The following is a flavour of our twinning with Caen Abbayes and to provide a brief synopsis of some of our exchange visits.
In 1970 when Caen Abbayes was Caen Est, Roy Thompson, President of the Rotary Club of Reading was approached by Rotarian Jacques Chauvin founder President of Caen Est to establish a twinning between our two Clubs which subsequently took place later in Roy’s year as President. At the time, the Secretary of Caen Est was an Englishman named Harold Pickersgill who was also the harbour master of Caen and like Roy held an MBE for exceptional military conduct. In 1944 Harold was cut off from his Unit and took refuge behind a tombstone in the local churchyard whilst the advancing Germans were passing - at the height of the tension a female voice from behind said 'can I help you sir'. Harold survived both the shock of the moment and the War returning afterwards to meet up with his guardian Angel, a young lady named Marie Genevive Labret; they fell in love, married and Harold spent the rest of his life in France. It was not until 1998, the year Harold died, that Roy told Morvyn the full and detailed story of this remarkable time.
Was the Rotary Club of Reading's Jubilee Dinner which was attended by the President and several members of the Caen Est Club.
We attended District 164 Conference in Caen.
The two Clubs met in Guernsey.
A strong contingent led by President Albert Cumberland 'invaded' Caen. Albert had previously landed in Normandy on 'D' Day 40 years earlier so his leadership was most appropriate.
It seems apt that, in the midst of the Paralympics, I should mention that in this year and in 1992 wheelchair athletes sponsored and transported by our respective Clubs visited each other's Club to take part in Festivals of Sport.
Morvyn took over as the ‘link’ between Caen Est and Reading.
Caen Est became Caen Abbayes
Morvyn’s counterpart Denis Acher died and Dr Jean-Pierre Benamou OBE took over and has been Morvyn’s ‘link’ ever since. Jean-Pierre is the Founder of the Bayeux Memorial Museum; Founder & President of the D-Day Academy; Founder of the D-Day Landings and Normandy Beaches Association.
Our President, the Reverend Brian Shenton, led a large party to France to celebrate 25 years of twinning with Caen Abbayes. The outward voyage was notable by the fact that after three hours, Morvyn lost the signal on his mobile phone and despite there being some 'high flying' members in the party, only Brian was able to obtain a signal - divine intervention perhaps !
Morvyn mischievously changed the traditional meeting point to the Wellington Arms hotel. We then moved on to Roy and Heather Thompson where the flag of Rotary International, the Tricolor and the Union Jack were resplendent in the breeze. The young teenage daughter of friends of Roy & Heather sang an excerpt from an enchanting French aria which was emotionally received by our friends from Caen.
Morvyn learnt that one of the Caen Rotarians was Captain on the ship we were due to sail on, consequently, we were given our own private Lounge and invited to visit the Bridge. This year, the grandson of one of the Caen Rotarians came over on a youth visit.
We took our visitors to the Tower of London where Morvyn has the dubious privilege of being able to gain access at anytime during the day or night 'without undue hindrance'. After this we went for a sunny ride on the London Eye. The other half of the party went by boat to Childe Beale and Basildon House.
Jean-Pierre took us to the Normandy Beaches where we travelled in WWII tanks and other vehicles of that Era which was a remarkable and fun experience but also very salutary.
Caen came to Reading and we took them to Windsor Castle and Runnymede followed by dinner at the Woody Nook in Woodcote which was partly owned by one of our own members, Harry Caffery, and where an excellent French chef provided us with superb food.
A large party of us travelled from Reading and were treated to a fascinating and enjoyable visit to nearby orchards where, needless to say, extensive tasting of the cider and Calvados took place followed by a very merry dinner in the evening !
This year we took our visitors on a river trip to Henley.
This was Caen Abbayes 40th Anniversary. A visit was made to the Chateau de Falaise, the birthplace of William the Conqueror, followed by dinner at a local chateau where 40 year old Scotch whiskey and 40 year old Port was presented to mark the occasion.
This was of course the Rotary Club of Reading's 90th Anniversary, which was supported by many local Clubs and a large contingent from Caen Abbayes. One of the highlights of this week-end was a visit to the Norman Giants in Aldworth Church.
A party of 24 arrived from Caen and were taken to Waddesdon Manor, the Neo-Renaissance style Chateau built for Baron Ferdinand de Rothschild over a period of 15 years in the late 1880's. The exceptional enjoyment of this particular visit was demonstrated by the number of comments Morvyn received. We then had dinner in a very sunny riverside Pub.
A party of 22 including several new members visited Caen Abbayes and we were afforded the usual warm welcome.
A total of 13 came from Caen to enjoy a fun weekend including a visit to the Vineyards in Twyford which received high praise from our French friends; this was followed by lunch at a bistro in central Reading and then on to the Town Hall for a special viewing of the only woven copy of the Bayeux Tapestry outside France. An enjoyable Dinner took place at the Great House in Sonning during which Jean-Pierre gave a presentation explaining the D-Day operation with the help of a map of Normandy and his glamorous assistant Tony Cowling!