Spring Ladies Lunch 9th May 2023

This yearly event is one of the many occasions when the members of the Probus Club of Basingstoke treat their wives and lady friends to a delightful lunch as a way of thanking them for allowing the men in their lives to enjoy the company of other likeminded men in social discourse.

This lunch was held at the Test Valley Golf Club and although there was reduction in the attendees compared to previous years this was due to the illness of four members and two others away on holiday. The event was expertly organised by Oakley residents, Alan and Liliane May. This will be their swan song as they have overseen this lunch and the Christmas festivities since 2008. Club president, Alex Marianos, thanked Alan and Liliane for their superb expertise developed over the years and which all members were fully appreciative.

Probus Publicity in May 2023

The report about the history of Newbury Racecourse was well received by all the local magazines except for the Loddon Valley Link magazine. The shorter version of the report being most popular among the editors although the Kempshott Kourier used the longer version. The Basinga chose to include this report within their Basinga Extra digital site.

Probus Hears About the History of Newbury Racecourse

President Alex Marianos with speaker David Wickens

Those readers who have not had the pleasure of an exciting day at Newbury races the talk by Probus Club member David Wickens shed some light on many interesting facets of our local horse racing course. He was so interested in equine matters that a few years ago he moved from his long-term home in Chineham to one of the new apartments overlooking the Newbury Racecourse.

The formation of The Jockey Club, based in Newmarket in 1750, formalised all aspects of horse racing which had become known as “the sport of Kings.” They were responsible for the regulation of horse racing and the recording of pedigrees, controlling all matters including issuing licences for trainers, jockeys and racecourses. However, in earlier centuries there had always been horse racing when heathlands and country estates of the landed gentry were used.

Horse racing across heathlands with the commonly held incorrect artistic view of equine movements
Basingstoke racecourse superimposed over present day Five Ways junction in Kempshott

Basingstoke had its own racecourse with the first recording of such an event in the London Gazette in 1687. It took place on the downs near to what is now known as Kempshott and Buckskin and across present day Stratton Park which straddles land between Pack Lane and Buckskin Lane.  By 1729, the course was marked out by posts and racing continued with a gap of twenty-three years until 1850. Thereafter the course at Hackwood Park was used. Basingstoke racecourse was still marked on Ordnance Survey maps of 1960.

Meanwhile, a similar situation of heathland style racing in Newbury had mirrored what had happened, not only in Basingstoke but around the country. During the latter part of the nineteenth century John Porter was a successful trainer who ran his stable at Kingsclere. In the surrounding area there existed about 60 racing stables with around 1,700 horses in training, all of which had to travel to race meeting in other parts of the country. He could see the potential for a formalised racecourse in his local area. But it proved a difficult task to bring to fruition.

John Porter the founder of Newbury Racecourse

John Porter had identified a suitable site on the estate of Lloyd Harry Baxendale, and discussed the purchase of land, some 300 acres for £30,000. The Jockey Club repeatedly turned down his plans and at the last meeting in 1904 he happened to meet King Edward VII, for whom he had trained many winners. He explained to the King his frustration at having his plans continuously rejected. A few weeks later he was given approval by the Jockey Club and granted a licence to build the Newbury Racecourse.

It took only nine months to build and was the finest in the country with many original features for the owners/trainers, horses, jockeys and members of the public. Still today it is in the top ten courses in the country. The cost was £57,240 with the first race meeting held in September 1905, with over 15,000 in attendance.  A new railway` station was even built adjacent to the course with a covered walkway for the King.

During both world wars racing was suspended, however the racecourse played an important role for the military with a variety of uses. In WW1 it was used as a prisoner of war camp for captured German soldiers and a troop camp for the cavalry. The PoWs lived in the horse boxes and tents for the first year then about 3,000 were sent to prison ships on the south coast. Thereafter it was used for munitions storage and tank repairs.

Gen “Ike” Eisenhower at Newbury Racecourse on 5 June 1944 the day before “D” Day

In WW2 it was initially a troop camp and in 1942 was handed over to the US Army for storage of ammunition during which they constructed a railway marshalling yard with over 37 miles of railway track and concrete roads built on the racecourse to support the local USAF air base at Greenham Common. The stables were again used to house PoWs. Supreme Allied Commander, General Eisenhower, visited on 5th June 1944 the day prior to D Day landings. US control of the course lasted until 1949.

