The following reports of meetings in the 2015-16 season are available:
23 Sep 2015: "The Fall of the Berlin Wall" - Mrs Suzette Davis
On 9th November 1989, Mrs Suzette Davis, a TV journalist, headed up the N.B.C. News Bureau for news coverage in Central and Eastern Europe. 'Through good judgement and luck' her crew achieved the internationally recognised 'coup' of this historic night being the only 'live' broadcaster there. The unforgettable scenes of the dismantling of the symbolic Wall swept across world TV screens within hours: the history of Europe changed.
Her riveting account of the build up to this momentous occasion held the rapt attention of a full capacity audience: The year had been marked by staggering events in Poland, Libya, England and Tiananmen Square also on 9th November. In all Eastern Europe tensions and desperation were mounting, mass protests and demonstrations arising and the flight of
refugees reaching crisis point.
'Behind the scenes' diplomacy was crucial. In the rapport he achieved with Gorbachev, the German Foreign Minister, Dietrich Genscher, 'pushed' the concept of change and eventual glasnost. In East Berlin to stunned international journalists the Interior Minister announced that visas would no longer be required from 'Now'!
By 11.00pm, floods of people 'free' at last were 'gushing through check points' to the symbolic Wall and dismantling began. The scene captured by the camera crew swept across TV screens across the world. The rest is history.
To conclude the dynamic presentation the audience viewed that tape which recalled this historic occasion brought to life by Suzette Davis's vivid account. On a sober note however, she drew parallels with the current humanitarian crisis of the huge refugee problem in Europe, as yet unresolved. [Daphne Priestley]
28 Oct 2015: "Political Reflections" - The Rt Hon. The Lord Owen CH
A capacity audience were privileged to listen to an intensely interesting talk by Lord Owen recounting some of the outstanding events, issues, challenges and achievements, also the interplay of personalities in his long career in politics.
He came into politics almost by chance. He qualified in medicine and then specialised in neuropsychiatry and had started a promising career. This experience left a passionate commitment to health issues: mental health, child welfare and a lifelong vigorous championing of the N.H.S. He became an M.P. for Plymouth in 1966 and continued for 26 years.
At age 30 he became Junior Minister for Defence with responsibility for the Royal Navy, an incredibly exciting and challenging role for the young Plymouth M.P. Later, Harold Wilson assigned him the exceptionally fitting role of Minister of Health. His experience as a Doctor underpinned his passion for reform of the N.H.S. and has never diminished. His highest office came in Callaghan's premiership when at 38 he was appointed Foreign Secretary, the youngest ever. It was an immensely responsible, challenging and exciting time, travelling worldwide and facing many crises and when "Africa was aflame".
He vividly recalled the "key players" in the Labour Government, its internal politics and the increasing need for change in face of loss of public confidence. Disillusion and dissent led to the founding of the "Gang of Four" which he ultimately led. The S.D.P. won much public support but not in terms of Parliamentary seats. Personally, he was against an alliance with the Liberal Party.
An unexpected new role came later as E.U. negotiator in the protracted negotiations surrounding the complex, bitter and savage Balkans conflict. His account stressed the almost insurmountable difficulties in resolving historic deep divisions ethnic, religious and political. The importance and strains of diplomatic relations nevertheless had to seek a peaceful resolution through negotiation. A sound working relationship with the US negotiator Cyrus Vance was established. Once again, Dr Owen had achieved a successful pivotal role in international politics.
In the House of Lords, he continues to make vigorous contributions, championing issues such as health and the N.H.S. defence, medical matters and child welfare. He is a convinced European, arguing for a community of separate nation states, and opposes federalism. Ideally, he envisages a much smaller, reformed House of Lords, with its important revisionary remit. Members should be elected and have a fixed retirement age.
He holds national and international business roles and many voluntary commitments. His strong interest in neuropsychiatry and research continues in publishing papers. His writing covers not only medicine and politics, for example In Sickness and in Power and The Hubris Syndrome, but political history: A Different Perspective, autobiography and a range of topics, most recently The Health of the Nation – the NHS in Peril.
The audience were immensely impressed by the stimulating and enlightening talk by Lord Owen – a brilliant "elder statesman", whose experience, wit and wisdom made the evening so memorable, recounting an outstanding and unique contribution to political life since 1966. [Daphne Priestley]
25 Nov: "Lawrence of Arabia – an archaeological investigation" – Col Mike Relph, MBA, MA
Colonel Mike Relph’s most interesting talk on ‘Lawrence of Arabia: An archaeological investigation’ recounted the findings of the early stages of a 10 year project by University of Bristol teams of professional and volunteer archaeologists in southern Jordan to explore the remains from the conflict of the Arab Revolt over the area.
The Revolt in 1916 was a dramatic and seminal event when the Allies were doing badly in the Middle East. General Allenby deployed Lawrence to mobilize and lead Arab military resistance, win the support of the Royal family and the very divided Bedouins. There was some limited support from the British and French air forces.
Starting from Mecca, they later captured the Red Sea ports and targeted the vital Turkish supply link the Hiraz railway line. The strategy was to disable the rolling stock, the stations and forts were attacked but the line itself not destroyed; it was a highly effective ‘guerilla’ campaign. Lawrence proved himself a charismatic leader, brilliant tactician and succeeded in mobilizing and unifying the fearsome Bedouins into a crack force. The black and white film shot in 1916 interspersed with clips from the film ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ brought the account vividly to life.
Lawrence achieved an almost impossible mission to capture the Red Sea port of Aqaba. Starting out with 17 men they went overland across the worst desert terrain. They collected 700 Bedouin fighters and Lawrence decided to circle Aqaba and launch a rapid attack from the rear. The Turks expected an attack from the sea and the port was captured without firing a shot. This incredible military success, masterminded and led by Lawrence has become legendary in military history.
Lawrence won the great support, admiration and gratitude of the Arabs: the ruling Royal family and Bedouin communities believed they would be free of Turkish rule after centuries. Lawrence had provided the inspirational leadership to this end. He was able to present a very strong case in 1919 but was shattered at the outcome of the Treaty at the end of the