Two of the fifteen Dorset residents awarded New Year’s honours live in Motcombe. It’s an impressive achievement for a village with fewer than 1,500 people.
Colonel John Blashford-Snell’s CBE acknowledges his services to scientific research abroad and to young people in the UK. And villager Liz Pocock has been awarded a British Empire Medal in recognition of her work within the parish. Keri Jones from ThisIsAlfred spoke with both John and Liz.
Liz Pocock has had a memorable Saturday morning volunteering in Motcombe’s community shop. I spoke with Liz as she briefly popped home for lunch before returning to cash up. This morning, Liz has served a stream of customers who had called in to congratulate her. “Somebody sweetly opened the bottle of champagne in the shop and we had a glass. I felt quite tiddly after that,” Liz laughed.
During her 32 years in Motcombe, Liz has been involved in many community groups and activities in addition to her shop duties. She’s chaired a local arts club, she serves as a churchwarden and she introduced community film screenings.
Liz is unsure who nominated her. She’s keen to find out but accepts that she may never know. “It’s a mystery. I’s wonderful,” Liz said. “It’s an amazing village. Someone has been very kind putting me forward because it is that sort of village. You are appreciated whatever you do here.”
Liz suspects that her BEM – for services to the community in Motcombe – has a cinema connection. “It was probably the moviola, because that’s been going since 2005. We started it off and it has been quite a success. It’s a lovely thing for the village to get together and see films. I was always rather proud of that.”
Liz was instructed to keep her award secret until today. She says that was tricky but she managed to do it. “I got it five weeks ago. There was an envelope with ‘Cabinet Office’ on it and I thought ‘oh my golly, I’ve done something wrong’.’’ Liz says she wasn’t sure what the Cabinet Office did but she opened it and learned about her New Year’s honour. “I just burst into tears. It was such a shock and so lovely. It said in no uncertain terms that I was not allowed to tell anybody so I immediately told my husband and that was it. It was a lovely thing to have to myself for those weeks,” said Liz.
Liz is delighted that her friend, John Blashford-Snell, has also been recognised. “It was richly deserved,” Liz said. And the admiration is mutual. John is full of praise for Liz. “She’s a very fine lady who really has done tremendous work in this village,” John said, adding, “She’s the Queen of the village.”
“Oh dear,” said Liz, when I shared John’s compliment. “I don’t know whether that’s good or bad.” Liz paused before continuing with, “Well, he is King isn’t he?”
Former Royal Engineers Officer John Blashford-Snell reached the rank of Colonel when he retired following his 37 years of military service in 1991. But it was John’s role in founding the Scientific Exploration Society in 1969 and then Operation Drake, which became Operation Raleigh in 1978, which put him in the spotlight.
John has been the subject of an episode of ‘Desert Island Discs’ and has been presented twith he ‘red book’ by Eamonn Andrews on ‘This Is Your Life’. Yet he remains modest about the achievements that led to his previous MBE and today’s CBE.
“I am part of a team. I got it on behalf of a team, I think,” John said. “Operation Drake and Operation Raleigh changed the lives of so many young people. It was a team effort by a very big group of people, many of them from the Dorset area. The support that people in Dorset give for our various endeavours is remarkable,” said John.
John has led more than seventy expeditions. He made the first journey in a vehicle from Alaska to Cape Horn, he navigated the length of the Congo and is claimed to have invented white water rafting accidentally, when he completed the first descent of the Blue Nile. Yet he has found his role in helping youngsters in Britain’s inner cities to be one of his greatest challenges.
John chaired a £2.5 million appeal to establish vocational training and guidance in Liverpool. ‘The Door’ project has helped over 40,000 less-privileged young people. “The Door has been one of my main works for the last fifteen years. I’ve also got another one in Brixton in London and one in Devon,” said John. “I’m working with underprivileged young people. I’ve been involved with a number in Dorset too, like The Foyer Centre that was set up in Bournemouth some years back. It’s trying to do what we can to help the youngsters support themselves by their bootstraps, become good citizens and lead a worthwhile life.”
John is 82 but he’s certainly not retiring from his exploring. He has a busy year ahead. “I’m off on an expedition to Nepal to study the elephants that we have been working on for some years. And I will look at the increase in the number of Bengal tigers in the area, which is a wonderful thing to happen. They’ve been threatened in so many areas but we’ve heard there’s been an increase, partly due to the efforts that we made some years ago to get the army to guard the area and keep the poachers out. There are 87 tigers in this area where there were 20, the last time we visited.”
John admits he sometimes becomes tired of challenging travel to difficult-to-access places. “Oh yes, frequently,” John laughed. “Usually late at night when I fall into bed. Then I’m all right when I wake up in the morning. I love solving problems. Curiosity drives me on. When somebody tells me something cannot be done or can’t be found, I feel that it can be done. I’m an engineer and I love overcoming obstacles – and not necessarily physically. If you asked me to climb Everest I’d probably build scaffolding at the side. It’s been very much a challenge working with inner-city youngsters and a difficult one. I spend my life between the green and the concrete jungle.”
John does value the strong community spirit of Motcombe, the village he has called ‘home’ since 1990. He echoes Liz’s views about the village. “We are very lucky in Motcombe. We have a wonderful community here. They are very supportive. Many of the people in the village help me. We are very fortunate compared to some of the other places where I work in England and elsewhere in the world. When I see the conditions in some of Britain’s inner cities, particularly in the northern part of the country, I feel we’re fortunate in North Dorset.”
Liz and John will receive their medals in 2019. Liz understands that she won’t have to travel too far to receive her honour. “We don’t go to the Palace, because there are lots of us and there’s only so much the Queen can do. We are going to be awarded the medal by the Lord-Lieutenant,” said Liz.
Liz will enjoy a small celebration this evening, now her award is public knowledge on the village’s Facebook page. And she’s looking forward to the 31st December when she’ll join her fellow award recipient to toast their success. “We are having a New Year’s Eve party, to which we’re inviting the Blashford-Snell’s, so we can have a double celebration,” Liz said.