Monthly Archives: March 2022

Secretary’s Report: Meeting of 22 March 2022

This week saw the welcome return of John Gilleghan to fill us in with facts and anecdotes on the life and times of Alfred James Wight Jnr answering to Alf, better known as James Herriot.

Alfred James Wight Snr worked as a plater in the Sunderland shipyards and also had a second job as a pianist in a sextet playing for the silent movies in the Star Cinema. In 1916, during the first World War, Sunderland came under a bombing attack from a German Zeppelin and suffered heavy damage to the shipyards and also the Star Cinema. As a result, James Wight lost all sources of income at a time when his wife Marion was pregnant. In search of employment, he visited Glasgow and managed to secure a job as a plater in the John Brown Shipyard. So they relocated together to Glasgow.

As the time of birth approached, they were determined that the baby be born, not in Scotland, but in their hometown of Sunderland. So they temporarily returned and the baby was born at 111 Brandling Street, Roker and given the same Christian names, Alfred James, as his father.

Returning to Glasgow, the family settled into Dumbarton Road where Alf attended the local primary school and, at 11 years old, transferred to a fee-paying school called Hillhead High. Finally, he went to the Glasgow Veterinary School and, after failing 3 parts of his finals, did an extra year and eventually passed in late 1939.

His working life began in an urban practice on the outskirts of Darlington but after 3 months his mother noticed an advert for a vet’s job in Thirsk and filled in an application form for James to sign. A reply came back within days inviting Alf for an interview and he duly caught the train to attend. On arrival at the surgery, he was surprised that nobody was expecting him but eventually a little Austin 10 rolled up with the vet Donald Sinclair at the wheel. Too busy to sit down, Donald took him off to a farm in Leyburn and conducted the interview whilst delivering a calf. On returning to the Surgery, Alf asked to be excused to catch a train back home and was brusquely told that it wouldn’t be necessary because he had the job – starting tomorrow.

Six months later Donald was called up to join the war effort and Alf was on his own. Realising his lack of experience, he got in touch with an old friend from Glasgow Vet School called Eddie Straiton who was working in Lincoln and persuaded him to join him for a spell in Thirsk. On 5 November 1941, he married Joan Catherine Anderson Danbury. The couple had two children, James Alexander (Jim), born 1943, who also became a vet and was a partner in the practice, and Rosemary (Rosie), born 1947, who became a physician in general practice.

In his working life as a vet, it was necessary to keep records and Alf kept meticulous diaries of his daily life and exploits. His writing career benefited greatly from these when Alf began to write of his impressions of Dales life in a series of stories that were hinged on his autobiography. The first book began with a young vet arriving in Darrowby, which he portrayed as a composite town, “ a bit of Thirsk, something of Richmond, Leyburn and Middleham and a fair chunk of my imagination”

His early publishing efforts started in late 1970 with “If only they could talk” This traced the experiences of a vet with pen-name James Walsh who, as the publishers soon discovered, had the same name as a currently registered vet. He was asked to change the name and, whilst watching a match between Man City and Birmingham City, chose the name of the Birmingham City goalie – James Herriot.

His follow-up book “ It shouldn’t happen to a Vet” was published in 1972 but sales were still slow until it gained traction in America with publication in the Readers Digest’s short stories. Buoyed by the success of the Readers Digest series, he arranged to have these two books published as a single volume in the United States and named the book “All Creatures Great and Small” – and adopted the pen-name James Herriot.

This book was a huge success and led to the creation of the All Creatures Great and Small franchise which utilised the series of 9 books written by James Herriot. Today, they have sold more than 60 million copies and have been adapted for film and television, including in 1975 a film entitled “All Creatures Great and Small” followed in 1976 by “It Shouldn’t Happen to a Vet”, which also spawned a long-running BBC Television programme of the same title.

In 2020, a new television production of All Creatures Great and Small was aired. This programme, produced for Channel 5 in the UK and PBS in America, has been scheduled for a second series currently being filmed around Grassington.

John Gilleghan concluded his presentation with a collection of slides that brought to life the many personalities, events and locations mentioned in his engrossing talk.

In his vote of thanks Godfrey Alderson commented on the wholesome quality of the film productions associated with these stories and thanked John for his amiable presentation of the real facts.

Next week, we are on a trip to explore the North-West Highlands of Scotland with John Alred.

Secretary’s report: Meeting of 15th March 2022

Members were treated to a most eloquent, powerful, and structured presentation by Douglas Cossar under the title of “Understanding the Germans”. Rarely has the Forum been so gripped by an exposition and analysis of the life of a nation through good times and bad.

