Minutes of the meeting held on 16th November 2022. There were 17 members present and 2 apologies.
The Chairman welcomed members. Instead of the usual meeting format with an invited speaker, the meeting took the form of debates on 3 chosen topics of current interest.
The first was suggestions for saving energy/resources as follows:
- Place a bottle of water in a toilet cistern to save water
- Move the CH thermostat to the lounge from the hall
- Buy a box of wine rather than bottles
- Don’t overfill a kettle
- Swich off electrical items not being used
- LED lighting is now reliable and cheaper to run than older alternatives
- Fill up a washing machine before running
- Use the oven for cooking more than one item
- Use radiators or a dehumidifier to dry wet clothes
- Consider payback time when investing in items such as solar panels
‘Is free speech dead?’ We seem to be losing the art of debate and Cambridge University is actually bringing in a course to cover this. In part because of social media, people feel free to just express an (extreme) opinion without explaining why they think it’s right. We therefore end up with two extremes, with people polarised.
What does woke mean? One useful description is an over emphasis on being politically correct.
Concern was expressed over:
- the spread of lies and half-truths – for instance, misleading Brexit claims and almost anything from Trump
- the diminishing respect for others who have different views
- that expressing an opinion on social media may trigger anonymous abuse
Maybe social media participation is best avoided.
‘The Welsh Assembly’ Should the number of Welsh Assembly Members be increased, as proposed from 60 to 90, or be kept the same? There is currently a working group preparing the way.
Generally, there was little support except for large geographical areas like Powys where the thinly populated area may mean that an individual vote carries more weight than one from a densely populated area.
There was general agreement that today’s expression of views had been a good thing and there was support for repeating the format in around 6 months.
The meeting closed at 11.56.
Minutes of the meeting held on 2nd November 2022. There were 14 members present, one visitor and 2 apologies.
The Chairman welcomed members and our speaker for the day, John Evans. As regards health updates, Roger Tod is still poorly and remains in a nursing home in Abergavenny.
John’s talk was entitled “The History of the Family” and was essentially an overview of how families lived mainly during the last 400 years and mainly from the study of surviving Parish Records. Questions addressed included “When did people marry?” and “How many children did they have?”.
The presentation was a collection of “facts” of varying veracity and observations including the following:
- Most people in the UK are descended from cannibals – survivors of the wrecked Spanish Armada may have been butchered and eaten by the Scots
- Everyone today who has blue eyes may be related – such people didn’t exist 2000 years ago
- UK residents 12000 years ago all had dark skin and brown eyes
- None of Queen Anne’s 17 children survived after one year
- Parish registers assist in determining UK population statistics but with caveats e.g., in some parishes only boy births were registered, and marriages weren’t registered until 1754
John also discussed the impact of the extremely cold weather and diseases such as smallpox and flu – which often came together as in 1729. Deaths tended to be higher in industrialised areas because of population density. Living conditions could be horrendous and not like as in the Jane Austen novels.
People in the UK are 6 to 8 inches taller than 100 years ago because of better food. Holland – one of the richest European countries – has the tallest residents today.
Perhaps the interesting part of Family History research is finding out how our ancestors lived – and this was the theme of John’s excellent talk. Much more information is available on line these days and this has improved the quality of FH research.
Following several questions and a Vote of Thanks from Chris Openshaw, the meeting closed at 12. 07
Minutes of the meeting held on 4th October 2022. There were 14 members present and 2 apologies.
The Chairman welcomed members and our speaker for the day, Richard Jordan.
The chairman first read out a short CV of our speaker who started as a cameraman for Pearl & Dean and went on to work independently in advertising.
Richard’s talk was entitled “The other Glen Miller Story” and was a beautifully illustrated description of the life and work of Glenn Miller which wasn’t covered in the famous 1954 film, and which inspired Richard’s interest and subsequent research. Throughout his talk Richard played extracts from the Band’s music including “Moonlight Serenade” and “Chattenooga Choo Choo” and showed numerous photos of life in America such as New York street scenes in the 1930/1940s.
Miller was named Alton Miller in 1904 after a Democratic presidential candidate and tried unsuccessfully to change his name but always referred to himself as Glenn. The success of his band is well known as is the endless list of music industry awards in the late 1930s and 1940s. Perhaps the most famous event in the Band’s history was crossing the Atlantic to England on the liner Queen Elizabeth 2 weeks after D Day in June 1944 as a morale booster for the forces.
