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The following reports of meetings in the 2017-18 season are available:

27 Sep 2017: "Escape from Colditz” - Col. Piers Storie-Pugh OBE TD DL

This was a riveting account of the legendary attempts at escape from the Gothic castle fortress which was the maximum security Prisoner-of-War camp for 800 Allied prisoners assessed as being at the highest risk of escaping, and held Piers’ father, Colonel Peter Storie-Pugh CBE MC DL from 1940-45.

The talk was based on his “living memories” and amazing collection of photos and drawings giving an unrivalled personal perspective to some of the most intrepid, ingenious and courageous exploits of WW2.

The Colditz Castle complex was deemed to be impregnable inside and out; also having a 1:1 guard to prisoner ratio. It was Goering’s “escape-proof” prison, and yet more prisoners escaped than from any other PoW camp.

Peter Storie-Pugh was wounded in Normandy and won the MC in 1940, was hospitalized at Bapaume and escaped, was taken to Spangenberg in the Hartz Mountains, he escaped again, was severely beaten up and committed to Colditz.

Here, over 300 escape attempts were made, 130 successfully. Thirty achieved the “home run”, nine British. Peter took part in 21 escape activities and won an award for gallantry for his efforts.

Escapes involved immense physical effort and ingenuity combined with meticulous planning and diverse skills, and total mutual trust and dependence in these life-threatening exploits: drilling, tunnelling, disposal of “spoil”, scaling towers, walls and roofs and constructing a glider. Details “made truth seem stranger than fiction”. Some were caught and died in the attempt.

Diversionary tactics were brilliantly devised: disguise and other means to give cover to each attempt. All the teams possessed a heroic determination, resilience both mentally and physically and superhuman effort and courage to face each attempt.

The unique insights into the life in captivity in Colditz were intensely interesting. The huge importance of the Red Cross parcels for essential food, books for studying: Peter studied science with Cambridge University, achieving a first class honours. Many availed themselves of this facility as well as reading for leisure. Peter used coded letters for requests for parcels. Pictures illustrated some of the music and drama productions important for morale but also to “cover” for tunnelling under the chapel floor! Enormous talents and skills came into play in this long period of incarceration.

In April 1945 Colditz was liberated by the US Army. The Commandant, who had been respected for his fair-mindedness, was himself imprisoned in a gulag for 15 years. Peter became an internationally renowned veterinary scientist, resuming his career. He revisited Colditz on visits with Piers, and the account concluded with a moving picture of him laying a wreath on his friend’s grave who had died in his bid to escape.

Piers pursued a military career, retiring as a Colonel. He has devoted years since to helping service people: veterans, widows and families. He set up and organised with great success Remembrance Travel, guided tours and visits to battlefields and cemeteries world-wide. Thousands have been enabled to visit graves as far afield as Burma and the Far East as well as in Europe.

He was Chief Executive of the “Not Forgotten” association for the recreation and entertainment of seriously wounded personnel which catered for thousands each year.

His passionate commitment also extended to being a driving force for the Anglo-French Thiepval visitors’ centre so successfully completed. He is a Deputy Lieutenant for Greater London, with responsibility for the Queen’s Award for Voluntary Service.

The capacity audience of just over 100 deeply appreciated this immensely interesting and memorable talk.

Next meeting, Friday October 20th: Jon Snow – “Living History”. Please note change of day from the usual Wednesday.

Daphne Priestley

20 Oct 2017: "Living History” by Jon Snow

Jon spoke initially of some of the most significant influences determining the course of his life and career: from chorister at Winchester Cathedral to the distinguished Channel 4 News presenter today.

His boyhood and adolescence were almost totally committed to the arduous routine of being a chorister. At university in 1970, at the height of the student protest movement, he developed an interest in political and ethical issues, and his involvement led to his being “sent down”.

hortly after, he obtained a V.S.O. post as a teacher of English in a Mission School in Uganda, which became a life-changing experience.
The excitement of travel to Africa and then the culture shock in stark contrast to his own lifestyle was to require much adjustment in addition to being confronted by the daily challenge of teaching large classes “from scratch” in a totally different cultural milieu. He soon grew to love his work, the warmth and enthusiasm of all he met, and to face the reality of subsistence living. Poverty, hardship and injustice in Uganda left an indelible impression. He developed a “wanderlust”, having been able to explore some of Africa, to which he would later frequently return in his work.

