CHAPTER 13 – The Indian Summer

Coronation Year

The death of King George V, the ‘sanctions’ of the Abbysinian War, and the abdication of Edward VIII, cast a slight gloom over the otherwise prosperous and happy middle ‘thirties; but with the coronation of King George VI in 1937, followed by a royal Review of the Fleet in Weymouth Bay in 1938, spirits rose to a new high level, and the club shared in a nation-wide Indian summer of peace and plenty before the onset of an undreamed-of winter.

On the continent of Europe events were already taking a turn for the worse, in fact Hitler and his Nazis were behaving so badly that ‘Aquila’ changed her swastika into a quartered square!

H W Pangbourne ('Pang'), Commodore 1937 -1949

H W Pangbourne (‘Pang’), Commodore 1937 -1949

‘Aquila’s’ owner, Mr.H.W.Pangbourne, had just been elected Commodore, an office he was to retain for the record if interrupted period of fourteen years. The only other changes in the administration were that Dr. Gallagher became Vice-Commodore and Mr. Harry Pratt was elected assistant Hon. Secretary with special duties connected with the bar.

One of the first duties of the new committee was to make arrangements for the festivities in connection with the Coronation on May 12th, 1937. Mr.F.R.Jakeman was put in charge of ‘illuminations’, and members were recommended to decorate their boats with ‘flaglets’, specimens of which were exhibited in the club. Materials for decorations were also lent by Mr. Bussell, and the club, in common with the rest of the community decked itself out in a blaze of fluttering colour.

On the afternoon of Coronation Day – a national holiday – the club opened its season with a Long-Distance Coronation Race, with £10 in prize-money subscribed by the Corporation and three Coronation medals provided by the club, one for each class.

One fine day in June Reginald Wilkinson sailed his Falcon ‘Tiercel’ over to Swanage where, receiving a favourable offer, he sold her on the beach and came home by train. A new ‘Tiercel’ was launched for him on his return, but the following year he bought the old one back again, selling his new acquisition to Major Stayner and Mr. Woodhouse, who re-christened it ‘Honeybuzzard’ [after their original boat which had gone to Poole in 1935], changing the sail mark [a sword] into an anchor.

The only other new Falcon launched this year was ‘Shaheen’ [Arabic for hawk] built for Mr.John Robb, a keen yachtsman from Belfast, as a present to his son John, then a cadet member. Mr. Robb took a great interest in club activities and now presented two cups for single-banded races, one for Falcons and one for Z class. A third cup was presented by Mr. Pratt for the Y c1ass August Bank-holiday race.

Falcon Fever

Tony Bennett and John Robb on Preston beach 1936

Tony Bennett and John Robb on Preston beach 1936

Falcon-racing enthusiasm at this time ran feverishly high and protests were an almost weekly occurrence. No race was missed that could humanly be sailed. and third men were shanghaied into service whenever the whitecaps foamed. David Pitcher in ‘Peregrine’ was the accepted ace, but ‘Hawk’ [Charles Flisher], ‘Hobby’ [Tony and John Bennett], ‘Buzzard’ [Billy Butler], ‘Tarse’ [G. H. Rose], ‘Eagle’ [M. T. Davey] and ‘Sparrowhawk’ [Bratby and Hayes] were usually in the forefront and rarely missed a race. No rain was too heavy, no fog too impenetrable and few winds too strong for these intrepid mariners. Small wonder if they sometimes capsized. as ‘Sparrowhawk’ and ‘Tiercel’ did in 1937, also ‘Erne’ and ‘Katabella’ in 1938.

The Monday A section series of 1937 resulted in a tie between ‘Peregrine’ and ‘Sparrowhawk’, the sail-off of which provided an exciting win for Reg Bratby [‘Sparrowhawk’] by eleven seconds, reminiscent of the Scrap-Wendy duel of 1921. Handicap racing paled before the incomparable thrills of one-design dinghy tactics, and the club made no apology for concentrating on its Falcon class.

