An entry into Switzerland riding on the step of a railway goods waggon is one of the Rev H. C. Mander's reminiscences of this summer's holidays. Mr Mander, who is a brother of Mr E. A. Mander, the Luton borough accountant, and also one of the Nonconformist ministers at Swansea, reached Luton with Mrs Mander, Mrs Hunt and Mr Clifford Hunt a few days ago, after a somewhat exciting and trying continental trip.
They were members of a party of 90 who left this country on July 31st under the auspices of the British and Continental Touring Club, and were one of the last two large parties to get through to Switzerland. While on the outward journey they had not proceeded far through France before the saw signs of great military activity. At Belfort they were turned out of the train and were informed that the Germans had cut the lines beyond Petit-Croix, but that a Swiss train would be made up the other side.
When they reached Delle they had to get out again, and the whole train was requisitioned by the military authorities. There was some Swiss rolling stock at Delle, and a small train was made up of one ordinary passenger coach and several goods waggons. The ladies had the use of the passenger coach, other passengers filled the waggons, and Mr Mander made a somewhat undignified but novel journey to his destination on the step of one of the waggons.
The party started the return journey on Wednesday. All had been provided with passports, but they had to stay at Berne for the night in order that their papers might be visé by the French Ambassador.
They learned on Thursday morning that the only possible route by which they could return to England was via Pontarlier, which was also the route nearest to the scene of active fighting. Although they had many difficulties to face, however, they experienced no danger, but they learned later that three spies had been removed from their train and one shot.
Thursday night was spent at Neuchatel and at 6 am on Friday they set out in the hope of reaching Pontarlier, but only to be hung up again at Verrieres. Here the assistance of a voluntary conductor began to prove very useful. At Neuchatel Mr Mander had got into conversation with a Roman Catholic priest who had been a professor at Paris University. He volunteered to help them get to Paris, and with his knowledge of general affairs and of the intricacies of martial law he was later of utmost assistance to the party, of whom he took complete charge from Verrieres. As they could not get away from this place until the evening, they spent the day in the hills, and their food supply came in very useful. The station master and everybody showed the greatest consideration, and villagers gave them milk and tea, refusing to take any payment.
It was necessary to get a safe conduct from the Mayor of Pontarlier to the Prefect of Police in Paris, and when the necessary formalities had been arranged by the priest-guide, the party went on to Dole. There they were again turned out of the train, and out of the station as well, for only the military were allowed to remain on the station, which was strongly guarded. When the Dijon train arrived things were so arranged by the guide that that the party were enabled to step in by an unofficial entrance and so were certain of getting accommodation.
At Dijon they had their worst experience. Part of the large waiting room had been converted into a temporary hospital for the reception of the wounded and the small part that was still left for the use of the public was crammed up with people of all nationalities. There they had to remain for the considerable time which elapsed before the Paris train was in the station.
At Paris the party were met by the British Relief Committee, which is splendidly organised, and were taken to the Gare du Nord, where food was supplied to many of them. Up to that point they had managed to travel in second class carriages, but on the journey from Paris to Boulogne, which took another six and a half hours, they were pretty well packed in third class compartments.
As they arrived at Boulogne they saw a big encampment on the hills, and as the familiar khaki was strongly in evidence they could see it was part of the British Expeditionary Force.