Douglas began by telling us that Germans have an enduring memory of the 2nd World War and of the atrocities committed by their forces. For this reason, since the war, Germans have not engaged in any military action other than as peacekeepers. In maintaining this stance, their military capability has fallen well behind and their equipment has become outdated and in short supply. Now, after decades of neglect, and probably in response to Russian aggression, the incoming government of Olaf Scholz has abandoned restraint and announced a huge defence spending programme of £85 billion.

Reverting back to history we learned more about the rise and fall of the Jews in German society. From the outset, Jews were considered outsiders and unbelievers by German Christian society. They could not own land, be farmers or join craft guilds and instead, they became traders, merchants and money lenders. They congregated in big cities like Berlin and Hamburg where they made a huge contribution to culture and society. Despite being only 1% of the population, they soon occupied 20-30% of the banking, media, medical, legal, and scientific positions.

However, in 1933 Hitler came to power and within 90 days established a 1-party state which removed Jews from the civil service, from academic life, hospitals, judiciary and for 12 years committed them to such appalling atrocities that the German population were in disbelief and later in denial. They had turned a blind eye and allowed this to happen without redress.

In the following 20 years, the vacant jobs left by Jews were filled by those criminals who had been enthusiastically promoting Naziism. Those born after the war were deliberately shielded from any knowledge of their recent history until student riots erupted in 1968 and forced Germany to change tack, come to terms with its past and effect social change.

Today, museums in Germany examine the past with complete openness and there are more Jewish museums than in any other country. In every town and village little brass plates on the pavement commemorate the houses where Jewish families lived. Former concentration camps are preserved as memorials and museums to be visited by all German schoolchildren.

So, politicians and journalists are careful to strongly support the democratic line and sing from the same hymn sheet. But there are still small but noisy groups who put forward alternate views for discussion. The AfD is the only party that identifies migration as a major threat to the German way of life. It wants to prevent migrants from heading to Germany at all. The party insists on the primacy of “traditional” German culture and rejects Islam as a part of German society.

The standard German response is not to argue with them but to rubbish them. To this day the major parties do not allow the AfD, who command 12% in the polls, to participate in any of the coalitions which are the standard outcome of German elections.

Douglas went on to quote from a controversial best-selling book by Thilo Sarrazins of the SPD party. It identifies the falling German birthrate which will lead to Germans being a minority in their own country. Today there are more than 3 million people of Turkish Muslim ancestry with a birth rate double that of Germans. Many Turks have come from rural areas with poor education and have little inclination to integrate into German society. Turks are now responsible for more than 70% of immigrant problems. They have below average rates of employment and education and above average claims for social benefits and involvement in criminal violence. They receive more in welfare benefits in Germany than they could expect from full time employment in Turkey. Why would they want to return to Turkey?

As with the holocaust of the Jews, today’s Germans are unwilling to accept that these are problems that have to be discussed and rectified. Just as in today’s Russia, Western democracies have not been paying attention to the nature of the menace that has been incubating. Those who raise migrant questions in Germany are accused of Islamophobia and even one of Douglas’ academic German friends when confronted with pertinent facts merely responded “RUBBISH”

So, after an hour’s discourse, Douglas left us with the conundrum of German uncertainties in today’s uncertain world.

Commenting on the situation in Ukraine Chairman Peter Wilson admitted he was terrified to hear mention of War and Hitler again. He opined that a solution could only be found by going back to discover how and why it came about and rectifying it from there.

Next week John Gilleghan will tell us all about James Herriot.

Secretary’s Report 8th March 2022

The meeting was opened by Chairman Peter Wilson expressing his horror at the present inhumane onslaught in Ukraine by their Russian neighbours and reminding us of our charitable collection now in progress. Member Neil Ramshaw also drew attention to some alternate charities such as “TYPE ONE STYLE” who have temporarily diverted their whole internet business in diabetic products towards supplying those in need in Ukraine.

On arrival, members were greeted with an intimidating display of army kit, survival supplies, weaponry assembled by one Sergeant Chris Tapster, formerly a member of the 45 Commando Royal Marines. How he got up Otley Road without being stopped by one of those police vans is surprising. By pure chance, he was with us today to recount the events 40 years ago when Argentine forces landed in the Falklands and claimed sovereignty.

Observing Chris from my second-row seat, I was very much reminded of Windsor Davies of “Green Grass of Home” fame. However, my dreams were interrupted by the strident bark of Sergeant Chris testing his vocal chords. Thus reminding me that National Service instills a set of rules, duties and exercises that eventually knock you into the approved shape and fit you out for one on one combat. Such was Chris’ campaign visit to the East Falklands in 1982.

Hostilities began in South Georgia where the UK had stationed 20 Marines. The Argentinians Special Forces attempted to land under the guise of contractors removing a whaling station. The Marines were not taken in by this, took them all prisoner, and then sank their vessel. However, a follow-up by a larger Argentinian force successfully forced a surrender on 3rd April.