Redevelopment of the racecourse started in 2010 with new facilities financed by the sale of land for housing and apartments on and around the course together with a children’s nursery, hotel and gym. The venue is also used for outdoor Pop concerts and was selected as a vaccination centre during the Covid pandemic

Probus Publicity in April 2023

A good result for our report about the happenings following the sinking of the Titanic which included a double page spread in the CommunityAd magazine for Overton/Oakley/Kempshott. We also appeared within the Basinga magazine rather than in their Basinga Extra web pages.

What Happened After The Titanic Went Down

April 15th this year is the 111th anniversary of the sinking in the early dark hours of the RMS Titanic on its maiden voyage to New York. She had been built in Belfast by Harland & Wolff and was the second of three Olympic class ocean liners operated by the White Star Line. They were designed to be the pinnacle of comfort and luxury and were never intended to compete for the Blue Ribbon of the Atlantic award for the fastest Atlantic crossing. The Titanic was the first modern ship to hit an iceberg and sustain sufficient damage to cause it to sink.

Advertising Poster for the Fateful Passage

At the time this was the worst civilian marine disaster in history with the loss of 1,500 lives. The ship had sailed under capacity due to a recent coal strike which delayed some shipping because of fuel shortages. This caused many people to be put off sailing at that time, otherwise the death toll would have been much higher.

Despite this passage of time there remains constant interest into the cause of the sinking and what happened thereafter. This worldwide interest was stimulated when, in 1985 and after many years of searching by several organisations, the wreck site was discovered 12,000 feet deep 400 miles west of Newfoundland in the North Atlantic Ocean. Today over 5,000 items have been recovered from the wreck with many legal cases taking place to establish the right to sell.  Most are on permanent display at the Luxor hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Ian Porter, the speaker at the latest meeting of the Probus Club of Basingstoke, is a journalist, author and historian, and has particular interest in what happened after the supposedly unsinkable ship went down only 2 hours and 40 minutes after that fateful collision with an iceberg.

RMS Titanic Departing Queenstown (now Cobh) Ireland

What happened in the 16 standard lifeboats, the two smaller versions and the two that had folded canvas sides that were positioned upside down on the top of the officers’ quarters and proved difficult to launch?   Following the tradition of “women and children first” mainly from first and second class, they were lowered from davits positioned on both sides of the ship. The officer on one side refused to let men get in any lifeboat even when there was space available. He used his revolver to maintain order. It is estimated that the capacity in the lifeboats averaged only around 60%.

Recovered lifeboats following the disaster

Although only twenty lifeboats were available this was sufficient to only hold around one third of the total of people on board, but this number of lifeboats was greater than what was required under the then maritime regulations. They specified that 10 lifeboats were required on any vessel over 10,000 tons and yet the Titanic was the largest passenger liner in the world at 45,000 tons. The thinking was that lifeboats would be used to ferry passengers to awaiting rescue ships.  They were like enlarged rowing boats, open to the elements and had none, or insufficient, provisions to sustain life and protection for periods at sea.

Captain Edward Smith

The captain of the Titanic, Edward Smith, had been recorded as saying a few years earlier that ships were unlikely to sink because of modern ship building methods. The design of the Titanic contributed to its reputation that it was unsinkable. It had advanced safety features with some watertight compartments and in other places had remotely operated safety doors that in the event allowed water to go over the top and flood the next section. It also had the latest in communication systems with a high-powered radio telegraph using Morse code with a range of 350 miles. This was manned by two employees of the Marconi Company to send “Marconigrams” for passengers as well as typical shipping information.

Would the vessels on the North Atlantic at the time of this disaster have rescued more if they had responded differently? One stopped in an ice field to await day light, one ship’s radio operator ignored the distress call from the Titanic because he had a backlog of passengers’ messages to send, another ship’s radio operator had gone off duty and another ship ignored white distress flares. The Marconi employees were even discouraged to communicate with those ships using the rival Telefunken system. And there were confusing distress signals with Titanic using CQD (seek you – D for distress) and then tried SOS which had yet to become the standard Morse code distress signal of three dots, three dashes and three dots.

The Cunard ship, Carpathia, picked up the survivors, keeping them within their three classes, provided many with spare clothes. A fund was set up on board raising $1,500 to provide funds for survivors’ onward travel from when they arrived in New York. It is reported that survivor, Lady Astor, perhaps the richest lady in the world, refused to contribute.

The White Star Line stopped the pay of any crew that had perished from the time the ship went down and charged surviving crew full fare to be brought back to England. A fund was set up in England that raised £15,000,000 with an elite committee of the great and good of the day set up to distribute compensation to the families of lost passengers. In strict observance of social standing the wealthiest received up to £175,000 down to only £25 to the poorest. Pensions were set up, again subject to the recipient’s social standing with seven levels ranging from 12/6p – 7/6p per week. This fund was only wound up in 1959 with much of the money unallocated.