Loss of the Bussell Cup

Inter-port matches against Lyme Regis, Bridport, Hamworthy, Parkstone and Christchurch again resulted favourably in 1937, the last named being sailed in a thunderstorm, to which two boats succumbed. In 1938, however, our old rival Parkstone captured the Cup once more, with a decisive 25 to 17 point win from a team composed of David Pitcher, Charles Flisher and Billy Butler. With a view to its early recovery, Mr. David Pitcher was appointed to the new office of Sailing Master with the duty of training the Bussell Cup team. But this was in 1939 under the shadow of Munich, and there were soon to be other more urgent calls for training.

Three Bereavements

Losses more personal and irrecoverable were suffered in the deaths of three staunch members in this period. Mr. John Robb, ‘a most popular member who did much useful work in the club during the past three years,’ died suddenly before he could see his new Cups awarded; and Mr.H.N.Byles, one of the founder members, passed away at the age of 70.

In the following year [1938] the annual report records:

‘The club suffered a great loss in the death of Mr. H. G. Pitcher who was a Founder Member of the club, Commodore for two years and Hon. Treasurer for eighteen [including the ’14-18 war]. The work he did for the club outside his official duties will never be realized except by a very few, and we greatly miss his presence and good fellowship. As a tribute to his memory his friends have subscribed to a Barograph which has been placed at the west end of the Common Room.’

Service Membership

Membership continued to rise steadily, topping the 300 mark in 1938 and extending portentously in 1939 to the inclusion of three Mess subscriptions, one for each of the fighting services – the Depot Dorset Regiment, H.M.S. Osprey, and Woodsford Bomber Command [RAF]. Only the new rooms made this influx possible, and the increased rental was thus more than justified.

Service members accounted for two of the four new Falcons launched in 1939, Capt. Hamblin’s son Bob [now Col. S.R.M.Hamblin], returning from India, named his Falcon ‘Chhil’, the Hindustani word for Kite, while Col. Bushell and Col. Sackville Hamilton jointly purchased Condor. The third was built for Drs. Gallagher and Whittaker with the Irish name of ‘Iolaire’ [‘Yoolery’]; and the fourth ‘Ringtail’, was ordered by Mr. Pratt for his wife, who sailed her for one last glorious season under the sign of the ace of spades. These were destined to be Mr. Bussell’s last Falcons and brought the firm’s total output up to 36, excluding a batch of four built for Jersey in 1938 with half-decks, short booms and 25ft. masts. Ten years were to elapse before any more were built, by which time Mr. Bussell had passed on, the firm being taken over by Mr. E. Wright, his boat builder since 1932.

Handicap Classes

Additions to Z class included the Meech family’s ‘Seaway’ [1937], ‘Viking’ [J.H.Bulkley] and ‘Faraway’ [Dr. Bulman] in 1938; and ‘Wenda’ [Maj. Peel Yates], ‘Uvadalia’ [Mrs. Udal], ‘Marie Celeste’ [C. K. Dowrnan], and ‘Saki’ [O. Walford, an ex-member] in 1939. Of the 20 listed boats only half a dozen entered for club races, with ‘Idler’, ‘Windflower’ and ‘Sibindi’ as the regular customers.

Most of the Y class boats owed first allegiance to the Castle Cove Sailing Club; and again only half a dozen of the 18 registered turned out for Weymouth races. In 1938 this class was extended to include the Island Class O-D dinghies of the newly formed branch of the Royal Naval Sailing Association.

The provision of moorings for the new club boats [as distinct from those moored in Castle Cove] presented quite a problem; but thanks to the strenuous labours of Mr. Pratt and the brothers Jakeman, none were ever turned away.

The Portland Races, initiated in 1922, had become a perennial feature, the now accepted custom being to sandwich them with Weymouth races on alternate Saturdays. A special time-keeper, Mr. Chas. Rose, was employed to start them from Castle Cove, quite independent of the local club. Since many of the Y and Z class boats were registered with both clubs however, it was agreed in 1938 that henceforward ‘on Saturdays all handicap boats of both clubs should race together and competitors who are members of both clubs should be considered as competing in two races.’ Thus the two clubs shared the organization of Saturday races, each being responsible for combined races in their own waters on alternate weeks. The Falcons sailed in both.

