August: A Month of Memories

Isle of Wight, Hampshire, England. Photo Jane Risdon

August 1966 is imprinted on my memory because it was the first time I was allowed to stay away from home for a whole week, as a young teenager. My great aunt owned an inn in Cowes, on the Isle of Wight, Hampshire, and I was invited to stay for a week, with a school friend, during their busiest time – Cowes Regatta Week.

The Isle of Wight: Photo Jane Risdon

The Royal Yacht Club took to organising yacht racing at the annual regatta in 1826. It was founded in 1815 as the Royal Yacht Squadron, one of the most prestigious and exclusive yacht clubs in the world. In 1828, the rule requiring a yacht on the port tack to give way to another on starboard was introduced.

Cowes Royal Yacht Squadron Photo RYS

My friend and I were invited to spend the week from the end of July to early August, during the time the Regatta runs. We were given full board and lodgings in return for light duties such as cleaning guest bedrooms and changing their sheets. Once we’d finished our chores the day was ours as long as we returned in time for dinner.

My Great Aunt’s Inn was sold after she died. It is a Grade 11 listed building and has been refurbished as holiday lets.

Recent photo of my Great Aunt’s Inn. Photo: Dr. Gordon M. West of Historic England

Neither my friend nor I had ever been let loose on our own before and we were determined to enjoy ourselves. We spent as much time out and about as possible once our chores had been completed, the weather was hot and sunny, and we were yards from the sea.

Isle of Wight. Photo Jane Risdon
Isles of Wight. Photo Jane Risdon

On the 6th of July 1966, The British Rail Hovercraft service began its first service running between West Cowes and Southhampton under the Seaspeed banner. My aunt’s inn was opposite the huge terminal on Medina Road, which for many years before, had been the storage area for Sanders Roe Princess Flying Boats.

Saro Princess at Cowes 1952. Photo RuthAS

Before my father joined the British Army in India – he was born and grew up in India – he worked for BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation) as an engineer working on flying boats. Discovering there was a Flying Boat storage area opposite his aunt’s inn was a surprise.

BAOC Engineering father. Photo Jane Risdon

To cross from one side of the Medina River to the other, there was a floating bridge, which I seem to recall operated on chains running under the bridge. This was how my friend and I first stepped onto West Cowes, not far from the inn.

Floating Bridge, Cowes. Photo Ian Boyle 1975

We had a great week. We spent a lot of time walking up and down the seafront admiring the yachts, great and small, and the speedboats with trendy young things pounding across the waves, laughing with delight. We also watched some of the races. The glitzy and glamourous ‘socialites,’ and wealthy men going to dinner at the Royal Yacht Club in all their finery was exciting. The sailors in their yachting ‘uniforms,’ and sailing caps looked dapper and sophisticated to the two teenage girls watching spellbound.

Not only are there yacht races, but there are also power boat races from Cowes to Torquay and this is the 1966 race.

The 1966 Cowes to Torquay powerboat race.

One afternoon we went to Osborne House, once the home of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. It was all very low-key back then, tourism wasn’t such a big earner, I’m sure. We wandered around the gardens and looked at the Swiss Cottage situated inside the grounds, but I cannot for the life of me recall if we ever went inside the main house. I have a feeling it wasn’t open to the public or was closed for some reason.

Me at Osborne House in 1966. Photo Jane Risdon

There is a YouTube video of the outside of Queen Victoria’s Isle of Wight home here:

We had a lovely time and soon it was over. We both returned home, and sadly a few months later, my friend’s younger brother was knocked over and killed as he left school. It happened the day before we were supposed to see Traffic, and Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders in Concert at the Finsbury Park Astoria (aka the Rainbow), in London. Our group of school friends went without her but it ruined the whole event, thinking of her and her poor family.

Traffic . Photo Heinrich Klaffs

I cannot find a video of 1966 Around the Island yacht race on Cowes but below is the 1967 race.

You can watch some of the 1967 Regatta video by clicking below.

Cowes Regatta Week is one of the most important weeks of the sailing calendar for those who love to ‘mess about in boats.’ The rich and famous bring their yachts and sailing vessels and many compete in the Around Cowes yacht race. There has been a village on the site of Cowes itself since 1303. The two parts of the villages were called East and West Shamblord with the larger settlement being on the eastern bank of the Medina River, where my aunt had her inn.

Two years after our stay in Cowes with my great aunt, I met my future husband. I was about to leave England for three years in Germany with my parents and family when he decided to take me to Dorset to meet his father and stepmother. We had an interesting time by the coast, meeting family and listening to endless chat about people I didn’t know and he’d forgotten existed. Ah, such are family get-togethers!

Poole, railway station, Dorset 1968. Photo Michelle Luther.

On the way home our train stopped at Reading station and we saw a newspaper advert with a headline about a young girl being killed crossing the road outside the school where she and her boyfriend had been hit by a car in 1966. She survived that event in 1966 – he was killed; he was my friend’s brother. Fate bided its time, and got her two years later in the same spot. How sad.

Reading Railway Station in 1960s. Photo unknown
Leaving for Gatwick Airport. Photo Jane Risdon

August 1968 and I got on a train with my mother and siblings and headed for Gatwick airport and a flight to Dusseldorf, in Germany, and the beginning of a three-year posting with my father, who worked for the Ministry of Defence, in a tiny village whose claim to fame – other than having a British Army Workshop based there since WW2 – was being flooded by the RAF 617 Squadron led by Guy Gibson (later awarded the Victoria Cross), known as the Dam Busters (operation Chastise) when their bouncing bombs (invented by British engineer, Barnes Wallis) hit the Moehne, the Eder, and the Sorpe dams, (in the Ruhr valley), in the heartland of industrial Germany, in 1943. I walked past the watermarks up the walls of the buildings, where the village had flooded, every day as I went to work in the British Workshop in one of their departments.

Mohne Dam
At one of the sites of the Dam Busters Raids. Photo Jane Risdon
Field Marshall Goering delivered speeches from here.

And, one other claim to fame – if you can call it that – is that Field Marshall Goering held many of his rallying speeches from the balcony of the then, (British) Sergeant’s Mess in the village.

August: a month of memories. Some good, some bad.

You can find out more about Wetter Ruhr, Germany here:


Please leave a reply and comment - your input is really appreciated. Thanks, Jane

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