When he returned to London he took a post running a Youth Centre which became the “New Horizon” centre, with which he retains close connections and has championed over the years. It was dealing with most demanding cases of the “dispossessed” and disadvantaged young people. At the same time, London Broadcasting Company was established as the first commercial 24-hour radio station. Jon became a part-time reporter but soon a full-time radio presenter, contributing to LBC’s rapid success. His personality and talents determined the clear course of his career.

With ITN burgeoning, he was recruited as a reporter/presenter, a rôle again to which he was ideally suited, and was an established success well-known to radio listeners. He was a great success on TV as well, and was soon promoted to the prestigious post of Washington Correspondent and then Diplomatic Editor. This involved worldwide travel, face-to-face meetings and interviews with heads of state, world leaders, all the US Presidents, successive UK Prime Ministers and reporting world events.

He gave many fascinating examples: the memorable release of Nelson Mandela after 27 years in prison, and meeting Idi Amin again in Uganda. He was also reporting from conflict zones and “hot spots”. He won many awards including ones for reports on Eritrea and El Salvador.

He faced relentless travel, satisfying his wanderlust; all consignments were challenging, exciting and frequently dangerous, and an exhausting schedule which could be changed at a moment’s notice. He visited many countries in Africa, also Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam. His genius for the vivid, accurate reporting of both people and events brought immediacy and reality to the TV screen as history unfolded. His last example: Nelson Mandela’s interview on release from Robben Island and his charismatic speech. Then he recalled his coverage of the horrendous Grenfell Tower disaster and tragic loss of a brilliant 12-year-old girl who had won a Debating competition only weeks before which Jon had judged, next seeing her photo at the scene where she had died. It was a most moving account.

The capacity audience of over 120 had listened with rapt attention and felt very privileged to then ask a range of questions; all were responded to with most illuminating answers. All deeply appreciated the first-hand experience of the dynamic that Jon brings to all his presentations. It was a most memorable experience – “Living History”. He was thanked most warmly.

Daphne Priestley

22 Nov 2017:- "The Oldest Profession in Aldbourne - Warrening" by Alan Heasman

Following weather forecasting in the RAF, Alan joined the Meteorological Service at the HQ at Bracknell, where he retired as Manager of the National Library and Archives. He has retained his career-long interest in the history of meteorology. On retiring to Aldbourne he became deeply interested in its history, and was a prime mover in establishing the Community Heritage Group, which explores topics of historical interest and importance, e.g. industry and agriculture. It manages a small museum, which attracts many visitors, especially from the US, the famous US 101 st Airborne Division having been based with its HQ in Aldbourne in WW2.

A chance meeting with a “warrener” and his ferrets led Alan to his local history study of the 1,000 year old practice of “warrening”.  The chalk downland surrounding the village is an ideal habitat for rabbit breeding; they eat the scrub and maintain the grass.

Rabbits existed in Britain at the end of the Great Ice Age. The Romans introduced them as a staple food source but the Normans developed the “industrial scale” breeding by “warrening” to provide a large replenishing supply of delicate meat and fur for clothing. Grey rabbits were bred for meat and black for fur. Warrens were established in rough spare areas of land and were contained by walls constructed from the surrounding flints and turf. Later artificial tunnels were built to divert water from flooding the rabbit nurseries.

Rabbit husbandry by means of warrens entailed a low-cost outlay and a high yield, and became very profitable in the medieval period and a major contribution to the village economy. The post of “warrener” was very important.

Warrens would be sold or rented out in terms of rabbits and at one time silver “tokens” were used with embossed rabbits, acknowledged as a local currency! In 1389 John o’ Gaunt ordered “30 pairs of rabbits fresh, reasonable and best quality” for the King’s House at Savoy Palace”, and the estimated equivalent income in the 13 th /14 th centuries was £500,000 pa; rabbits were a major input to the village economy. In 1730 rabbits would sell in London for the equivalent of £95 a dozen.

There had been an extensive “diswarrening” to curb the rabbit population from the 18 th /19 th centuries as land utilization for arable farming growing food crops and enclosing the land for sheep and cattle was incompatible with “warrening”, and a vast rabbit population which was a threat to food production. They were shot and culled.

