John Spittal -

Tue, Mar 8th 2022 at 7:00 pm - 9:00 pm

Reception - Ian Black; Menu Choice - Hugh Elliot


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Prompted by the recent TV series “Around the World in 80 Days” which starred Scots actor David Tennant, Past President John Spittal was moved to address the Club.

His version was entitled “Around the World With 23 kgs of Luggage”. Not exactly the stuff of a hit TV series, but it turned out to be an entertaining production telling of some parts of a world tour carried out by John and his wife Janette in 2008.

In all, they travelled 25,000 miles on 18 different air flights, all of them heading West to East from London and back again, involving Africa, Asia, Australia and the US.

Most of John’s talk centred on “Bucket List Trips”, connected with his favourite movies.

Firstly, “Zulu”, a huge hit in 1964 which told of the small group of British soldiers defending their position at Rorke’s Drift against 4000 Zulu warriors. Coincidentally, the movie location in Natal was a fairly short distance from where John’s son Graeme was working as a paediatrician in a township hospital. So this first stop meant a family reunion as well as visiting the site of “Zulu” – which the Spittals discovered was not, in fact, Rorke’s Drift, but another location with a very African name which we will not attempt to spell hereā€¦

In the real battle in 1879, the large majority of the British troops died. Eleven Victoria Crosses were awarded to survivors and posthumously, the greatest number ever awarded in a single action. Speaking to local Zulus, John learned that the movie was banned in South Africa as it was to be shown while apartheid still ruled there. The Government refused to allow screenings.

Number 2 on the “Bucket List” was a trip to Thailand to investigate the area which was the subject of the 1957 movie, “The  Bridge On The River Kwai”, also based on the true story of Allied POWs forced by their Japanese captors to build the 250 miles of the Bangkok to Burma railway.

John and Janette embarked on a 4-day cruise on the River Kwai to take in a variety of the film’s locations. It included landings at a various sites, one of which resulted in a short rail trip on the very line in question.

They visited the infamous “Hellfire Pass” where so many prisoners perished. From the local guides, they learned that of the 60,000 POWs who worked on the line and the Kwai Bridge itself, an enormous total of 60% of them died. John revealed that both he and his wife found this trip a very emotional experience.

From Thailand, they moved on to Kong Kong, several parts of Australia, to California, then Key West in Florida before returning to the UK.

In a vote of thanks, Will Aitken praised the accurate and interesting fashion in which John had compared the movies to the reality.