Veterans Cruise Weekend At Hampton Court - Paul Gilson

There have been many highlights for Endeavour this year and I believe that this event may have been the best.

It was a long trip, leaving Leigh on the ebb for a punch against the tide all the way up river. Our journey was uncharted waters for Endeavour. She has never been above the Pool of London so a trip up another twenty miles was an experience. With the mast down we passed gracefully under many bridges. The scenery was fantastic and it felt like I was moving through history with iconic buildings at every turn. Wildlife abounds in the upper reaches, and into the fresh water above Teddington, ducks, geese and ring-necked parakeets were in our sights at every turn. After a journey of 11 hours 45 minutes we berthed with the other little ships above Hampton Court Bridge at the Thames Motor Yacht Club.

Veterans and guests on board

On Saturday we picked up two cadets from HMS Collingwood and were joined on board by ten veterans, two with their carers. Two were Korean vets; the others started their service in the Falklands with many serving in later conflicts including Bosnia and Iraq. The oldest Korean vet explained that he was in Aden, where he, along with 1,800 others were picked up by one of our aircraft carriers. There was little room on board the carrier for sleeping and they only had desert kit, which was made from light cloth and hardly practicable for the Korean climate. On the second day in Korea the temperature dropped to - 40f. Warmer clothing was requested and they got an immediate delivery of string vests!

We journeyed downstream, through Teddington Lock and on to Richmond Barrier where we turned and returned upstream and gave the cadets the opportunity to steer. We passed a Waitrose supermarket with its own quay for shoppers to moor their boats. Now that’s posh!!

Three of the Falklands vets still work together and were good fun. I had to laugh when one told me that he’d been in the lifeboat service. When I told him that I’d been with the RNLI for thirty years he was less talkative, having it transpired, only done ten years himself and that on a volunteer rescue boat on the Solent, hardly a proper lifeboat. His mates did laugh.

On our return the veterans were treated to a massive buffet laid on by the WI with ample left over for the crews to enjoy later.

Before tucking in, the South Atlantic vets presented a plaque to each boat as a thank you for bringing them together and making them feel special. I’m not ashamed to say that this brought a tear to my eye and not for the last time that weekend.

We had been warned that our guests could drink, well suffice to say I am sure the yacht club enjoyed the extra revenue that night.

Just passed under one of many bridges on the way

It was an early start on Sunday. The Veterans arrived at 8.30am and after an informal inspection and short commemorative service they boarded. On board we had several ex service men, a few helpers and our cadets. On arrival at Molesey Lock a veteran, who’d served on MTBs and despite being 93 years of age, insisted on helping with the mooring ropes.  Later I learnt that he’d been part of the Dieppe and St Nazaire raids and had copped a packet at St Nazaire.

The second lock, Sunbury was dressed from one end to the other. Residents and visitors were dressed in Forties clothing and joined in the celebrations with songs and flag waving and the atmosphere was fantastic. On arrival at Weybridge we were given pride of place outside the Weybridge yacht club with music again filling the air with singers and waitresses period dressed. The veterans loved the spectacle and were also given a splendid lunch by another branch of the WI.

After lunch we helped them across the river to where their transport awaited. A mixture of new and vintage Bentleys, Jaguars and other vintage cars took them back to Hampton Court.

Back at Hampton Court we had a pleasant evening recalling the many stories that we had been told by our guests.

Our voyage home on Monday was cold and uneventful until we arrived back in Leigh. Having waited in the creek for the last of the cockle boats to pass us on their way out I put Endeavour into reverse; she moved backwards slowly then tragedy struck... the rudder hit the bank of the creek and the helm went hard over. The tiller hit my legs and I sailed through the air apparently saying something about rowlocks before hitting the water. It was shallow and I stood up to the welcoming laughter of the crew.

The first time this has happened in thirty years and thankfully no harm done, unlike an ancestor of mine who drowned in the creek some 200 years earlier.

All in all this was a marvelous weekend, meeting lots of lovely veterans and everything organised so well by the Association of Dunkirk Little Ships.

We’ll be back in 2016.

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