Major Glenn Miller is believed to have died on December 15th 1944 in a light aircraft travelling from the Band’s base in Bedford to Paris and which may have crashed into the Channel in foul winter weather – a journey that should never have taken place. The paperwork relating to the enquiry is still classified by the USA until 2044 so conspiracy theories abound about his demise. His health was poor so he may have been secretly returned to the USA before dying of cancer – he smoked 60 per day. Or he may have been shot in a Paris brothel by the irate husband of a prostitute. Who knows?
The Band went on to tour France and Germany without their leader but were spared going across the Pacific by the dropping of the atomic bombs.
These days there are 4 official tribute Bands!
Following several questions and a Vote of Thanks from Ray Morris, the chairman thanked David Gooding for his past contributions to the Club and wished him well in his new home. The meeting closed at 11.58.
Minutes of the meeting held on 21st September 2022. There were 13 members present and 6 apologies.
The Chairman, Les Bevan, welcomed members and our speaker for the day, John Evans.
John’s talk was entitled “From the fields of Goytre to the plains of Waterloo” and was an appraisal of a written account of a soldier from the ranks called Thomas Jeremiah. Thomas served in Welsh Fusiliers, having been born around 1796 in a farmhouse in the Goytre area. He didn’t go to school and probably spoke Welsh but learned English while in the army. He enlisted in Abergavenny in 1812 and was given a bounty of 4 guineas plus expenses of 4/6 – a small fortune in those days. He was described as 5 feet 6.5 inches tall with brown hair, hazel eyes and of fair complexion. His training took place at Haverfordwest to which he probably travelled by sea after marching to Chepstow.
Then it was on to the Isle of Wight and Walcheren in Belgium. While there, he was sentenced to 300 lashes for losing a spare shirt. However, the sentence wasn’t carried out as the soldier who stole it was found as a deserter and in possession of a shirt with Thomas’s name on it.
On the way to Waterloo, he was issued with a musket and 60 rounds and had to march 12 to 14 hours per day for 2 weeks in torrential rain. The French were reported to be heading south of Brussels. On the way while searching for food he claims to have found 330 gold pieces under a dog kennel but there is no further mention of this fortune in his subsequent account.
Fighting as an infantryman he survived the horrendous onslaught of the French lines at Waterloo while being attacked many times. Amazingly, regimental casualties were low with 9 killed and 27 wounded. Total casualties on all sides were around 58,000.
After Waterloo, Great Britain was top dog in Europe and Wellington made sure he claimed the glory by returning his account first. Thomas went on to serve in France and Ireland for another 25 years, being dismissed on a small pension. He became a constable in Brynmawr but died in Brynmawr in the 1860s without any mention in the local newspapers due to allegations of sexual impropriety.
Following several questions, the meeting closed at 12.10.
Minutes of the meeting held on 7th September 2022. There were 15 members present, 5 apologies and 1 guest.
The Chairman, Les Bevan, welcomed members and our speaker for the day, David Mitchell.
David Mitchell’s talk “The Chinese Boxer Rebellion” started with a summary of the Chinese Opium Wars and subsequent civil wars as background between 1860 and 1899, resulting in a staggering 20 to 30 million deaths.
The Boxer rebellion of 1899 arose from drought, starvation, mass unemployment and hatred of foreigners and not helped by a week and vacillating Empress Cixi in Peking. The Empress was unsure whether to resist the International Occupants in China or cooperate with them The .name Boxer arises from the popularity of martial arts among the rebels.
The rebellion was triggered by rumours of atrocities committed by the International Occupants against Chinese who had allegedly murdered two German missionaries. The International Occupants were British, French, German, Russian, Italian, American, Japanese and Australian.
The first all-out fighting took place in Peking when the rebels stormed the embassies – known as legations – of the Internationals. The fighting was brutal with the Japanese suffering close to 100% casualties. The speaker showed lots of slides with photographs of the action.
None of the Internationals outside Peking knew how their comrades were faring in Peking because the Boxers cut down the telegraph lines along the railway connecting Peking with the Taku forts about 100 miles away on the coast and which were trying to resupply and relieve the Internationals in Peking, The Internationals had secured the coastal Taku forts from Boxer attacks but had failed to get through to Peking because the connecting railway had been sabotaged.
Generally, the Boxers took heavy casualties because they believed that bullets could not hurt them!
The International rescuers formed an army of over 50,000 under the command of the British General Gaselee and successfully relieved Peking on the 14th of August 1900. After a horrendous period of looting and murder, order was restored under the Empress Cixi by October 1901 but at a cost of £67m in reparations.
