instead.
Next morning the Airways motor called at 8 a.m., and I was soon waiting on the Berck Aerodrome for the Paris-London ’plane. I was the only passenger from Le Touquet so a special landing by the Paris ’plane had to be made for me. They placed a large cloth on the ground, to indicate to the pilot that he must come down, as there was a passenger to pick up. I asked one of the men, in my best French, what would happen if they did not see this sign, but he assured me they were always on the look out. In a few minutes we saw the ’plane coming from the east. It circled once over the landing ground, then swooped down; they kept the engines running as I hurried across, bursting with a superiority complex that this landing had been made just for me, and immediately I had clambered in, the pilot took off—all in less than three minutes. Flying along the coast over the sand-dunes, we passed a long way to the left of the Golf Hotel, so I was not able to see my mother frantically waving a sheet out of her bedroom window—as she told me she did, when they returned home a few days later. By midday I was back in my office at work.”
[To be continued]