The journey to the coast was very slow and arduous, what with the weight of the Land Rover and the heavily laden caravan towed behind. Nevertheless, we arrived at Southampton by 13h30 where we decided to have a meal before proceeding to Dock 101 with the caravan. This caused very few problems and after obtaining all the necessary receipts and documents for the van we made our way to the hotel for the night. None of us wished to go out, as the fog was moving in rapidly, so after an early meal we decided that an early night was in order. Before retiring, a few postcards were sent off ,as from here on we were not sure when we would have time to keep the correspondence up to date, not to mention the fact that once in Africa we did not know when we would even find a post office.
January 23 1953 arrived with a bang. This would be the last time we would see England again for sometime. The ferry only left at 19h00 so the day was spent in Southampton where we tried to enjoy the last day of a British winter. The afternoon was spent in a cinema, much the warmest place. We then collected the final papers for the car from the AA. These had been sent straight to Southampton from Bristol, as we had rushed everyone at the last minute. Last minute phone calls to both our families were made to say a final good-bye and we were ready for our departure to the docks. The customs wished us 'God Speed' and told us that the last people that they knew of that tried the trip we were heading for, had not been seen or heard of since. Just the sort of news we needed at this stage of our journey and it cheered us up no end, but undeterred we went aboard and watched the Land Rover being loaded. After a meal we went to our cabin where we bunked down for the night. Very little sleep was expected; what with the engines throbbing and the mounting excitement, how could anyone expect to sleep properly when they thought of what lay ahead of us.
January 24 1953 Land Mileage 0064
Docked at Le Havre with much grunting and groaning; the vehicle was too heavy! We then went to customs, this was at 05h30 in the morning and our troubles were already beginning. We were not feeling too bright at that early hour and customs needed the permits for us to travel with guns. As we had been told previously that there would be no problems, we had no answer to this query. Customs then took us off to the Police who in turn took us to the AA. We were starting to wake up by then and explained that the French Consulate in London said that no papers were required, so long as the guns were declared. Finally it was decided that we definitely had to have permits. Naturally as Don and myself had spent a whole day in London visiting consulates 'en route' making sure that all papers were in order, we were not amused. The whole morning was spent in the office asking the AA to phone London, but the more we argued the worse the matter became. It was a case of the AA phoning the Police, the police phoning the customs in Le Havre and the customs phoning back to the AA. What a wonderful start to our trip, no wonder the last people to do the journey were never seen or heard of again. We had visions of it all ending before we started, meanwhile our caravan was on its way to Rhodesia. Lunch time arrived and we were not moving anywhere but of course it was 'time out' for everyone else concerned. In a final panic the phone calls started again and the customs agreed to sign Don's passport to the effect that we were carrying guns and to let us pass. With a sigh of utter relief, but wondering in our hearts how many more setbacks were ahead of us, we departed from Le Havre. Having crossed the Channel with near empty fuel tanks because of weight, we stopped about 14 miles out of town for petrol. David in his best French asked for 90 litres of petrol and petrol attendant thought he was a nut case. Who ever heard of a Land Rover that could take 90 litres of fuel. With much hand waving at the extra tank and proving that we had enough money to pay for it we finally had our 90 litres. The attendant took the cash and next thing was the manager was outside peering at the pump in disbelief. We really should have had the camera at the ready, the expressions on those two French faces were well worth a photo. They must have thought we were very rude as we all collapsed laughing. How times have changed that 90 litres cost us the equivalent of seven British pounds!
After a fairly easy, but slow drive we stopped at Senlis and found a hotel for the night. After the early start from the ferry and the drama over the firearms, we were all totally exhausted.
January 25 1953 Land Mileage 0283
After a good nights sleep and a hearty breakfast, we packed up and eventually got underway again at 10h00. It was a very cold and chilly day; thank goodness we had a heater. We went on until we reached Cagney, where we had a quick stop over and then on to Lyon and a hotel stop for the night. A pretty uneventful day in all, the vehicle was going well and the kids were enjoying it. We found the pack of cards which kept everyone amused until dinner time.
