Event Reports for 2021
13th June 2021 - Green Wood Turning. A demonstration by John Burbage
A large group of 29 assembled at Neil Anderson’s farm for the first Society meeting since the start of the pandemic. We were outdoors and well socially distanced, and on a beautiful sunny day we were glad of the shade afforded by the trees next to Neil’s barns. Fortunately we were just spared the need to separate into 2 groups (which would have been necessary under the current Covid restrictions). It was marvellous to see so many people again and there was a great spirit of camaraderie, which was enhanced by John’s fascinating talk and demonstration.
The ingenuity of the set-up of the lathe was quite amazing. Other than the metal chisels, everything could be obtained and fashioned within a short time from the components to be found in any small wood! Motive power was a treadle and a bent sapling! Now that’s what I call GREEN. John showed us how to take a bit of tree and turn it into a decorative chair leg. I even got to have a go and didn’t ruin it (much). He also turned a big bit of chestnut trunk into roofing shingles with simple tools in a few minutes. John supplies all his timber from his own 50 acre wood. He also brought some lovely examples of stools and chairs which he makes, and some gardening tools for sale (dibbers, rakes and planting lines) most of which were snapped up by members.
All in all, a very fine restart to the Society's meetings, and a fine follow up to our previous meeting on woodland crafts and basket making.
13th June 2021 - Farm Walk at Kingsdown Farm
With Richard Moyse of Plantlife (a Wild Plant Conservation Charity). We gathered at Neil’s farm in threatening lunchtime weather with dire forecasts of thunder and lightning. A last-minute decision was taken to chance it and it proved to be a wise choice.
Richard is a plant expert with an encyclopaedic knowledge of insects as well, so ideally qualified to lead our walk. Neil was keen to show the massive biodiversity advantages of his agricultural practices of minimal tillage and his provision of generous headlands planted to encourage wildlife. As the thunder rolled around we walked through his fields discovering a surprising number of butterflies, peacocks, red admirals, gatekeepers, meadow browns and Essex skippers. A clouded yellow had been seen in the morning but was not spotted on the walk. There was a bewildering variety of flies, bees, hover flies and crickets. Several of our party rediscovered their inner child by capturing grasshoppers in the long grass for Richard to identify. We also saw many plants including the extremely rare woundwort, a tiny and rather nondescript plant which had Richard very excited. This he described as an archaeophyte, an ancient plant which travelled out in the grain seeds of Neolithic farmers as they colonised Europe after the ice ages. It has almost died out due to modern farming, though Plantlife are trying to conserve it at their Ranscombe Farm site in Kent.
Still dry, we repaired to Neil and Jenny’s beautiful garden for tea and a sumptuous spread of cakes.
A superb event all very covid secure and thoroughly enjoyed by everyone. Ecology and cake - what could be better!!!
A group of 28 met at the church for this talk on the air battle which shaped all our lives. The talk was held over from last year due to covid, when it would have marked the 80th anniversary, but the 81st anniversary still resonated.
Guy opened with some spectacular in plane footage of The Battle of Britain memorial flight in action, close ups of their Spitfire, Hurricane, Lancaster and Dakota. Such excellent film clips and stirring soundtrack were to be a feature of the evening!
The battle opened with the RAF heavily outnumbered by 2600 planes to 654. Invasion was threatened with the German plan operation Sea Lion. The failure to establish air superiority along with bad weather and logistical problems meant it had to be cancelled and the battle became the first purely aerial conflict. Hitler did not expect much resistance. The Luftwaffe was already battle hardened with 2500 aces - pilots with over 5 kills to their credit.
We were then treated to the recording of Churchill’s stirring speech, “the Battle for France is over, the Battle of Britain is just beginning.”
Guy reviewed in some detail the marques of plane available to each side, their strengths and weaknesses, and how these influenced the tactics adopted. One example given was the use of beam attacks against the Heinkel 111 bomber as it could not defend itself once the dorsal upper gunner was hit.
