March 4th 2021 Zoom Talk

We have enjoyed some interesting talks by Zoom, and I am sure our March presentation will be no exception, it is entitled WASB and will be given Elizabeth Lockart-Mure.

During the Second World War, the 14th Army was supported by an intrepid group of women known colloquially as the Wasbies – (the Womens Auxilliary Service Burma or WAS(B)

Across thousands of miles of inhospitable jungle, in conditions of tremendous difficulty and sometimes within the sound of gunfire, the Wasbies ran char and wads, mobile and static canteens, , providing the troops with a constant supply of food and drink.

Elizabeth’s account of these brave women is taken from the surviving diary of Maria Pilbrow, who documented her experiences in India and Burma,.

I am sure this will be an interesting morning.


February 2021 Family Finances Group Zoom Meeting

A message from John Coleman:

Dear All,
Hopefully, most of you will have already received the first part of the Covid-19 vaccine and are possibly now starting to feel indestructible.
But sadly, what happens after we eventually shed this mortal coil is something that shouldn’t be ignored. Consequently, the theme of next Thursday’s FFG meeting is “Estate Planning and Inheritance Tax”. The meeting will start at 10.00am with a webinar presented by Matt Smith of the financial planners Buckingham Gate, followed by an internal discussion of these key issues and any other matters of interest.

Mike Sinclair has again kindly offered to use his personal Zoom license to host the FFG meeting and the details of his invitation are as follows:

Topic: Estate Planning and Inheritance Tax
Time: Feb 18, 2021 10:00 AM London

[Joining details are as per John’s emails]

To help minimise the risk of disruption at the start of the meeting, it would be helpful if you could join us a few minutes before 10.00AM.

Probus ’83 February 2021 Zoom – Meeting Report

Dr Colin Summerscales paid us a Zoom visit on Thursday 4th February to tell us about historical German Antarctic activities, particularly the German 1938-9 Antarctic Expedition, its pioneering use of aerial survey and subsequent myths.

There had been previous German expeditions in 1873-4 Dallmann), 1901-3 (von Drygalski) and 1911-12 (Filchner). Scott’s expeditions had started south of Australia but the German 1938-9 expedition went to the other side of the continent, south of South Africa.

Alfred Ritscher was a natural choice to lead the expedition because of his role in the 1912-3 German Arctic Expedition and aviation experience, but despite his age of 59 and his having had a Jewish wife. The expedition purpose was substantially economic, as part of the German 1936-40 Plan for War and drive for national economic self-sufficiency. Saving foreign currency for rearmament was important and whale oil, then a major source of margarine, soap and glycerine,was being imported from Norway. Another objective was to look for a German whaling base, avoiding licence fees paid to the UK for the use of S. Georgia.

The plan was to: (1) Carry out an aerial survey of the relevant area, (2) claim territory, (3) survey the Southern Ocean pelagic (open sea) environment and (4) use echo sounding to map the sea bed close to Antarctica. A converted 8,500 ton coaster was used as a “floating airport”, launching a 10 ton Dornier Wal seaplane by steam catapult, retrieving it by crane after landing on the water.

The expedition left Hamburg in December 1938, reaching the Antarctic on January 19th 1939 which was late in the Antarctic summer. They had only 19 days before the Dornier crew warned them that their return path was about to be closed by gathering pack ice. The ship had strengthening plates but not to icebreaker standards. If trapped by the pack ice it would probably have been crushed. But they just escaped, reaching Cape Town in March 1939 on the way home.

In their 19 days the four man crew of the Dornier achieved a great deal, taking thousands of high quality photographs, mapping a large area, showing great skill and courage. Magnetic compasses misbehave at those latitudes and accurate navigation must have been a formidable challenge. Any significant technical failure would have stranded them with no hope of rescue. Swastika flags and metal darts were carried by the plane, to be dropped in support of territory claimed. The flags were dropped at regular intervals but the darts were jettisoned, to the displeasure of some, because their weight prevented safe clearance over high ground. Before their hurried departure the party captured various penguins, some for the pot, the luckier ones for exhibition in Germany – the first emperor penguins seen in Europe.