By 1940, it was estimated that there were over 100 million rabbits nationally and this was a threat to the more intensive food production. In 1970 the policy of culling by the dreaded myxomatosis disease was imported from the US It drastically reduced the population and 99% were wiped out. Rabbits today are culled by shooting and ferrets. Rabbit is no longer a staple of the country diet.

The talk was most interesting, illustrating the centuries-old warrening tradition in the downland landscape with residual walls, enclosures and “pillow mounds” and local warren fences added to the interest of this most impressive illustrated account of a local history project.

Daphne Priestley

24 January 2018:- "Motoring Emergencies – A History of the Automobile Association” by Roger Day

Today, the Automobile Association has a membership of over 10 million. Originating in 1905, it now provides a comprehensive role often described as “The Fourth Emergency Service”, giving a 24-hour nationwide service to give help to motorists facing emergencies and problems with their vehicles on the road or at home. This service also gives motorists reassurance that it can always be relied upon if needed.

In the early 1900s, as vehicles came on to the roads increasingly capable of higher speeds, roads were still used by horse-drawn vehicles, and cars posed great alarm to all other road users, creating clouds of dust in their wake. Legislation was passed to limit speed to 20 mph. This was frustrating for motorists but was the first “road safety” law. It was difficult to enforce by police officers on foot or bicycle. Motorists formed the Motorists’ Union to represent their interests. In 1910 it amalgamated with the Automobile Association. Membership cost 2 guineas.

Speeding motorists were targeted by police with primitive “speed traps”. The AA had uniformed patrolmen “scouts” who would salute the AA member’s badged car but not raise their arms if there was a police patrol ahead! A compromise to resolve the police v. motorist tensions!

The AA “scouts” were issued with a semi-military uniform, bicycle, saddle bag, chain and whistle similar to that of a police officer. With increasing numbers of cars, garages sprang up selling fuel but also combining this with repairs, and would proudly become registered as “AA recommended repairers” and sport the large distinctive AA sign. From 1924-1939, the Motorists’ Union having now become exclusively involved with motor insurance, the Royal Automobile Club was a rival organisation to the AA.

By 1932 the AA had half a million members. The distinctive black and gold wooden AA boxes were a feature of roads every 10-15 miles, fitted as shelters for patrolmen, but they also had a phone, maps, and a fire extinguisher. They lasted from 1927 to the 1960s. Roger had some most interesting photos of local boxes and patrolmen. In 1968 the wooden boxes were replaced by “pillar” phone boxes which were more advanced and have duly been superseded by the ubiquitous mobile phone.

Patrolmen’s transport advanced from bicycle to motor cycle, adding a well-equipped sidecar. They then used vans, cars, transit vehicles, low-loaders, and today not only a large fleet of vehicles but also two fixed-wing aircraft for essential mapping. After initial training there is frequent updating and specialised training “in service” to provide a highly skilled workforce.

The AA has always had a major role in “signage” and has provided an invaluable source of information for motorists. The AA mapping service provided essential routes countrywide on request, vital information adding to the interest and pleasure of much less stressful driving and journeys. The excellent AA annual members’ handbook was always carried in the car! The AA also produced some excellent guide books.

Roger’s enthusiastic and most informative account was enlivened by photos, newspaper cuttings and diary extracts gleaned from local sources, and gave rise to many interesting questions. Members had clearly much appreciated his engaging talk, a follow-up to his previous, enjoyable “Motoring in the Kennet Valley”.

Daphne Priestley

28 Mar 2018: "Couture in the Country: from Edwardian Glamour to the Swinging Sixties in rural Berkshire" - Dr Caroline Ness

Caroline, an HHA member, is a distinguished Fashion Historian and has been a Curator at the Museum of Costume in Bath. She gave a rigorously researched,
fascinating account of changes in fashion spanning 50 years.

Her talk was illustrated by excellent photos of examples from the Museum’s costume collection. Of special “local” interest were items from the collection of Lady Jean Ward 1884-1962 of Chilton Lodge; over 100 had been donated by the family.

