C’est La Vie


David Judd’s life was changed the day he met his French exchange student at Cardiff General station as a youngster. This is his story

by David Judd

I was born in Cardiff in 1938; I went to Allensbank School and then onto Cardiff High School. Not a remarkable upbringing so far.

But there were a few highlights along the way. The first was the arrival of two American GIs who were stationed in our house for several months. We had food parcels from their families for years afterwards.
Another highlight was getting a Halfords bike for passing my 11 Plus. Then there was somehow an exchange visit of 40 boys for a month with a similar group from Nantes. I have no recollection of how or why they came other than I was studying French and had a paper round at Shapleys in Whitchurch Road to earn money to go. But their visit did change my life.

I recall going to Cardiff General station and seeing the French contingent with one boy in plus fours – and yes he was mine – Eric Tertrais.

During his stay, we had various organised outings that I have long since forgotten but I do remember one where my father took us up to Brecon. We were there to drop off my elder brother Peter on a long-distance walk with his friend Francis Paton. Other than that, Eric just joined in our various games, playing in the castle grounds at Blackweir, on the Wenallt, Cefn Onn, or up Garth Mountain. Not a lot of French was spoken during his visit as his English was much better than my French!

The big adventure, however, began with the railway trip to Southampton, the ferry, and then the railway down to Nantes on the return visit. There I met his parents, and we spent the night in their Vertou home.

The following day, we piled into their Citroën and went to their holiday home at St. Marc sur Mer, some 40 miles down the estuary. This was a former German blockhouse in the grounds of an aunt’s château, overlooking their private beach and clifftop tennis court. They were a fairly wealthy family (their firm canned sardines) with maids and Madame really took to me and was very kind. I struggled with my French at first; no one else spoke English and I generally played with Eric’s brothers and sisters. There were eight of them in total and I can recall some names – Marie, Christine, Regis, and Patrice among them.

I only attended one trip with the Nantes contingent – a trip upriver, and for the rest of the time, I lived the French dream in a fantastic seaside home with everything I needed. I enjoyed time with their many friends in and around the coast as far as La Baule, in their canoe, and the odd trip on a relative’s yacht.

I was thinking in French by the time I returned, sunburnt and fit, whereas most of the others were kicking around the back streets of Nantes it seemed.

Within a year or so, I was hitch-hiking to France and then set off on a motorcycle to the South of France and Spain a year after that. After marrying my wife, we took our honeymoon trip in a Morris Minor convertible in 1963, down the west coast of France and across Spain to the Mediterranean, returning back up through France. We flew in those days in a plane that carried cars and only went up a few hundred feet.

I did return to St. Marc sur Mer with my family staying in the blockhouse with them once around 50 years ago and subsequently visited St. Marc several times but I later lost contact. St. Marc was, of course, the location for Les Vacances de M. Hulot. It was filmed a few years prior to my visit and the family I was staying with were extras in it. Hotel de La Plage is still there but the seafront has been remodelled. The blockhouse is still there, unloved but indestructible.

A brief résumé of my subsequent French connections: I have since for most of my last 70 years returned to France at least once a year on holidays, cycle trips etc. to the south and west of France staying in gites, with friends and hotels. I love the place and the people.

Here in Wales, we have a particular affection for Brittany, and I and my family regularly enjoy the Onion Festival at Roscoe celebrating Les Johnnies who frequented South Wales in our youth.

This affection has I am sure rested in my genes and my son and daughter and the grandchildren share this love of France. My granddaughter now lives in Lyon teaching English and my son travels regularly in his work and play.

The Celtic connection runs deep and here in Wales, many towns are twinned with French towns and I have over the years, joined in some events. It was only recently I heard of a Welsh soldier in the 14th century who fought with the French against the English (who were invading Wales at the time). Owain Lawgoch (Yvain de Galles) had a monument erected in Mortagne sur Gironde in 2003 with a three-day bash that sounded a lot of fun!

I heard of this story from a cycling friend who has been trying for some time to raise funds for a memorial here in Wales. He has the intention of cycling down there (some 550 miles) and possibly back, to raise funds and attract attention to this Welshman. He has also recorded a song about Owain that he hopes will further increase interest.

All this has further increased my Francophile self to get involved and I have joined the Cardiff Nantes exchange, albeit living 50 miles away.

We propose therefore to try to contact those involved in the earlier event and those interested in this project to raise support and possibly celebrate on the way down and eventually raise funds and organise a memorial and celebration at a site here in Wales.

We are this year taking a holiday for a few weeks following the Loire between Chinon and Nantes as well as few days up north near St. Malo.

On a personal level, it would be good to reconnect with the Tertrais family at some time if that is possible. I recently did a search and sadly found out that Eric had died in 2018.

Who knows what could develop in future years?