Michael Alexander speaks to members of the Dundee-Orleans Twinning Association (DOTA) which is celebrating its 75th anniversary and asking people to get in touch with their photos and memories.
At a time when relations with Europe have been spotlighted by Brexit and when international travel is all but impossible due to Covid restrictions, a Dundee organisation is continuing to build cultural bridges between Scotland and France as it celebrates its 75th anniversary.
The Dundee-Orleans Twinning Association (DOTA) had intended to celebrate its 75 year milestone with public talks, an exhibition and a visit to Orleans for its members.
However, with restrictions being what they are, they have embarked on a series of talks via Zoom instead and have linked up with the Franco-Scottish Societies of Perth and Aberdeen.
On March 9, Evelyn Hood, who has been a driving force of the twinning association from almost the beginning, gave a talk to members via Zoom about the origins and development of the links between the two cities.
While the ‘Auld Alliance’ between Scotland and France dates back centuries, DOTA president Sally Carus told The Courier how the roots of the twinning association which aims to foster and further excellent relations between the two cities – can be traced back to the Second World War.
French submarines in Dundee
After the Franco-German Armistice in June 1940, three submarines of the Free French Navy were based in Dundee for the duration of the war and fought on behalf of the Allies.
Dundonians set up a club in Dundee’s Nethergate for these Free French submariners.
When after D-Day it was proposed that Scottish towns and cities “adopt” newly liberated French towns and cities, Dundee “adopted” Orléans.
Orléans, 80 miles south-west of Paris and situated at a vital crossing point on the River Loire, suffered severe bomb and fire damage both in 1940 and 1944.
Dundee’s Lord Provost Sir Garnet Wilson was invited to go to Orléans in 1946 to be officially thanked for Dundee’s help.
This was followed in 1947 by a return visit to Dundee by members of Orléans City Council led by the Mayor Dr Pierre Chevallier.
“When the cities of Dundee and Orléans were first twinned in 1946 the organisation of the twinning was looked after by the Dundee-Orléans Fellowship, largely made up of the group who had run the club for the Free French submariners in Dundee,” explains Sally, a retired French teacher from Cambridge, who studied modern languages at London University and spent a year abroad in Orleans – moving to Dundee in the 1980s when her husband got a job in the city.
“In 1993 Lord Provost Tom McDonald brought together people who had been involved in twinning activities between Dundee and her four sister cities and the Twinning Associations were formed.
“In recent years Lord Provost John Letford set up a Twinning Room within City Chambers for the use of the Twinning Associations.”
Since 1948 Dundee has been represented at the famous Joan of Arc Festivities which take place each year in Orléans on May 8 and every post-war Lord Provost has visited Dundee’s oldest twin.
The first school exchange between secondary school pupils took place in 1947 and these official pupil exchanges continued every year until the mid-1990s.
From 1947 until he retired in 1965 the Orléans students were accompanied by Monsieur Clovis Duveau who became very well known to Dundonians as their guide and interpreter during visits to Orléans.
In 1996 as part of the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the twinning between the two cities, a street in Dundee was named after Monsieur Duveau who, at the age of 96 was able to be present at the official naming of Clovis Duveau Drive.
In the same year Evelyn Hood, who has been involved with the link since 1951, was made a Citoyen d’Honneur de la Ville d’Orléans.
Since 1946 Dundonians and Orléans have exchanged visits in their thousands.
Apart from civic exchanges, these include several thousand school children, golfers, Rotarians, members of the legal profession, people in the hospitality industries, city centre managers, and personnel from the planning departments.
Throughout the years a great number of personal and family friendships have been established – and there’s been a wedding or two as well!
Exchange trip experiences
Retired Dundee teacher Ann Penhale went on exchange trips from Dundee to Orleans as a teenager in 1966 and 1968 – taking on part-time jobs to help pay the £10 fare which was a “lot of money at the time”.
On her first trip, she remembers between eight and 10 pupils from each Dundee secondary school embarking on a 24-hour journey that involved an overnight train to London, the bus from Victoria Station to Kent, a plane over the English Channel then a bus to Paris and on to Orleans.
On that trip, she was paired up with the daughter of one of the area’s big rose growing families. It “did wonders” for her language skills.
But with most pupils embarking on a foreign trip for the first time, and many still living in tenements with outside toilets, being immersed in the French culture also brought other invaluable life experience.
Ann remembers getting to France and wondering what on earth a bidet was!
“The house I went to stay in in 1968 wasn’t such a wealthy family,” she recalls.
“They lived beside the market place in a tenement. There was no bathroom and an outside toilet. “We showered in a blow up children’s paddling pool. You had to call the mother to tip it up and pour it down the sink. One day I thought I would be helpful – I tried lifting it up and water went all over the floor!
“The other thing I remember is the public toilets at that time in Paris. When you went to ‘the ladies’, you went into a door but behind that door there was only a hole in the ground.”
Ann also remembers having her eyes opened to different eating habits at a time when Dundee was a “turnip, carrot and peas” type of society.
“In those days Dundee people certainly didn’t eat avocado, artichoke, black olives – I thought it was a black grape in the salad,” she says.
“Curry was only just coming into Dundee. We didn’t have peppers and corn in Dundee but we got it there.
“I’d certainly never seen anyone eat raw bacon before and this wasn’t parma ham!
“I got to try escargot and things like that. That had an effect on me.”
Ann also enjoyed a school trip to Wurzburg – describing the Germans as “absolutely wonderful”.
She says these exchange experiences, as well as the influence of a geography teacher, instilled in her a lifelong love of travel.
On her first trip, Ann spent three weeks in Orleans then the French girl made the return trip for three weeks in Dundee. But Ann says they “just didn’t just get on”.
She did, however, keep in touch with other people she met including a Norwegian girl who she later met up with in Kristiansand on a school cruise.
Morgan Academy trip
Erwan Ansquer, from Brittany, is a long-serving languages teacher at Dundee’s Morgan Academy who, in non-Covid times, runs French language sessions in a Dundee café with twinning association members – now moved online.
The school used to have an annual trip for S1-S3 pupils to Boulogne.
Then about four years ago when he saw a Courier article about the twinning association, it was suggested they could include a visit to Orleans on this trip at a time when Sally and her colleagues were keen to re-establish some school links.
“Two years ago I did the trip and it was such an experience,” says Erwan.
“Teachers there were keen to meet us. There was a bit of a mystery about what to expect.
“We were planning to stay two days in Orleans, Friday and Saturday.
“We had the afternoon with pupils of the school. It went extremely well.
“It was amazing how people got on straight away.”
Erwan says it’s “unfortunate” that there’s no twinning association equivalent in Orleans.
However, people were still interested to meet up and talk.
Plans to develop these links further have been “thrown up in the air” due to Covid.
However, it’s very early days and he’s confident further ties can be built in future.
“It’s a great opportunity for S1-S3 pupils to discover the country, to be able to speak French,” he says.
“They got time on their own on the Saturday afternoon. A couple of hours around the shops. With the kids from France in the park for two hours in the park. Just meeting people really.
“It was great to experience life over there for a while. I’m not too sure with Brexit how things are going to be at the border, but I hope relations can continue.”
* DOTA hopes to hold a 75th anniversary exhibition later in the year. Anyone who would like to contribute with information and stories can do so via firstname.lastname@example.org