My Talk for the museum in Uffington, Oxfordshire - July 2023
My 'And So To Ted - a History of Teddies and Other Bears' talk for Tom Brown's School Museum in Uffington, Oxfordshire enabled me to visit the current residence of the celebrity teddy bear, Archibald Ormsby-Gore or 'Archie' for short. He was the lifelong companion of Sir John Betjeman (1906–84) - the writer, broadcaster and Poet Laureate - and Betjeman lived in the village in the 1930s. The fascinationg 'Archie and the Poet' exhibition will be at the Museum until 29th October 2023.
Another notable resident of the village was Thomas Hughes (1822–96), author of Tom Brown's Schooldays, for whom the Uffington museum is named.
Letter from the Emmanuel Fellowship, West Wickham re: my 'Ostend - more than just Fish and Flip Flops' talk - 2022 :
Dear Melanie, Thank you so much for coming to tell us about the story of Ostend, which is certainly, we now know, a great deal more than fish and flip flops.
We always look forward to welcoming you to our Fellowship, as we know how entertaining and informative your talks are, and we were thrilled that, once again, you gave a brilliant performance. I know I can rely on you to take the weight off my shoulders because you are so professional and so well organised, yet you fit in so well to our group that it feels as though you are also a friend.
Your presence, the way you relate to people, your delivery, and the fabulous PowerPoint that accompanied your talk made it a wonderful afternoon for us all. Members of our group were amazed at how you included such detail, yet you had no notes to work from. I received various requests to ask for specific talks for your next visit to us.
It really was a superb afternoon. Thank you, thank you, from us all.
Sue Thomas and the Emmanuel Fellowship
Message from Canterbury U3A - re: my talk 'Murder, Madness and Mayhem - the Belgian Royal Family' - 2021
Dear Melanie Thank you so much for your talk this afternoon. As usual it was really well appreciated by our members, some of whom commented "best speaker I've ever heard" and "please can we have her again". I don't think I've ever had so many members make complimentary remarks about a speaker. Thank you once again and I hope we will see you again in Canterbury before too long.
Passchedaele to Peace - did the War end in 1918? talk
Dear Melanie, First, a huge thank you from me, Alan and all the Fellowship members for yesterday afternoon's excellent talk. You have clearly researched the subject matter for this talk in some detail and you delivered the session superbly. Your family connections added a personal touch to the talk and I was delighted to hear that some of our members shared their personal stories with you afterwards.
Secondly, thank you for the notes and photographs that you sent afterwards. I plan to use them in a 'report' of the session which will be available on our website for the benefit of members unable to attend in person.
We are also indebted to you for helping us out when we had a problem with our system. It is a good job you arrived so well equipped! I am sure that we will be booking you again in the future. Best wishes Graham Marsden, Hayes Mens Fellowship Secretary
Zoom talks - for groups unable to return to venues - or for winter evenings - or for groups outside the UK. I provide talks on my own Zoom so you can sit back and relax. I simply send you an Invitation Link for you to forward to your members at your convenience.
Please contact me direct to arrange a live talk via Zoom for your members on firstname.lastname@example.org or 07900 637171.
I have also been working with a social enterprise, called Mirthy, whose aim is to keep older adults entertained with public speakers in their own homes – through their laptop/PC/mobile/tablet. Their talks are bookable by individuals.
Visit the Mirthy website for more details at: https://mirthy.co.uk/events-catalogue
A terrific poster designed by Tankerton WI for my ‘And So To Ted – a History of Teddies and Other Bears’ talk
WI members brought their bears to the talk which added to the fun of the event – and it’s amazing what people have in the backs of cupboards! Rest assured that my ‘And So To Ted’ talk was written to appeal to men’s groups too!
European Union of Women
I was honoured to be invited to present my 'Three Women, One Man - Glamour, Wealth and Heartbreak' talk to the European Union of Women Group at their Christmas lunch in December 2021 - in Brentwood, Essex. The Union was founded in Salzburg in 1953 by Austrian MP Dr Lola Solar and the principal aim was to encourage European women in different countries to study and resolve common problems.
And So To Ted - a History of Teddies and Other Bears - June 2019
I was delighted to present my talk to a large, mixed audience at the Bearsted Active Retirement Association - yes, BEAR-ARA! - at Grove Green, near Maidstone.
