Moonraker Probus Club of Devizes

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Mar 2014 Important Undertakings Paul McDonald
Apr 2014 Crest or Coat of Arms Steve Slater
May 2014 Consumer Rights and Scams Sue Wilkin
Jun 2014 The Secrets of Handwriting Revealed John Jameson-Davis
July 2014 A Passion for Pearls Frances Benton
Aug 2014 Welsh Love Spoons Bob Browning
Sep 2014 West Country Defences in World War 2 Bill King
Oct 2014 Rural Life around World War 1 Roger Frost
Nov 2014 Going To Blazes John Craig
Dec 2014 Seasonal Miscellany Paul Evans

December 2014 - Seasonal Miscellany

Our last meeting was on 4th December when our guest speaker, Paul Evans, gave an amusing and much appreciated talk entitled “Seasonal Miscellany”. The meeting was also the occasion for a seasonal party with mince pies, stollen and mulled wine - altogether a very enjoyable meeting.

November 2014 - Going To Blazes

Our November talk was by John Craig, retired Fire Chief for Wiltshire. His reminiscences were amusing and lively. He was questioned about whether they were really true. He reassured us that they were!

October 2014 - Rural Life around World War 1

The speaker at the Moonraker Probus October meeting was Roger Frost, volunteer curator of Market Lavington Museum. The subject of his talk was “Rural Life around WW1”. The talk was well illustrated with photographs taken of some of the museum’s numerous exhibits.

The museum is housed in the Old Schoolmaster’s Cottage situated behind the Old School and accessed by a path through St Mary’s Church graveyard. It is run by Roger and a team of volunteers. The exhibits are all of local interest and have been donated by villagers from Market Lavington and the neighbouring village of Easterton. Roger opened his talk with WW1 news.

We learnt that Canadian troops were stationed there in 1914 and the following year there were Australian troops. Local young men joined up, some to be killed within a month or two. The museum has documentation proving such tragedies. There are recurring family names on both the WW1 and WW2 memorials, sober reminders of the grim years of war.

Besides being a military centre because of the village’s proximity to the Salisbury Plain, the village had, amongst others, a weekly market, its own transport company, a brick factory, a basket making trade and there was a jam factory in Easterton. We were shown photos of these activities, and also some of contemporary advertisements.

Roger and his team research their exhibits with great enthusiasm and depth (such as using official registers and censuses). The village is indeed very fortunate to have this fascinating museum and hardworking team. The museum has its own website: - well worth a look. Members were heard expressing the idea of a visit - perhaps this will be taken up? The museum is normally open 3 days a week and Bank Holidays but is closing for the winter on October 30th , however Roger said that he is very willing to open it if requested.


September 2014 - West Country Defences in World War 2

The September meeting’s speaker was Bill King and his talk was on “West Country Defences in WW2”. His talk was riveting; his salient point was that if one kept one’s eyes open there are still many remaining visible traces of these defences.

Bill’s talk started by reliving the disaster of Dunkirk. The losses were not only of men but also of the military equipment left behind in France. The returning soldiers were sent to the North of England to regroup while strategies for the defence of Southern England were put into place to make up for the loss of men and military equipment. Defensive radar stations ringed our isle with high and low radar beams whilst over the sea the Germans covered our shores with their radar beams seeking the best place to invade. Unknown to the Germans, there was in fact a hole in our radar coverage at Lyme Bay. This would have provided a direct northwards invasion path for the enemy. Anti-tank obstacles were improvised to obstruct roads and bridges. There were removable barriers (a tree trunk that could be pushed across the road) or more permanent ones made of concrete. Concrete was used to make “pimples” of various shapes and sizes for road obstruction and pill boxes to defend roads, bridges and airfields.

An anti-tank East/West line, the GHQ line, was dug out in a matter of weeks, not months! It stretched from Kent to Somerset, using natural waterways when possible. The northern bank was vertical and the excavated earth heaped on the southern bank to form an additional anti-tank obstacle.

In the defence of our airspace after the Battle of Britain women became important defence agents. They plotted incoming enemy planes and shared the information to form an essential network to identify their flight paths - and also to avoid our planes from being targeted. At sea the Royal Navy played a crucial role. On the land the Home Guard was formed and a very secret Auxiliary Unit (I heard mutterings that hoped we had one now!) which was to form the nucleus of a Resistance movement.

Visible remains of WW2 defences are the numerous scattered pill boxes beside roads, along the Kennet and Avon canal and in farmers’ fields. There are too the many blocks of concrete in Lyme Bay.


August 2014 - Welsh Love Spoons

The speaker at our August meeting was a Wiltshire man, Bob Browning, speaking about Welsh lovespoons. He told us that he hadn't been too keen on work as a young man and spent his mornings in "caffs". However he is: ex Royal Marine, ex M & S and ex GPO - and being a postman was his most enjoyable job which he did for 42 years, and where he met his wife. 

Bob illustrated his talk with a selection of his wood carvings and also articles made in combination with other materials such as a walking stick made of wood with a sheep's horn handle.  He first saw a lovespoon in Cardiff and made one which he gave to his future wife. He found woodworking to be his forte and with skill and imagination he developed his talents producing wood sculptures of great intricacy and beauty which we could handle and admire. At an early stage he created in wood the stories of love and betrothal, highlighting the beauty of different woods.

