My mother’s adventure in Paris

This blog is dedicated to the memory of my mother, Rosemary Felicity Campsie, née Orchardson, July 24, 1924 – April 5, 2021. She was a cheerful traveller with great curiosity about the world.

I remember a story my mother told me years ago about a visit to Paris. She was there with her mother and an aunt. They had a car, either borrowed or rented. Mum was at the wheel. She lost her bearings, but seeing a large road up ahead, drove towards it. Just as she turned the corner into the road, the car stalled. Suddenly, the car was surrounded by police officers. Inadvertently, my mother had turned into part of the parade route for a state visit by Queen Juliana of the Netherlands. One of the police officers got into the car and tried to restart it, but without success. To clear the way, the whole group of police officers gathered around, lifted the car onto the sidewalk, and rolled it as far away from the road as they could.

I don’t know what happened after that. Presumably the car restarted and my mother and her companions went on their way. What impressed my mother was the quick and efficient way the policemen moved the car.

Only later did I wonder when this had happened. My mother’s dementia has prevented me from asking her questions for the last three or so years, so I decided to find out for myself.

It wasn’t hard to do. Queen Juliana made a state visit to Paris at the end of May in 1950. You can even see some old newsreels of the occasion online.

Aha. That was the year my mother married. My mother grew up in Vancouver, and her engagement to my father took place there, but most of her relatives, and my father’s, lived in Great Britain, so they married in Hampshire and spent their first year of married life in Scotland. Here is a picture of them taken in Vancouver in about 1949.

I found the record of Mum’s passage to England through a genealogical website. She and her mother Dora travelled tourist class on the Queen Mary from New York at the beginning of April 1950. There were just the two of them, since my grandfather had died when my mother was 10 and my mother was an only child. My mother’s occupation is listed as “Teacher.”

I don’t know what my mother did during the journey, but I do know what Dora did. My grandmother suffered dreadfully from motion sickness and she would have spent most of the time in her cabin lying down. Perhaps she was coaxed out briefly to lie on a chaise longue on the deck, covered with a steamer rug and sipping beef tea, but that would be the extent of her activity. Despite this handicap, she travelled a remarkable amount during her lifetime (she met her husband in Shanghai), but she always had to travel lying down. Here is my mother’s own description of their trip to England in 1938, which started with a train journey across Canada to Montreal:

Mother devised a plan for crossing the country to Montreal which would enable her to lie down all the way. We would travel only at night. Each day we would get off the train and spend the day in whatever place the train stopped in the early morning, climbing onto another train in the evening. The places we stopped were not always tourist attractions! Our first day was spent in Sicamous [known for its mosquito population]… [The next] morning found us in Calgary. So it went, on to Medicine Hat, Regina, Winnipeg, Ignace, Chapleau, Montreal. As far as Mother was concerned, it worked well. As soon as she boarded the train, she went to bed and stayed there until just before we had to get off.

They may have used a similar approach to get to New York in 1950.

The U.K. address listed in the passenger manifest is that of my grandmother’s brother Roland and his family in Bournemouth. So presumably they travelled directly from Southampton to Bournemouth when they arrived. Although the wedding was planned for early September, my mother was required to “establish residency” in the U.K. before getting married.

They would have spent late April and most of May visiting relatives in southern England and London. And in late May, they crossed the Channel. Car ferries were already operating in 1950, so it is possible that Mum was driving a right-hand-drive car when she got to Paris.

Apart from the anecdote in Paris, the only other bit of information I have about that trip is a recently discovered and very blurry photograph of Dora and the aunt who accompanied them, presumably taken by my mother, and labelled: Montreux, 1950. Dora and Marjorie on our European jaunt. So I now know they made it as far as Switzerland. That makes sense. Dora’s grandfather came from Aarau, Switzerland.

The wedding took place in Milford-on-Sea on September 2 in All Saints Church, and my mother’s oldest uncle, Jack, walked her down the aisle.

Then the wedding party and the guests strolled to the nearby Milford House Hotel for the reception.

My parents left for their honeymoon in a 1936 Rover, presumably borrowed from one of the many relatives. In this photo, the best man is pretending to push the car. Perhaps the story had got round of Mum’s car troubles in Paris. Perhaps it was the same car.