The return journey from New York advertisement extolling the luxury features of the Titanic

Two inquiries followed the disaster with one in New York and a longer one in London held by the Board of Trade. Both inquiries concluded that the specification of the Titanic was well above established standards and that best naval practice had been followed that fateful night. But major changes to the maritime regulations emerged to implement new safety measures.

The changes included more lifeboats, lifeboat drills for crew and passengers, wireless operations to be manned 24 hours, red rockets to signal emergencies. There was much discussion about the type of rivet to be used in ship construction. Bulk heads had to be extended to be 10 feet above the water line – later further extended to make fully watertight and ships were modified to have a double skinned hull.  

Today passengers are reassured that one change to maritime regulations they instantly appreciate is the sophisticated design and number of lifeboats on modern cruise ships. Passengers are supplied with life vests and know where their muster station is situated. Crews have regular practice in emergency drills whereas on the Titanic there had been no such training as most of the crew joined the ship in Southampton only a few hours before departure.

Probus Publicity in February 2023

The Porthole Murder story was well received by the local magazines with appearances in the Rabbiter, Kempshott Kourier, Villager, and on the web pages of Basinga Extra and the Link in Oakley.

You will also see the Bramley report that I missed in February about Robert Burns but in March the Bramley magazine did not feature our report. The Loddon Valley Link also missed us out.

Probus Hears About The Porthole Murder

President Alex Marianos with speaker Paul Stickler

The speaker at the latest meeting of the Probus Club of Basingstoke, Paul Stickler, is a retired detective, an FBI graduate, with degrees in history and criminology and is working towards a PhD in history. He is well qualified to investigate cold cases such as he described – the Porthole Murder.

This was about a young woman aged 21 called Gay Gibson. Despite her name being Eileen Isabelle Ronnie Gibson she was called Gay because she was always happy. She had been discharged from the ATS after the war with medical advice not to travel in the tropics as an ear infection would be problematic. Headstrong as she was, she immediately joined her parents in Durban, South Africa where her father had been transferred with his job. Becoming bored she moved to Johannesburg as a secretary and then had ideas about becoming an actress. Moving to Cape Town she became involved in the theatrical world proving to have abilities in the acting scene.

Again, expressing boredom, she decided to return to England to develop her acting career. In 1947 she sailed first class on the Union Castle line MV Durban Castle non-stop from Cape Town to Southampton. On the voyage she vanished without a trace.

Union Castle Line MV Durban Castle – 17,000 tons

What was discovered showed that she had formed a relationship with 31 years old James Camb, a First Class deck steward. He initially denied any form of contact but then, following proof that his palmprint had been found on the inside of her cabin door, admitted Gay Gibson had died while they were in bed together.

He had panicked and managed to thrust her body through her cabin’s porthole which was why she was never to be seen again. Whether she was dead was impossible to establish but in evidence at the trial of James Camb, which attracted national newspaper headlines, he claimed she had gone rigid and was frothing at the mouth and blood had come from her nose. Such characteristics are seen if someone has been strangled.

James Camb was charged with murder

Some actors had witnessed similar medical episodes during rehearsals in Cape Town when Gay Gibson had fainted, going rigid, frothing at the mouth and her lips turning blue. Crucially, all did not travel from South Africa for the trial. One was Doreen Mantle, who became well known as the character Mrs Warboys in the television series One Foot in the Grave. She shared a dressing room with Gay Gibson in the weeks prior to the sailing and witnessed similar medical episodes but was persuaded by her father not to get involved with the case.  In contradictory evidence, believed by the jury, her mother claimed she was a well brought up English young woman without any known medical conditions. And yet her fellow actors knew that she was a party girl and there was some suspicion that she was pregnant.

The porthole through which James Camb had thrust the body of Gay Gibson

At the Hampshire Assizes, held in the Great Hall, Winchester, the jury took only forty minutes to find James Camb guilty of her murder and he was duly sentenced to hang. He avoided capital punishment because a no-hanging bill was being discussed by parliament. His sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

Reacting to the news, Prime Minister Winston Churchill said; “The House of Commons, by its vote, saved the life of the brutal lascivious murderer who thrust the poor girl he had raped and assaulted through a porthole of the ship to the sharks.”

What emerged was that James Camb had tried to become involved with a sixteen and eighteen-year old girls on the same voyage but this was not used at the trial as this was before Gay Gibson vanished.

James Camb was released from prison in 1959 but was later convicted of other sexual offences and spent his remaining years behind bars. He died in 1979 still protesting his innocence about Gay Gibson’s death.