Lady Jean, a beautiful and very talented American heiress, married Col. John Ward in 1908 in the Chapel Royal: it was the “Wedding of the Year”. Her gown, the epitome of Edwardian elegance, was described in great detail in he Press. Knighted in 1917, Sir John became Equerry to four monarchs.

Her costume fashions reflected the height of Edwardian glamour: elaborate large hats, bustles, long trains and lace were in vogue.

By 1914-18 fashions reflected the sombre, austere wartime in simpler, practical skirts, shirts and more tailored “uniform” jackets. For example, the 1000 girls and the YMCA in France.

The 1920s reacted in shorter, simpler “slinkier” styles, use of draped satin and Lady Jean’s elegant classic dresses, slim V necks and the ubiquitous single rope of pearls.

A unique collection of her riding habits from 1910-30 include silk underwear, stocks and impeccably tailored breeches, and riding coats, boots, “bowlers” or “top hats” by the world-famous London couturier Busquin.

In 1934 the “Wedding of the Year” took place at Chilton Foliat: Jackie Ward marrying Susan Corbett. She wore a beautiful simple cowl neck lacy sleeved gown with a shorter, exquisitely embroidered train.

For the 1937 Coronation, Jean wore a very elegant Molyneux gown. In the 1930s-40s she chose mid-calf- length skirts with a simple, elegant line.

A “step change” occurred after the skimping shortages of the War. In 1946-48 the “New Look” of Jacques Fath and Balenciaga opted for the “feminine” style of waisted short jackets, full flared longer skirts which soon became popular fashion. It was followed by glamorous romantic ball gowns. Lady Jean’s elegant dress for the Coronation in 1953 is in the Museum. Her ball gowns were by Hartnell, Molyneux, John Cavanagh, Victor Stiebel, all iconic designers.

In the “Swinging Sixties” another reaction swept the nation with mini-skirts, vivid colours. Her couture collection reflected some brighter colours, vibrant florals but always her inimitable personal elegant style, with matching coats, dress and perfectly coordinated smaller fitted hat.

The very appreciative audience, including Mrs Sarah Scrope D.L. and Mrs Amanda Ward much enjoyed Caroline’s most absorbing presentation. We were delighted to be able to thank them for all the support and access that Caroline had to a rich resource from family photos, Press Reports and Lady Jean’s fashion collection of over 50 years.

Daphne Priestley (chairman)

25 Apr 2018: "The Art of John Constable and Wessex” - Helen Lockhart MA

Helen is an HHA member. She has an OU Master’s Degree in Art History and Classical Studies and is studying for a PhD in History at Reading University researching Lady Craven of Benham Park. She became an avid OU student whilst living abroad in India and the Middle East.

Her presentation gave members a “private viewing” of over 50 of Constable’s pictures, both well-known and less familiar. Her selection gave a fascinating insight into each individual painting, giving a deeper understanding and appreciation of Constable’s genius.

John Constable was born in 1775 at East Bergholt in Suffolk, a small village above the river Stour. His family was “upwardly mobile”: his father had become a prosperous miller, corn merchant, barge owner and coal transporter. He enjoyed a happy family life. He loved the surrounding countryside. His sketching and painting showed exceptional artistic talent.

He developed a passion for landscapes and “natural” painting of the Stour Valley, Dedham Vale, woods, fields, a lock, cattle, cottages and local churches and depicting scenes of country life.

Artists who achieved great distinction and success at this time, Reynolds, Gainsborough, Lawrence and other aspirants, thrived on portraiture and the popularity of this trend. Constable realised that to make a living he, too, would have to bow to this trend if ever he was to earn sufficient to marry Maria, the “love of his life”, after a seven year courtship. It was after his marriage that he produced a prodigious collection of paintings and gradually succeeded in having some exhibited at the Royal Academy. Approval was only grudgingly conceded for this new “natural” style, but in 1812 the picture of his father’s “Flatford Mill” was acclaimed and Turner was to have a rival genius.

Constable’s masterpieces of the East Anglian landscape and country life constituted his most widely acclaimed paintings, but his subjects also included the “architectural” within the brilliant landscapes such as Salisbury cathedral, Stonehenge and Hadleigh Castle. His seascapes are immensely impressive: Weymouth, Osmington, Hadleigh Castle conveying movement, atmosphere and drama, his style different from Turner but also uniquely brilliant.

