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Butte de Warlencourt sold?

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Terry_Reeves

I commented on this in post 7 but was already aware of some of what had happened having received an e-mail about the position. Whatever my views about the original purchase, it appears that the NEC failed to take into account the fact that branches and individuals made donations  to purchase the site and have acted in a high-handed manner in this respect. There seems to have been a lack of nouse, to put it mildly, in handling the situation.

 

It will be interesting to see  what the official record reads when it appears in the Bulletin. I don't have a problem with getting rid of the Butte, but  the handling of it does cast some shadows over the way the WFA is being run.

 

TR

 

Edited by Terry_Reeves

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Heid the Ba

If I was being argumentative I might suggest that the transfer of the Butte is a gift, with Mr Paterson lending the WFA money which is being repaid over twenty years.  I might also suggest that as a former trustee he is an auctor in rem suam, though I'm sure the WFA took advice on that and decided otherwise.  My knowledge of trust case law is not extensive and in another jurisdiction so I'm sure the WFA would suggest I was talking out my jacksie.  And they might be correct.

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chaz

the question that still arises is as post 8, when the owner (whoever it is) passes, who then becomes owner. having bought a house in France we are told it is held for our children, we have seen a couple where the plots are owned by various children and its not always possible to buy adjacent plots, ie you can buy a house but not be able to gain access across anothers property to get to it 

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Ron Clifton

Like most of the WFA membership, I learned of the sale of the Butte from the e-mail newsletter. Unlike most of you, I have some past knowledge of the issues surrounding the Butte from the fifteen years I spent as a member of the National Committee.

 

I have some sympathy with those who complain about the timing of the announcement, and I do not know whether there are any specific reasons for this, such as the position regarding insurance, which might have dictated the timing. The fact remains that the Butte is believed to contain unexploded ordnance material and there is a tangible risk associated with ownership of it, and ongoing maintenance, arranged locally, was always a problem. When I was on the Committee, consideration of its safety and condition was a permanent item on the agenda of every meeting.

 

I have less sympathy – much less – with those who seem to think that the committee have made a wrong decision and should therefore all stand down. If disgruntled members really believe that they can do better, let them stand for election at the next AGM. To the best of my knowledge, there has not been a contested election for any Trustee office for the past twenty years or more, and indeed it has often been difficult to find members willing to fill vacant offices. Whenever there was criticism of the Committee’s actions from the floor of the AGM, this almost invariably came from a small group of “the usual suspects”, who had not served on the Committee – apart from one former Chairman.

 

I have heard it said that some Committee members who had disagreed with the decision were subjected to a “gagging order”. I do not believe this, and in any case their options were either to remain and accept the majority decision in accordance with the principle of corporate collective responsibility, or to resign. I believe that three of them have resigned and that is their right.

 

The suggestion that the membership should have been consulted is, frankly, not a workable one. The membership is, I believe, somewhere in excess of 6,000 and in previous consultations – such as the membership survey I conducted in 2003 - only about 2,000 returned the forms, and when there were contested elections the numbers of votes cast were even lower than this. I have some sympathy with those who feel that the members should have been consulted, in some form of referendum. I have only to use that word to illustrate what chaos might have resulted!

 

What might have been reasonable, if indeed it were possible, would have been to raise the matter at a meeting of Branch Chairmen. These are usually held every two years, so it might not have been possible to do it this year.

 

I assume that the President, Patron and Vice-Presidents had rather more notice of the proposal than the rest of the membership, since they receive (or used to receive) copies of Committee agendas and minutes. It will be interesting to see how many of them, if any, will seek to resign. The IWM was probably also consulted: it has been offered the opportunity to buy the Butte in the past and has declined to do so. I also think it likely that the Charity Commission was consulted as to the legality of the steps taken, although I have no definite information on either of these points.

 

Finally, I repeat the point that others have made: the Committee and other officers, and the Branch Chairmen, are all volunteers and all unpaid for their services (though they do receive a refund for expenditure incurred in connection with the WFA’s activities). In some ways, the WFA is a victim of its own success, since it has grown to a size where it is no longer in a position to handle a relatively small membership, but not large enough to be able to afford a fully professional – and paid – administration.

 

Ron Clifton

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mva
3 minutes ago, Ron Clifton said:

there is a tangible risk associated with ownership of it, and ongoing maintenance, arranged locally, was always a problem.

