ious Meetings 5

Salisbury (Sarum) Probus Club

Sarum Probus Club is an organisation for retired men living in the Salisbury Area.


Previous Meetings 2024


Salisbury Rugby and Spitfire Fame -


Our club member Alan Frener treated us to a fascinating and moving story of Salisbury fame. As a longstanding coach of Salisbury Rugby Club he and his team of youngsters were able to welcome Richard Hill, member of the 2003 World Champion team, to their Salisbury clubhouse. Hilly hails from Salisbury and is still a frequent visitor to the club.

The second claim to fame is the, until recently, untold story of the secret Spitfire factories in the City and its surroundings.

The Club was specially delighted to welcome as a guest Norman Parker, author of “Secret Spitfires Memorial”

The original home of Spitfire development and manufacture was Southampton. However, after the first devastating air attacks in September 1940 it was decided to disperse Spitfire production. Salisbury became the biggest of several places of secret, dispersed production.

Factory number one was next to Salisbury Rugby Ground. It is now marked out by the Spitfire Memorial just next to Castle Road.

There were factory sites all over town hidden in innocuous buildings . Each factory worked autonomously producing complete planes. In total about 2500 Spitfires were produced by Salisbury factories. Alan’s presentation included a wealth of video interviews of those who had played a part in this highly secretive operation. Husband and wife would not know for years that each worked in different branches of this secret operation.




The True Story of the African Queen

On April 12th 2024 the club was delighted to welcome back Kevin Prentice as speaker. Kevin has grown up in Kenya and has been a professional salvage diver. He treated us, in effect, to three stories, skilfully interwoven.

There was first a brief sketch of German East Africa at the outbreak of WW I, surrounded by British and Belgian colonies and blockaded by the British Navy.

Background and Early Strategy: Von Lettow-Vorbeck, a seasoned military officer with experience in China and German Southwest Africa, took command of the German colonial forces in East Africa (modern-day Tanzania, Burundi, and parts of Mozambique) in 1914. His forces were relatively small, consisting of a few thousand German officers and a larger number of Askari (African soldiers loyal to Germany). These he taught German to overcome the linguistic divisions of African tribes and turned them into a formidable fighting force.

The Germans had established a strong naval presence on lake Tanganyika with armed ships, including the notorious gunboat Graf von Götzen.

The British Plan: The British plan to take control of Lake Tanganyika involved an extraordinary and audacious feat of engineering and military planning. Spearheaded by the eccentric British officer Geoffrey Spicer-Simson and under the command of the Royal Navy, the mission was to transport two small gunboats, HMS Mimi and HMS Toutou, from Britain to South Africa and then overland through the jungle to Lake Tanganyika—a journey of over 10,000 miles.

The Overland Journey: The transportation of the boats was a Herculean task. After arriving in South Africa, the boats were transported by train and ox-cart through some of the most challenging terrain on the continent, including dense forests and mountains. The British contingent consisted of 28men and 60 tons with a train more than a mile long. The task also required hundreds of local labourers, many of them local women who fetched and carried the enormous amounts of water needed for the steam engines.

Combat on the Lake: Once deployed on the lake in late 1915, Mimi and Toutou quickly made an impact. In a series of daring raids and engagements, they managed to sink the German ship Kingani in December 1915, and another, the Hedwig von Wissmann, in February 1916.

Graf von Götzen, built in 1913, was the most powerful of three vessels the German Empire used to control Lake Tanganyika during the early part of the First World War. Her captain had her scuttled on 26 July 1916 in Katabe Bay during the German retreat from Kigoma.

Refloated, refurbished and renamed MV Liemba, she is now the oldest “operating” passenger ship in the world. It's been sailing between Kigoma, Tanzania and Mpulungu, Zambia, since 1915. Kevin was able to visit her.

End of the Campaign: Despite the spectacular British feat on the lake Lettow-Vorbeck’s campaign continued even after the armistice in Europe on November 11, 1918. He finally surrendered on November 25, 1918, upon receiving news of the armistice from British forces, making his East African campaign one of the last to conclude in World War I.

Fictionalisation: The author C S Forester picked up the extraordinary story of the boat transport and naval engagements and turned it into a novel. This he revised and republished twice.

In 1951 the book was adapted for the film directed by John Huston and produced by Sam Spiegel. Ever since many stories abound as to where the film was shot and where the boat dramatized in the film has ended up.

Kevin convinced us that most of the “water scenes” were not shot in Wareham river but rather in the studio. The boat used in the film was bought and restored by a German enthusiast. It is now in the USA.



 Custer’s Last Stand


On 10th May 2024 the Club  was delighted to welcome back Col. James Porter as speaker of the day. He gave us as meticulously researched account of The Battle of Little Bighorn, commonly referred to as "Custer's Last Stand".

The events chronicled by Col Porter took place one week before the first centenary of the USA, on June 25-26, 1876. It was an engagement between the United States Army and combined forces of Lakota Sioux, Northern Cheyenne, and Arapaho tribes numbering between 1,500 and 2,000. Custer’s complete force of 210 got massacred.

 This battle, near the Little Bighorn River in eastern Montana Territory, is one of the most famous episodes of the American Indian Wars and marked a pivotal moment in the conflict.

Lt. Col. Custer, a controversial and ambitious military leader known for his Civil War exploits, commanded the 7th Cavalry Regiment. During the Civil war he was acting Major General, a great self-publicist, as well as a stern disciplinarian. At one stage of his career, he had
12 defectors summarily executed. He was
admired by many but certainly not all.