The speaker then very briefly described the history of China–– eg Chieng Kai Shek in 1926, the effects of WW2 – up to its emergence as a major. Industrial power.
There followed lots of questions arising from this interesting talk.
The meeting closed at 11.55.
Minutes of the meeting held on 17th August 2022. There were 19 members present, 4 apologies and 1 guest.
The Chairman welcomed members and our speaker for the day Gavin Davies.
Gavin Davies’ talk “The First Successful Submarine Attack” started with a mention of an unsuccessful design of a submarine known as the Turtle by the Americans during the War of Independence of 1776.Then he provided some background to the American Civil War 1861 to 1865.
The requirement was to devise a means of planting an explosive charge – known as a torpedo – to the hull of Union ships which were blockading the port of New Orleans in early 1862. The first attempt was the Pioneer – 35 feet long and cigar shaped with a glass conning tower, hand cranked by the crew to propel the craft and with hand operated pumps to dive, trim and surface. The explosive charge was to be placed on the hull of the ship being attacked by a crewman in a heavy diving suit. The craft was scuttled to avoid it falling into Union hands when they captured New Orleans in April 1862.
The story the moved to the port of Mobile, Alabama, where Pioneer Mk2 was built. It had a crew of 6 and could tow an explosive charge at 2 mph. During testing, it sank but the crew survived.
The next design was known as the CSS H L Hunley after its sponsor. It was 30 feet long, 4 feet wide and 5 feet deep and somehow held a crew of 9. It was successfully demonstrated by George Dixon – a former infantry engineer – to Admiral Buchanan, who considered it unsporting and then moved to Charleston which was suffering from the Union blockade.
During testing, the submarine sank twice and was successfully raised and restored – but with the crews lost on both occasions.
The first operational strike happened on February 17th, 1864. The target – the USS Housatonic – sank in 5 minutes in shallow water so that the masts were visible – and with only 1 casualty.
However, the CSS H L Hunley failed to return after its mission. It was found in 1991 in 30 feet of water in Charleston Harbour was raised in 1995 and the wreck is now in a museum along with a full-size replica.
Why did it sink? The most likely cause was that the shock wave from the explosion stunned all on board and they died from asphyxiation not drowning.
There followed lots of questions arising from this interesting talk.
The meeting closed at 12.02.
Minutes of the meeting held on 3rd August 2022. There were 16 members present and 1 apology.
The Chairman welcomed members and our speaker for the day Roger Foster.
The chairman said he would send out an email to Club members outlining the arrangements for Flu jabs in Crickhowell.
Roger Foster’s talk “Time with Gwent Police” started with snippets from his 13 weeks Basic Training at Cwmbran and moved on to his first posting at Newport Pill, a depressed Docks area. Most of the crime was burglary and drunkenness, the perpetrators usually landing up in the cells for a night, including one who was forgotten until the early hours after having been handcuffed to a pillar – the police communications telephone box – in sub zero conditions. Another was left in a cell next door to a bagpipe-playing constable, clearly glad to be released in the morning.
It was not uncommon to experience a recently released miscreant throw a brick into a window in full view of Roger to get back to the security of 3 good daily meals in prison, especially at Christmas time.
More serious incidents included:
- a drunk threatening to throw himself off a scaffolding in Pontypool, having been rejected by his girl friend
- a body found in a turkey freezer
- a cannabis club in Blackwood
- and a case of an old chap who could not retrieve his hearing aid because his dead wife lay on top of it after he had murdered her.
Roger noted that current law favours criminals, particularly the Police and Criminal Act of 1984 and the abolition of tax discs on cars which have made policing more difficult.
The talk was interspaced with humerous anecdotes and was followed by several questions including views on the 20 mph speed limit in built up areas.
The meeting closed at 11.43.
Minutes of the meeting held on 20th July 2022. There were 13 members present and 4 apologies.
The Chairman welcomed members, and our speaker, Roger James, who would talk to us about “The Lives of Rolls and Royce in Pictures”.
Roger James opened his talk by saying that despite their joint association with motor cars, Charles Rolls and Henry Royce were both very different people with interesting independent lives. The Hon Charles Stewart Rolls (1877 – 1910), third son of Lord and Lady Llangattock, came from an immensely wealthy family. He was educated at Eton where he showed an unusual interest in engineering and electricity and went on to study engineering at Cambridge. He was something of a daredevil. He was competitively involved in ballooning and took an early interest in flying aeroplanes. In 1898 his Peugeot car was the first car ever to be garaged either in Wales or at Cambridge. He participated in motor racing and rallying, and in 1902 he opened a car showroom in London, but, sadly, only French cars were of sufficient quality to meet his exacting standards.
