A Girl Scout Troop’s Adventures Abroad in 1949: Part 2 of 3

Come along as Barb Gilbertson experiences the “branching point” of a lifetime. To read Part 1, click here.

By Barbara Gilbertson

“You know, Bill…she will never be the same” …my mother said to my father as they assembled with hundreds of relatives, friends and interested townspeople from nearby Manchester, Connecticut in the Hartford Railroad Station to bid goodbye to the ten Senior Girl Scouts and their two leaders who, after two years of preparation, were taking a train to Montreal where they would board a Cunard White Star Liner–the SS Samaria, recently converted back to a luxury liner from having been utilized as a troopship.  The date was June 10, 1949.

Senior Girl Scouts at Hartford leaving for Europe 1949
Senior Girl Scouts at Hartford leaving for Europe 1949

We girls had worked tirelessly for two years to earn the necessary $550 for the three-and- one-half-month trip that would take us to England, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Germany and France.  Most of our fathers earned $2000 to $3000 a YEAR so $550 was a considerable sum, and of course, none of their mothers went out to work. We Girl Scouts picked apples, potatoes, tobacco; washed woodwork, washed dishes, had bazaars, big spaghetti dinners, sold cookies and BABYSAT.  Babysitting rated were 25 cents before midnight; 50 cents after.  So, by June of 1949 we were ready to go.

This all started two years earlier when our leader Emily took us on a two-week hiking trip on the Long Trail in Vermont, part of the Appalachian Trail. We slept in lean-tos or under the stars.  I was 14 that summer.  We had with us a Girl Guide from Belgium, who had been the tent mate of one of our members at an International Girl Scout Encampment in Pennsylvania just prior to our trip. Artie was the delegate from Connecticut; Ginette was the delegate from Belgium. Artie invited her to come along on our hiking trip.  Ginette was 17 and an absolutely delightful young woman with whom we all fell in love.

Girls sleeping under the stars, somewhere on the Appalachian Trail

About halfway through the trip at one of our nightly campfires she suggested that we think about making a trip to Europe.  She would help us.  The more she talked, the more excited we got about the possibility so once home, Emily called a meeting of all our parents and presented the idea.  Would they let us go?  Every parent thought it was a wonderful opportunity if we could raise the money.  Thus began the two years of preparation and finally our departure date had arrived.

We were a phenomenon and quite well known all over town. It was only four years since World War II had ended; no one in our town was traveling anywhere!  

We got out of school two weeks early and returned two weeks late.  We lived with families (to whom we had been sending CARE packages) or camped with Girl Guides from other countries and spent one week at the wonderful Girl Scout/Guide Chalet in Adelboden, Switzerland.  We observed war devastation in London, particularly and some in Germany.  We did stay a few days in the International Student House in Paris just before we caught the same ship back home from Le Havre.

©  2021  Barbara Gilbertson

Barbara Gilbertson grew up on the East Coast; met her husband on a trip to Alaska visiting a Girl Scout buddy.  He was from Eau Claire, Wisconsin so that explains the past 41 years in Wisconsin. But prior to that they lived in Minnesota, New York, New Jersey and Alaska..again. Barb holds an Associate Degree from Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York. Widowed since 2009 after 52 great years, she continues to travel, most often by ship and train.

About first person productions

My blog "True Stories Well Told" is a place for people who read and write about real life. I’ve been leading life writing groups since 2004. I teach, coach memoir writers 1:1, and help people publish and share their life stories.
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