Arrival back in Hamburg in April 1939 was met with the news that, thanks to some excellent intelligence work, the Norwegians had worked out the expedition’s objectives and had pre-empted the territorial claim for the area, which is now called Dronning [Queen] Maud Land. And September 1939 changed everything. But the excellent maps published in May/June 1939 were used by others and by multi-national expeditions post-war. They were progressively refined, especially to correct the (inevitable) wind drift errors, latterly using LANDSAT data. Many of the land features retain the names given by the 1938-9 expedition. Other achievements included a new sea bed profile of the South Atlantic and an understanding of the geology of the mountains.

The arrival of two German U-boats in Argentina post VE Day was used to construct a theory that Hitler had escaped to Argentina/Antarctica and that Antarctica was providing a base for a Nazi resurgence using new technologies. An American military exercise “Operation High Jump”, actually using Antarctica as a less provocative proxy for training in techniques needed to counter potential Soviet Arctic threats, was billed as an attack on the Nazi base. Colin effectively dismissed these ideas, not least by pointing out that, in the southern winter, the ice extends 1,000 km from the land with a thickness of 400 m. As the Americans found out during Operation High Jump, Antarctica is no place for submarines.

A final happy note recorded the way that Alfred Ritscher saved his wife from the Nazi genocide. He had taken care to move her to a remote country village away from official notice where the locals protected her, swapping her papers for those of a non-Jewish deceased lady, saving the lives of her and her children.

As a distinguished marine geologist and oceanographer with Antarctic experience Colin was able to give us an expert account of the terrain, climate and general environment and the issues faced by the 1938-9 expedition. One of his pictures showed him with a group of fellow scientists in Queen Maud Land. Colin’s has talked to us on several occasions, each time returning by popular demand. This occasion was no exception, being followed by a lengthy question and answer session.

Probus ’83 February 2021 Zoom Meeting

As advised earlier we will hold a club Zoom next Thursday 4th February with the same general format as last month’s meeting.

On Thursday from 10:00 onwards, after social greetings, we move on to welcome back Dr Colin Summerhayes for his talk on the “NAZIS IN ANTARTICA”.

Colin is an Emeritus Associate of the Scott Polar Research Institute of Cambridge University and an expert on the effects of climate change and matters polar. Many of us will remember enjoying his previous talks, most recently on “The Anthropocene”.

Zoom session joining details are as per Mike’s email sent to all members.

Probus ’83 January 2021 Zoom – Meeting Report

On Thursday 7th January we gathered, courtesy of Zoom, to listen (and watch) Rupert Matthews, our first guest speaker, tell us about: The Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest. The era was somewhat chaotic, the subject matter is complex and there is a relative absence of contemporary records. Fortunately Rupert’s grasp of his subject, and its wider historical context, is encyclopaedic. At the end there were many questions, expertly answered, and the session was considered to have been a great success.

 The Battle of Hastings and the Norman Conquest

1066 is one of the best known dates in English history – incidentally the most commonly used banking PIN. The events of that year changed the face of England and Europe and cleared out the English ruling classes in both church and state. The Normans not being keen on industry and trade, those networks were swept away.

In those days royal succession was often open to dispute and Edward the Confessor’s death in January 1066 left a complex situation with several potential claimants. Harold Godwinson, son of Danish kings, was in England at the time and, being well known as a good soldier and administrator, was chosen within 48 hours. This displeased two rivals: Harold Hardrada of Norway and William of Normandy. Both claimed that they had been promised the English throne on Edward’s death. This was when agreements were usually verbal – an A5 sized vellum cost twice a working man’s weekly wage – and might was often right. Both complainants prepared to act.

Harold Hardrada struck first, in alliance with King Harold’s banished brother Tostig, defeating the Northern Earls at Fulford near York before meeting King Harold’s army at Stamford Bridge on 25th Sept 1066. A decisive “home win” left Hardrada and Tostig dead, the visitors leaving in 24 ships, having arrived in 300.