Sir Henry Royce (1863 – 1933), in contrast, was the son of an impoverished farm worker and after only one year at school, he became a telegraph delivery boy aged just 10. However, he showed mechanical aptitude and after a short apprenticeship with the Great North Railway and study at night school, he became determined never to revert to poverty. By the age of 21 he had established his own modest engineering factory in Manchester, and aged 34 he built himself a substantial home in Knutsford. Dissatisfied with the car he bought to drive to work, he decided to build his own. His factory produced three cars which he called FC Royce. He was to become the engineering genius behind all Rolls Royce design .
Meanwhile Charles Rolls wanted to sell quality British cars and in May 1904, Rolls and Royce met in Manchester. Rolls liked Royce’s cars and agreed to sell all that were produced as long as they were called Rolls Royce. A handshake gave birth to the new company. Their first product was a 10 horsepower car, the only surviving one of which is now at the Museum of Science and Industry. A 1905 brochure reveals a range of models, the cheapest of which sold for £400 – a sum that only aristocrats and wealthy industrialists could then afford. In 1908 the company moved a new purpose built factory at Derby. 80% of all cars built since 1918 are still on the road.
In 1903 the Wright Brothers built their “Wright Flier” aeroplane in USA. In 1907, while in New York selling Rolls Royces, Charles Rolls met the Wright brothers and – ever one for excitement – bought two Wright Flyers and became increasingly involved in flying. He teamed up with the Wright brothers and the Short bothers to plan making Wright Fliers under license in Britain. He out did Bleriot’s first flight across the English Channel in 1909 by making a non-stop return flight the following year. The following month, participating in a flying competition at an Air Display in Bournemouth, he crashed and was tragically killed.
In World War I Rolls Royce was ordered to stop making cars and make armoured cars, ambulances, and tender trucks. They were also commissioned by the War Ministry to make Eagle and Falcon aero engines. Henry Royce remained the firm’s chief designer and in World War II designed the Merlin engine which powered both the Hurricane and Spitfire aircraft which enabled the Royal Airforce to win the Battle of Britain thus rescuing Britain from peril. Roger concluded his talk with a timeline from 1904 to the present day which showed how without that chance meeting in Manchester, Britain, as we know it today, might not exist. Today Rolls Royce has two manifestations: Rolls Royce Motor Cars and Rolls Royce plc which makes jet engines, nuclear power plants for submarines and engines for ships.
A barrage of questions showed how enthralling members had found the talk. The vote of thanks was given by Roger White and the meeting closed at 12.09
Minutes of the meeting held on 4th May 2022. This was our AGM, followed by a talk.
The Chairman welcomed members and our speaker, Graham Nel, who would talk to us about Stuart Rendall, Barron of Hatchlands.
Stuart Rendall was born in 1834 and died in 1913. During his life he did a great deal for Wales, possibly more than Lloyd George or Nairn Bevan. He was the third of four brothers, born into a family that was already wealthy. He was educated privately at first and then at Eton and Oxford but subsequently spent some time convalescing in Madeira.
All four brothers went into engineering designing Bridges, Railways and Docks all over the world. He then became a Lawyer and worked for Armstrong Armaments where he represented them on the Government Committee for Arms sales, he then became Vice Chairman of Armstrong. He made a lot of money through arms sales and was involved in peace negotiations for the China-Spanish War.
In 1878 he entered Liberal Politics and in 1895 unseated the conservative member of the Wynn’s family who had been the member for Montgomeryshire for 15 years.
As a Member of Parliament he fought for many changes, particularly those that affected Wales including the “Disestablishment of the Church”, and the 10% Tithe tax for the church. He pushed for Land Reform in Wales and a fairer Agriculture Economy. He did much for education in Wales and the Education Act.
While not always an MP in Wales he was considered a “Member for Wales”.
There were a couple of questions about life in politics and The Vote of Thanks was given by David Gooding. The meeting closed at 12.00 noon.
Minutes of the meeting held on 20th April 2022.
The Chairman welcomed members and our speaker, Roger White, who would talk to us about his pilgrimage walk to Santiago di Compostela.
Roger began his excellently illustrated talk by describing the tradition of how Jesus’ disciple, James, son of Zebedee, came to be buried at Santiago di Compostela. His pilgrimage began at St Jean-Pied-de-Port at the foot of the Pyrenees in France which is the main point of convergence for many pilgrim routes across Northern Europe. Pilgrims have travelled the route, known as the Camino, since 813AD. The scallop shell has long been the symbol of the Camino and marks the pilgrim route. Wearing a shell tells others along the route that they are pilgrims. Many pilgrims travel the whole route, while some only travel part of it. The distance to Santiago is 800 km (500 miles) and Roger walked an average of 12/15 miles each day. The overall trip took 7½ weeks.
