Once a Leader, always a Leader

Jun 7

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07 June 2019 15:16  RssIcon

Chief Leader John Vessey addresses his ‘Young Explorers’ 40 years on…

British Exploring Society Members from our Northern Norway 1979 expedition have been enthusiastically organising a reunion event in London and an expedition to Norway. The team are shortly departing to Tromsö and the Lyngen Alps for another adventure together.

Read for yourselves the glorious message that their Chief Leader, John Vessey wrote to his team to reflect on the expedition and wish them all good luck…

 By John Vessey, Chief Leader, Norway 1979
‘I write this message as the world prepares once again to remember the unimaginable sacrifices made by millions of our parents’ and grandparents’ generation in the Second World War. D-Day was launched, among many locations along the south coast, from the Rivers Fal and Helford in Cornwall. From the ridge above our house we can see the thatched riverside cottage at Tolverne that Eisenhower, Supreme Allied Commander, established a temporary HQ for the invasion of Europe. Evidence of Operation Overlord is all around us hidden in the creeks, woodlands, green turfs and sandy beaches. Together with my brothers we were among the lucky ones - our father came home alive and mercifully uninjured.

Many of the skills learnt and experiences enjoyed (and endured!) on a British Exploring Society expedition would have been invaluable to those men and women who rescued our world from Nazism. As members of the 1979 Lyngen Expedition you learnt self-confidence and a wide variety of essential life and work skills ..... and that was just the beginning. But remember...... in 1979...... there was no mobile phone, no home computer or printer, no Microsoft ...... and the World Wide Web didn’t appear for another ten years.

With a full time job I had to organise the Lyngen expedition with a typewriter and a devoted lady who worked four half days in the attic at the Royal Geographical Society. Today you and your children face a world of the Internet, social media, AI, climate change, rapidly advancing STEM, and problems of national and international trade and security. My generation made great progress and achieved astonishing feats, but I regret we have left you and your children many heavy and unpalatable responsibilities.

The knowledge that, on this the fortieth anniversary of your expedition, those of you to whom this message is written plan to meet in London and Lyngen, fills me with delight. Well done. Prior to ‘79 I spent five summers and one winter exploring the Peninsula. Three failed attempts were made from different directions on the summit snowfields of Jiehkevarri. The weather or crevasse fields defeated us. But all the approach routes were wonderful experiences. The winter visit was by helicopter with 42 Commando Royal Marines to recce before your expedition. Wow, was that fun...... No joke we did Base Camp to Balgesvarri in 30 seconds! So to returners, I wish you glorious weather and great happiness among friends.

How I wish I could join in. Sadly, you will have to excuse me. First: I am about to enter my 80th year and while the NHS has worked marvels to keep this old barque on the move, the depredations of Mother Nature are inexorably taking the wind from my sails. Second: Our middle daughter and family live on the coast outside Boston, USA. Annually they cross the Atlantic to check us out - that is with four of our nine grandchildren. I’m very much on duty. This year it falls during your planned meeting in London 380 miles away. Forgive me.

My own days following ‘79 were a lot of fun. They included eighteen years taking school groups (including Bear Grylls) into the mountains of the UK, Malawi, Kenya, Nepal and Tibet. The overseas ventures all included some form of charity work: social, medical or building projects. On returning in ‘79 the British Exploring Society Council invited me to take up the Chairmanship of the Expeditions Committee.

With finance and leadership in short supply we never imagined that the objectives and achievements we witness today could be possible. British Exploring Society is a shining example of what can be accomplished when so many talented men and women put their shoulder to the wheel. To British Exploring Society management and Leaders - congratulations on the growth and success of such an inspiring youth organisation.’

<December 2019>