Annual Meeting 2018 – BREST (France)
“Keep your eye on Brest” was Hornblower’s order. Well, we did that. For three days we looked into Brest; the port, the French naval establishment, the historic fortress, the little girls *1, the crabs, the lighthouse *2 – we saw them all.
C S Forester wrote ‘Hornblower and the Hotspur’ in 1961. The third novel in the chronological sequence, it was the tenth penned by the author. These many years later, twenty-four of us, from eleven nations, aged from 16 to – oh – 70+, gathered in Brest for the Annual General Meeting of the C S Forester Society. We touched down at the National Maritime Museum and enjoyed a guided tour through the Museum and Castle. Jean-Yves Besselièvre, administrator of the Museum, welcomed us in the Hall of the Dungeon – in a French charmingly translated by our friend John Roberts. Cocktails, gourmet temptations – and so back to the Hotel Le Continental.
Le Continental was ground-zero for our stay. Re-built in the 1950s with German reparation funds after destruction by French resisters and British bombers, our international, friendly complement enjoyed its delightful art-deco style.
We did the things AGMs do: we reviewed the previous twelve months’ activity, summarised the development of the website – assisted by an unusual curving illustration from indomitable webmaster Nicolas Grigorellis: heard about the dozen fresh contributions made to the study of Forester and Hornblower over the year: loyal treasurer Sue Napier assured us that our finances were in order – a special message of thanks to be sent to eNetPress and CSF’s family in USA for their generous support; and we all agreed that everyone should carry on as before.
Monsieur Besselièvre filled us in on The French Navy of Napoleon times in the war against Britain, with descriptions of the defences of the roadstead and some historical examples of raids. Ken Napier told us of the origins of the crosses, jacks and dusters the Royal Navy has used over the years. Ron Meister enumerated the inconsistencies in our author’s presentation of ‘Happy Return’ and ‘Hotspur’. Your humble Editor almost got his knickers in a twist as he described the little girls of Brest: “When they expose themselves, the little cat blushes” *3. Indeed.
And we visited that little cat. We eye-balled those little girls. We strode atop Mr Vauban’s fort at Petit Point Minou, 20 kilometres west of Brest at the coast, all the way to the site of the semaphore burnt down by Hornblower in 1803 (there seemed to have been some 20th Century Teutonic activity in the interim…) and signalled to each other wildly, frenetically, but all according to the Royal Navy’s age-old system and under the watchful eye of Lieutenant Commander Napier MBE RN.
And all the time, our chairman Ludwig Heuse was leading, organising, encouraging us. Our membership of well over 200 can be reassured that, two centuries after Hornblower blockaded Brest, a watchful eye is maintained by our Chairman – not the Man Alone perhaps; he has his lieutenants and crew in active support – but a Leader indeed. One evening he took us to demolish the local crabs; it was tempting to believe that even the crabs enjoyed the evening…
Your Editor’s schooltime introduction to Brest had included Jacques Prevert’s Paroles: –
“Rappelle-toi Barbara Il pleuvait sans cesse sur Brest ce jour-là”
That Sunday is didn’t rain but it blew half a gale. We had planned to sail out to Ushant – less than 35 leagues, we were confident – but the gale prevented our boat from sailing out into the Atlantic. Avoiding the little girls, we toured the port on all its glory; the dry dock where only 75 years ago the Scharnhorst and Gneisenau had come in for repair, the berthing of today’s French navy, the ultra-modern cable layer, the old Quarantine Station, the Hospital, the Graveyard.
“Tu marchais souriante Épanouie ravie ruisselante Sous la pluie” – well, not quite; but a splendid time was had by all. Thank you Brest. Hornblower can lie safely in the arms of Maria now: the C S Forester Society 2018 Watch? – an entire success.
Lawrie Brewer, Editor, C S Forester Society
*1 The little girls “Les fillettes”; a group of rocks at the entry to Brest harbour
*2 The lighthouse “Le petit minou”; above the fillettes at the harbour-entry
*3 Local saying referring to the lighthouse’s illumination when the rocks beneath are exposed; “Quand les fillettes se montrent, le minou rougit”