Entente Cordiale: Rotary Club of Forbach
Our twinned club of 35 years from France visits us
It is 35 years since the Rotary Club of Portishead started a twining with the Rotary Club of Forbach in France. So in September members of the Portishead Club were delighted to welcome members from Forbach into their homes. Over the years the clubs have met up in various cities in Europe, Ghent, Dublin, Berlin, Lille to continue the friendships that have developed over those years.
This year our French visitors were entertained by visiting the World Heritage site of Bath, where they not only saw the Roman Baths, but also the Jane Austin procession. They also participated in meals out and entertainment. The photo shows Rotarians and partners surrounding an Austrian couple dressed up in period costume, as Dickens and Jane Austin.
The Rotary Club of Portishead was chartered in 1979 and as a new Club with enthusiastic new members the idea of reaching out and forming a friendship with another Rotary Club on the continent of Europe was very much a topic of the time.
The then President, Ted Steele researched opportunities for Club twinnings and with the support of the whole Club made contact with the Rotary Club of Forbach, in France.
After many communications an inaugural meeting was set up and as can be seen in the photo the twinning was established in 1983. President Ted Steele with his wife June, Vice President Dennis Withers, with his wife Hilda can be seen with Jacques Thiriot and his wife and the President of the Forbach Club. A large group from the Forbach Club came over staying mainly with members though some of the French contingent chose to stay at the Walton Park Hotel. The 35 year friendship had begun.
Each year the clubs would meet together, usually in the Autumn. One year in Portishead the next in Forbach. Most members taking part would either host a French couple or would act as the host for a meal on the Friday night. The majority of members would get involved in some way, in the simplest form by joining the trips organised or attending a meal. On visits to Forbach a fair sized group would make the journey to the North East French mining town of Forbach often by road. On these occasions some members were unable to make the journey through work commitments and they would eagerly await the report of the visit on the return of members taking part.
This yearly routine continued for many years until in the 1990’s when instead of journeying to the home towns participating members of both Club’s would meet up in a mutually agreed venue elsewhere, for example Caen on the Normandy coast, or St Valery Sur Somme near Le Havre, or Dublin.
As time has gone on the number of participating members in both Clubs has dwindled – partly through members moving away or joining another Club or sadly through members passing away. Forbach Club started a new Franco German Club and a few members of that Club joined in the exchanges over the years. In recent years the yearly exchange has fallen by the wayside with interest also sadly waning in both Clubs. However long time friendships still continue and every now and then visits are made, though on a much more reduced scale.
How have we entertained our French guests over the years? Traditionally the Friday evening is the occasion for members to host meals. So there would be a number of venues at members homes with no more than 6 or 8 per meal. Visits, usually on the Saturday have been made to places such as St Fagans & Cardiff, London, Bath, Bristol, with a superb visit to Dartmouth by steam train from Newton Abbott and with a boat ride up the estuary Totnes. On one occasion we took our guests to Caldicot Castle for a medieval banquet and on another we had a fabulous evening at Mary Elton School with a buffet meal and Barn Dancing (this is still remembered fondly to this day by our French friends!). We have had meals at the Walton Park Hotel, the Royal Pier Hotel in WSM, at the Hotel du Vin in Bristol, also once in Marlborough on our way back from London and also once at the Somerset Hall. There no doubt were other venues that have been forgotten!
Traditionally there has been an exchange of a gift between Presidents – the Miners Lamp was the first. The Presidents of each club haven’t always taken part, so a representative is nominated in their place. Originally the main meal on the Saturday evening included a speech by each President or representative. This changed over the years to often being made at the “Brunch” on the Sunday. Visits have become much less formal.
The link between our Clubs is one to value and no doubt it will keep going in some small way but as the number of members originally involved at the start dwindle away the link will become much more tenuous. International fellowship is an excellent part of Rotary and one which we must continue to encourage.