Michael Williams Writes…

Patron Michael Williams reflects on Animals Welfare Action and recalls some who inspired us.

Though campaigning for animal welfare can seem a lonely and often frustrating business, we should take strength and motivation from men and women who have or are working so heroically for our cause.  Mark Shand, who died in 2014, is such a case.  In the 1980’s he went to India and rescued a lovely elephant called Tara.  Their relationship changed his whole life: the beginning of his love affair with India and his work for the survival of Indian elephants.  He co-founded the charity, Elephant Family, and his death last year was a big blow.  But the great news is that his sister, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, and her husband Prince Charles, have become working Co-Presidents of Elephant Family—and they will never forget Tara or Mark Shand.  Such a legacy must hearten all of us who care about Asian elephants and the welfare of all animals.

I did not know Mr Shand but I did know Derek Tangye, the celebrated Cornish writer about country life and animals in particular.  Derek and his beautiful wife Jean were influential friends, demonstrating, in the conversation and their writing, how animals and birds have distinctive personalities.  Without knowing it, they set me on the animal welfare road.

They have been at the centre of many occasions, they both worked for MI5 in the war and had met numerous famous people.  A couple who lifted your spirit, boosted morale.  Not for nothing did The Irish Times say:  “Read the Tangye books, give them, and spread them.  They are hope and they are beautiful”.  Thankfully too, the books are all now back in print.

img-2818I have already written about the transforming chairmanship and friendship of John Hobhouse in his era at the RSPCA and, in that context, I must also mention Michael Seymour-Rouse, a marvellous director of publicity.  Both in publishing and animal welfare matters, Michael gave valuable guidelines.  Two powerful allies.

The fact that Sonia and I care for wild birds in our neck of the Cornish woods largely stems from the influence of the late Charles Simpson, a man rated as probably the best bird painter of his generation.  Charles and I did not agree on the subject of hunting—though I greatly admired his horse paintings, he opened eyes to the beauty of birds, especially gulls.  We feed Hubert most days, a gull named after Derek Tangye’s gull on the roof, and other wild birds any and every day.

Today, nationally and internationally, we can take great pride in the leadership of Prince William.  His bringing together of as many as seven organisations in the title  of United For Wildlife is a brilliant example of the cohesion we need to generate.

There must be a salute too for Virginia McKenna and all she and her family have done and continue to do with Born Free, now, I think in its 31st year.  Virginia surely deserves to be made a Dame.  There is nothing like a Dame.

And let us take pride in the industry and compassion of our Animals’ Voice Chairman Betty Price and her team for taking the AV message (and animals) into the community real missionary zeal.  Daily I think of the Cinnamon Trust, a national organisation based in West Cornwall.  Our dear black cat Donna is living evidence of their rehoming policy.  A truly wonderful organisation.

This article could easily turn into an essay of praise.  West of the Tamar, there are campaigners like Charles Lovell, a retired headmaster and a letter-writer to the press and politicians in the Premier League.

And over at Boscastle we have Vivienne Hircock, another AV member, whose pungent letters to the papers make such impact.  Finally I must not forget Peter Thomas, a retired farmer who once had working horses on his farm near St Just-in-Penwith.  Peter contributed constructive down-to-earth communications during the excessive whipping debate regarding race horses.

We are in good company.