The Dowding System gave the outnumbered RAF a huge advantage. Information relayed by Radar looking out to sea, allied with an efficient army of the Observer Corps covering the land, enabled controllers to dispatch aircraft in an efficient and timely fashion to defend strategic assets only and maximise effectiveness. The development of Chain Low radars also prevented low level raids and by the end of the battle 56 stations were operational. Propaganda was aimed at deceiving the Germans that our pilots’ success was due to eating carrots for their eyesight!!! Most of the operators and planners were women and Emlyn recalled his mother was a member of the Balloon Corps responsible for the deployment of barrage balloons to protect cities. We were also reminded of the heroic efforts of ground crew who were subject to frequent attacks but kept planes flying, often re-fuelling and re-arming them in 20 minutes and also of the Womens’ Auxillary Air Service which kept up a constant delivery of new fighters straight from the factories to the airfields. The most famous was Amy Johnson who was lost on a delivery trip off Herne Bay. Recent research suggests she was lost in bad weather and, when challenged by anti-aircraft defences, she failed to give the correct code word twice and was shot down.
German frustration at the RAF’s resistance led Hitler to change tactics and institute The Blitz on cities. Tragically this led to 40,000 civilian deaths but enabled the RAF to re-group and re-equip.
Guy showed an amazing film montage of actual aerial footage taken during the battles, which had been digitised and colourised. It was not film which I had seen and really brought it all to life. It alone was worth the evening. Very sobering.
He told the very personal story of Ray Holmes, the Saviour of Buckingham Palace. Ray was over London when he saw a bomber heading for the palace. He had no ammo left but deliberately rammed the Dornier bringing it down near Victoria; luckily he parachuted safely. Guy showed us the film of the actual event taken from the ground that day, which was spine tingling.
544 British aircrew were lost with an average age of 22 years while 2500 Germans died, although the number of planes lost between the two sides was not that dissimilar. This difference was in large part due to the Germans losing mainly bombers with 5 or more crew, whereas the RAF lost mainly fighters with only 1 pilot.
We concluded with a very funny film of Ray Hanna (who was a founder member and lead pilot of the Red Arrows) flying his own Spitfire and buzzing a TV crew at ultra-low level and a Q&A during which Peter Bones told us some of his wartime memories of the battle when he was a small boy in Lynsted.
An excellent chat over wine finished the evening, a chance to see old friends and talk to some of our many new members.
Annual General Meeting swiftly followed by a talk given by Sandra Whittaker, Head of Collection Care at the British Museum.
Following the AGM, Sandra Whittaker, the Head of Collection Care at the British Museum, gave an excellent talk on the role of the conservators and the problems of safely conserving the 8 million objects in the museum’s collection which span a period of 2 million years, and of which 55,066 are on display.
There are three main aims of the British Museum: to care for items, to understand them and to preserve them for the future. Preservation requires strict control of the environment around the items as even slight changes in temperature, humidity, light, pollution and dust can cause serious damage. Consideration also has to be given to where the items were found because items which have been buried underground or underwater need to be protected from a sudden change in environment (humidity, temperature, light or acidity) which could cause instability of the items.
The British Museum has 700 monitors throughout its stores, galleries and the 2,417 showcases which provide a constant record of light, humidity,temperature and pests. Managing the environment within showcases is cheaper and easier, but the environment of the galleries is also important. For example, items on display are protected from ultraviolet light by the use of blinds preventing sunlight from reaching displays, providing low intensity light, using motion sensors to turn on lighting as necessary and also by putting items in drawers so that they are only actually in light when the drawer is opened.
All materials in the galleries must also be inert or they can destroy artifacts, and this includes the foam, fabrics, inks, sealants, paints and floor finishes.
Consideration must also be given to the damage which may be caused inadvertently by the public. Dust, particularly from clothes, can cause damage directly and can also provide a food source for insects which can then cause catastrophic damage. Any objects openly on display rather than within showcases must therefore be separated from the public by a significant gap to prevent dust falling on the artifacts.