The audience were left to come to their own conclusions about the case. But the charge could have been one of manslaughter rather than murder if the true medical condition was able to be established that Gay Gibson died from natural causes. But without the body there could be no autopsy to establish the actual cause of death.

Probus Publicity in February 2023

We had a good result in the February magazines with most of the publications including our report about the Robert Burns’ The Immortal Memory in their printed magazine, or in the cases of the Basinga they gave a large display in their Basinga Extra, as did the Oakley Link in their online additions. Unusually, the Bramley Mag for February, as far as I can ascertain, blanked us this month.

Probus Hears About The Immortal Memory

Member John Kynoch was the speaker at the January lunch meeting at Test Valley Golf club with his personal view on the life and times of Robbie Burns.

Many people have attended a Burns’ Supper around 25th January, the birthdate of Robert Burns, the National Bard of Scotland, Scotland’s Favourite Son, and will have witnessed the piping in of the haggis and someone giving the Address to a Haggis in “Lalland Scots” being virtually unintelligible to all the sassenachs present. But at the best of such occasions, irrespective of wherever in the world there is a Caledonian connection, the guest of honour has the responsibility of telling those present their view on Robbie Burns, the Ploughman’s Bard.

Such was the situation outlined by the latest speaker at the Probus Club of Basingstoke, member John Kynoch. Although born in New Zealand, the son of an ex-pat Scot, as a teenager he came to join the family woollen manufacturing business in Scotland and lived for over thirty years in Keith, a small town to the east of Inverness. 

This talk, The Immortal Memory, was John’s personal insights and long past connections with Robert Burns who was born in 1759 in Alloway, Ayrshire and died at the early age of thirty-seven. The sister of John’s great grandfather married a man who was a friend of Burns whose own father started an educational establishment for apprentices that today is the Herriot Watt University in Edinburgh.

Robert Burns – Scotland’s Favourite Son

Around the time of Burns’ birth, the British Empire was developing with Wolfe capturing Quebec making Canada British rather than French. George111 was soon to reign as was Catherine the Great in Russia, Hayden got a job making music in the court of Prince Esterhazy in Hungary and Captain Cook discovered New Zealand. Less than a decade before Burns was born the Duke of Cumberland, the King’s brother, carried out the last battle on British soil at Culloden near Inverness defeating the final Jacobean rebels.

During his short life, the bard had been a tenant farmer, a flax dresser, a continual rebel against orthodox religion and eventually a Revenue & Customs Officer and a member of the militia in Dumfries, despite being a nationalist at heart. He also penned 559 writings of which 368 were songs often putting new lyrics to existing Scottish traditional and folk melodies.

At the age of 28, and only 14 months after his first book was published, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, Burns undertook a coach trip on poor roads around that part of north-eastern Scotland where the speaker had lived. In such a short time, and without the ease of communications we have today, his fame had spread to the extent that he was feted by the great and good. He was described as the equivalent of a Rock Star, a working-class hero, gifted beyond measure, attracted by and attracted to, the opposite sex (he had nine children with his wife, his last son born an hour after his death, and at least four more with other women) and finding further distraction in misuse of substances, in his case “the drink.”

At one such meeting at Duff House, in Banff, Burns met a young boy who had his book at home and knew some of the poetry by heart which gives some idea of the popularity of the Bard’s work. That a schoolboy in Banff, so far north from Ayrshire, where much was written, should be familiar with his work so soon after it was published, is quite remarkable.

One can only marvel at the genius of this man who could produce such words that we still admire and can quote at times, almost off the cuff. Robert Burns was obviously a man of huge intelligence with a great understanding of the human condition. Words and ideas that have been translated into more than 60 languages around the world and used as reference points by many great people in history such as US President Abraham Lincoln who wrote of Burns “From Shakespeare I learnt the sonnets. From the Bible, the scriptures. But it was from this man that I learnt humility.”

After the guest of honour has concluded their reminiscence about Robert Burns, they then request the audience, “Raise your glasses… the toast is…. to The Immortal Memory.”

The final act at a Burns’ supper and at Hogmanay, on New Year’s Eve, throughout much of the world, is of course singing the famous farewell “Auld Lang Syne.” This is one of Burns’ songs that even sassenachs know.

Probus Publicity in January 2023

Most of the local magazines have a combined December/January issue which means that only the Villager, Basinga and the Kempshott Kourier publish in January. The Basinga placed our report in their Basinga Extra online version rather than within the printed version.

The Kempshott Kourier for December is included this time as it arrived too late to be included in the report about our publicity in December and in what has become their usual lateness their January edition was only received this last weekend.