Salisbury (Sarum) Probus Club



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

 

Previous Meetings 2021

Lusitania

On 11th June, Jim Steddings introduced his talk on “Lusitania.” She was launched in 1906 and became the pride of Cunard’s Atlantic Fleet, her sister ships being the “Mauritania” and the “Aquitania.” From the beginning her status as a civilian ship was compromised by the Admiralty, who provided a loan for her construction on condition she was supplied with gun mountings and other military superstructure, for use in the event of war. She was very fast, maintaining 26 knots on the trans-Atlantic route. She was the longest ship of her kind when she was built and the fastest for many years. She had 48 lifeboats – enough for all passengers and crew.

Her luxurious fittings made her a favourite with passengers, but on her 202nd crossing from New York to Liverpool in May 1915, for some reason she was only half full perhaps because a warning had been issued by the German navy that ships flying the flag of Britain, or her Allies would be liable for destruction when they entered the Blockaded Zone around Ireland and Britain. But under the Laws of the Sea, civilian ships were not to be attacked.

Nobody expected the “Lusitania” to be attacked. She was too fast for pursuit by U Boats, was carrying several citizens of the neutral USA and would be met by a destroyer escort as she entered the Blockaded Zone off the coast of Ireland. In the event the ship was travelling more slowly than normal, perhaps to save fuel as there were only half the usual passengers, and the escort did not appear, so she was left exposed. The “Lusitania” was attacked with a single torpedo. There had been no lifeboat drill or allocation of passengers to lifeboats so the scramble for safety was chaotic. Some passengers did not even get a lifejacket.

She sank remarkably quickly, in less than 20 minutes. Only 6 lifeboats were successfully launched and, in spite of several vessels arriving to help rescue people, over 1100 personnel were lost. 

Why was she attacked? The German Captain claimed he didn’t recognise the civilian liner.  Others claimed she was carrying in her hold ordinance for the Western Front. Some even took the cynical view that the British knew what was likely to happen if the ship sailed and didn’t try to prevent it because they hoped it would hasten the entry of America into the War.

There is no real hope of establishing the true facts until vital papers held by Government are released. Attempts at salvage which might answer the question about ordinance have been warned off by the Admiralty on the grounds they would be dangerous.

Monuments to the victims, some of whom were famous and wealthy, have been set up in Liverpool, Ireland and America.

A fascinating talk by a very clear speaker; it was much enjoyed by members of the Club.

 

  • "The Magnificent Seven"

    On 9th July, Jim Stebbings again spoke to us via Zoom from Norfolk on the subject “Magnificent Seven Songwriters.” The seven songwriters were chosen by Jim as his favourites among those who wrote for American Musical Theatre in the twentieth century. His choice reflected the choice of many of us who love music and included Jerome Kern, Irving Berlin, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Frederick Lowe, Richard Rodgers and Leonard Bernstein.

    Jim spoke about each writer in turn giving us examples of their most famous work and illustrating it in places with sound recordings. It was interesting that most of the song writers came from immigrant Jewish families who had entered America from Europe in the 19th century. They remind us that the Jewish musical heritage was strong and played a huge part in developing Western culture.

    Jerome Kern was chosen by Jim as the man who produced the first real American musical, “Showboat,” with a range of new styles and harmonies. It appeared in 1927 and referenced a whole range of social issues like race, marital abuse, gambling. “Old Man River” is a song from that musical which has endured.

    Irving Berlin was renowned for his vast output; over 1500 songs with both lyrics and music. Among them are such favourites as “White Christmas”, “Alexander’s Ragtime Band,” and “God Bless America.” Irvin was born into poverty, working in a range of menial jobs to support his mother and 8 fatherless siblings.  Nevertheless, he overcame all those problems and produced a prodigious number of songs and lived to be 101.

    Cole Porter is remembered for songs like “Anything Goes” which rather epitomises the nature of his life – controversial and, at points, scandalous. George Gershwin is renowned for being a brilliant pianist and composing beautiful pieces like “Rhapsody in Blue,” and the opera “Porgy and Bess.”

    Richard Rodgers worked with two composers, Hart and Hammerstein and produced good and memorable work with both. In particular, shows like “Oklahoma” are remembered. He was much acclaimed, winning many musical awards but, in his private life was thought to be less than pleasant.

    Leonard Bernstein and Frederick Loewe completed Jim’s magnificent seven, Bernstein is remembered particularly for “West Side Story,” and Loewe for “My Fair Lady.”

    We were treated to a feast of song and music and the talk covered, in an hour, an amazing range of material.

  • Kiev

    On 23rd July, on Zoom, Gerry Lynch introduced us to a subject unknown to most members, the City of Kiev. He was able to give a detailed account of its development over more than 1000 years along with many beautiful photographs which he had taken, quite remarkably, on a 6-day visit.

    Kiev today seems booming, a city of 3 million with staggeringly beautiful buildings, but it hides, beneath its surface, a history of conflict and division which is still perpetuated in the stand off between west and east Ukraine today. Some would claim it is a provincial capital of Russia, as the name “Russian” derives from the city of Kievan Russ established by the Vikings in the 9th Century and therefore belongs to the Russian Empire; others equally strongly claim that it is the country of an independent people with links to the West through Poland to which it was joined for much of its history.