Some items can viewed in galleries for between 20 and 40 years but others, for example those which are more sensitive to the environment, may be rotated every 5 years. The Museum also puts on exhibitions for a limited period which tell a particular story, and these have included exhibitions on Hokusai, Nero and Peru. These exhibitions usually only run for 3-4 months, and therefore light levels can be increased a little.
The British Museum conservators are also involved in cleaning, valuation, authentication, and interpretation of treasure troves such as hoards of gold coins. There is a national and international touring programme in which the museum sends items to other exhibitions. In normal times one or more conservators travel with the exhibits to unpack and install them, but during the Covid-19 pandemic this has not been possible and that has obviously caused particular problems and risks. The lending of artifacts to museums in other countries can also be affected by politics.
It is the aim of the museum to conserve what is there, not to restore artifacts to their original state. It is vital when cleaning metal, for example, not to overclean but to preserve the patina of its age and history. Apparently one tapestry has been known to take up to 9 years to conserve as every stitch had to be sown on to a supportive backing!
Modern items are now included in the British Museum’s collection, and these can be made of plastics such as polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and polyurethane which can be particularly damaged by light which causes loss of plasticizer leading to deterioration within a few years. Apparently Adidas are developing a prototype biodegradable shoe made from synthetic biopolymer which will obvious be very difficult to conserve!
After her talk, members were able to see monitors and artifacts from the Museum collection.
A talk by Vicki McGrady of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission on their work across the world.
Vicki came on the first cold night of the winter to tell us about the fascinating work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
The Commission, originally called the Imperial War Graves Commission, was established in 1917, to honour the fallen in perpetuity, and in a fitting way. Its work was widened subsequently to include the dead of WW11 as well.
The Commission now cares for 1,700, 000 graves and memorials in 23,000 locations, in more than 150 countries around the world, including many in UK churchyards such as the 7 in Lynsted, and on every continent except Antarctica. It is funded by six Member Governments. As well as building and caring for the cemeteries it is still researching to establish identities, and still regularly buries bodies newly found in old battlefields. During its research however it never exhumes bodies for DNA as this is deemed a desecration of their memory.
Vicki showed us many examples of the marvellous architecture found in the cemeteries, ranging from the massive constructions at Thiepval, Tyne Cot, and the Menin Gate, to the smaller sites such as Pheasant Wood. Many of us will be familiar with the sites in Flanders but she also showed us photos of the dramatic architecture at Singapore, Hong Kong and El Alamein. The architects chosen for this work were the foremost of their day such as Lutyens, Baker Blomfield and Holden.
Vicki told us about the challenges of caring for the graves which have to be maintained to a very high standard, requiring increasing conservation work as time passes. They now try to conserve rather than replace, but the guiding principle is that every name and detail is legible, and every stone is identical from the highest to the lowest rank, rather a remarkable principle for 1917!!
As well as the architectural work, it was decided that the cemeteries should be places of beauty with gorgeous planting and grass areas designed by Gertrude Jekyll to reflect as far as possible Britain, and make the area feel like “home”. The area covered in formal planting is equivalent to 1000 football pitches and 850 professional gardeners are employed with volunteers as well. The plants are also arranged so as not to obscure the names. Clearly in cemeteries in hotter climes the planting has to be appropriate, “the right plant in the right place”. They are also giving increasing thought to sustainability, and climate change with more drought resistant plants. Vicki told us about a site in Oman which can only be reached by boat and where the gardeners must then swim ashore and another near Murmansk which takes 5 days to reach across very rough terrain and then also needs the permission of the Russian Northern Fleet.
The result, for anyone who has visited, is both sombre and truly uplifting.
The work of the Commission to remember and honour the fallen in respect, each equally, and in perpetuity, continues and is supported by its charitable Foundation.
Christmas Party was cancelled because of Covid.