A telephone call to me the week before to discuss the committee's plan ensured that members had an extra special experience at the 'And So To Ted' talk. Minutes before the start of the talk the club's Chairman was 'unexpectedly' called away, then, at a previously agreed moment, the talk was suddenly interupted when the club's Secretary arrived 'late' accomapanied by his giant 'teddy bear'. Placing his bear on the front row, the teddy bear caused even more hilarity by (over)reacting to key moments in the talk! Luckliy the club's Chairman arrived in time to enjoy a photo-oportunity with the giant bear - though mysteriously the Secretary had now disappeared! A lovely afternoon with the members of BEAR-ARA.
Elizabeth Barton - the Maid of Kent - 14 June 2019
I was thrilled to be asked to present my Holy Maid of Kent talk in the heart of Canterbury for the Kent Famly History Society. Elizabeth Barton's extensive connections with the City were explored through photographs as I told her story from my research. The audience included guests from various other history and University societies in Canterbury. My own guest that evening was local artist, Lauren Stacey nee McMahan, whose artwork is included in the talk.
Please see the kfhs website for the full report of the event:
Letter from Highgate Hawkhurst WI - 13th February 2019
Thank you for a fabulous talk on Wednesday. We all thoroughly enjoyed it - your research was amazing and you presented Eva Braun's life with such insight; we also loved the amusing asides about some of the photographs! It was extremely thought-provoking and will provide a subject for discussion for some time to come.
Thank you also for bringing your microphone; the positioning of your speaker meant that even those hardest of hearing could enjoy your talk - most of the 'business' goes over their heads!
With best wishes, Secretary - Highgate Hawkhurst WI
Letter from Emmanuel Women's Fellowship, West Wickham - 28th January 2019
Dear Melanie, It was a delight to welcome you back to Emmanuel Women's Fellowship on Tuesday 22nd January. We always look forward to your visits and we were not disappointed.
You gave such a fascinating talk about "Wandering in Flanders Fields". I was spellbound by your lively, interesting presentation: your enthusiasm and knowledge is quite outstanding. You covered so much in the time available, and the photos and maps added a great deal to my understanding.
There were many appreciative comments from the Fellowship: amazement that you can talk without notes and admiration for the way you engage the audience, to name but two. One particular woman had prior knowledge of every place you mentioned through her father's military service in the war and she was so impressed that you mentioned even the obscure places.
Very kind regards, Emmanuel Women's Fellowship
Letter from Loose History Society - 13th November 2018
My friend, and I really enjoyed your talk on Edith Cavell. It filled in the gaps from the snippets I had heard. How terrible that she was treated with such apathy at the vital moment when she needed the kind of action which she gave in times of crisis.
We were very impressed with the way in which you presented your talk, without the aid of notes, and in such a theatrical manner. You keep the attention of your audience every minute of the presentation.
Thank you for a very interesting evening and I look forward to your next talk. Best wishes SW Maidstone
Letter from Leigh Historical Society- 16 February 2018
Thank you so much for the wonderful talk you gave us last night on Edith Cavell – and not least for the welcome break that you gave to the “resident projectionist”! Whilst we were probably all aware of the reasons for her fame you added so much detail of both her family background and the stages of her development as a nurse. We were all amazed at the depth of your research and the very full illustrative material which brought her story so much to life. We certainly look forward to a return visit on another subject. Very best wishes. Yours sincerely Mark
Seasalter & District WI wrote - 13th January 2018 - What can I say in thanks. Your research and in-depth talk made it one of the most interesting and informative afternoons we have had in a long time. We do hope you enjoyed your time with us as much as we enjoyed having you. We do so hope we shall see you again in the near future.
The West Sussex Women's Institute Annual Council Meeting October 2016
held at Worthing Assembly Hall
500 women singing Jerusalem sounded amazing!
I was surprised that the committee chose 'Wandering on the Somme' from my list of talks. It seemed to be the right choice though when I was honoured that women afterwards shared the stories of the fathers and grandfathers who had fought in France in 1916. The other speaker on the day was John Benjamin, the jewellery expert from the Antiques Roadshow.
Bruges - it's more than just chocolate - May 2016
I am writing to thank you on behalf of all our members for your talk on Thursday. It was so nice to hear a talk given by someone who is so knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their subject and can speak without any reference to notes.
From the comments I heard afterwards I know that it was enjoyed by all. You gave us so much information about Bruges that I for one want to visit again to see all the places I missed on my previous visits. I can well understand why you love the city so much. We look forward to your return visit to us.
