How I Went To War - 9
Once a week we would join the evening ‘Liberty Wagon’ for a trip into Le Havre. The vehicle we believed had be used in peacetime as a banana delivery lorry and was very stuffy and sick-making, especially after a night out on the binge.
Some of the lads came back with yarns about a street called La Rue Des Galions a place of ill repute down by the docks.
Never having seen a brothel, or in fact a prostitute, as far as I was aware, it seemed a risky place to visit. In fact the M.O. had warned us all about the risks of men catching V.D. in such places and every soldier, as a precaution, was issued with a prophylactic pack carried in a trouser pocket. The best advice from the M.O. was to paint one’s private parts with iodine, and then to keep away from the women.
One evening, Ted, Alf and I being full of curiosity, bravely walked down the centre of the Rue Des Galions to the accompaniment of cries of, “Come inside Tommy” from the old hags seated in the doorways of the brothels. Nothing would have persuaded us to go anywhere nearer than the middle of the street, but it provided some amusement among a few of the gunners back in camp.
Rue Des Galions in the late 19th century
On some of our jaunts into town Ted, Alf and Roger (a pal of Ted’s) and I would explore the town by day and found the funicular railway lift up one hill for a panoramic view of the area; visited cinemas ; shopped at Monoprix and on one memorable afternoon attended the large theatre to see the play, ‘La Dame aux Camélias’. Afterwards, before returning to camp, would drop in to our favourite cafe, Les Mouettes in the Rue Augustin Normand for an egg sandwich (fried and oozing yolk) and a glass of Pernod.
The peasant farmer near the camp was called Catellan, and he and his wife and two daughters of doubtful age would invite some of us in for a drink of cider and biscuits in the farm living room, I think it was to help one of the girls with her English. It made a pleasant break for us and was good for the Entente (On our visit of 1961, Kathleen and I called at the farm to receive a warm welcome.)
There were rare events of inter-Battery sports when we competed against 248 Battery who were based in the dock area of Le Havre, not a very healthy spot to be in in the event of air raids, very flat land and boring.
I recall playing in seven-a-side rugby with them on April 28th when they gave us a beating - 9 : 0.
The soccer team were more fortunate as they won their game against 248 Battery. Before that match they were entertained to an exhibition of football skills by the celebrated player Jimmy Hogan.
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