Meet the Authors
This is the story of six people, now with their lives intertwined, and each with their tale to tell.
Three of them are from the past. They are the real heroes.
They are our Alpine Plant Collectors, exploring the remotest areas of the Balkans in the dangerous interwar years of the 1920’s and 1930’s. One of them, quite unknowingly, has become our documentary photographer. We can view his archive of 244 photographs now as a form of magic, by which his moments of experience in remote locations were captured for transmission to us, and, by great good fortune, to future generations.
And so, below, we give a brief resume of all six lives.
Mrs Maud Susan Emily Thompson (1883 - 1946).
Maud Thompson (nee Callwell) married the Rev. Henry Paget Thompson in September 1919, aged thirty-six. Here we see her above left, as recorded by her husband, the expedition photographer, on one of their Balkans plant hunting expeditions. Also center right, with her husband. She more than held her own when it came to collecting plants, to the extent that one of her specialities, Sempervivum (family: Crassulaceae), had a variety named after her (Sempervivum thompsonianum). She discovered this around 1937 on the Stogovo planina, in Macedonia (See: Bull. Alpine Gard. Soc. Gr. Brit. 8: 210. 1940). Her husband never achieved such honours. But it was not that, but the rather surprising fact that she spoke Serbian that was of enormous benefit in connecting the group to the gendarmes, villagers, market-vendors, guides, porters etc. whom they encountered daily.Intriguingly, Maud Thompson’s Regimental & Service Records still exist, in the British Red Cross Register of Overseas Volunteers 1914-1918.
Category: Military, Armed Forces & Conflict.
First Name: Maud Susan Emily. Last Name: Callwell.
Rank: Sanitary Inspector. Certificate Number: 18629.
Department: Serbian Relief Fund. Destination Salonica.
Archive Image File Refs: 03-24 & 03-37.
The Rev. Henry Paget Thompson (1880 - 1956).
H. P. Thompson, seen above centre with his wife Maud Thompson, was the son of Henry Lewis Thompson and Catharine Paget, born Sep 1880 in Iron Acton, Gloucestershire, England. We know that in 1899 he was an undergraduate at Christ Church College Oxford having come up as a Scholar from Winchester. In 1903 he took a 2nd in Literae Humaniores (Greats), and then an M.A. in 1906. Between 1929-1939 he was employed as a clergyman. He was a founder member of The Alpine Plant Society as well as a skilled photographer and mountaineer. He served in the parish of Poynton between 1919 and 1924 and then went on to become Assistant Secretary of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts; one of the oldest and largest of the Christian missionary societies. He became an absolutely prolific traveller and writer of religious books, documenting the missionary field in almost every corner of the world. He died on 17 Nov 1956 in Gerrards Cross, Buckinghamshire, age: 76. We are indebted to him for this Balkan photographic archive. We would also like to thank Judith Curthoys of The Governing Body of Christ Church College, Oxford, for the information on his early years as an undergraduate.Archive Image File Ref: 03-37.
Dr. Hugh Roubiliac Roger-Smith. MD., MRCS., LRCP. (1867 - 1955).
"When I first visited the Alps, climbing was my main object and the study of Alpine flora quite a subsidiary hobby, for at that time I did not possess a garden…when at last I obtained one of my own, the urge to collect some of the alpine treasures I had seen became very great, and I spent my holidays in plant-hunting and collecting...".
Seen above far right, and curiously the only image we have been able to locate. Hugh Roger-Smith, was a founder member in 1927 of the Alpine Garden Society, along with the Rev. Thompson and his wife Maud (see above). He was the Honorary Treasurer of this society and, from 1936 onwards, the society's Tour Director! It finally emerged that he authored thirty-five plant-hunting articles for the Alpine Garden Society and, furthermore, was the leader of many of the summer alpine plant hunting interwar expeditions across the Balkans. He was an accomplished mountaineer & plant photographer, as well as being prominent in the medical profession. Fortunately for us he wrote up some of his adventures in: "Plant Hunting in Europe”. (Rush & Warwick. 1950).
This volume has been the source of much useful information on the various Balkan expeditions.
He was married to Dorothy Eugenia Wood, by whom he had two sons and a daughter.