January 26 1953 Land Mileage 0506
Woke up very early and ordered breakfast to be served in the bedrooms. There would not be much luxury from here on so we decided to spoil ourselves while we could. We had eggs and bacon around 08h00, what could we of been thinking of? English breakfast in France! We packed up again and left Lyon around 09h30. Snow and ice was the order of the day which is exactly what we had been afraid of, so the trip went even slower. We sat in the Land Rover like four Eskimos all huddled up in our coats with the heater on full blast. On our arrival in Montélimar we decided that we should try to find a shop and get some cheese and fruit. Numerous shops sold nougat but it took us quite some time to find our requirements. Having done our shopping we drove through the very picturesque town and stopped on the other side to have our snack. We managed to find a spot by the edge of a field that had some shelter from the very icy wind, which was still insisting on bearing down on us. It was very cold but we felt that we really needed to stretch our legs so we braved the elements to go for a short walk. After all the exercise we huddled back into the Land Rover heater on and proceeded on to Marseilles where we arrived at around 16h30.
The hunt was then on for a hotel which we found just off the square. Routine took over and the usual, unpacking, a bath and a clean up before strolling around the streets window shopping. The weather was definitely warmer here, for which we were more than grateful. We found ourselves a nice little cafe and dare I say it, had a very English dinner before retiring for the night. That is, all but David, who was intrigued by the sights of Marseilles and he went off on his own to have a look around.
January 27 1953 Land Mileage 0716
After a good and restful night's sleep we decided to have a French breakfast which was light and which we thoroughly enjoyed. None of us were that hungry and Diane said that she was not really feeling well. We had planned to stay in Marseilles for a day or two so we left the Hotel to go to the Maritime office to check to see if all the papers and tickets were in order for the Mediterranean crossing to Algiers. This all seemed to be exactly as it should be. We had a look around the docks and by the time we decided that we should go back to the hotel, Diane was feeling really ill. We insisted that she lay down on our return which she did quite happily, not good for an energetic nine year old! By now it was lunch time (our days seem to be made up of eating!) and the three of us went off for a quick meal leaving Diane, who said she was not at all hungry, to have a sleep.
Meanwhile the weather had improved and we decided that perhaps fresh air would solve Diane's problem. We found a taxi and off we went to the Zoo. Not the most exciting trip we had ever done, but the sun was shining and we were fascinated by a chimp who was smoking a cigarette. Looking back it seems cruel that people could tempt a chimp into such bad habits as I am sure that the end result would have been anything but good for him. On our return to the hotel, Diane certainly seemed to have improved. Don went out to buy a chain and padlock with David to lock up some of the items in the Land Rover. We were worried what may go A.W.O.L. while it was in transit to the North coast of Africa.
I wrote some post cards to let everyone know back home how we were getting on and then we played cards again to keep the kids amused until bedtime. I slept in Diane's room that night in case she took a turn for the worse, but she certainly seemed to be feeling much better.
January 28 1953
The weather had improved no end so after breakfast we went for a walk around the docks and the quay. It was quite an experience to watch the loading and unloading going on and it left us in little doubt as to what was going to happen next in our lives. In the early part of the afternoon we had to take the vehicle to the Gare Maritime so we packed everything up that was necessary and then locked up as much as we could. They then wanted to siphon out petrol from the tanks but to their disappointment we had worked out almost exactly what would be required and there was nothing to remove. We then took the vehicle down to the boat and watched it being loaded. It was put on by crane and this took some while, with much shouting, pushing and swinging (to us somewhat precariously) around. In the end it went up and over and was put down into the hold. We then celebrated with a bottle of Cherry Brandy which we bought for six shillings; expensive at the time! This went down well with some ham and fruit and we then went back to the hotel, where we decided that Diane had better have an early night although she seemed to have fully recovered from whatever had upset her the previous day.