But William had been busy. Initially blockaded by the English fleet and then by storms in the Channel he used a break in the weather to cross to Pevensey before the English could return from shelter in Southampton. Pevensey became insecure because of local militia action, forcing a move to Hastings, then an island surrounded by marsh, since drained. The only access was by a causeway, now the modern main road. Harold arrived at Battle with nine or ten thousand men, including 1,500 housecarls, his best soldiers, blocking the causeway, on October 13th. William’s situation was that storms in the Channel and a renewed blockade prevented re-supply or reinforcement, leaving him two weeks from starvation. Harold was waiting for the rest of his army to arrive south. William had to break out quickly, or else, which he did the next day, the 14th.

William took up position at the bottom of Senlac Hill with marshland to his rear. Rupert guided us through the ebb and flow of the battle and the weapons peculiar to each side. The Normans had cavalry and archers. The English had stout shield walls, six foot stabbing spears and the dreaded “English axe” four or five feet long with a foot wide blade, allegedly capable of decapitating a horse. For much of the day the Normans could not prevail but tactical changes bore fruit. A feigned Norman flight and English pursuit allowed the Norman cavalry to act effectively. Then the Norman archers started aiming high, causing significant casualties, softening up the opposition prior to a Norman cavalry charge at the English centre. This not only broke through but an arrow injured one of Harold’s eyes, though probably not fatally. But the breakthrough routed the English army leaving a third of them, Harold and Harold’s son dead.

The Battle of Hastings was not the end of the story. There were significant rearguard actions as William marched on to London, burning and killing as he went. One ambush cost him 4/500 of his men. Finally William met with the English leaders at Berkhamsted where the Treaty of that name was agreed with Edgar, Harold’s heir. The English nobles were to keep their lands but a quarter of English lands were to be transferred to William’s nobles. Also the English church was to follow Vatican orthodoxy by demanding celibacy of the clergy and payment of the Peter’s Pence church tax.

If the English thought that they had a deal they were sadly mistaken. William used every excuse to renege. Late tax payment resulted in execution and loss of lands. Before long all English lands had been confiscated by a variety of pretexts. Stigand, the English Archbishop of Canterbury was excommunicated, for opposition to the Peter’s Pence payment. The native English clergy were systematically cleared out and replaced by French or German. There was intermittent opposition, by such as Hereward the Wake, but by 1082 the Norman Conquest was complete. England was transformed in thirty years.

Probus ’83 December Zoom – Meeting Report

Until we get our promised shots in the arm we are having to meet virtually, courtesy of Zoom. On Thursday 3rd December twenty five of us gathered to listen (and watch) our own Neville Lyons give an excellent and very much enjoyed talk about Sir Thomas Lipton of tea fame. Lipton turned out to be a quite extraordinary character, progressing from the Glasgow’s Gorbals to billionaire businessman – a remarkable case study in entrepreneurship – while remaining a thoroughly decent person.

Here’s an account of Neville’s talk:

Sir Thomas Lipton: From Cabin Boy to Tea Tycoon to International Yachtsman

Lipton’s parents had been smallholders in Ireland but they moved to Glasgow in 1847 to escape the great Potato Famine, running a small grocery shop near the family tenement rooms in Glasgow’s Gorbals. Born in 1850 as the youngest of five children, “Tommy” rose to found a grocery empire, acquire extraordinary wealth, dine at the White House with President Roosevelt, become part of King Edward VII’s circle and contest the America’s Cup yacht races on five occasions. Yet this extraordinary man, who rose from poverty to becoming probably a billionaire in 2020 money, seems to have been a thoroughly decent, personally modest and much loved individual, long remembered for his sportsmanship and philanthropy.

