Wednesday 8th October 2014

Hands across the Commonwealth, an astonishing Nazi link, and childhood friends reunited after 75 years

I am just about to set off for India on another great journey, again in the footsteps of my grandfather, pioneering wildlife photographer and campaigner for the conservation of wildlife, F W Champion OBE IFS. This time, I have the privilege of being accompanied by the 84-year-old Rosemary Fox, nee Wilkinson, whose parents were my grandparents’ closest friends in India in the 1930s. Rosemary, like my father, was born in the military cantonment of Lansdowne, in the foothills of the Himalayas, but unlike him, she was not sent “home” to the UK to be educated, and she and her parents went on Christmas “camps with the Champs” in the jungle.

Rosemary now lives in British Columbia, in the west of Canada, and although she remained in close touch with our family until 1983, when my grandmother passed away, after that all contact was lost.

While I was in Guatemala in 2011, she googled my grandfather’s name, and found my blog. She immediately contacted me on the email address that was linked to this website, but in fact I was unaware that such an email account existed, so I did not read her mail. Indeed, it was only several months after my return that I discovered that there were about 300 emails in this unknown inbox. Among these was the following:

Dear James,

My father, Gerrard Wilkinson, was in the Royal Garhwal Rifles & my parents knew F W & Judy Champion well. I was born in Lansdowne, & we used to spend Xmas with “the Champs” (as we called them) in the jungle in the late ’30s-’40s & these experiences had a huge influence on my life. I went back to India a year ago for the first time since 1947 & visited Corbett & other NPs. I was told Nigel had been back. I met people who knew of F W Champion & had a very high opinion of him, including a naturalist/guide at Kanha NP, who was very persistent in asking that I send him my recollections of FWC, but I don’t really have anything concrete – he was just a great man who loved wildlife, to me who was fascinated with everything that crept or crawled or walked or flew!

Rosemary at centre, with my grandparents on the left and her parents on the right

I’ve been meaning to pass on to Nigel how much his father is still remembered, & was trying to Google him, & came across your blog, which I greatly enjoyed, instead. As a child I was fond of FWC & Judy & when I grew up I greatly admired FWC too as a conservationist. I was so impressed & also touched at the way he was still remembered in India so many decades later by people who weren’t even born when he was there! Judy & FWC gave me 2 of the latter’s photos as a wedding gift & they still hang in my living room. I have FWC’s books too, and treasure them. Judy C stayed with me in Vancouver in the 70′s & mentioned you & your love of natural history. I hope you get this! Please pass my best wishes to Nigel, whom I met again when he visited my parents in Devon, when he was in the Royal Navy. Rosemary Fox (nee Wilkinson)! PS If you come to BC, let me know!

Needless to say, once I had finally read this message, I responded immediately, and since then we have been in close touch, and my parents are now back in contact with her as well.

Not long after this amazing “blast from the past”, I received another email, this time from Prema Naraynen, the publisher of my book “Tripwire for a Tiger”, in India, forwarding the following message, revealing an astonishing and somewhat shocking Nazi link, from a John Buckler, in Auckland, New Zealand:

Hello,

In the mid 1930’s, the late Mr. Champion submitted a photograph for an exhibition hosted in Germany by Hermann Goering. The photo was of a tiger and taken with a tripwire.
When the photograph was returned to him in India, he gave the photograph to my Grandfather, Colonel Philip Savage of the Indian Medical Service, who had nursed both Mr. and Mrs. Champion back to health after particularly severe attacks of malaria. Colonel Savage was the chief medical officer in Lansdowne.

Col. Philip Savage, who nursed my grandparents back to health after severe bouts of malaria

My grandfather died in 1955 but the photograph has long been treasured by his children, who all grew up in Lansdowne, and we are proud of the association with Mr. Champion and of the photograph.

The tiger photograph that appeared in Goering’s International Hunting Exhibition in Berlin in 1937, and later adorned the Savages’ home in New Zealand

I would love to purchase a copy of the book for my mother, who at 88 years of age is now the eldest of the remaining children of Colonel Savage, but booksellers here in New Zealand seem to be unable to assist me in placing an order for the book. Amazon seems not to have stock and does not indicate that they can order copies either.

Are you able to suggest how I might purchase a copy for my mother?

Your assistance would be most gratefully received.

Best regards,

John Buckler

The letter from F W Champion presenting the photograph to the Savages

To round off these two extraordinary stories, it turns out that Sally and Rosemary, although Sally is somewhat older, knew each other, and were even good friends 75 years ago, in Lansdowne.

Shortly after the initial contact, I received the following mail from John:

Hello again,

I have just spoken with Mother. She remembers Rosemary Wilkinson, and says they were good friends herself, her twin and Rosemary.

If there is a way that Mother might be put in touch with Rosemary, that would be lovely – to connect with one’s childhood friend after 75 years or so is rather fairytale but I understand that there were not a lot of British children in the cantonment and friendships were important. Mother does remember her very fondly.

Best regards,

John

A charming photograph of children in Lansdowne, Rosemary fourth from the left and Sally second from the right

Rosemary then responded, with the following:

Dear John,

I’d love to be put in touch with your mother, though she will remember my elder sister, Sheila, better as they were close in age. Sheila was born in 1925 and must be the same age as your mother if she is 88, and I was born in 1930. I have a photo of your mother (I think) and her sister, and I think I have a photo of her youngest brother – ?Rodney.

I never imagined I’d ever hear of the Savages again! But when I get together with Sheila, who lives in England, we talk about Lansdowne a lot, and often wonder what has happened to the various people in our lives in those far off times, including the Savages!

Rosemary

So, thanks to the power of the Internet, via my blog and my publisher Prema in India, I have been able to connect these two childhood friends in far-flung corners of the Commonwealth, 75 years after they last saw each other. And in just over one week, Rosemary (whom I have never actually met) and I will be winging our way to India on a nostalgic journey to Lansdowne and other places she remembers from her childhood. Sally and John, I hope you, and all my other friends, will be able to follow our progress. I shall be updating the site as regularly as I can.

Sally Buckler, nee Savage, in 2013

Rosemary Fox, nee Wilkinson, in June 2013

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