 The U.S. government's push for westward expansion led to increasing demands on Native American lands, pushing many indigenous groups to resist. In a bid to force non-treaty Native Americans onto reservations, the U.S. Army dispatched Brigadier General Alfred Terry with three columns to confront them; one of which was led by Lieutenant Colonel George Armstrong Custer.

Disregarding orders to wait for reinforcements, Custer aimed to surprise the Indian encampments. His troops, however, were met by a vastly superior force of over 2,000 Native American warriors. Unbeknownst to Custer, he was facing one of the largest gatherings of Native American fighters of the Plains Indian Wars.

The battle began when Custer divided his regiment into three battalions, aiming to attack from multiple directions. Two of the battalions, led by Major Marcus Reno and Captain Frederick Benteen, were soon overwhelmed and forced to take defensive positions. Custer and his immediate command of around 210 men advanced and were encircled by the warriors.

The exact details of Custer’s last moments are unclear due to the lack of survivors from his battalion. However, it is known that Custer and all of his men were killed in an intense battle lasting less than an hour. The Native American forces, led by prominent leaders including Crazy Horse and Chief Gall, achieved a stunning victory.

The aftermath of the Battle of the Little Bighorn had significant consequences. It shocked the American public and government, leading to a harsher military strategy against Native American tribes.

The Holy Grail in America –


On June 16th the Probus Club of Sarum was delighted to welcome Richard Huntley as speaker of the day. With a richly illustrated presentation he led us through the history and legends surrounding the Templars, pre-Colombian exploration of North America and possible Scottish connections.


The Knights Templar, officially known as the Poor Fellow-Soldiers of Christ and of the Temple of Solomon, were founded in 1119 in the aftermath of the First Crusade. They were established by a small group of knights led by Hugh de Payens, a French nobleman. Their initial purpose was to protect Christian pilgrims traveling to the Holy Land. In 1129, the Templars gained official endorsement from the Catholic Church at the Council of Troyes. This recognition was largely due to the efforts of Bernard of Clairvaux, a prominent Cistercian monk and theologian. The council granted the Templars a rule of life based on the Benedictine Rule. With the Church's endorsement, the Templars quickly grew in numbers and influence. They received donations of money, land, and noble-born sons eager to join their ranks. The Order established numerous commanderies (local Templar headquarters) across Europe and the Holy Land. By the 13th century there were about 20,000 Knights across Europe. Beyond their important military role, the Templars developed a sophisticated financial network and operated as early bankers. The siege of Acre, the last Christian stronghold, culminated on May 18, 1291, when the Mamluks breached the city's defences and overran it. The surviving Templars and other Crusaders were forced to flee, and many took refuge on the island of Cyprus. The Knights Templar had quickly spread throughout Europe, establishing a strong presence in southern France. This region was vital to the Templars due to its strategic location, wealth, and supportive nobility.


Hugh de Payens, one of the founders and the first Grand Master of the Templars, had strong connections in southern France. His recruitment efforts among the French nobility were crucial for the Order’s early expansion. The Knights Templar established a presence in Portugal in the early 12th century. The Portuguese King Afonso I (Afonso Henriques) officially recognized the Templars and granted them land and privileges in 1128. The Templars played a significant role in the Reconquista, helping to reclaim territory from the Moors. In return for their military support, they were granted extensive lands and castles, particularly in the central and western parts of Portugal. One of their most significant strongholds was the Castle of Tomar, which became the Templar headquarters in Portugal by 1160. On October 13, 1307, Philip IV ordered the arrest of all Templars in France. The defeat and suppression of the Knights Templar in France were driven by a combination of financial desperation and political manoeuvring on the part of King Philip IV as well as religious rivalry. The sudden and ruthless nature of their downfall was supported by Pope Clement V.


From here legend takes over. Did a significant number of knights escape to Portugal and Scotland? In particular, did they have a significant role In Prince Henry’s explorations? There is also the idea of early visits to North America by Scots, particularly those linked to the Knights Templar.


One of the most popular legends involving Scots and early visits to North America revolves around Prince Henry Sinclair: He, a nobleman of Scottish-Norwegian descent, is claimed by some to have voyaged to North America in 1398, nearly a century before Christopher Columbus's famous voyage in 1492. He is also claimed to have connections to the


Templars. The primary source of this legend comes from the Zeno Narrative, a collection of letters and a map published in the 16th century by Nicolò Zeno, detailing a voyage purportedly made by Henry Sinclair with the help of the Zeno brothers, Venetian navigators. According to the


narrative, Sinclair's expedition reached a land called "Estotiland," believed by some to be part of North America, possibly Newfoundland or Nova Scotia.


Another element often linked to the Templar and Scottish presence in North America is the Newport Tower: Located in Rhode Island, the Newport Tower is a round stone structure whose origins are debated. Some claim it is evidence of pre-Columbian European exploration, including by the Norse or Scottish-Templar explorers. Proponents of the Templar theory suggest the tower was built by Sinclair’s expedition or by the Templars themselves. However, mainstream historians typically date the tower to the colonial period, around the 17th century. At the centre of all these theories and legends is the idea that the Templars had found the Holy Grail during their occupation of Jerusalem and managed to spirit it out via Acre and Cyprus to eventually bring it to North America.




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