His choice of woods varied from ancient churchyard yew to recycled skirting boards. In some of his intricate designs it was difficult to appreciate that only one piece of wood had been used, such as the tiny carved balls in a cage. His works showed great carving skills - and a proof of patience!  The stories of how Bob obtained his raw materials showed the open approach of a true craftsman.

He concluded his talk showing us two beautiful examples of Malmesbury Abbey carved on flat panels, one originally a bedhead board.

July 2014 - A Passion for Pearls

Our guest speaker, Frances Benton, gave a very lively talk about pearls, spurning - and rightly so, the use of the microphone! She told us that her passion for pearls started at the age of seven after she had been given her grandmother’s wedding faux pearls. She has since travelled the world in search of “real” pearls and has accumulated an incredible breath-taking collection of pearls, both natural and cultured, which she herself has strung and knotted. Many of these she brought with her to hand out for us to handle and admire.
The talk was very informative. She went into how pearls are formed, their structure and also about the myths around them; also how they have a social significance and in times past they were worn by men. Of interest was the information that the number of rows of pearls worn indicates the importance of the occasion. At the recent launching of the Royal Navy’s new aircraft carrier, HMS Queen Elizabeth, the Queen wore three rows – the maximum!
It was an excellent presentation and to finish Frances put a necklace of pearls on each of the three gentlemen sitting in the front row, stalwarts of our club, as honorary maharajahs. Ah well – diamonds are a girl’s best friend!
The pearls are for sale and the profit that Frances makes goes to a charity in Durban for street children. Her earning job is publicity for Baroque music in the UK.


June 2014 - The Secrets of Handwriting Revealed

John Jameson-Davis gave us a talk titled “The Graphomaniac”, or “The secrets of handwriting revealed”. He told us that handwriting analysis can be used to assess personality and authenticity but that he was going to discuss principally personality. We learned that the spacing of words and their arrangement were as revealing as the script itself. Letters, in the public domain, were used to illustrate various personalities. For instance the writing of a serial killer “oozed like blood” but the signature of Michelangelo was part of his highly skilled work of art.  There was a lively discussion with members and then the speaker left for Trowbridge to elucidate fraud!

May 2014 - Consumer Rights and Scams

On May 1st, Sue Wilkin, Senior Public Protection Officer with Trading Standards for Wiltshire Council, gave us a fascinating and very useful talk on “Consumer Rights and Scams”. She told us that she had a legal background and laid special emphasis on the fact that the public should know its rights and defend itself.
She explained the difference between statutory rights and warranties/guarantees. The former were rights against the seller and the latter against the manufacturer. Registration of goods bought was generally a marketing thing but, as in the case of a fault being found, the customers could be notified about a recall. However when an article has an incorrect low price on it, the customer cannot demand to buy it at that price.
The talk was wide-ranging and covered such subjects as “free” holidays, cold calls and doorstep sales. We all agreed that we had been subjected to scams at some time or other. These can be on-line, at the door or by phone. Some of these can be damaging for years to come, for instance alarm systems may have a monitoring agreement for 25 years. Scamming is big business with criminals involved with contacts overseas. A local number can be bought, so don’t be deceived!
We were told of shocking incidents of how the vulnerable are targeted – a 92 year old father caring for his son with epilepsy, an elderly lady with memory loss being tricked to pay twice. How the “roaming repairers” target women with an average age of 82 and then sell their information.
This may all sound rather dry and depressing but it was delivered in a vivacious and entertaining way and was very worthwhile listening to - “Mrs. X, you have a virus on your computer.” “Oh! Will I catch it?” And then our speaker left to do her undercover work…

April 2014 - Crest or Coat of Arms

On April 3rd Steve Slater gave an illustrated talk on “Crest or Coat of Arms”, a subject in which Steve has been involved for more than 30 years and has his own coat of arms.
Heraldry came from Germany and has been of importance in England and France since the Norman Conquest. Designs for shields covered the history of the bearer and its design was of size and design to enable recognition at a distance in the battle field. The various elements of the design related to the history of the knight and often covered his social and marital status. All arms are unique, and the grant is given by the monarch via the office of the first Lord of England (The Duke Norfolk).
The granting of a coat of arms is not necessarily related to social status, although achievements and family history are significant. It takes many years for the formal granting to be obtained, and the design must not impinge on previously granted arms - the cost of submission is just over £4000 and applies to an individual, although many commercial organizations, Towns and Counties have their own coat of arms. Many of the arms have military history significance.
Steve showed many coats of arms and explained the significance of the various sections and colour choices. Much can be read into the design by the expert.

Mar 2014 - Important Undertakings

The Moonraker Probus Club of Devizes met on Thursday March 6th in the Crown Centre for its monthly meeting. The speaker was Paul McDonald, Senior Funeral Director of John Stuart. The title of his talk was “Important Undertakings”. Paul, after a brief history of the firm, started 30 years ago, told us how funerals now come in many forms, from the traditional – here he showed us his cane and top hat – to the really modern for example a piano-shaped coffin. Also funerals could now take place not only in churches and crematoria but in woods and hotels. The latter presented the advantage that once the funeral had been conducted the guests were in place for the wake. A talk that could have been rather sombre was far from it as it was delivered in a witty and informative way inviting many questions which were ably answered. The message that we received was that we should discuss our funeral arrangements with our families besides putting them into our wills as this could possibly save later pain.