It is a real pleasure to welcome you all to our 55th AGM and as always I would like to begin by thanking Charge d‘Affaires Mr Tej Bahadur Chhetri for allowing us to hold our meeting here at the Embassy. Whilst we await the arrival of a new Ambassador, it is always a pleasure to work with the Charge D’Affaires and his team and I am grateful to them for their positive, enthusiastic and helpful support of the Society. We are sorry to say goodbye to Third Secretary Mr Surya Bahadur Thapa who has returned to Nepal.
Mr Chhetri is unable to stay for the whole meeting but he has very kindly agreed to get proceedings under way with a few words now.
Thanks to TBC and open formal business
Apologies read by MJ Streather
The format of the evening will follow the pattern established last year with Major Gordon Corrigan’s highly successful talk, after the formal business, on the role of Gurkhas in World War 1. Tonight, the AGM will be followed by presentations from William Shuttlewood and Gillian Holdsworth on how the Gurkha Welfare Trust and The Britain-Nepal Medical Trust respectively have spent the funds raised by the Society for the Nepal relief effort.
Inevitably the first half of the year was dominated by the appalling earthquake disasters that struck Nepal in April and May. It took some time before the full scale of the disaster was known but the Committee immediately sprang into action, making donations of £5000 each from Society reserves to The Gurkha Welfare Trust and The Britain Nepal Medical Trust and £1000 to the Embassy’s Emergency Relief Fund.
At very short notice a fundraising event was held here at the Embassy in the presence of our President HRH The Duke Of Gloucester, who addressed the gathering. Isabella Tree gave a fascinating talk on The Kumari – The Living Goddess of Kathmandu. Finally an auction of promises masterminded by Maggie Solon and MJ Streather raised £6000 towards the overall total for the evening of £15000 shared between our two principal recipient charities.
I trust that you will not think it too uxorious of me if I mention that a number of unsold auction items were rolled forward to an on-line auction organised by my wife raising further substantial sums for the two charities.
Inevitably these events necessitated a great deal of additional work for our Treasurer Rupert Litherland. I would like to thank him for all that he has done throughout the year to keep our finances in order and to maintain our membership lists.
As I mentioned, you will hear later in the evening how this money is being spent. One thing is certain: the suffering of hundreds of thousands of people will continue and Nepal will clearly need ongoing help for months and years to come. The Committee will continue to reflect on ways in which we can raise further funds.
I think that we were all struck by the spontaneous generosity of so many individuals in response to the crisis. Both within the Society and the wider world people dug deep often not once only but in answer to several appeals. There was an outflowing of sympathy and concern that underlined the very special relationship between our two countries.
As we contemplate ways in which further help can be given may I ask you to keep a few moments’ silence as we reflect on Nepal’s predicament and also in memory of those members whose deaths have been reported during the year: Tony Andrews, Lady Bishop, Lady Bramall, Henry Burrows, Penny Cunningham, Robin Garton, P E Green, David Inglefield, Bob Jordan, Ralph Reynolds, Peter Roberts, Richard Thwaites, Brian Thompson, and most recently our much loved and admired former Treasurer Peter Trott. A sadly lengthy list, I am afraid. Would you please stand.
Two other momentous events in Nepal have been the adoption of the new constitution and the continuing blockade on the southern border. Needless to say it is our fervent wish that all concerned can work together to resolve the issues that have arisen from them.
Alongside these complex issues our programme has followed its customary pattern. A successful Annual Supper was held in February and was enlivened by a display of Nepali dancing and a highly entertaining speech by Lord Phillips of Worth Matravers.
Three lectures were held at the Medical Society of London. Topics discussed were Excavating the Birthplace of the Buddha at Lumbini, Water Aid in Nepal and The Genealogies of the Shah, Rana and Other Families, the last by Society member Greg Hickman. It is encouraging to see the gradual growth in numbers at these events, recent occasions having seen the talk attended by some 50 people, most of whom stayed on for supper. These evening are very pleasant occasions so do try to get to some of next year’s talks if you can.
Most recently, we held a Nepal Evening at Knole Academy in Sevenoaks Nepal. The event, superbly organised by Ashley Adams, was a huge success exceeding all our expectations. Nearly 90 students from 6 or 7 schools and some 40 adults attended and enjoyed a varied programme of presentations. Society members Andy Sparkes and Alison Marston spoke respectively on An Introduction to Nepal and Life and School in Nepal. We then heard accounts of Wildlife and Conservation in Nepal and The Nepal Earthquake Relief Operation). There was a piper, dancing (including the kukri dance), singing, flamboyant costumes and displays, all of which created a very vivid image of Nepal. Nepalese snacks, a bicentenary cake baked by a Gurkha regimental chef, and a lusty rendition of the Nepalese National Anthem all added to the occasion!