I understand that there is a risk, but why : "maintenance, arranged locally, was always a problem."

kind regards from the Somme, martine

1 hour ago, nigelcave said:

It is in green, I assume, because it is a wooded/partially wooded area and/or is not under cultivation

right ! I checked with maps of where I live

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Blincodave

Ron you make some interesting and valid points based on your long experience of the site.  I've sent you an e-mail.

Edited by Blincodave

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David Filsell

Ron offers a very succinct sound and valid overview, deserving of being seriously considered by both yay and nay sayers with which I fully agree as former committee member of the WFA who resigned on a matter of principal. When at a later AGM I was critical of a decision I was politely and rightly reminded by a fellow former committee member - a respected member of the forum -  that it was never a good thing for an ex committee member to raise the matter at a public meeting. Equally it is always foolish to offer opinions withou full knowledge of the battlefield.the think he was correct. The former committee member also made the point that the majority of the committe in my absence had agreed the decision in my absence .

 

It seems that the  sale of the BdW was clearly agreed by the majority of a committe elected to act on behalf of members. If one misses the meeting, then one misses the decision making  - and making decisions what the elected officials do, although it is vital that they are legally and financially sound decisions and the full implications of the decision are understood. In a world of twitter, twatter an antisocial  media it seems the implications were not fully understood - as indeed they often are not at all levels of government, business or the media.

 

Could the issue have been handled better? Possibly. Should it have been put to an AGM or an EGM. Possibly. Should the membership have been asked - or is it truly a decision for those elected as committee members/trustees? I think the latter. It's what they took the job for.

 

Those who actually bother to attend the AGM may well wish to ask those questions, but once again many with an opinion to grind are grinding about an organisation and a committe which has rarely put a foot wrong and done a very great deal to endure that the Great War.

 

Hooray for Ron's reaction. I think that I,  like many others, have said more than enough about the subject which, on the face of it really little more than a local difficulty for members - only - of the WFA to consider. Equally perhaps the moderators should have judged the matter without the purview of the forum (as they often have, and more and more often seem to when matters get controversial).

 

 

Edited by David Filsell

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Terry_Reeves
Quote

 

 

Whilst I agree about the comments about volunteers, the fact is that is it has been badly handled - shambolic is the word I would use. I will reiterate, I was absolutely against this from day one, but for all the rhetoric, members money was involved, irrespective of how long ago it was. Does that not ring alarm bells?

 

TR

Edited by Terry_Reeves

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Don Regiano
2 hours ago, chaz said:

the question that still arises is as post 8, when the owner (whoever it is) passes, who then becomes owner. having bought a house in France we are told it is held for our children,

 

.... unless the owners are a (married?) couple and have signed a "communauté universelle" BEFORE purchase of said property.  In this event the title to the property passes to the surviving spouse on the death of the first.  However, it does not overcome the issue of children's (equal) interest in the property on the death of the surviving spouse.  It might be better, in those circumstances, that the surviving spouse sells the property which then allows them to disribute the income as they see fit if they reside in and are subject to English (Scottish?) law.  I suspect, however, that your view would prevail unless the new owner has a communauté or no children by any relationship (and other family) or somehow the land is not subject to French inheritance laws.  Complicated eh?

 

Reg

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mva
8 minutes ago, Don Regiano said:

 

.... unless the owners are a (married?) couple and have signed a "communauté universelle" BEFORE purchase of said property.  In this event the title to the property passes to the surviving spouse on the death of the first.  However, it does not overcome the issue of children's (equal) interest in the property on the death of the surviving spouse.  It might be better, in those circumstances, that the surviving spouse sells the property which then allows them to disribute the income as they see fit if they reside in and are subject to English (Scottish?) law.  I suspect, however, that your view would prevail unless the new owner has a communauté or no children by any relationship (and other family) or somehow the land is not subject to French inheritance laws.  Complicated eh?

 

Reg

the new owner is a Brit. citizen, isn't he ? Which law apply if he lives in France ? (I don't want to mention Bexit here)

if it is French law, then there is the 'quotité disponible' (don't ask me the English word, ! https://www.avocats-picovschi.com/preparer-sa-succession-comment-utiliser-la-quotite-disponible_article-hs_62.html

there is, too, the 'communauté réduite aux acquêts' (only what they bought together) - and 'séparation de biens' ( his belongings / her belongings are not together)

and they are ways to specify some aspects when making a will (with a notaire)

so many question marks ......

but I just read :

33 minutes ago, Dragon said:

According to Taff's most Facebook page update, the new owner is now proposing to sell it back to the WFA as a matter of priority.

