Chepstow

The Singing Club

JE CHANTE AVEC TOI LIBERTE by Lesley Jones

They sat in silence for a few minutes, then their leader's beautifully rich baritone voice rang out. Jane wiped the abundant tears away and mused back over the past year. Her life had changed so much.

A musical outcast for the last sixty years she was now really enjoying her life as part of 'Chepstow Castle Singing Club'. From the age of eight she had been told she was, out of tune or off key. Now a retired widow, Jane had loads of hobbies. Friends wondered how she found time to do it all “Only myself to please” she would reply nonchalantly when questioned. In her lonely heart desperately wishing that she had someone at home to take care of and to care about her. Still she had to 'buck up and buck on” as her late mother would say, and Richard wouldn't want her to mope.

“I had a wonderful time last night” said a new friend she had joined for coffee and proceeded to tell Jane about 'Singing Club'. “I feel so exhilarated” said Sue, “Why don't you come along, really, you don't have an audition, no one judges you, Pete reckons anyone can sing given the right tuition and confidence.”

It had taken well over a year and some secret singing lessons to pluck up the courage to ask Pete if she could join. Jane later found out that Pete hated saying no to anything. So there she was the following Thursday evening singing her heart out and feeling on top of the world.

Within weeks Jane had taken part a 'Tribute to Dylan Thomas', spent many happy hours dressed in 'Victorian' costume singing Christmas carols all over the place.

William Fitzosbern, a Norman Lord from Cormeilles began building Chepstow Castle in 1067. Chepstow was twinned with Cormeilles. Now Welsh 'Chepstow Castle Singing Club' had been invited to sing in France and was doing it's first International gig, if you exclude the odd trip into England. Pete is from Neath so although Chepstow is quite an Anglicized town, 'Singing Club' has a definite Welsh feeling and there is no doubt that Chepstow is in Wales.

The Poster Read:- Fete de la Musique – Concert – le 21 Juin a 18h – sous la halle d'Cormeilles – la chorale galloise “The Singing Club” de Chepstow - la chorale “Farandole” d'Cormeilles. They were to sing 'The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves' from Nabucco by Verdi in French, a lot of work would be needed to get that one right. Jane's O' level French would certainly be put to the test. She was determined to perfect it. This she did with the aid of You Tube and Nana Mouskouri.

Leaving Chepstow at four, that Friday morning Jane felt really excited. Besides the singing and the socializing she had another matter to concern her. Beautiful weather meant the six hour crossing to Ouisterham was flat and calm. Within thirty minutes of leaving the port they reached the Mecure Hotel in Caen.

Jane ensured she had everything needed for the day before going for breakfast. During the journey Pete rehearsed them again, especially the French song, then wondered if everyone knew “We'll Meet Again”, they hadn't sung it before but it was in the psyche

Honfleur was a delightful coastal town with many boats in its harbour. Jane's heart missed a beat, how she wished Richard were here now, he loved boats, he would have been so happy. She missed him so much. Jane knew he would have enjoyed 'Singing Club,' like any true Welshman Richard had an excellent voice especially on International Days. There were lovely old buildings, shops, restaurants and cafes. After lunch the coach took them to Cormeilles for the concert. On arrival they had tea and cakes and more rehearsal in the 'halle', an open sided building with a roof and a three step dais built at one end. They had to arrange positions as well, altos to Pete's left sopranos to the right and men in the centre. Males in 'Singing Club' were greatly out numbered by as many as five to one.

A hitch occurred when the coach which was taking them to the local school to change had been jammed in by cars whose occupants were attending a wedding in the Church. Plan B was put into action. Marie-Paul had the key to the 'Mairie'. Thank heaven for deodorant wipes and sprays. Mirrors and perfumes were passed around and within a short time they were transformed into white and cream swans.

Having serenaded the newly married couple, who were leaving the Church, with a rendition of West Side Story's 'Tonight' the concert to celebrate France's National 'Fete de la Musique' was about to commence. The halle was duly decorated with Tri-coleur and Red Dragon flags. ' La Farandole' began with 'New York, New York' in English, followed by a French repertoire. Singing Club started with 'Tonight' and 'Somewhere', then the Native American 'Hey Yanna'. Many songs followed including the obligatory Welsh ones such as 'Sospan Fach', 'Calon Lan' and 'We'll keep a Welcome'. 'Together they sang Verdi's, 'Quand tu chantes je chantes avec toi liberte'.

The ovation was stupendous. Jane always felt it was worth the weekly fee she paid to 'Singing Club' just to sing that piece of music. They finished by singing 'Hallelujah' again to rapturous applause and a standing ovation, but most important was the wonderful look on Pete's face. He was beaming and they all knew they had done well. That look made everything worthwhile. Jane was elated and the night still wasn't over.

The Village Hall was also decorated with national flags. Wine and beer was flowing even before the three course meal of Normandy Pate, Chicken and gateaux was served. Between courses they were entertained by an accordionist who was a Michelin Star chef. Pete also played those well known Welsh songs of 'Delilah' and 'The Green Green Grass of Home'. More singing followed the meal with the French singing 'Molly Malone' and the Welsh finishing up with 'Mae Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau' and 'Auld Lang Syne' performed in the traditional way. As an encore 'Singing Club'
sang 'We'll Meet Again', the significance was not lost on the French people present.

On returning to Caen, the bar was closed so it was straight to bed. As Jane lay there in the dark pondering the events not only of the day but of all her time since she joined 'Singing Club', she now had exiting events to look back on and indeed forward to. She was really happy now for the first time since Richard died.

Pegasus Bridge and Cafe Gondree were the first places visited on Sunday and then to Arromanches part of Gold Beach during Operation Overlord. None of her family had been there, her grandmother had always been so sad whenever it was mentioned.

Arromanches had a seaside town atmosphere, with a Carousel on the Promenade, but instead of 'Kiss me Quick' hats and seaside rock they were selling everything from commemorative T shirts, baseball caps, military insignia and flags, to mugs, fridge magnets, postcards and sweets. There were more serious reminders of those dark days when the area had a very different atmosphere. The remains of the Mulberry harbours could be seen on the beach, a D Day Museum was situated near the sea front and there was a 360 degree cinema constantly showing footage of the happenings of that fateful day. Seeing that film had a profound effect in Jane, she left the cinema in silence as did everyone else.

On the beach she took off her shoes and felt the silky, warm sand beneath her feet. She knew that seventy years ago the last thing on their minds would have been the feel of the sand on their toes. As a South Wales Borderer her Uncle David was part of the 50th Infantry Division. They landed near Arromanches and were charged with driving north to Bayeaux capturing a radar station on the way and securing a bridge at Vaux-sur-Aure. It was a successful day for the Borderers, the only specifically Welsh regiment taking part on D. Day, In fact they made more ground than any other regiment on that day. Uncle David didn't come home.

After leaving Arromanches and passing Bayeaux their driver stopped right outside largest Second World War Commonwealth Cemetery in France. It contained the graves of 4,648 personnel. Opposite was the Bayeaux Memorial dedicated to the 1,800 who died but couldn't be identified. Uncle David was one of those. The coach stopped just for a few moments, then Pete started to sing 'Guide Me O thou Great Redeemer' a very appropriate hymn especially for anyone who is Welsh. Just one verse, everyone joined, in not a dry eye on the coach.