Roger was struck by the way good will, hospitality and camaraderie were shared with the local population and with travellers from many different countries, all with different reasons for making the pilgrimage. As he travelled, he was aware of what he called a “Spirit of Place”. He interspersed his talk with many telling quotations and it was apparent to his listeners that this had been a moving experience for him.
Roger’s splendid photographs enabled us to travel with him over the steep Pyrenees and across the varied countryside of Northern Spain, through Burgos and Leon with their magnificent cathedrals, and through many villages, churches, templar castles, and civil war monuments. Roger was able to spend a moment of quiet contemplation in each church he visited. New friends were made on the pilgrimage and a real bond was formed with other pilgrims along the route.
Arriving at Santiago di Compostela, Roger was able to attend the Pilgrims Mass, which is celebrated daily in the cathedral, and where incense is dispensed through the huge swinging censer known as the botafumeiro. Having got his Camino passport stamped to show he had completed the pilgrimage, Roger continued on to Finisterre (literally” the end of the earth”) to see the famous light house, the Peace Pole proclaiming “May Peace Prevail on Earth” and to watch the sun go down over the Atlantic Ocean.
After an enthusiastic period of questions and discussion, the vote of thanks was given by Anthony Seys-Llewellyn and the meeting closed at 11.55.
Minutes of the meeting held on 6th April 2022.
The Chairman welcomed members and today’s speaker, Amanda Renwick, who’s talk was entitled “Lost and Found, A story of Adoption.”
Amanda Renwick opened her talk by explaining that her story of adoption would be told in two parts: “Lost” and “Found”. Her purpose was to raise awareness about adoption, once a taboo subject. After setting the audience a short exercise to identify the importance of “likeness” in families, Amanda opened Part I of her talk by explaining that this was her own story, and that although she had been adopted into a loving family, she sensed the absence of “likeness” with other family members and very early on experienced a feeling of not knowing where she really belonged. Using a sequence of slides and family photographs, showing her as a happy and thriving child, Amanda traced the circumstances of her adoption, her relationships with her adoptive parents and the circumstances of her being told, aged 6, that she was adopted. Aged 14 she accidentally came across a package of adoption papers in which she discovered her birth mothers name and that she was Welsh. Naturally she kept her discovery secret, but, aged 38, when out walking with her father, two years before his death, he revealed that she looked like her birth mother and that she had been very upset at having to hand over her child. This determined Amanda to discover her natural mother, Jayne; and she then described, in some emotional detail, how this was achieved, leading to an excellent relationship between them, and the eventual discovery of a half-sister in Barbados.
In Part II of her talk, “Found”, Amanda told how Jayne had not kept in touch with her extended family and knew little about them. However, in 2006 Amanda moved to Brecon and needed repairs done to her roof, this was due to be done while Amanda was abroad, however weather delayed the work and, on her return, Amanda decided to postpone it till later in the year. By the time it recommenced there was a new man, Leon, on the roofing team. After enquiring why Amanda had moved to Wales, and hearing that it was to be closer to her mother Jayne, Leon realised that they were in fact related. He then helped her find a whole new extended family which they celebrated with a large family reunion in 2016.
This touching talk gave rise to many interesting questions. The vote of thanks was given by Eric Godding and the meeting closed at 12.05.
Minutes of the meeting held on 16th March 2022.
The Chairman welcomed the members and our speaker Elizabeth Siberry (who has generously asked that her fee should be paid to the Ukraine Appeal) to talk on Henry Vaughan.