Mum and Dad spent their honeymoon in a cottage in Pagham, Sussex. Dora visited them there briefly before returning to Canada.

Poor Dora faced the long, queasy journey back to Vancouver on her own, to an empty house. Since her husband’s death, she had depended on her daughter for companionship and support, and now Rosemary was off to a new life. Although she fully supported her daughter, she had nonetheless felt so distressed on the wedding day that she had to be slightly sedated, so she wouldn’t sob through the ceremony and reception. Mum once told me that her mother smiled vaguely and glassily at everyone throughout the occasion.

We revisited Paris as a family in the 1960s (which I have written about before) and the 1970s. And I took a holiday in France with my father once in the 1980s, in a rented car. It was a tiny Opel that stalled frequently, but not, fortunately, on anyone’s parade route.

Text by Philippa Campsie; family photographs; picture of Queen Juliana from YouTube.

About Parisian Fields

Parisian Fields is the blog of two Toronto writers who love Paris. When we can't be there, we can write about it. We're interested in everything from its history and architecture to its graffiti and street furniture. We welcome comments, suggestions, corrections, and musings from all readers.
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25 Responses to My mother’s adventure in Paris

  1. MELewis says:

    Sincere condolences on your mother’s recent passing. What an interesting life she led! Your parents both seem like extraordinary people, and this blog does a wonderful job of honouring their memory.

  2. narellerj says:

    Fabulous story. Thank you for sharing a bit of your family’s history. Your parents were a good looking couple. Dora sounds like a hoot! Love her.

    • Dora was a remarkable woman. She was the only girl in a family of seven children (three older brothers, three younger brothers). She learned to stand up for herself and she didn’t take no for an answer when she was determined. For example, after losing her first child, the doctors told her not to try to have another child. She paid no attention, thank goodness, and had my mother at the age of 40.

  3. Philip Jeune says:

    Thank you for sharing such delightful memories at such a sad time for you – my condolences.

  4. Ana says:

    Your parents made a very handsome couple. Love your stories. So good to have such good memories of your mother at this sad time.

  5. Pat Ball says:

    What a lovely remembrance of your mother, Philippa.

    • Thank you, Pat. One day I need to transcribe Mum’s book of memories, which includes stories of Dora as a youngster, too. Alas, Mum never finished it (it ends when she was only 14, on that 1938 trip), but it is a precious document.

  6. Lesley says:

    I love the pic of your Mom and Dad strolling in Vancouver. They radiate happiness. Thankyou for your Mom’s story, so heartfully related, warm humour

    • There are several of my parents on the streets of Vancouver. In those days, there would be street photographers who captured images of passersby, and I think they could see that my parents were unusually photogenic.

  7. Jan Whitaker says:

    So sorry you lost your mother. The photographs of your parents are wonderful! They were quite photogenic.

  8. heather Franca says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Philippa. xoxo

  9. C-Marie says:

    I loved your story!! To have such memories, is very precious. Lovely gifts of Love. Treasures of Heaven’s Love. Your sharing is so very much appreciated!!
    God bless, C-Marie

  10. wmonelson says:

    Belated condolences Philippa. It sounds as though you have suffered a slo-mo loss, whereas my mother died too young 40 years ago. The loss is the same. Clearly both mothers shared striking good looks – and another small connection is that both my parents are buried at Church Norton, Selsey, which overlooks Pagham Harbour. Your parents honeymooned on the other side of this wetland reserve, a beautiful area for wading and seabirds.

    • Thank you very much for your comment. You are quite right about the slo-mo loss, although at least my mother recognized me when I visited, up to the very last day. Other people I know have not had that comfort. How interesting that your parents are buried so close to Pagham. It looks like a peaceful spot on Google Street View.

  11. Meg Morden says:

    Great article Philippa. I love the pictures. I agree with all the other commenters that your parents were a dishy couple! I really love how you bookended the article with your comments about the car, and that final shot of the car trailing the paper is delightful. This was a moving yet light-hearted way to remember your mother and share her story. Thank you.

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