A feature of all his magnificent “natural” landscapes and seascapes is the dominance of clouds, a superb feature reflecting his interest in meteorology, “Hampstead Heath” for example.

He achieved his life-long ambition to become an Academician realized in 1829, sadly the year after Maria’s death. This association “became his pillar and a solace alongside his family”. He had become one of our greatest and most revered artists. He died surrounded by his recent paintings in 1837.

Helen’s enthusiastic and expert presentation gave much pleasure and enlightenment to a most appreciative audience.

Daphne Priestley (Chairman)

23 May 2018: "Avebury: Past and Present" - Mike Robinson

Mike Robinson, for seven years a National Trust Guide at Avebury and Stonehenge, gave members an encyclopaedic “guided tour”, complemented by many of his excellent photographs, many now used by the National Trust. Much of this information provided amazing evidence emerging from the most recent technological advances and techniques in environmental archaeology.

Avebury originated around 3,000 BC and is roughly contemporary with Stonehenge. What you see today at both sites is from 2500 BC. There are hundreds of stone circles in Britain, and Avebury, now a World Heritage Site, is the largest in the world. Uniquely, it has three circles, an outer and two inner circles, surrounded by a henge, a huge bank and ditch. The ditch was 30 feet deep, and the bank outside an additional 20 feet high. Unusually, it also encompasses a village and two roads. Stonehenge is smaller. Excavations have shown that Avebury was not a “settlement”, neither connected with the solstice, nor a cemetery, or a hillfort (Iron Age hillforts - and Druids - are 2,000 years later).

The nearby Ridgeway is later and cannot be earlier than 1500 BC as there are Middle Bronze Age field systems underneath it. Much later, the Romans had a road through the Kennet valley by Silbury and there was Anglo-Saxon occupation at Avebury but outside the henge.

The Stone Age culture moving up from Europe with early “agriculture” had no tools for construction other than deer antler “picks” and ox shoulder-blades to dig out the massive amount of chalk. In the 60’s a group of archaeology students on a dig used such tools and found them almost as efficient as metal!

The massive stones were “local” sarsen stones abounding in the surrounding chalk Downland. Recent evidence shows that the same early agricultural people also constructed Silbury Hill, but the Long Barrows such as West Kennet Long Barrow predated Avebury by 1,000 years. The straight-sided and diamond-sided stones were a feature of both the “Avenues” at West Kennet and Avebury. The most massive “Cove stone”, 110 tons, dated possibly to 3,100 BC, would have needed 1,700 people to move and instate; other stones used weighed up to 60 tons, the largest at Stonehenge weighing 40 tons.

Only 2-3 feet of the stone was in the ground and they were perfectly balanced; this was discovered when stones were re-erected.

Earlier excavation was much assisted by the 1720’s drawings of William Stukeley showing the position of standing stones, some fallen, and post-holes. Some stones had been utilised for buildings in the village in the 17th century.

Major excavations were undertaken in the 1930s by Alexander Keiller, a millionaire and enigmatic archaeologist with a passion for the excavation and preservation of the site with the wealth to finance it. He bought the Manor and began the vast project, attracting much archaeological interest. He excavated some of the four entrances, and raised over 50 stones, which yielded vast amounts of material, later housed in the fine museum named after him. His excavations were not completed as all were closed down in 1939 and not resumed after his untimely death. The site today, however, owes an enormous debt to him for its restoration and preservation.

When excavation resumed it was assisted by aerial photography and some new techniques rapidly evolving, with very advanced technology of today and strong academic and popular interest in archaeology. The Universities of Southampton and Leicester are closely involved in “digs” each year.

Recent evidence obtained from ground-penetrating radar and after a very wet winter revealed that the climate had been much wetter with lagoons, water channels and springs bubbling up to the surface at Silbury Hill and near Avebury: a “wet landscape”. This might have fostered a belief in the “underworld” alongside ancestor worship. The discovery of the “Seahenge” with the huge inverted tree might suggest some common belief. Current excavations continue to reveal fascinating new evidence.

Mike’s excellent tour of Avebury stimulated a record number of questions and will undoubtedly impel members to visit the site for their own guided tour.

Daphne Priestley (Chairman)