Elizabeth Siberry opened her talk by saying that she wanted to trace how Henry Vaughan, the Silurist, has been remembered, both locally and nationally over the four centuries since his birth. The family’s ancestral home was at Tretower Court, but Henry’s mother was heiress to a small estate near Scethrog where twins, Henry and Thomas, were born on 17th April 1621. Aged 11, the twins went to be educated by Matthew Herbert, rector of Llangattock, where they both wrote poetry and impressed their tutor. While fluent in Welsh, his poetry was written in English. Both twins later went to Jesus College Oxford, and both were keen Royalist supporters in the Civil War, fighting at the Battle of Chester in September 1645. Soon afterwards Henry returned to the Usk Valley, married Catherine Wise, and when she died at an early age, he married her sister Elizabeth. Between them they produced eight children. This was Henry’s most productive period as a poet, but he also practiced as a physician in the area, writing a number of books on medicine and herbal cures. He died on 23rd April 1695 and was buried alongside the original church at Llansantffraed,
For some 200 years after his death, Henry Vaughan was hardly remembered locally, the Welsh being more interested in bardic poetry. He was, however, better known in English, and even American, literary circles as an important metaphysical poet. When Llansantffraed Church was being rebuilt in 1885, the literary critic Francis Palgrave urged that a memorial to Vaughan should be incorporated in the new church, but without success. About this time, it took two indomitable ladies: Gwenllian Morgan (1852 – 1939), the first lady mayor of Brecon and who was passionate about the history of Breconshire; and an American, Louise Guiney (1861 – 1920), daughter of an American Civil War general, and passionate about 17th Century literature, to achieve the wider discovery and reception of Henry Vaughan’s life and work that it deserved. In 1871 Alexander Grosart published a complete collection of Henry Vaughan’s works in a widely accessible edition, read soon after publication by William Gladstone. An important part of these achievements was the recovery and restoration of Henry Vaughan’s grave at Llansantffraed which Louise Guiney had found in a deplorable state alongside, and defiled by, the parish coal store.
Today, Vaughan’s grave has become a focus for pilgrimage and an annual service is held at the graveside. A signposted walk has been established through the surrounding Usk Valley countryside, visiting the haunts that inspired much of Vaughan’s work. And his poetry itself is well-established in the central caucus of English metaphysical poetry, and has inspired other writers, including Siegfried Sassoon, as well as artists, musical composers and hymn writers.
After a lively question period, the vote of thanks was given by Mel Leyshon and the meeting closed at 11,43.
Minutes of the meeting held on 2nd March 2022.
The Chairman welcomed the members back to The Bear, and also the speaker Dr Naylor Firth who was to speak on “Chepstow in WW2”.
Dr Firth started his talk with a period photo of the Arch at Chepstow, showing several modes of transport of the day, plus his mother, who just happened to be walking across the road. This set the tone for the talk which was, among others, a comparison of things and places in Chepstow, before, during and after, WW2.
Everything was in short supply, clothes were repaired not thrown away, new clothes were rationed and had a “utility” mark which showed the maximum amountdf they were allowed to use. Food was rationed and obtained from your “registered grocer”, milk was “ladled out” from a cart into your own containers and allotments grew food and medicines. Everyone carried an I.D. Card and a Gas Mask.
Air attacks were anticipated and voluntary groups sprang up for every scenario to fight back. The Home Guard, Air raid Precaution, Observation Corp., Fire Service, WVS., Land Army and many others. They all had their Parades, which helped to bolster confidence and recruitment.
Many large, and some historically significant buildings, were commandeered for the war effort, including Beachly Hospital, Piecefield House and The Race Course, which was used for storing aeroplanes. Camps sprang up for housing soldiers and prisoners, Italian prisoners had a yellow circle and German, a yellow triangle, on their prison uniforms for easy identification, however, the Italians did not want to escape, and were employed growing food. Some prisoners died and are commemorated on a town memorial.
Black American soldiers were used to enlarge some of the camps, they also built the Town Hall, which was of timber, and the cinema. Prefabricated housing was built for evacuees. The Slipways, left over from WWI had been commandeered by the Govt., at the outbreak of war, but despite £ millions being spent, only 6 floating cranes were ever built there.
There was a short discussion on personal experiences of the war and the Vote of Thanks was given by John Flood-Page Valley. The meeting closed at 12.03pm.
Minutes of the meeting held on 16th February 2022.
The Chairman welcomed members and our spearker Elizabeth Tebby Germaine on “Dangerous Journeys in Burma in WW2”
Our speaker gave us a fascinating talk about the escape of tens of thousands of people from Burma, fleeing the Japanese invasion in 1942. The talk was based largely on the diaries of her mother, Josephine Chapman and photographs taken by her aunt, Dorothy Lewis, who both worked as missionaries in Burma from 1939 to 1996. She also used previously unpublished photos, charts and maps from Dr Stanley Russell.
Burma, a predominantly Buddhist country, had been a province of India until 1937, when the British took over. Burma became independent in 1948 but chose not to join the Commonwealth.When the Japanese invasion started in Dec 1941 people began to escape by boat and plane. In early 1942 Japanese bombing increasingly spread north and by May all the oilfields & paddleboats were destroyed (some by retreating British forces). The final airstrip was captured in May 1942. From that time men, women, children, the old and young all had to flee on foot via muddy tracks (some 6 inches deep in mud) & over rickety wooden bridges. They had to ford rivers and trek through jungle & over high mountains.
