The 1962 Belgian Trip

An Account by Barry Clark

My recollections are fascinating (to me) as much because of what I can’t remember as by what I can. It is as a series of still photos rather than a video. Much is omitted as with many WH memories. What surprises me is how vivid the few memories are. Background: I was at a very difficult point in my life (without going into all the details) and could no longer go home. WH had already really become my base. I saw this process when I returned to teach there. One boy sticks vividly in my mind. When he returned to WH at the beginning of term he would always go straight to his bed and get in. I learned that he had no bed at home but slept in the hall cupboard, on the floor. The trip was in Easter of my 4th form. My child-care officer (future title to be "social worker") must have arranged for me to go. I was in Hanson’s with SWG as Housemaster and MARP as Deputy so I suspect they must have something to do with it. Preparation: I remember that we were due to go to Paris as was usual with that trip. However the OAS – we were informed by MARP  - “… had began throwing bombs in Paris…” so we were going to Belgium instead. That I do remember clearly.

I remember nothing of the preparation in the sense of where we travelled from - County Hall, WH, etc or whether it took the whole Easter holiday or not - only that it was a fortnight. My first memory is of being on the front in Zeebrugge – Ostend. Subsequent trips confirmed that memory. I also do not remember who I went went on the trip with!

My next memory is of being on a train from Zebrugge-Ostend to Ghent. A group of us were seated at a table playing cards with MARP and he pointed at the trees we could see from the window and asked if we knew why they were all leaning away from vertical in the same direction. He explained that the prevailing wing off the North Sea was so strong and consistent that it made them grow this way. We stayed in Ghent a few days – no memory of where. I do remember we went to a flea-market. I had not met that term before.

Then we got a coach to Brussels. The drive was pretty scary through the narrow medieval roads in town (Ghent?) and MARP was wincing. We were in Brussels over Easter weekend. A few of us got up early and went with MARP to Church on Easter Sunday. On the way we visited The Mannequin Pis – and dressed up. Also on the way back, by which time his outfit had been changed.

Whether it was the same day, or not, I don’t recall but we also went to the Palais de Justice and other tourist spots. I do know we stayed over-night. The Trip was split over one week in Ostend?, Ghent, and Brussels and a week in Dinant. How we got to Dinant I do not recall. We stayed in a large house in small dorms and I do remember the bowls of bitter coffee and hot chocolate, and French bread for breakfast.

I think I must have felt safe there because for no reason that I can recall it has stuck in my mind as a lovely place and I started revisiting it in later life. I think I went there for a competition and found myself very happy there without any memories of the trip at first. I remember it was a short walk into town by the Meuse and there was a very large weir nearby. Again I have only snapshot memories; there was a sort of playground and a girl of my age I got to know – practising my French??? I walked that way most evenings.

We visited the Citadel in the one photo David took but I have no real memory of it other than the chairlift. We also went to the Grotes De Han (a later visit found the name) a truly remarkable set of underground caverns 27km long. That did stick. I remember a boat trip at the end on the underground river (Lesse) that came out in the open, and the canon fired to show the echo. I remember nothing of the trip back!