 

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mva
14 minutes ago, Dragon said:

Taff has also put that announcement on Twitter. See @Taff_Gillingham

one of the answers on twitter (see below) :

- partly wrong : most of the money is for the state, notaire has little

- caution ! the buyer (not the seller) pays the taxes ... and there is something about how long one has owned the property (the longer, then less ....)

butte11.JPG.a8e4cac90e26bdaf7f12e1e62178e591.JPG

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Heid the Ba

The property is in France so French property law applies. 

Edited by Heid the Ba

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keithmroberts

Worried here. I agreed with almost every word of David Filsell's post until the last sentence.   For the record, civil posts, discussing this issue are entirely proper.  I can't see any reason for Mods to be concerned about legitimate discussion.  There are threads on Twitter and Facebook, but also here there is space for reasoned discussion not constrained by the number of characters or the random appearance of Facebook posts.

I have no doubt that the Executive members making the decision have done so in good faith and for what they see as the best of reasons. The handling of the issue has been a disaster, and the implication that this was a new idea while Taff has pointed out that it has been on the agenda for months  creates problems.  Many of us serve, or have served on committees, most of us have experienced the reality that some members carry more weight than others, and maybe prepare as a group for meetings. That is surely no surprise.   I'm clear that the decision has been handled badly, even within the committee it seems, but I do value the WFA and the work that those members have done. I certainly don't grudge them their train fare or mileage to attend regular meetings.

 

I'm worried for the future of the WFA. If this furore leaves it weaker rather than stronger with the centenary coming to an end, then the organisation will be less able to keep the memories, and the respect alive, and,  warts  and all, I am truly grateful for the saving of the MICS, and the saving, however the detail develops, of the Pension Records. That latter was done by the same current officers and committee, and there is probably more work to be done with Ancestry and the MOD before it  can be regarded as complete. I don't think those volunteers should be cast away, despite some of the issues raised by Jane Wood in her Facebook post.

 

The human damage has been done, with relationships fractured. I hope that these can be rebuilt, because I think that whichever side of the decision members are on, they have more to keep them together than to divide them.

 

Keith

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matthew lucas

Re pension record cards. Some of those involved from the early days (not trustees) left the ec some time ago and 1 ec member, The Historical Information Officer who alerted the rest of the EC about the pension records left about a year ago.... but yes most are still in the ec

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Blincodave

The WFA has announced that the Butte will pass back to its' ownership again

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chaz
4 hours ago, mva said:

one of the answers on twitter (see below) :

- partly wrong : most of the money is for the state, notaire has little

- caution ! the buyer (not the seller) pays the taxes ... and there is something about how long one has owned the property (the longer, then less ....)

butte11.JPG.a8e4cac90e26bdaf7f12e1e62178e591.JPG

Interesting, when we bought the seller paid the taxes. We, through the immobilier , offered a price, the seller said they couldn't go that low but would agree on the figure including taxes which didn't work out much more than our offer...

then there is the 14 day cooling off period.... How does this work in the case of the Butte?

as said, French law!

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mva
5 hours ago, chaz said:

Interesting, when we bought the seller paid the taxes. We, through the immobilier , offered a price, the seller said they couldn't go that low but would agree on the figure including taxes which didn't work out much more than our offer...

then there is the 14 day cooling off period.... How does this work in the case of the Butte?

as said, French law!

Chaz, this was an exception, would you call it 'gentleman's agreement' ?

"14 days cooling off" :

First a 'compromis' = promesse de vente ; then 10 days - you can still change your mind (11 or 12 days if the last day is/are holiday) : https://www.fnaim.fr/3335-signature-compromis-de-vente.htm

and afterwards, 1 - 3 months before actually selling : https://www.pap.fr/vendeur/acte-definitif/signer-lacte-de-vente-definitif/a8123

and about what the notaire gets, and what the state gets : https://www.pap.fr/acheteur/frais-notaire/les-frais-de-notaire/a1307/les-frais-de-notaire-dans-lancien

 

As a French person, I don't understand all the background behind that (WFA), but it seems clear to me that it is a good business for the French state (who now ownes the Butte has probabky paid taxes when buying !)