All of the schools involved were already doing something for or with Nepal – fundraising (all of them), pen pal letters, schools twinning, trekking, Duke of Edinburgh Award etc and I am sure that all who attended the evening felt enthusiastic about continuing and developing these contacts.
Several people expressed interest in joining the Society and an Everest summiteer offered to give a lecture to the Society. The welcome given by Knole Academy was generous and the school proved an ideal location for such an event.
A vast amount of work (and a fair amount of wings and prayers!!) went into arranging all this and Ashley deserves a huge vote of thanks for turning the vision into reality. It was an exciting evening, a marvellous first for the Society and one which I hope that we can build on in time to come.
Looking ahead, the Annual Supper will take place as usual at St Columba’s Church Hall, Pont Street on 18th February. The Chief Guest will be Andy Sparkes, recently our Ambassador in Kathmandu who will be admirably placed to tell us about earthquake relief efforts and perhaps to give us an overview of political developments in Kathmandu.
Our programme of lectures for next year is taking shape. In May Zara Fleming’s title will be From Zanskar to Bhutan with some marvellous illustrations. A talk on Everest is in the pipeline and other speakers will be announced in due course. We are also planning a screening of Mahout, a film that follows the re-location of four elephants as they are walked from Chitwan to Badia National Parks .
During the year the Committee has worked hard to extend the activities of the Society and to improve our communications. We continue to use e-mail to alert members to events of interest which are not necessarily arranged by the Society. If you would like to receive these notifications please ensure that we have your e-mail contact details. Excellent progress is being made with the production of our new website which we hope will go live in the first quarter of 2016. Alison Marston, chairman of the younger members committee, continues to keep a watchful eye on our Facebook site.
The bulk of the Society’s records are now held at the Gurkha Museum in Winchester. If you would like to consult the archive or have any items that would be appropriate for the collection please let Gavin Edgerley-Harris or myself know.
On 16th December we have been invited by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to join them in hosting a reception to mark the Sugauli Bicentenary. I gather that there are IT glitches with the Foreign Office guest list so if you have not yet received an invitation from the FCO and would like to attend do please let the Secretary or myself know and we will endeavour to put things right.
Our plans for a Society trip to Nepal in spring 2016 ideally to overlap with the projected Royal Visit to Kathmandu are well underway. Various combinations of sight-seeing in Kathmandu and the Valley, six days of luxury tented or luxury lodge-based trekking (or no trekking at all!), wildlife in the Terai and exploration in and around Pokhara have been finalised. We now await confirmation of the details of the Royal Visit so that we can finalise our own dates and begin to sign up participants. If you are interested in joining this trip or learning more about it please let me know.
As most of you will know, we have been immensely lucky to appoint Mrs MJ Streather as Honorary Secretary. MJ took over from Jenifer Evans earlier in the year and was immediately plunged into the somewhat nerve-racking task of organising our earthquake fundraising event. That it was such a success was due in good measure to her hard work along with that of members of the committee. It is very good to know that the affairs of the Society are in such safe hands. We were able to say thank you formally to Jenifer at last year’s meeting but happily it was not farewell as Jenifer has, agreed to continue as a committee member – subject to your collective approval!
I would also like to give my personal vote of thanks to the Committee who work so hard to keep the Society up and running. For obvious reasons this has been a demanding year and members could not have a better committee to foster their interest in and enthusiasm for Nepal. And if others of you would like to consider serving on the committee do please let me know. Thanks too to Gerry Birch for his time-consuming work on the Journal – the next edition of which will be with you in February.
Finally, I would like on your behalf to thank Mahanta Shrestha and Prashant Kunwar for so generously providing the Khukuri beer for us this evening. I am sure that you will want to take full advantage of their kindness. Many thanks to Monty and Prashant
William Shuttlewood ad Gillian Holdsworth
It is now a very great pleasure to invite William Shuttlewood, Director of The Gurkha Welfare Trust, and Dr Gillian Holdsworth, Trustee of The Britain Nepal Medical Trust to tell us how our donations to their earthquake relief efforts are being spent