Broadcaster Peter Snow and wife Ann MacMillan among top attractions at 2018 Wimpole History Festival
Expect heart-stopping tales of spies, escapes and uplifting acts of humanity spanning nearly three centuries.
From John Bulkeley’s terrifying 1741 journey along the coast of Chile, to Ahmed Terkawi’s heart-stopping 2016 escape from Syria, these will be stories of love, bravery, suffering and terror.
This must-attend talk will be chaired by Clare Mulley, festival patron and author of The Women Who Flew for Hitler.
Cousin of Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow and father of TV presenter Dan Snow, Peter certainly has plenty of war-related stories to tell from within his own family.
His father, John, was a captain in the Somerset Light Infantry and the young Peter travelled all over the world wherever he was posted, living for a time in Benghazi, Libya, before his father was appointed deputy fortress commander of Gibraltar in 1956.
Peter’s paternal grandfather, Thomas, was one of the generals at the Somme, while Peter did his National Service from 1956 to 1958 as a second lieutenant in the Somerset Light Infantry, serving in Plymouth and Warminster.
He and Ann have between them covered numerous wars as journalists, and the title of their presentation comes from their recent book, War Stories: Gripping Tales of Courage, Cunning and Compassion, which was published in September last year.
Peter, who was ITN’s diplomatic and defence correspondent from 1966 to 1979 – and presented BBC2’s Newsnight from 1980 to 1997 – told the Cambridge Independent: “When I wrote my book, To War with Wellington, about eight years ago, I found that the story was so hugely enhanced by hearing from people who’d been there in the battlelines, they brought the story alive. So many of these people were incredibly articulate.
“And, of course, more broadly, there’s the people who served behind the lines: nurses, spies, doctors, those who rescued people – the marvellous Nicholas Winton, for example, who rescued Jewish children from Czechoslovakia in 1939.
“These people play a hugely important role and bring alive the terrifying experience of being involved in war, or being actually there when war was fought over them.”
Peter recalls that he and Ann got together and chose 30 people who had had extraordinary experiences and written about them – or people who knew them very well who had documented their stories.
“So we’ve got a huge amount of primary source material, which allows us to bring these stories alive,” he notes, “and we wrote this book together – it took us 18 months – and we’re now going around book festivals and we’re looking forward to seeing Cambridge.”
Of his own military background, Peter says: “My grandfather was a general in the First World War, my father was a captain and a colonel in the Second World War, so we’ve had a lot of military history in the family.
“Also, I studied history at Oxford, so did Dan, and my wife’s very keen on history too. History’s very natural to us and part of the family.”
Born in Wales and brought up in Canada, Ann is the great-granddaughter of former British Prime Minister David Lloyd George.
She says: “This is the first time I’ve written a book – Peter’s much more of an old hand at it than I am, so it’s very exciting.”
Ann adds that she’s very much looking forward to the Wimpole History Festival, which held its inaugural event last year and which takes place at the National Trust’s Wimpole Estate. It is supported once more by the Cambridge Independent.
She says: “We love Cambridge but we haven’t been to Wimpole before so the whole thing is going to be lovely.
“The good thing about Britain, I’ve discovered since I’ve written this book – and I’ve lived here for 42 years – is that nearly every town has a literary festival at some point.
“We’ve been up to Yorkshire, Devon and Cornwall and all over the place, and it’s just fabulous that so many people love books in this country.”
Peter and Ann’s talk will be held on Saturday, June 23, from 3pm to 4pm in the East Lawn Marquee at the Wimpole Estate.
Price: £12/£10. Box office: 01223 357851 or visit wimpolehistoryfestival.com.