Ravenswood (West Wickham) WI, May 2016
27th July 2015 - The Life and Times of Edith Cavell
Everyone it seems know Edith's statue in St Martins Field, London but not everyone knows her story and the talk is proving very popular. I was honoured to give my Edith Cavell talk to New Romney History Society and was delighted to receive the following letter afterwards:
Your brilliant talk! - Sorry we couldn't stay yesterday to thank you in person for your wonderful talk: it had been a heavy day, but we sat riveted through this great story you unfolded before us. My husband, who has worked in Brussels, loved the glimpses you provided of Belle Epoque life. I loved the psychology of this extraordinary woman and have already ordered the book you recommended! Thank you so much from both of us for a superb evening.
The NRHS Secretary wrote:
Melanie Gibson-Barton gave a very thorough talk about the life of Edith Cavell on Monday 27th July. Melanie said that she had stalked Edith 100 years later and that was certainly true. Melanie had visited many of the places associated with Edith in Brussels and London and was able to give an extra dimension to her story. Members left the talk with a good knowledge and understanding of the events of Edith's life and also an impression of the woman herself.
2nd July 2015 - Wandering in Flanders Fields at Romney Marsh Day Centre
Thank you for coming along today to give what I hear from our members was a wonderful talk and slideshow. I have had many great comments from them. Thank you once again for this morning and I look forward to booking another talk and slideshow with you soon.
Marketing, Fundraising and Activities Coordinator
Romney Marsh Day Centre
Rolfe Lane, New Romney, Kent
Sunday 5th April 2015 - The Ronde van Vlaanderen cycle race, Bruges
I was delighted to be interviewed for VRT Radio 1 Belgium to speak of the excitement of Flemish cycle racing and my love of Bruges and Belgium.
Thursday 13th November 2014 - North West Kent Family History Society
I was proud to be asked to present my Wandering in Flanders Fields talk at the Family History event where members brought photographs and artefacts from their own family World War I experiences. The President kindly wrote: 'Your talk was so different to just the usual facts of how awful it was on these battlefields which we know. Using your uncle as a starting point and weaving in some of the war artists work, along with those really unusual photographs made it into a story that was both factual and heartfelt. There have been so many comments from the members who were there and I know that you had a job to get away so you must have been very late home. No one seemed in a hurry to depart - always a good sign'.
At the event I surprised Barbara Attwaters the President with a set of photographs of her father's memorial plaque, sited at Vis-en-Artois Memorial on the Somme, which she had not yet had opportunity to visit.
Tuesday 11th November 2014
I was honoured to present my latest talk The Life and Times of Edith Cavell to Hythe Civic Society in Kent. I was delighted to be making a return visit to the Society and the audience of 130 made me very welcome again. I had been researching my talk during the summer, visiting the streets, hospitals and homes that Edith would have known in Brussels as well as viewing artefacts from her life in museums in Brussels and London. The culmination of my research was visiting the place of her execution - a very humbling experience. I felt priviledged to present Edith's story to the audience.
Wednesday 2nd July 2014 - Heysham Hall, Lydd-on-Sea
I was thrilled to be invited to give my Flanders Fields talk for the Mayor of Lydd, Cllr Tom Dawes, at a fundraising event for Heysham Hall at Lydd-on-Sea. It's an exciting community venue created from a former convenience store.
Tuesday 13th May 2014 - Parkhurst Hall, Bexhill-on-Sea
I was delighted to give my Wandering in Flanders Fields talk at Parkhurst Hall in Parkhurst Road, Bexhill-on-Sea, TN39 3JA.
My talk described the First World War in Belgium as well as the story of my Great Uncle George who is buried just outside of Ypres. "Melanie's talk is so much more than just mud and trenches" said one audience member. "I'm so glad my husband talked me into coming along. I loved it!" said another audience member.
My Flanders Fields talk - further news
I was very moved to be asked to give my 'Wandering in Flanders Fields' talk on the eve of Armistice Day 2012 to an audience all wearing their Poppies with pride. The event was part of a series of fund-raising events, in support of the new Tayne Centre for Lyminge, that drew a large audience. Following the talk I was thrilled to be told by one gentlemen in the audience that his grandfather may well have served my Great Uncle George his last British pint in Lyminge before he set out as part of the BEF - hear more about George in my Flanders Fields talk.
I was pleased to assist an audience member at a Kent CSMA to track the whereabouts of an item of trench art that he had donated to the Flanders Fields Museum in Ypres/Ieper in 2013.
Delivering the Flanders Fields talk at a Sussex CSMA in 2013 I was thrilled to meet an audience member who came from the next village to the tiny village where my Great Uncle was born, in Cumbria.