Mayor is Guest of Honour

The Worshipful the Mayor of Basingstoke & Deane BC Cllr Onnalee Cubitt with Probus President David Wickens
Speaker Jeff Evans with Probus President David Wickens

The Probus Club of Basingstoke was honoured to receive a visit from the Worshipful the Mayor of Basingstoke & Deane BC, Cllr Onnalee Cubitt, joining the members for lunch at their regular meeting at the Test Valley Golf Club.

Cllr Cubitt told of her background in charity fund raising starting as a seventeen-year-old, encouraging Basingstoke businesses to make small financial contributions to support her work as a volunteer in Sri Lanka. With a business degree she entered the world of high finance working several years for Standard Chartered Bank, then tried her hand at estate agency, which she did not like, although her company car proved very beneficial for getting about in London being a black cab. These days she and her husband have a building business specialising in renovation work across north Hampshire and Berkshire.

With ambitions to be a Member of Parliament she applied to join David Cameron’s list of potential candidates but was told that she could not progress as she had no political experience. Consequently, local politics beckoned standing initially in the Basingstoke Norden ward where she was beaten soundly by the incumbent councillor. Then an opportunity arose in the Basing ward where she has been their representative for many years.

Probus President, David Wickens, presented Cllr Cubitt with a cheque for her selected charity appeal, the Community Furniture Trust and Friends of St Michael’s Hospice.

Before lunch members had been entertained by speaker Jeoff Evans who traced the changing role of TV quiz shows over the years. Starting in 1938 with mental challenges, when TV returned in 1946 there was an updated version which was a trans-Atlantic quiz where London based panellists had a radio connection with participants in New York.

American TV, being commercial, attracted large audiences with quiz programmes that had large value prizes, but the BBC’s charter would not allow it to follow suit and although they continued with quiz shows the prizes were either very modest or even non-existent. Shows like What’s My Line and Brain of Britain then had to compete with the introduction, in 1955, of Independent Television who had Double Your Money, hosted by Hughie Green and Take Your Pick with Michael Miles. Trying to emulate the famous American quiz, The 64,000 Dollar Question, Hughie Green ran a show called The Sky’s The Limit with the top prize being 64,000 sixpences.

American audiences like big winners but shows ran into trouble when it became known that some contestants were fed the answers to ensure that they kept winning. The American Congress became involved setting regulations to overcome such dishonesty which had an influence on UK television which then set a limit of £1,000 on each quiz show. The BBC then progressed with quizzes that had intellectual challenges but no monetary prize and had University Challenge, hosted for many years by Bamber Gascoigne, Six Form Challenge, Top of The Form, Ask the Family with Robert Robinson and then in 1972, Mastermind hosted by Magnus Magnusson. The show’s format was based on the interrogation of prisoners of war in a darkened room with a spot light – still used to this day.

1971 saw Sale of The Century, from Norwich, with Nicholas Parsons, The Golden Shot on Sunday afternoons with Bob Monkhouse, Jim Bowen with Bull’s Eye and in 1980 the BBC introduced The Question of Sport.

The prize limit was raised to £6,000 in the 1990s and by 1996 all prize limits were removed. This eventually led to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire which had struggled to get acceptance by various TV companies as they thought that showing four possible answers would make it too easy to win. 2009 saw The Chase, hosted from the start by Bradley Walsh, and now Beat The Chaser.

The speaker had been a contestant on Mastermind, Egg Heads and several others, and these days is a quiz question writer. Perhaps a role reversal of being today the game keeper and not the poacher.

Probus Back To Normal

This is the first “not lockdowned” report on our publicity in the local magazines for October. They all ran with the story of our AGM and back to normal activities and within the Kempshott Kourier we had a full page advertisement seeking new members. Because of being quarterly the CommunityAd magazine for Old Basing & Lychpit  ran a double page spread about the Douglas Bader story of replacing one of his prosthetic legs when a PoW.