This was the start of the monsoon season and the final journey from Sahmow to the Indian Tea Planters refugee camp at Magherita in India was over 300 miles. The RAF dropped some supplies, but they mainly lived on rice & tea. Many died, often of cholera or were abandoned on the journey.
After the war and independence from Britain in 1947, Aung San (the father of Aung San Suu Kyi) formed a government with many ethnic minorities included. However he was assassinated within 6 weeks and country fell into civil war between various ethnic groups. In 1962 there was a military coup, and in 1966 all foreigners had to leave.
The talk was illustrated by many photos of rural life and gave us a very personal insight into a country few of us know much about.
There were several questions, after which Mike Coulson gave the Vote of Thanks. The meeting closed at 11:45am.
Books Mentioned in Today’s Probus Talk by Elizabeth Tebby Germaine
Lives in Burma & China 1927-1951.
Striking personal stories are told within the context of bitter and dangerous conflicts in China and Burma between 1927 and 1951. Included is a detailed diary written by author’s mother, Josephine Chapman about her 700 mile escape from the Japanese Invasion of Burma, 1941/2, where along with tens of thousands of others both civilian and military she was forced to trek through the dense jungle and over the mountains of northern Burma to India. Later in 1949 her family were driven out of their home and fled from civil war in Burma with nothing except food for the baby.
These conflicts led to the military regime when the country was cut off from the world for many years, with some continuing today in 2017. Josephine’s sister Marian had arrived in China in 1926 and experienced hostility to foreigners and struggles with the language while witnessing the bitter civil war between the Nationalists and the Communists. Her family later escaped from the Japanese in 1943, it was a difficult journey travelling many hundreds of miles by whatever means they could through China, India and the Suez Canal, taking 6 months to reach England. Included are many historic photos of Burma taken by the author’s aunt between 1937 and 1966, with some added from visits to Myanmar in 2012.
Stories of Survival in Burma in WW2
Tens of thousands of civilians of many races and the British Army, together with Chinese soldiers and many Indian soldiers were forced to flee northwards in Burma in 1942. The invasion was swift and by May almost all of the country had been overrun by the Japanese. The last airfield at Myitkyina was taken in May and now the only way out was on foot through dense jungle and over high mountain ranges to India.
Many did not know how far they would have to travel and where safety could be found. Many had already travelled 100’s of miles from the south in the heat before the monsoon. Captain Gribble was used to working in the jungle areas in Kachin State but he would never normally have travelled in the monsoon which started as many thousands were struggling along remote tracks in the jungle which were to become waterlogged and very dangerous.
Many died of illness, exhaustion and hunger. These four stories give a vivid impression of these historic journeys. One was written by the author’s mother, Josephine Chapman whose journey covered over 700 miles from Rangoon to Imphal.
Records of outstanding ITA rescue missions were given to the author, together with photos taken on his fraught journey by Dr Farrant Russell.
This was a huge exodus about which not much is known.
Minutes of the meeting held on 2nd February 2022.
The Chairman welcomed members and our spearker Gavin Davis who’s subject was “Storm Ahead”, the build up to the 1914-18 war.
In the build-up to the First World War, many of the ruling “houses”, several of which were related to each other, were in disarray. Since the turn of the century there had been at least 12 assassinations, and in 1914 the French PM’s wife was facing a murder charge, the British Govt. were facing an ever more violent Suffragette movement and it’s army was fragile, due to the changing situation in Ireland. Add to this the strange mixture of allegiances, Germany and Austro-Hungarian Empire on the one hand, Russia and Serbia, plus France and Britain on the other, and The Balkans, as ever, in a state of flux. Language and control was always going to be a problem with this diverse mix of protagonists, including those who lit the “touch paper” when Archduke Ferdinand of Austria decided to visit Sarajevo.
The first assassination attempt by young rebels, who wanted Austria out of Bosnia, failed, but due to the incompetence of the hosts during the ensuing chaos, the Archduke’s vehicle landed up in front of a fleeing assassin and the rest is history.
Austria demanded an apology within 48 hours but actually wanted the demand rejected. Diplomacy between Austria and Bosnia was at an all time low, several people who could have solved the impasse were unobtainable and Austria wanted to teach Bosnia a lesson.