Leaving school at 13 Tommy had various jobs before employment as a cabin boy on the Glasgow – Belfast run. Apart from giving him a life-long love of the sea, this allowed him to save enough money to buy a passage to America at the age of 15. There, helped by post-Civil War labour shortages, he initially found work on tobacco and rice plantations, where his limited education sufficed for employment as a bookkeeper, before moving to New York and retail – American style.Returning to Glasgow in 1870 with $500 savings young Tommy, overcoming father’s objections, reorganised his parents’ grocery store, turning round its fortunes, before setting up his own larger establishment at 101 Stobcross Street in time for his 21st birthday. It was a revolution: very clean, very brightly lit, with lengthy opening hours, eye-catching displays and merchandise arranged to attract the customer. He dealt directly with the farmer, shrewdly negotiating, cutting out the middle man, selling high quality produce at low prices, making his money with small margins but high volumes. This innovative approach made him an immediate success and, by 1888, his “empire” had grown to 300 stores, not only in Scotland, but nation-wide.

Tommy had immense charm, with Royalty and customers alike, and was a PR genius, pulling off stunts the like of which had never seen before, generating enormous publicity. Display and press advertisements were used to great affect but his cleverly devised stunts really caught the public imagination. Parades of pigs were driven through the streets and in 1881 a giant cheese – 14 feet in circumference and two feet thick, the World’s largest – was landed by a steamer from New York bound for Lipton’s Glasgow stores. Containing the milk from 800 cows and laced with gold sovereigns, the thing was a sensation, provoking a rush from a public eager for portions, hopeful of more than just cheese.

In 1890 Tommy visited Ceylon acquiring an interest in several tea plantations. Until then tea had been expensive, and, all too often, of variable quality. Using his usual methods, putting himself in control of his entire supply chain, by-passing the then traditional channels, he was soon offering his customers good quality teas at significantly lower prices, creating a whole new market with the rising middle classes: “Direct from the tea garden to the tea pot”. The Lipton tea brand remains today as a subsidiary of Unilever.

In 1897, Princess Alexandra, wife of the future Edward VII, launched an appeal to provide dinners for the London poor as a part of the Diamond Jubilee celebrations. Launched at rather short notice, the fund was struggling. Tommy came to the rescue with a £25,000 donation – perhaps £2M at 2020 prices – placing him firmly in Royal favour, making himself one of Edward VIIs circle of friends. A knighthood came soon after, closely followed by a baronetcy.

Meanwhile the business continued to prosper and, in 1898, Tommy allowed his empire to become a public limited company, the scramble to buy shares requiring police presence to control the eager crowds in at least one location. He bought Osidge in Southgate, a grand house set in 60 acres, as his London residence. But life wasn’t all business. He owned a steam yacht Erin which was handed over to the Red Cross as a hospital ship in 1914. His love of the sea and strong American connections also led him to contest the America’s Cup yacht races on five occasions from 1899 to 1930, with yachts named Shamrock to Shamrock V, in honour of his Irish heritage, competing under the auspices of the Royal Ulster Yacht Club. He never won but his popularity in America was such that he was presented with a specially made cup by his hosts declaring him to be the “best of all losers”. His sporting interests weren’t merely nautical. In 1909 the English FA declined to enter a football tournament in Italy between prominent teams from Italy, Germany and Switzerland. Tommy stepped in to sponsor West Auckland FC, a Durham miners’ team, donating the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy for the competition winners. West Auckland duly triumphed and, by beating Juventus (!!) in the 1911 competition won the trophy outright.

Tommy was ever the ladies’ man, but never married. On his death in 1931 the majority of his fortune was bequeathed to the city of Glasgow.

Probus ’83 December Zoom Meeting

Dear fellow Probus 83 members,

We will hold a club Zoom next Thursday 3rd December with the same general format as this month’s [November] meeting.

On Thursday from 10:00 onwards, after social greetings, we move on to our talk which Neville Lyons has kindly offered to give. Neville Lyons talk is entitled ‘Sir Thomas Lipton: From Cabin Boy to Tea Tycoon to International Yachtsman.’

I hope that we will have a good turn out on Zoom and we look forward to seeing you then.

All the best

Mike Sinclair – Club Secretary

November Family Finances Group – ad hoc Zoom Session


After the unfortunate difficulties we faced at the virtual FFG meeting last Thursday, the good news is that David Bott will now make his presentation at an ad hoc FFG meeting commencing at 10.00am on Wednesday 25 November. The details of the invitation to the meeting are as follows:

Topic: Probus 83 FFG meeting – David Bott – thoughts on investing
Time: Nov 25, 2020 from 09:45 AM for a 10.00 AM London Start

All Probus ’83 and FFG members welcome as usual. Link details are as per Mike’s email this morning (Tuesday 24th Nov).

