Unlike me, my mother was athletic and sporty in her youth. I was one of those bright, bookish kids who was rubbish at P.E. or anything practical, like needlework or woodwork. I won few Girl Guide badges, in fact I often claim that the most useful thing I learned at Guides was how to drink. Whilst I spent my teenage years in 1970s London pubs, drinking and dancing to bands, Mum’s equivalent years (there were no “teenagers” then) were spent in more wholesome pursuits. Living near the river Thames in Barnes, she and her friend Joan Hayward were keen yachtswomen, whose wartime adventures on the river I have described here. They were both accomplished Sea Rangers, who occasionally crewed boats. I was reminded of this period of Mum’s life when, on a recent visit to the Surrey branch of the Usmeum (Brother 1’s house), I found this book: All Clear Aft – Episodes at Sea, published for the Seamen’s Hospital Society by Cassell & Co. It carries a dedication inside the front cover (and a label from “Arthur Beale, Nautical Bookseller”, a shop which still exists today):
The “Vanguard” must have been one of the boats that Mum and Joan crewed. Mum’s Snapshots album contains some photos of the girls from this time:
Perhaps some of these nautical shots were taken aboard the Vanguard?
Or possibly the T/S (Training Ship) Onda, of which there are several photos in the album; this one has been signed by someone as a memento:
There are also photos of what looks like a Sea Rangers’ training trip, which are labelled on the back “Hinchley Wood, July 1940”, plus some further descriptions in Mum’s handwriting:
Joan joined the WRNS during the war, and continued to crew boats for some years afterwards. These photos, which I think are Joan’s, are labelled on the back “Sonny Jackie Tim, 1947”
Joan went on to marry Bill Elkins, the ferryman of Poole Harbour, and spent the rest of her life by the sea there. My Mum, although she stayed in Barnes for the rest of her life, had given up her nautical pursuits long before she married my Dad. She always loved boat journeys, but I suspect that the terrible loss of her brother at sea must have affected her enthusiasm for the nautical life. She would not have wanted to cause her bereft mother any more worry, either. But she did pass on her passion for boats to her eldest son, named for her drowned brother. I remember how worried she was when he applied to join the Royal Navy as a teenager, and her relief when his plans were thwarted by colour blindness. He went on instead to become a naval architect, who keeps a sailing boat in his Surrey garage. He took Mum out on the Thames on it once or twice. She loved it.