When a Devon group dressed as comedy pirates for talk by former Somali pirate hostage Express&Echo

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The Women’s Institute has been campaigning, organising and fundraising for 100 years.

The WI, celebrating it’s centenary this week, was formed in 1915 to revitalise rural communities and to encourage women to become more involved in producing food during the First World War.

Since then the organisation’s aims have broadened and the WI is now the largest voluntary women’s organisation in the UK.

The WI currently has over 210,000 members in around 6,600 WIs. The groups play an amazing part in communities up and down the country and the Echo has reported on many of these across the years.

However there is one recent story that will stick in the minds of most in Devon. That is the tale of the WI group and the talk on pirates.

In May 2013 members of a Devon WI were left embarrassed after a number of them had dressed up as pirates for a talk by a former sea captain who has been held hostage by Somali pirates for several weeks.

Members of Parkham WI had embarrassingly dressed as pirates – not realising the talk they were getting from Captain Colin Darch was about his ordeal as a hostage of Somali pirates.

The report of their meeting and a story about the misunderstanding went viral as thousands around the world shared the tale. The story even got a mention from Tom Hanks on the Jonathan Ross show.

A report published in the community news section of the North Devon Journal read: “The speaker at the April meeting was Captain Colin Darch, who talked about piracy; embarrassingly the WI all dressed as pirates for the evening not realising that Captain Darch was going to be talking about his experience of being held hostage by Somalia Pirates rather than piracy in general.

“However once this had been gotten over everyone sat down to listen to Captain Darch’s story and what a story it was.

“Absolutely fascinating and gripping.

“If you ever get a chance to hear Colin speak grab the opportunity because he is a great raconteur and very humorous. He had recently published a book telling of his life and recounting his time as a hostage, which WI members were able to purchase at the end of the evening.”

Captain Darch, from Appledore, told the Journal he found the whole thing amusing.

He said: “Of course I didn’t take offence or mind. It was more like the Pirates of Penzance.

“I must admit I quite enjoy giving talks to groups such as WIs.

“I am doing quite a few of them and it is a good way to flog my book.

“They were lovely ladies. They made me judge who was the best-dressed which was a difficult choice. In the end I decided to choose the one who had a fluffy parrot on her shoulder.

“Of course there weren’t any parrots near the real pirates.”

Stephanie George, the treasurer for the WI group, told the Journal she had suggested the group dress up for the talk on pirates.

The 54-year-old, who has been a member of the group for two years, said: “I suggested we dress up as I suspected it was a general talk about piracy or something to do with the Appledore Pirates, the fundraising group.

“I work in Walter Henry’s Bookshop in Bideford and on the morning of the day of the meeting I noticed Colin Darch’s book on the side and put two and two together. I thought ‘Oh God, how awful!’

“By then it was too late. I just thought we would have to go with it. It was lucky Colin was such a good sport.

“There he was delivering this harrowing story about how he was held hostage and feared for his life, and we were all sitting there dressed as Captain Hook.

“It was a bit different to our usual prettiest tin competition or the flower or the month. At our meeting this month we are having a baby picture competition.

“I don’t know who was scarier for Captain Darch – us dressed up as pirates or the real Somali pirates.

“Colin is a great speaker. We were quiet for an hour and a half, which is saying something.”

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