The outstanding event of 1938 – apart from the vast concourse of warships which assembled in the bay for the Royal Review on June 21st – was the holding at Weymouth of the Royal Thames Yacht Club Regatta. Turnouts were good [including 18 Falcons] but results were marred by lack of wind. The proposal to hold the Prince of Wales Cup 14ft. National Dinghy races at Weymouth this year did not materialize.

The Last Season

At the AG.M. of 1939 the office of Hon. Treasurer [taken on pro tem by W. G. Butler] was filled by Capt.F.W.Hamblin, and the committee again included Mr.J.P.Dunphy, whose many contributions to the club’s welfare now extended to making a new and better Brunswick Mark.

The transfer of the clubroom bar and the installation of a mahogany counter was effected at a cost of £20, and the games room [now ladies cloak-room] was redecorated. The clubroom was put at the disposal of the R.N. Volunteer Service Reserve for their weekly lectures.

Despite the appeasement policy of the government, the Navy was not unmindful of the trend of events in Germany, and an early danger-sign came in May with the closing of the Eastern Harbour Entrance by a boom.

This necessitated a change in the course of the Whitsun Long-distance Race, but apart from this inconvenience the season followed its familiar pattern undisturbed. A series of four Ladies races had fifteen competitors and was won by Mrs. David Pitcher.

In August more danger signs appeared in the form of practice blackouts, Air Raid Precautions and the calling-up of the reserves. Racing continued. On Sept.2nd the usual Saturday race was held in Portland Harbour. On Sunday, Sept. 3rd, Mr. Chamberlain announced that the country was at war.

The nation was transformed over-night. Emergency war regulations came into force, and all racing stopped abruptly. ‘There was a war on’ and several members joined their units at once. Happily the season was practically over; only the Cadets’ race and the Phillipson Cup were missed. The Dinner and Dance was also cancelled, but the prizes were awarded at a sherry party at the club on Nov. 18th.

The boredom of the Blackout and the uneventful ‘Phoney War’ of the first winter was relieved by a series of fortnightly suppers, each followed by a talk. At the request of many members ‘chiefly ladies,’ a dance was held at the Burdon on Leap-Year Day, Feb. 29th, 1940. Due to the exigencies of war and ‘flu the attendance was rather thin but everyone enjoyed themselves and the war seemed far away.

So far away that plans were put in hand for a limited racing season, permission being obtained from the Naval authorities to use D course. Accordingly, with the return of spring, eight Falcons and a few Y class boats took the water, complete with the prescribed port registration numbers in black and white on their bows, and enjoyed a little sailing in the small permitted area bounded by the anchorage of the Contraband Control Authority, where a varied collection of foreign merchant ships aroused their curiosity.


The Phoney War ended with Hitler’s invasion of Belgium on May 10th but, after the first shock there seemed no immediate cause for alarm, and the weather continued brilliantly fine; so on Saturday, May 18th the eight Falcons and ‘Tumblehome’ began a series of races [three a week:] on D course, the O.D. being Mr. Arundel and the timekeeper our old friend Mr. Wakefield.

Six of these races were held in May, despite the adverse criticism of patriotic landlubbers who deprecated such flagrant and public recreation when war work was the only justifiable occupation. One might play golf or even tennis in comparative privacy, but such open enjoyment as this sailing was considered to be very bad form.

The arrival of shiploads of refugees from the Channel Islands brought the war nearer home, and the races ended abruptly on Saturday, June 1st, when news came through of the Dunkirk evacuation with Mr. Churchill’s call for Little Ships.

Weymouth boats could hardly hope to get there in time to be any use, but if it had been Cherbourg we would have all gone like a shot.

The eight Falcon owners who now packed up ‘for the duration’ included Peter Rose [‘Hawk’], one of the four who came not back, to whose memory this chronicle is humbly dedicated.