    Gerry explained that the word “Ukraine” means “border,” so Ukraine was a border between Easter Slavs and Western Europeans. A country, twice the size of the UK, it has been fought over for centuries.

    Gerry also showed us how Ukraine is a border both politically and religiously. Politically it was a border between a more liberal Poland and an autocratic Russia. During the Medieval period Poland gained control and it enjoyed a period of freedom and tolerance Then after a period of conflict, it passed to Russia in 1667 and it sank, under Russian autocracy, to become a sleepy backwater, only reviving when sugar trading rescued it in the 1840’s and brought it wealth once more.

    Religiously Ukraine was a border between Eastern Orthodoxy and Western Catholicism. During its early years Kiev was a centre for Eastern Orthodoxy and has one of the world’s largest monastic sites. Western Ukraine has a sizeable proportion of Catholics although churches largely follow the eastern pattern of onion domes. Ukrainian Catholics are often referred to as “Greek Catholics.”

    During the Soviet era, religion of all types was proscribed, and cathedrals and Churches of both west and east Ukraine were turned into museums or Government offices. Ukraine suffered especially in the Soviet purges of the twenties, thirties and forties of the last century. Because of their historic links with the West, many Ukrainians were targeted as traitors and spies.

    With the demise of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Empire was partially dismantled, and Ukraine gained independence. Many in Russia feel this granting of independence was a mistake, a blunder by a cowardly President Gorbachev. They have sought to destabilize the Ukrainian regime and were successful in supporting the secession of Crimea.

    Gerry carefully and, in considerable detail, traced the story of Ukraine with its high points and lows. He left us with the feeling that the future for the country is brighter, although still beset with the old divisions between east and west. The real need at the present time is to hang on to young people who haemorrhage to the West while the older generation continue to look East. He certainly put Ukraine on the map for many of us who weren’t even sure, until Gerry’s talk, where exactly the country was and certainly had no idea of the splendour of its cathedrals and churches, restored so painstakingly after the tumult of war and conflict. It was a very informative talk, well presented and illustrated with a range of fine pictures.

  • Irving Berlin

  • Irving Berlin
    On 10th September, Jim Steddings, from Norfolk, gave another of his fine talks on musicians. This one was entitled “The Centenarian of Song. The Legend that is Irving Berlin.” Jim inspired us with the reasons why he so admires Irving Berlin. Firstly he admires the way he rose from a very poor background. Isaiah or Izzy Baline was born in Tyumen, in Russia in 1888, one of the younger sons of a Jewish Synagogue Cantor. The five year old saw his house burned down by Cossacks, during a rise in Anti-Semitism following the assassination of Tsar Alexander in 1881. His father Moses Beline was persuaded to take his wife and all except the eldest two children, to America where they settled in New York. Izzy left home after his father’s death and struggled to make a living as a singing waiter. Secondly Jim admires the huge amount of work Izzy was prepared to do. He began writing songs, taught himself the piano, although he could only ever play in one key, F#, and changed his name to something more acceptable to Americans -Irving Berlin. Then he had his first hit “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.” This made his name and set him on the path to international stardom. One of Irving Berlin’s great skills was to write songs about things he saw around him. This gave them a wide appeal. Jim Stebbings also admires the range of music Irving Berlin was able to produce. He wrote songs at the drop of a hat. When, sadly, his first wife Dorothy Goetz died from typhoid a few weeks after their wedding he wrote a moving song, “I lost you.” He was able to adapt to produce music for the new dances in vogue in the early years of the twentieth century. His show “Watch Your Step” in 1914 introduced a new counter melody style of singing. He was asked to write for many Reviews and, after he had sought and obtained naturalisation as an American citizen, joined the World War 1 effort by writing a show to raise money for his army unit. In the inter war years Irving built his own Music Box theatre to promote his own music. He ventured very successfully into the new world of talking pictures especially with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Hits like “Dancing Cheek to Cheek” were his compositions. During the Second World War he again used his talents to entertain troops and raise morale and was awarded the “Medal of Merit” for his efforts. After the War ended, he went through a period of depression but emerged with more hits until by the mid 50’s he was definitely past his prime. Still, though, he did not give up and produced “Mr President” in 1962. Although this was not a success, it showed how determined Irving was to keep going even in his late 70’s. Jim admires how Irving was able to reflect so many situations. As shown above Irving was able to adapt his music to capture the mood of the various times through which he lived. He could produce sad songs, happy songs, inspiring songs and songs to accompany all sorts of dance. They appeared to be simple songs, but they had a deep, resonant appeal to listeners. Lastly Jim admires him for his patriotism. He came to America where Jews were often shunned but embraced wholeheartedly the culture and overcame the snubs and difficulties he faced. The song “God Bless America,” used on national occasions and an inspiration to all who love America, was written by him; a testimony to his enduring talent and love of his adopted country. All those of us present knew something about Irving Berlin before Jim’s talk and we could certainly whistle one or two of his tunes but, through Jim’s presentation we all learnt so much more and for that we are extremely grateful.
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