Probus Back to Normal Activities with 41st Annual General Meeting

It was with a sense of demonstrable relief that after twenty months since their last face to face business meeting that life is getting back to normal for the Probus Club of Basingstoke. The Club has continued unabated since its foundation in 1979 and it was time for a much-delayed 41st Annual General Meeting. Covid restrictions delayed the AGM from the traditional June until 14th September and it was held at the Test Valley Golf club, the normal venue for Probus monthly meetings.

David Wickens receiving the President’s chain of office from retiring President Richard Wood

Because Covid also made it impossible to hold the AGM in June 2020 the Executive Committee had continued in office for a second year. This time there was a change at the top with David Wickens (a retired engineering sales manager) taking over as President from Richard Wood (a retired Chartered engineer).

New President David Wickens will Continue as the Speaker Secretary

The other committee members, who range from a nuclear scientist, a solicitor, a small business owner, a civil engineer and two RAF officers have specific responsibilities and were happy to continue in post for another nine months until June 2022. This ensures that their experiences are paramount in successfully returning to normal operations as a social club for retired Professional and Business managers as per the acronym of the name the Probus Club.

Although Probus Clubs now extend throughout the English-speaking world, with most UK towns having one or two Probus Clubs, the organisation was founded in Caterham, Surrey, in 1965 for retired managers who wanted to remain socially active. With no central office each club sets its own rules while following the basic tenet that likeminded men from all branches of society enjoy meeting for lunch with an attendant interesting speaker. Other opportunities exist to include wives for visits to interesting places throughout the year.

Their October meeting will have as its guest of Honour the Worshipful the Mayor of Basingstoke & Deane BC, Cllr Onnalee Cubitt.

Publicity During Covid Lockdown – 18

Six magazines published our reports in their September editions. Four ran the Douglas Bader reports and two quarterlies the piece about Probus seeking new members. Once again the Link (Oakley) failed to use our report and there is no doubt that the pressure caused by their reduced pagination means that those reports not specifically about the Oakley area are squeezed out.

The same could probably be said about the Loddon Valley Link (Sherfield) where the new editor excluded our report. We are missing the now defunct Popley Matters and the Chineham Chat magazines – only time will tell if the Chat is resurrected.

That Faded Snapshot

It happened just a few weeks ago now, a chance glimpse of a small insignificant fading snapshot of a young WW2 bomber crew, attached to which was a sellotaped fading biro written note.  At least it credited their names and a date, but what initially intrigued Probus Club member, retired RAF Squadron Leader Chris Perkins MVO, was the connection with the ‘legless WW2 fighter ace’ Douglas Bader.  Seeing this old black and white photograph was on a quick visit to his old RAF Station Odiham carrying out research into the helicopter era of the 1970s and 80s concerning 18 Squadron.  What follows is yet another tale that should never be forgotten.

The Nickleson Crew

The 18 Squadron crew pictured comprised of Pilot, Jack Nickleson from Toronto Canada, Observer, Walter Meadows from Askrigg in Yorkshire and Air Gunner, John Pearson from Birmingham.  Walter and John were in their 20s, but their ‘Skipper’ Jack, was just 19 years old.  All were Non-Commissioned Sergeant Aircrew and had been on the squadron barely a month.  Sadly, their Operational Tour was to last just eleven missions and their names are listed amongst the 55,000 plus other airmen lost in Bomber Command during WW2.

To those of us growing up in the ‘black and white’ years of the 1950s, the wartime exploits of Bader, as portrayed magnificently by actor Kenneth Moore in the film ‘Reach For The Sky’, were very familiar.  It will be eighty years ago this August, that, on 9 August 1941 Wing Commander Douglas Bader, leading his Spitfire Wing from RAF Tangmere, was shot down over German occupied France.  He ‘bailed out’ minus his prosthetic right leg, which had become jammed by the rudder pedals during combat.  Thankfully, a leather retaining strap eventually broke allowing him to exit the aircraft.  Knocked unconscious on landing, he was taken to a Luftwaffe hospital in St Omer.

