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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Saturday 6th September 2014

Dusky and Scarce Large Blue video ready!

After a long silence on my blog, I am now ready to add a short video compilation of the two rare Large Blue butterfly species that are associated with the Great Burnet plant, Sanguisorba officinalis, the Scarce Large Blue, Maculinea teleius, and the Dusky Large Blue, M. nausithous. I filmed and photographed both of these species in Liechtenstein earlier this summer, and was delighted to see them apparently thriving in this clearly very well-managed reserve.

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Friday 11th July 2014

Imperial butterflies

Last Friday, 4th July, I set off southwards from home in Amersfoort, and stopped to fill up with petrol at a motorway service station near Breda, shortly before crossing the border into Belgium. I then parked up to eat my sandwich in a McDonalds carpark…and added butterfly number 67 to my 2014 list! A small, darkish butterfly with a contrastingly silvery-grey underside was actively scooting around a row of oak trees – a Purple Hairstreak, Neozephyrus (Quercusia) quercus. This must be one of Europe’s most overlooked and under-recorded species, occurring in virtually every reasonably extensive patch of oaks, yet hardly ever coming down to feed on flowers, so seldom observed.

The weekend was an illustration of how narrow the window of opportunity to see particular species of butterfly can be. The first weekend in July is traditionally my Emperor-watching weekend, and I had set my heart on seeing both the Purple Emperor, Apatura iris, and the Lesser Purple Emperor, Apatura ilia, both of which occur in reasonable numbers in the large forests in northern France and southern Belgium that I frequently visit.

Despite my high hopes, Saturday dawned grey and gloomy, and later turned into a complete wash-out, with torrential showers and hardly a gleam of sunshine.

Sunday was slightly better, and I headed to my usual Emperor track, where several Silver-washed Fritillaries, Argynnis paphia, were flying, some males even chasing females in their extraordinary courtship flight, where the male flies around the female, up over her, then down in front of her, passing beneath her before rising again behind her.

A few tired-looking Lesser Marbled Fritillaries, Brenthis ino, were also in evidence, as were numerous Ringlets, Aphantopus hyperanthus, and a few Wood Whites, Leptidea sinapis/reali.

Finally, a powerfully flying, dark butterfly shot past me, with a slight yellowish tinge. It glided around with occasional flaps, which could even be heard as a swishing sound, and finally landed on the damp sandy gravel beside the track – a male Lesser Purple Emperor of the form f. clytie, which has yellowish markings on the upperside.

The male Lesser Purple Emperor f. clytie has a yellowish suffusion and markings

The weather was still only marginally suitable for butterflies, but I did go on to see perhaps five Lesser Purple Emperors in total, including two of the other form, f. ilia, which has white markings rather than yellow.

Male Lesser Purple Emperors of the form f. ilia have white markings rather than yellow

Pleased as I was to see these splendid butterflies, the question remained as to where their larger cousins were, and in fact the sun disappeared before I was able to locate one that day. However, the Monday morning saw me scouring the same track, which I know from many previous years is a reliable site for Purple Emperors. My first observation was of a far smaller butterfly, but one which shares the dark background with white markings in the same places, the European Map, Araschnia levana.

The Map butterfly shares the same basic pattern with the Purple Emperor

The Map is an extraordinary butterfly, having two totally different seasonal forms, the Spring generation being orangey-brown, and indeed early lepidopterists classed the two forms as different species, not realising that they were in fact the same butterfly.

The Spring form of the Map looks quite different to the Summer form

Once, and only once, I had the incredible luck to find both forms feeding on a flower-head at the same time, but sadly by the time I had prepared my camera, one had flown off. Wildlife photography can be indescribably frustrating!

Other than several White Admirals, Limenitis camilla, there seemed to be even less on the wing than the previous afternoon, and I had already turned back to return to the car, when finally a male Purple Emperor, Apatura iris, swooped down from a nearby tree and landed on the track, allowing me to observe it sucking up the mineral-soaked moisture with its probing yellow proboscis.

Luckily I saw the Purple Emperor just before leaving

Yesterday, Thursday 10th July, I added one further species to my list, the Grayling, Hipparchia semele. I found two individuals nectaring on Yarrow flowers by a roadside parking area in the Veluwe area of the central Netherlands, where the species is quite numerous. I did not attempt to photograph the butterflies as they were directly next to a parked car containing a sleeping occupant. Sometimes even eccentric butterfly-photographers have to restrain themselves!

This brought my 2014 list up to 69 species

Tomorrow I leave the Netherlands, perhaps forever, after 14 years. I shall be out of internet contact for some time, so further posts will follow once I am back in circulation.