Russia started moving troops to Bosnia, Germany was worried about the proximity of Russia and started moving troops towards the boarder, but was also worried about France and it’s ally, Britain, so started moving through Belgium to France. The German hierarchy now deemed this unnecessary but the Generals said they could not stop it, and so the move to the biggest slaughter of soldiers in history continued. German support of Austria’s move on Serbia took a month due to language barriers.
The opposing armies dug trenches across hundreds of miles and fought for another four years, none of them realising what a terrible loss of life “modern” mechanised warfare would result in.
There were several questions after which Mel Leyshon gave the Vote of Thanks. The meeting closed at 12.02pm.
Minutes of the meeting held on 19th January 2022.
The Chairman welcomed members and the spearker Chris Helene who was to speak on “So you want to be a Pirate”
The Golden age of Pirates was between about 1650 -1730, although Julius Caesar had been kidnapped at one time, although he objected to the cheap ransom he was held for, and then hunted down the pirates who had held him after his release.
The average age of a pirate was about 24 years and they probably lasted only 2-3 years before being killed or executed. There was probably about 4000 all told, of whom maybe 40 were women.
They were made up of deserters from the Royal Navy; Africans, American Indians and many others. There were roughly 5 groups by what or who they targeted.
Buccaneers Just robbed ships. Privateers were licensed by their own country to plunder ships from an enemy country, although they became Pirates during times of peace through lack of targets. Barbary Pirates who concentrated on capturing slaves, particularly Christians, who were sold in North Africa. Finally there were the French Corsairs who would rob anything that was not French.
Clothing evolved through necessity, the Tricorn depicted the Captain, the Bandanna was to keep off the hot tropical sun, the Black Patch over one eye was probably to protect one eye from the sun and available to see in the dark. holds of the ship. The gold ear ring was to pay fora good funeral if killed or executed, quite often with a home location engraved on it. A parrot was worth money, but wooden legs were not common!
Buried Treasure, Not true, they wanted to spend their loot as soon as possible, only one known case which was that of William Kidd, he buried his treasure on Gardiner Island but it was stolen from him.
Several well known names cropped up, “Boy” Bowden, Black Bart, (Bartholemew Roberts), Black Beard, Ed Teach, who built himself a reputation by making his hair smoke, Francis I’Sionnais, who sank a ship with 80 slaves chained below, and several others including Francis Drake who was a Slave Trader and Privateer and, of course, Captain Morgan of Rum fame.
They had several rules which, if broken, were punishable by death in one way or another. No playing Cards for money. Lights Out at 8pm. Desertion. No fighting on the ship. Killing another crew member. For the latter offence the culprit would be bound to the dead body and thrown overboard!
Chris wound up the talk explaining how two female pirates had existed until they fell pregnant, but this also saved them from being executed!
There were a few questions and comments and the Vote of Thanks as given by David
Robinson. The Meeting ended at 12.02pm.
Minutes of the meeting held on 5th January 2022.
The Chairman welcomed members to the first meeing of the New Year, this was a members meeting.
David Gooding kicked off the programme of members’ contributions with a short talk entitled “And things got smaller and smaller.” Based on his experience since he joined the BBC in 1958 when technical components were bulky and made ‘in house’ at the BBC, David described how components became progressively smaller and commercially manufactured in bulk. David showed us many actual items which illustrated this progression, such as valves being replaced with minute transistors. Several members told of similar experiences in their own careers and professions.
Morgan Llewellyn then read some trivial verse making fun of the events in the news since our last meeting in December. Ray Morris then read a number of most amusing pieces underscored with serious meaning, beginning with one about God and life, and ending with “I am an Old Man, I live with my Kids.” Next, Chris Openshaw returned to his North Devon roots, and had us all singing about the tragic tale of Widdecombe Fair. He was then followed by David Harris reading “A Hand in the Bird” by Roald Dahl.
Changing the mood, Mel Leyshon told us how he had so nearly become a victim of the Six Bells Colliery disaster in June 1960 and read us a short, sad poem about that tragic event. Finally, Sandy Waring told us how as RMO of 2nd Battalion of the Parachute Regiment, he had serve in Abu Dhabi where oil had not yet been discovered, and how the Sheik’s wealth consisted of ancient silver coins and gold bullion kept under his bed, The Sheik had been persuaded to keep it safely in a bank in Beirut, but still failed to understand that when he asked to see his money, it was not the same gold bars that he had deposited. Sadly, the Sheik was subsequently deposed.
The Chairman pointed out how both Mel and Sandy’s contributions both showed how much the world had changed.
After a final pleasant period of chat, the meeting closed at 11.30.