At the same time, a heavily armed force of around 100 Argentinians landed near Port Stanley on East Falkland and moved to secure a safe landing area for over 1000 more troops. This battle force then engaged with the 68 resident British Marines who retreated to defend Government House. After several skirmishes, they were ordered to surrender by Gov. Rex Hunt under the sheer force of numbers. So the Argentinians had successfully cemented their long-disputed claim to these South Atlantic islands.

Margaret Thatcher was filled with horror to see British Marines face down in surrender and vowed to return the Falklands to a British Administration at the earliest possible moment. Thus the counter-invasion, Operation Corporate, was put into effect in the UK whilst the Argentinians began to flood the islands with planeloads of fresh troops.

The true watershed event of the Falklands War came on May 21 when Royal Marine Commando Brigades conducted an amphibious landing near the settlement of San Carlos. Encountering only light opposition upon landing, the brigades 4,000 troops moved quickly to expand the beachhead and commence offensive operations. Although that part of the operation went well, Argentine aircraft responded with a series of devastating attacks against the Royal Navy warships supporting the force ashore.

After landing in St Carlos Bay via Ascension Island Sergeant Chris with 45 Commando Brigade began to push-out from the invasion beaches with the ultimate goal of conducting a direct assault against Stanley 50 miles away. With the almost total absence of roads or landmarks, moving the assault force into position around Stanley presented the British with an enormous challenge. The original plan called for the troops to be flown across the island, but almost all of the helicopters that were supposed to do the job went down with the Atlantic Conveyor. There was no alternative but to load up their gear and “Yomp” across the difficult soft terrain in cold and wet conditions.

Sergeant Chris took time out to show us the way he got kitted out for this Yomp. Starting with boots with ankle straps, anoraks with numerous pockets, body belts with pouches stuffed with supplies, back pack with tent, sleeping bag etc etc Carrying everything from ammunition to daggers to rations and first aid, even a condom! (For storing water of course!). Then to the weapons, either an Enfield rifle, a Sterling sub-machine gun, a self-loading rifle (SLR), or a pistol. Altogether, a 40kg load for each man.

Arriving within 3 miles of their objective the force spent almost a week reconnoitering all sides of Two Sisters, a 1000 ft high mountain that was the key to defensive positions around Stanley.  Their patrols frequently engaged with the enemy. But such encounters allowed them to locate their positions and plan the final assault. On 11th and 12th June they fought and won the highly successful and fierce night battle for Two Sisters leading to the swift capitulation of the Argentine forces and the return of the Islands to British Administration.

In thanking the speaker Chris Butterfield expressed his admiration for the courage, resilience and sacrifice of all those involved in this Campaign and for the insight into the Army way of life that his talk had generated.

The meeting closed with the news that the collection by Forum Members had registered a total of £175 for the Ukraine Humanitarian Appeal by the Guardian Newspaper.

Next week’s speaker is Douglas Cossar who will help us in “Understanding the Germans”


The revised Speaker for next week will be Tony Craster whose subject will be “45 COMMANDO ROYAL MARINES IN THE FALKANDS”

He is likely to appear in uniform and with genuine but decommissioned weapons so “Don’t panic Mr Mainwaring!!



The meeting was opened by Chairman Peter Wilson who advised of three apologies having been received. This included Malcolm Wood who sadly had fallen and broken his collarbone. His friends and all members of the Forum send their best wishes for his speedy recovery.

Acting Secretary Neil Ramshaw advised that there would a change of Speaker for next week due to the booked Speaker cancelling. Revised details will be advised separately when confirmed.

Today saw the welcome return of Roger Oldfield who has spoken at Forum a number of times and also belongs to our fraternal organisation Harrogate Forum. His talk this Tuesday was titled “Olicana to Vinand’s Mere”.

Roger would take us on a journey through time and countryside and he started by advising us that there were rights of way footpaths of over 100,000 in England alone. These footpaths followed the footsteps of our distant ancestors and went from village to village to farms and to churches. In more recent centuries they were used by pack horses transporting goods and itinerant pedlars.

The audience were told about Colin Speakman co-founder of the Dales Way ,the long distance footpath that Roger would expand on. Olicana was the Roman name for Ilkley and Vinand’s Mere the Bowness on Windermere area. Members were then given a tour of the many places on the route starting at Ilkley and including amongst others places such as Addingham, Burnsall, Kettlewell, Sedbergh and finishing at Windermere. A brief history of the various locations was given including mention of notable buildings. The talk was supported by an excellent slide show.

At the mornings conclusion questions and comments were welcomed and it was clear that members had enjoyed the mornings entertainment .

On behalf of the twenty six attendees Peter Belton gave the Vote of Thanks to Roger.