Wing Commander Douglas Bader

The battered artificial leg was subsequently recovered from the Spitfire wreckage and a temporary repair was carried out before being returned to him.  Bader was delighted!  It meant that he now had the mobility means to try an engineer an escape before being transported under escort to more a permanent incarceration in Germany.  In the meantime, however, the German Authorities had signalled the RAF reporting his ‘safe arrival’ and status as a POW and requesting that a replacement leg be delivered.  Safe passage for that aircraft by the Luftwaffe would be guaranteed.

Although the RAF were willing to devise a means of delivery, they were unwilling to offer a propaganda opportunity to the Germans by means of the ‘safe passage’ option.  It was therefore decided to parachute drop the replacement leg by an aircraft involved in a bombing operation nearby.  No 18 Squadron operating from a forward operating base at RAF Manston were allocated the task with six Blenheim light bombers and escorted, appropriately, by Spitfires of Bader’s Tangmere Wing.

Sgt Jack Nickleson and crew were chosen to deliver the box with replacement limb.  At that time, there was no devised procedure for dropping cargo from RAF Blenheim bombers and automatically deploy a suitable parachute. It was decided that the ‘best option’ would be to attach the box, ‘somehow’, to a standard partially opened crew parachute and ‘throw’ it out of the aircraft!  In theory this was a simple solution, but in practise it fell far short.

Once the crate containing the leg was delivered to the 18 Squadron at RAF Manston in Kent, Jack, Walter and John realised the enormity of their task.  To manhandle and dispatch the bulky crate attached to a partially opened cumbersome parachute out of a small escape hatch, was not going to be easy.  All this and bouncing around at 10,000 feet in formation with other aircraft and from the extremely cramped interior of the bomber.  But this they did and very successfully.  Needless to say, a following press release on the operation at the time, in typical fashion, falsely reported Bader’s leg as being delivered by ‘Our Fighter Boys’!    

Crate addressed to Wing Commander Douglas Bader a patient in the Luftwaffe hospital at St Omer in France
The replacement prothesis safely received at St Omer before passing to the POW patient

The ‘Nickleson Crew’ survived operations until 20th September 1941.  As part of an eight 18 Squadron aircraft low level mission to attack shipping off the Dutch coast, they were hit by anti-aircraft fire.  Their aircraft was seen to crash into the sea with the starboard engine on fire.  The bodies of Sgt Walter Meadows and Sgt John Pearson were both washed ashore during the weeks following the crash and they lie in Commonwealth War Graves Cemeteries.  The body of the young Sgt Jack Nickleson, Royal Canadian Air Force from Toronto, Canada was never found.  At 18 he had enlisted straight from high school in July the previous year and his flying career had spanned but a short, active but nevertheless eventful fourteen months.

The Nickleson crew in front of a Blenheim light bomber


Runnymede Memorial

The Air Forces Memorial

The Air Forces Memorial at Runnymede commemorates by name over 20,000 men and women of the air forces, who were lost in the Second World War during operations from bases in the United Kingdom and North and Western Europe, and who have no known graves.  They served in Bomber, Coastal, Fighter, Transport, Flying Training and Maintenance Commands.  They came from all parts of the Commonwealth plus countries in Europe that had been overrun, their airmen continuing to fight the enemy from the ranks of the Royal Air Force.

The Memorial stands upon the crest of Coopers Hill overlooking the River Thames and the fields of Runnymede, where in 1215 King John signed the Magna Carta thus sealing that document to the cause of English libertyIt is a fitting and hallowed place, therefore, to commemorate the ultimate sacrifice made by all those servicemen and women.  Unveiled by Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth on 17 October 1953, it was designed by Sir Edward Maufe, the Commonwealth War Grave Commission’s Principal Architect responsible for the United Kingdom after World War Two.  His main aim was to create an atmosphere of quiet intimacy for all those coming to remember the missing.

The memorial site certainly lived up to all expectations on the day of my visit with perfect summer weather and clear warm conditions to take in the gleaming splendour of the architecture and quietly contemplate the multitude of names arranged in the cloistered panels within. My aim on the 19th of August was to seek out the name of a Flight Sergeant Jack Nickleson, the Captain of an 18 Squadron Blenheim bomber aircraft tasked with successfully delivering a replacement prosthetic limb to the renowned Wing Commander Douglas Bader, incarcerated as a POW by the German Luftwaffe at St Omer in Northern France.

