The year was 1940, I was in France with the 7th. Royal Warwicks guarding the Maginot Line. It was the so-called “phoney war” that was to develop into a real war later on in the May of that year. I was very friendly with a comrade, George Ford, who played the French horn, and he noticed one day in the local French newspaper that a concert which included the Saint-Saens Trumpet Sextet was taking place in Lille the following Sunday. We decided we would like to go, so we both put in for a day pass, which was allowed.
Came the Sunday and we set off early that morning from the railway station in Raches, having bought third class tickets. Inadvertently in our rush for the train we jumped into the second class and were immediately assailed by a ticket collector who threatened to call the police and have us thrown off unless we paid him a few extra francs. We did pay him but it left a bad taste in our mouths. Most of the French people were friendly but there were one or two who were against the war and doubted British motives.
We eventually arrived at Lille and ate lunch at a French canteen run by volunteers for the French poilus and we were made very welcome. We made our way to the Concert Hall and, after paying only a nominal entrance fee took our seats.
At that time I was a budding student of the double bass, and the Septet is scored for strings including bass, trumpet and piano. We enjoyed the concert and afterwards I chatted with the bass player, a sergeant in the French military, and we exchanged some finer points of bass playing technique. All in all it was a very good outing for us which got us away from the Army for the day and we returned to Raches in a happy state of mind.
Not long afterwards the Germans marched and we were deployed from the Maginot Line towards Belgium where we faced the German S.S. There was heavy fighting and I lost touch with George and eventually made my way back home via Dunkirk.
Soon after I got back I received a Red Cross card from George. He was a P.O.W. and had been marched all the way from Belgium to Thorn in Poland. Later on I received another card which informed me that he had died from an infection.
I went to Coventry to visit his parents who were heart broken – George was their only child. As I was leaving they gave me all of his miniature scores which I greatly treasure to this day. Included amongst them is the score of Saint-Saens’ Trumpet Sextet.