November Family Finances Group Virtual Meeting


John Coleman writes:

Dear all,

Despite the continued efforts of Covid-19 and the Government to curtail our activities, I’m pleased to let you know that the Family Finances Group is carrying on with its virtual meetings at 10.00am next Thursday, 19 November. The invitation to this Zoom meeting, including the log-in details, will be sent to you on Tuesday 17 November. Since our last meeting with Joe Davies of Investec in October, the uncertainty regarding the next President of the USA has been removed, there is a glimmer of hope on the Covid-19 vaccine front and, perhaps, by the time of our meeting next week, we may have a clearer understanding of the direction of the Brexit negotiations. (But don’t hold your breath!)

At our meeting next week, our own David Bott will talk about his investment journey and describe various options for investing savings with and without the assistance of an IFA (Independent Investment Advisor). As some of us have either moved on from IFA’s already, or are perhaps at least thinking about it, this will be a good opportunity to hear the personal experience and views of someone who has “been there and done that” – without hearing the potentially biased views of someone who may be trying to sell a product or service.

After David’s talk (and subsequent discussion), if time permits, I will talk about “Passwords” and demonstrate various simple strategies that can be used to create and strengthen them.

As this will be the last FFG Meeting of this “unprecedented” year, please make a note of it in your diary and, hopefully, you will be able to join us next week.

On behalf of the FFG Steering Group, keep safe and sane,


Probus ’83 November Zoom Meeting

Twenty plus Probus ’83 members participated in a Zoom session on the morning of Thursday 5th November. After chat amongst ourselves and some bits of business we settled to listen to a talk by David Skillen (speaking to us from sunny Belper). David is no stranger, having previously given us a much enjoyed lunchtime talk on Zeppelins in happier days before the dreaded covid-19. This time we were definitely not disappointed.

David’s subject this time was: Five Years in 50 mins. A synopsis of the American Civil War.

Tensions arose between the (mainly) northern states, led by the Republican President Abraham Lincoln from 1860, which wished to abolish slavery and seven southern states with slave dependent cotton based economies. We were led through: the building tensions, the flash points which ignited hostilities in 1861, major personalities and military commanders, major engagements and incidents and overall strategies, tactics, weaponry used and final Confederate surrender in 1865.

David, having travelled extensively around the (now beautifully preserved and presented) Civil War sites illustrated each with his own pictures and explanations, informed by having actually walked the ground (and waded through at least one river). We were even treated to etiquette tips: “Virginia” not “Merrimack” and why, on arrival in Atlanta, one should never whistle “Marching through Georgia”.

The American Civil War was described as the “first modern war”. Advances in weaponry greatly increased the casualty numbers. In particular the old smooth bore musket was highly inaccurate – hard to hit the side of a building at 70 yards. But the new rifles could hit an individual at 200 yards range. That made the old infantry, shoulders abreast, advance exceedingly dangerous. Cannon deployed against advancing infantry, instead of firing solid balls, could now use canister – catering baked bean size cases filled with shot, acting as enormous shotguns, with devastating effect. Both sides used steam powered armoured warships in action for the first time and trenches were dug for protection. A Count Zeppelin, while acting as an official observer for the Union army, made his first balloon ascent, which gave him ideas…

The outcome was never a foregone conclusion. Initially the Confederate south got the better of it, but both sides steadily learnt. The 1864 Presidential Election nearly returned a “peace” candidate, which might have resulted in America ending up as two separate countries, but a timely Union victory elected Lincoln and enabled a final Union victory. Lincoln wished to treat the defeated Confederate south gently but his assassination in April 1865 gave power to Union “hawks” whose harsh measures left a long lasting legacy of bitterness.

Finally, David fielded a series of questions from a highly appreciative audience. For those interested in learning more about the American Civil War warmly he recommended the YouTube films by Prof Gary Gallagher.