Jack’s name is to be located on panel 60 of the memorial cloisters with all of of the Royal Canadian Air Force Airmen who gave their lives for our freedom in 1941.  It indeed was a privilege to pay my respects and place the small memorial cross and card below his name.  He is not forgotten and neither are his other crew members.  Sgt Walter Meadows, Observer/Bomb Aimer, is buried in Bergen-Op-Zoom and Sgt John Pearson, Air Gunner, in the military plot of Amsterdam New Eastern Cemetery.  Hopefully, with the lifting of continental travel restrictions, I’ll be able to accord them both the same recognition in my forthcoming battlefield tour activities.

Publicity During Covid Lockdown – 17

Come the month of August and most of the local magazines do not publish. It is disappointing therefore that even one that does, the Link, in Oakley, unfortunately, and rarely, did not include our piece. This can be perhaps put down to the fact that since resuming their printed editions they are now a free issue publication which means that advertising pays for the printing costs. Previously they made a charge to receive the magazine. The net result is that the pagination has reduced accordingly to match the paid for pages with editorial decisions having to be made about what is included or excluded from each edition.

The Loddon Valley Link, as previously mentioned, is tricky to gain a place in each printed edition and made more difficult because of their rotating editor policy. Our most supportive editor has now resigned and a new one has been installed but it may take time for a relationship to be built up so that the Probus Club reports become a standard feature.

The Chineham Chat still does not publish but they have maintained their “blog” type news site and we are successful with our press releases. The Kempshott Kourier sails on regardless of what happens to other publications although the editor has admitted that they have lost a couple of advertisers which makes it difficult to cover their costs.

Click on any image to enlarge

Summer Pub Lunch 12 August 2021

The first social get together for members of the Probus Club of Basingstoke, together with their spouses, in over eighteen months took place at the Longbridge Mill, Sherfield on Loddon.

Plenty of chatter filled the air as everyone had much to say after such a long absence due to the Covid pandemic. And yet It almost felt as though there had not been such a long absence from meeting together, perhaps, down to being such close relationships built solidly over many years.

There were good reasons for notable absences with holidays, clash of dates, family visitors from overseas and medical appointments and of course the sad loss of two members, and also the passing in recent months of the wives of two members.

We can now look forward to the resumption of the typical Probus Club activities starting with the delayed AGM in September.

Publicity During Covid Lockdown – 16

July proved to be a good month for magazine publicity despite the loss of the Chineham Chat and Popley Matters and for some reason the Link (Oakley & surrounds) for once, did not include our report about Richard Stettner doing business in Russia. However four magazines did us proud and the Basinga Extra carried the short version on their web site.

There was an element of calendar variances as three of the quarterlies caught up with our previous reports – the Winklebury Way used Stephen Thair’s report about meeting Prince Philip and two CommunityAd magazines – Bramley & Sherfield also had the Prince Philip meeting and the Old Basing & Lychpit Parish Council Community Newsletter ran with Chris Perkins’ Pyrean adventures.

Funeral of Sibyl Wood

The funeral of Sibyl Wood, wife of our president Richard Wood, took place on Monday 12 July.

A celebration of Sibyl’s life was held at St James’s church in Bramley and afterwards there was a private family cremation.

Current regulations restricted the congregation at the church to less than fifty with everyone spaced out on different pews. Probus Club members attending were Geoff and Ann Twine, Fred and Susan Locke, Alan and Anne Porter and Paul Flint with Janet Fagg who also represented the Ladies Probus Club.  

The Russian Business Revelation in the 1980s by Richard Stettner

Export or die was a common expression, along with permanent complaints by Government ministers about the balance of payments deficit. Yet there were many people involved in trying their best to right matters.