 

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stiletto_33853

Well the subject is covered in half a page in todays Daily Telegraph with seemingly the Charities Commission now involved.

As per other posters, I was not in favour of it's original purchase but this present saga beggars belief with the sale having been done for apparently £12,000 but the WFA continues to sponsor the site through notice boards and association.

Maybe the EC should take a long hard look at it's management skills as this is about a bigger own goal as you could ever score.

 

Andy

Edited by stiletto_33853

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Steven Broomfield
1 hour ago, Dragon said:

The Times has caught up with it being given back. [Paywall - haven't read the whole piece.]

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/anger-after-western-front-association-sells-butte-de-warlencourt-on-somme-battlefield-td56gptfb

 

If I were a member I'd be cringing.

 

I read it earlier. Sys pretty much the same as all the other papers.

 

My view, for what it's worth, is a follows. I worked for a charity for 38 years. We were fortunate in that 'management' was professional and relatively efficient. Decisions were made with which I disagreed (often), but overall, things worked well. However, during the course of the years I came across many small charities which were effectively one-man (actually, being animal-related, most often one-woman) bands, or run by a small group of voluntary trustees. Some of the decisions they made were, while well-meaning, frankly abysmal.

 

Never was anything done for bad reasona, and seldom for personal gain, but so often what looked like a good idea was poorly thought-through and poorley executed.

 

Sadly, it seems here that a voluntary, well-meaning and hard-working set of trustees has dropped a large brick through not thinking of the effect their decision would have.

 

Resignations are fine, but then someone else will come along, and who's to say they'll be any better? Chris Baker has commented on FB that now is the opportunity for a root and branch overhaul, and I think he's right.

 

(Out of interest, my dear wife, when I mentioned this saga to her, wondered whether a few old feuds were being settled. I have no idea.)

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David Filsell

Mr S

What do you suggest the price of a hill containing - almost certainly - unexploded ordnance and gas which requires expensive maintenance and insurance every year to be be worth on the free market? I suggest very little.

On another note, at another time far from the 11th, and all its events, the decision to sell would have passed cppletely unmaked by the media and all who sail in her. Fickle old thing the finger of publicity fate 

David 

 

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mva

by the way : another aspect of the question (I have just sold a little piece of land (3000 sq meters) and therefore know a few details !

many investigations must be done beforehand : chemicals ? other dangerous objects ?

 

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keithfazzani

P

12 minutes ago, Steven Broomfield said:

 

I read it earlier. Sys pretty much the same as all the other papers.

 

My view, for what it's worth, is a follows. I worked for a charity for 38 years. We were fortunate in that 'management' was professional and relatively efficient. Decisions were made with which I disagreed (often), but overall, things worked well. However, during the course of the years I came across many small charities which were effectively one-man (actually, being animal-related, most often one-woman) bands, or run by a small group of voluntary trustees. Some of the decisions they made were, while well-meaning, frankly abysmal.

 

Never was anything done for bad reasona, and seldom for personal gain, but so often what looked like a good idea was poorly thought-through and poorley executed.

 

Sadly, it seems here that a voluntary, well-meaning and hard-working set of trustees has dropped a large brick through not thinking of the effect their decision would have.

 

Resignations are fine, but then someone else will come along, and who's to say they'll be any better? Chris Baker has commented on FB that now is the opportunity for a root and branch overhaul, and I think he's right.

 

(Out of interest, my dear wife, when I mentioned this saga to her, wondered whether a few old feuds were being settled. I have no idea.)

 

Steve what you say makes sense.

 

I am not a member of WFA but have in my time been a Trustee of charities both large and small. It is a thankless task and I am aware that it is more and more difficult to find Trustees who  find themselves legally liable in our litigious age. I suspect that the Trustees of WFA found themselves between a rock and a hard place and any decision they made was sure to be regarded as wrong by some. Like you I have no idea whether your wife's comment was prescient, but in my experience wives are usually right. 

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Heid the Ba
3 minutes ago, mva said:

by the way : another aspect of the question (I have just sold a little piece of land (3000 sq meters) and therefore know a few details !

many investigations must be done beforehand : chemicals ? other dangerous objects ?

 

I was wondering the same thing, would it not be possible to have the site checked to see what if anything is there?  This would surely reduce the insurance premiums.

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