President’s Message August 2020

Dear Ladies

The good weather is here and it is very tempting to explore beyond ‘lockdown’. However some people have taken this to extremes and now we face the inevitability of further spikes. This weekend and in the week ahead the weather forecast in the South East (one of the lowest Covid- 19 areas in the UK) predicts perfect summer weather, which doesn’t bode well in terms of crowds on the beaches and in the cafe’s and restaurants. How long did it take to convince people to stop smoking? Or to stop wearing fur? These were huge campaigns which took years to take effect. I think we need a similar approach and to somehow encourage people to feel they are doing something important and positive rather than being denied freedom of choice of their actions.

So many of us continue to have our meetings on Zoom and for those of you who are still reluctant to try it, it has become very easy to access and understand. It is also an excellent alternative to meetings in groups. Please do contact  for advice and assistance to get started so that you can invite other clubs to your events, socialise online and continue to raise your profile. Our WhatsApp forum is full of life, with daily message, pictures, news, congratulations, and support where needed. Even I, a latecomer to online technology, have found you don’t have to be a teenager to adopt new ways of communicating.

Our July 7th event on Zoom – @Home with FIWAL was a great success. Our speaker Dr. Geri Parlby, MA History of Art and a doctorate in Theology, Art Historian and Freelance Lecturer, gave a very interesting illustrated talk,  “This won’t Hurt a Bit – Medicine in Art Throughout the Ages”. It was fascinating, amusing and at times gory as primitive treatment methods were shown on screen.

Thank you to all our clubs who are offering events on Zoom. It is encouraging to see the variety on offer. Your commitment and hard work is appreciated.

Some years ago I was in Australia staying with a dear friend, another avid reader, who gave me a pile of books to dip into. The one I chose to read first was a true adventure story of Capt. Henry Rawlinson, a soldier, sportsman and explorer. From 1827 he spent twenty-five years in India, Iran, Iraq and Afghanistan. A brilliant linguist, he became obsessed with Cuneiform, one of the world’s earliest systems of writing. An immense inscription on a sheer rock face at Behistun in Iran was the key to understanding the many Cuneiform scripts and languages. Rawlinson had the skills to achieve the dangerous ascent and copy the monument.

Within this ground-breaking history of discovering an ancient language, he mentioned a time in January 1842 when the British garrison of Kabul, besieged, badly led, and out of food and ammunition, began its retreat to India. In the depths of winter, through mountainous passes, the column was constantly harassed by the Afghans. Discipline collapsed and every day hundreds died from hunger and cold, or attacks by insurgents. Very few survived. It was, arguably, the biggest military disaster of the 19th century.

Major-General Sir Robert Henry Sale who had been based in Kabul had been ordered to force a route through to Jalalabad just before the general uprising. This failed. Among the refugees was Lady Florentia Sale, wife of the Major General. Florentia and a number of others were taken hostage by an Afghan chieftain. Constantly being moved to avoid abduction attempts by rival factions and kept prisoners as a bargaining counter for future safe conduct, life was miserable: lice, fleas, earthquakes, rain, snow, lack of hygiene, glutinous mutton stew and little bedding or shelter. Her captors were quite prepared to kill her and her companions if it suited them. She knew the penalties.

Akbar Khan (1816–45)  the son of Dost Muhammad, ruled for three years before his death in 1845. He disregarded the terms of a treaty, and in January 1842 as refugees, Lady Sale and her daughter, Alexandrina, were taken hostage, along with British officers and soldiers and other women and children. A total of 63 hostages were held, several of whom died in captivity. The prisoners finally were released after nine months of captivity, when they offered to pay a large bribe to their Afghan jailer. Lady Sale, who was wounded in the initial fighting and had a bullet in her wrist, managed to keep the diary that she had begun in Kabul in September 1841, making frequent entries right up to her release.

This diary of the events leading up to and whilst in captivity, became a sensation when it was published in Britain in 1843 and she was seen as a heroine. Henry Rawlinson wrote that Lady Sale, with a large number of children, was taken hostage by Akbar Khan to insure the exodus of General Sale and his battalion, whom he had furnished with pack animals and food. Nine months later, in a severe winter Lady sale was released (probably through a settled ransom) to face the perilous journey and eventually caught up with the battalion. Word reached her that the children had been released from captivity without provisions and were dying from hunger cold and disease. Lady Sale and other wives of soldiers took the hazardous journey to go back for the children but less than half had survived.

I had a friend in England whose name is Sale and as it is an uncommon name I called him and asked if he knew of this history. Yes, he said she was my Great Grandmother and apart from other information, he mentioned that she had nine children!

I hope everyone who is celebrating Eid al-Adha is having a wonderful time with their friends and family, but not too close!

Warm Regards,


Siobhan Hamilton-Phillips
President FIWAL

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