Probus Club of Basingstoke member, Richard Stettner, was one such person and he told of his experiences in trying to find export customers for products made by his employer, Basingstoke based Wiggins Teape in the 1980s. While most will know the company for producing printing and office type papers like the famous Conqueror range, there was a different part to the business that had specific industrial applications made by their mill in Stonehaven near Aberdeen. This was the Industrial Casting Paper section for whom Richard was the Export Sales & Marketing Manager.

The Wiggins Teape paper mill at Stonehaven Aberdeen

This division made specialised paper which was the base material used by other companies in the manufacture of imitation leather for use in the automotive, clothing, shoes, fashion and upholstery industries.

Already doing business with some Eastern bloc countries, the thought was Russia surely had some potential?  But where to find customers in such a vast country? It seemed logical that Russia operated in a similar way to the other Eastern bloc countries where Richard had wide experience. In these countries state trading organisations had the responsibility of buying goods and services needed by companies in these centrally controlled economies. What central buying organisations existed in Russia and what protocols needed to be followed?

Based in London, a Russo-British Chamber of Commerce has operated since 1916. Prince Michael of Kent has been its patron for many years being related through his grandmother to Tsar Nicholas 11.  Annual trade missions took representatives of British companies to meet the Ministry of Light Industry in Moscow.

“Firstly, I had to submit to the Russian Embassy in London, details of our company and what business I wanted to develop in Russia” explained Richard. “Once accepted, other than receiving my visa and learning the name of the hotel I had no further information about who, when and where I was going to see in the seven days in Moscow.”

St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow

On the first occasion, arriving in Moscow there was no customs control at the airport, purely passport control, with the party’s luggage put into the coach to take to the hotel. Their travel guide explained how things would operate during the week’s visit. At the hotel, each member of the party was given an envelope containing their scheduled visits for the week.

Bedroom keys were handed out by a lady guardian on each floor, to whom they would be returned to each morning. Bedrooms were large and basic with an empty fridge.

“We had been educated by the trade mission about the various surveillance techniques that would be used to monitor our activities”, continued Richard. “The whole top floor of the hotel was given to monitoring the guest bedrooms so it was clear that while away during the day my room would be searched to provide some evidence of private activity that might be used as leverage against me at some future date.”

Each morning every delegate was allocated a taxi for use for the whole day, irrespective of the length of each business meeting. The driver would take notes of which offices were visited, the duration of meetings and how any spare time was used.

The Ministry of Light Industry Moscow

Like all Eastern bloc countries, the Russian currency of the Rouble was not traded in the West and so hard currencies like US dollars, Deutschmarks and Pounds Sterling were needed for any purchases made by the trading companies. Hard currency shops existed where only Western money could be used, and while $10 would buy a pack of 200 Marlboro cigarettes their value to the Russian public multiplied many times.

 “Let me illustrate this in action,” said Richard. “One evening ten of us had a meal together and it was paid for by a pack of 200 Marlboro cigarettes.”

Consumer products were in short supply in Russia during Richard’s eight visits with the Chamber of Commerce, so he used to take products in his luggage to help maintain smooth relationships. Ladies’ knickers, sanitary products, toothpaste and cotton wool.

A further example of the surveillance techniques he encountered was the night he and two others went to the Bolshoi. That evening, instead of ballet, it was opera and rather than sit through the complete evening they decided to stay in the bar for a few drinks. They were the only customers while the performance continued except for a young woman across the bar. After a while, they asked her what she did for a living. She was a chambermaid at their hotel and worked on the same floor as their bedrooms. With the entrance to the Bolshoi priced in US dollars, meant few Russians had the currency to pay for the tickets and certainly unlikely for a lowly chambermaid. It was evident she had been set up to monitor their movements that night.

Was any business conducted? “A large order for 400 tonnes of Casting paper was achieved plus a subsequent smaller order, and at £1,200 per tonne was valuable.” Richard continued, “But as the forestry industry is an important component of the Russian economy and it made wood pulp, which Wiggins Teape constantly needed in paper manufacturing, there was an attempt to barter trade. We had one delivery of their wood pulp, but it was black and was of extremely poor quality meaning we didn’t use it. So that was the end of our relationship.”

Other Eastern bloc countries turned out to be more productive.