By the 1937 third and last expedition documented here, he would have been aged 70.
Archive Image File Ref (above far right): Frontispiece: H. Roger-Smith. "Plant Hunting in Europe".
As we mentioned at the top of the page, six people thread their way through these pages.
The three above are long deceased and in one sense have all but faded from history.
But, our hope here is to resurrect their memory, publicise their records, and so restore their achievements in a medium unknown to them.
Also, to make a determined effort to see that their records contribute to the cultural history of the Balkans.
And so we now come to us...
It's the chance conjunction of three widely different lives, but with one thing in common: a belief that these records mattered and therefor deserved a far wider audience. To put it another way, if this collection had not found one of us on a bitterly cold 2005 April morning, at 6 am in a bleak field, then by noon, they would have most probably been in a rubbish skip! One of us (R. J. S.) felt compelled to take on the challenge of deciphering the few clues as presented, and, as a bonus, I think all three of us can now say that it has been the most tremendous fun. Many new friendships have been made, and are continuing to be made.
Our hope is, that you the reader can enjoy it also.
Your narrator here (below center), finder of the collection, and your Website Host is: R (Bob) Speer, of The Sanctuary, Lyme Regis. DT7 3QF. UK.
Professional Researcher extraordinaire and colleague since 2013, Gregor (above left) has been using spare moments to investigate this archive now for over seven years. I see that I first wrote him on October 4th 2013, having searched the internet for someone who might be interested in taking up the challenge.
This followed several month of fruitless effort on my part. Five months later came what has become known as the “Eureka” email. This is copied below:
From: Gregor Murbach.
Sent: Friday, March 07, 2014. To: Bob Speer.
Dear Bob. As said earlier, I have found an exact copy of one of your photographs in "Plant Huning In Europe" by Dr. Hugh Roger-Smith (“The Hut and the Valley, Ljuboten”). I’m attaching a copy of the photograph. Compare it to yours in Box 2 - Untitled-12. I’ll send you more details soon. Hugh Roger–Smith was a medical doctor and led many trips to the European Alps. He was also one of the Alpine Garden Society’s founder members. Best wishes, Gregor.
N.B. It’s worth recalling to our readers, that the collection first surfaced in a remote Devon field in 2005. It then languished in our underground storeroom till 2010, and only much later did it surface to the light of day, prompted by the 2013 publication of Patrick Leigh Fermor’s third and last contemporaneous travelogue "The Broken Road", where he traces his route through the 1930’s Balkans. We currently still have between twenty and thirty unidentified Balkan locations from this period, this from a total of 185 images (not counting images of plant specimens).
These are continuously updated as identifications come in, and mainly on our “Then & Now” pages.
Note added 8th March 2020. It is with great sadness that we report the sudden death of Professor Randall Baker on March 4th 2020.
Prof. Baker (above right), first joined our efforts to reveal the mysteries of our collection in 2012. I had been searching the Internet for a Bulgarian contact. Now retired, but author of numerous books both in English and Bulgarian, Randall has enjoyed a distinguished career in both Academia and, for want of a better word, Social Engineering (University of Illinois, New Bulgarian University). Not many people can claim a career in building new Universities and Departments, two Fulbright Scholarships, and to have worked in more than 65 countries! He was immediately taken by the significance of our find, from the point of view of possibly unrecorded early Balkan Heritage material. Now living permanently in Sofia and having played a major role in founding NBU, the New Bulgarian University, he was admirably placed to use his local contacts in Universities and Museums to help pin down unidentified Balkan locations. His efforts culminated in a book published in 2016 in Bulgarian by the Ciela Press in Sofia (for full details, click through here to our Bibliography & References page).
An English translation exists, but only as a digital file.
Robert John Speer.
Particularly interested since 1982 in rare books (above centre), archival research, and all challenges involving detective work and patient investigation.
Fortunate in having enjoyed a career as Senior Lecturer, London University Imperial College 1966–1997, but now happily retired and running a second-hand and Antiquation Book Business in Lyme Regis, Dorset. UK.
Fascinated since 1992 by the amazing powers of the Internet as a research tool.
Likes: Encouraging others into the world of books and sharing literature, language and old style correspondence.
Dislikes: Having to write one's own biography!
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