Friday, 05 March 2021

Henley Probus Club

THE 439th meeting was held at Badgemore Park Golf Club on January 9.

After the normal business had been completed, the guest speaker Stephen Quant was introduced.

His talk, which was accompanied by a slide presentation, covered the life of Major Valentine Fleming DSO, MP.

Valentine was born in Fife in 1882 and was the son of Robert Fleming, a Scottish financier and philanthropist who founded the merchant bank Robert Fleming & Co.

He was educated at Eton and Magdalen College, Oxford.

He married Evelyn and the family initially lived in Braziers Park, near Wallingford.

They had four sons, Ian (author of the James Bond books), Peter (father of the actress Lucy Fleming), Major Richard Fleming and Michael Fleming.

Valentine became the Member of Parliament for Henley and served as its MP from 1910 to 1917.

He always served as an MP in opposition and was very active in his early years (1910-1913) in the House of Commons debates on topics such as the creation of the social security system and the Reading Expansion Bill, which led to the border of Berkshire moving to north of the River Thames.

At the outset of the First World War, Valentine joined the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars.

During 1914 the ferocity of the war in France was becoming apparent partly as a result of letters written and sent home by soldiers.

One such letter was sent by Valentine to his close friend Winston Churchill. Part of it read as follows:

“Imagine a broad belt [of land], 10 miles or so in width, stretching from the Channel to the German frontier near Basle, which is positively littered with the bodies of men… in which farms, villages and cottages are shapeless heaps of blackened masonry; in which fields, roads and trees are pitted and torn and twisted by [artillery] shells...”

German bombing in the Gillemont area of Picardy in France killed Valentine on May 20, 1917, when he was 35. He was posthumously awarded the Distinguished Service Order for his service to the war effort.

Valentine is commemorated on the Parliamentary war memorial in Westminster Hall (one of 19 MPs who fell in the war) and on the war memorial in Glenelg, Inverness-shire. His obituary was written by Churchill.

Valentine’s wife never remarried.

After a number of questions/comments, the chairman thanked Stephen for his very informative, fascinating and thought-provoking talk and presentation.

Henley Probus Club meets at Badgemore Park Golf Club on the second Tuesday (morning) of each month.

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