January 29 1953
Had a lazy morning (for us) in bed only getting up at 08h00. We then packed up our overnight cases, paid our bill and caught a taxi down to the boat. Went through customs and then sat in the 'waiting room' until 10h45. Suddenly everyone in the room made a dash to the boat so we decided that maybe it would not be a good idea to get left behind. There must have been some hidden signal that we did not know about! It was a lovely ship and when we went on board we were taken to our cabins where we quickly left our cases so we could go up onto the deck to watch the tugs pulling us out to sea.
Looking across to the main land we could see the Chateau D'If on our left where I believe the Count of Monte Cristo had been imprisoned. The weather was definitely much warmer than we had encountered in the last few days and we knew now we had to be heading for the sunny coasts of North Africa.
We had no ideas if meals were included in the fare, but after having made our way out to sea, we decided that the dining room was a good place to visit next. Regardless of the hole it may make in our currency, we sat down at 12h15 to what was a sumptuous lunch. We ate solidly until 14h00 and the meal included everything one could think of from cold meats to lobster and coffee to red and white wine. I had visions of Don, having been an Engineer in the Merchant Navy having to take on a job to pay for the feast while the rest of us would have to take on the washing up for several trips - what a thought! No bill was forthcoming when we left the dining room so we thought rightly that all meals were inclusive. Feeling extremely full we went down to the cabin and unpacked the necessities including the pack of cards and had very lazy afternoon in the lounge. At 16h00 we were served tea and cakes after which we decided that a walk was really necessary before the Land Rover collapsed under all the extra weight it was going to have to carry. At 19h00 the gong was rung to say dinner was ready! I think that we must have been worried about starving for the next few weeks as off we went and spent an hour and a quarter on a five course meal. We then went for another stroll around the deck as none of us could have possibly slept, having eaten the way we had during the course of the day.
We suddenly realised that we needed to put our watches back another hour, having already had one time change in France. Diane was put to bed and the three of us went off to see what was happening in the lounge. Everyone there seemed to be playing some sort of game, but it looked far too strenuous for us and we knew there was an early start ahead of us the following morning. Discretion was the better part of valour and we decided that bed was the best idea for all of us.
January 30 1953
We had a wake-up call at 05h30. Did the necessary chores and dare I say it, we went off to the dining room for breakfast. We docked at 06h30 when 'swarms' of Arabs came aboard to carry off luggage etc. For this we were very grateful. Not only did they carry everything for us, we suddenly became part of the 'family' and went through customs at great speed only waving our British passports under the noses of the customs officers. We were on North African soil and the adventure was about to begin. Don went off with one of the Arab porters while Diane, David and I sat and waited for the Land Rover to be off loaded. We were busy watching all the hustle and bustle of the docks when we saw that there were some cars being off loaded. Some time later we saw the Land Rover in the air and next thing that was also ashore. There was lots to do before we were on our way again, meanwhile the three of us got a taxi and went off to the hotel. Having stayed at this hotel once before, in 1951, we knew what to expect. Our previous visit was made because Diane, then 7, had been asked where she wanted to go on holiday. The answer was Africa, so not to let her down we made our way to the closest African shore that we could. Everyone seemed very pleased to see us again and all the same staff were still at the hotel. Don was still trying to make sure that we had all the necessary permits including ones for the guns.
It was a beautiful day and we knew that we were definitely under an African sky. The sun shone down and the sky was a cloudless blue. What a difference to a few days earlier when we left England and the snow that we encountered in France. We walked through the beautiful gardens with the waving palm trees and marvelled at such a day for the end of January. Time to pack the duffel coats away. We wondered what the weather was like in England and felt sure that everyone would still be freezing over there. Don returned to the hotel and then went off to the A.A. office which was close by. He discovered that we could do nothing until Monday as we had to get a signature to present to the S.A.T.T. (If my memory serves me right this stood for Société Africaine des Transports Tropicaux).