William’s Biography

0
394

 

 

How did we get into sailing in the first place?

 

Editor William Mills recounts his early sailing days and his parents’ experiences afloat in William’s Biography

Looking through my family’s photograph albums I’m surprised at how vivid a picture they paint of times gone by.

 The title image is of my elder brother and me emerging through the hatch of a submarine in what was the Haslar base at Gosport on a day out arranged by my father.

I’m the little fair haired boy on the right, aged around two which dates the photo to 1959. Years later when the German TV series ‘Das Boot’ set during WWII was broadcast in England, it brought back a rush of memories.

Of the metallic crash of the main hatch being slammed shut. The hiss of compressed air as the captain shouted ‘dive’. The sweep of the periscope. ‘Fire!’ he orders. The first mate holding up his stopwatch in order to call out the run time. ‘Five, ten,….’

So where did it all start?

William’s Biography

My mother, Anne Bowater was born in 1925 to prosperous paper merchants who had made their home in leafy Surrey. And for summer holidays Anne visited her grandparents who lived near Woodbridge on the Suffolk coast between the Norfolk Broads and Harwich.

 

image of Anne Bowater 1934
Felixstowe 1934 Anne Bowater aged 9
image of Jane Bowater aged 4
Younger sister Jane aged 4. I’m surprised they referred to their grandfather (far left) as ‘wogs’. Sir Frank Bowater was Lord Mayor of London in 1939 and in the newsreel of Churchill making his famous ‘fight them on the beaches’ wartime speech at the Mansion House, he’s sitting next to him(as outgoing Lord Mayor) Sir Frank’s great grandson William Russell is the current Lord Mayor (2019-21)

It was easy to slip into Arthur Ransome’s book ‘We Didn’t Mean To Go To Sea’, set at Pin Mill on the River Stour and published in the 1930’s. I was raised on a mixture of Swallows and Amazons and Enid Blyton’s Famous Five books.

image of Anne's National 12
Anne Bowater learns to sail her National 12 near her home on the Thames 1945. Recently a German visitor told me how her grandmother was trapped in Berlin in May of that year. She loaded her three children, all aged under five into a pram and walked to the nearest checkpoint. She requested food and to be let through, tersely asking the Russian soldiers what they wanted in return. She walked all the way to the British lines outside Hamburg, being halted at 21 further checkpoints, each of which she remembered to her dying day.

Anne was twenty by the time the war finished and crewed at Burnham on Crouch in a National 12 dinghy. In the pre-race briefing they were told, ‘ the mine fields are clearly marked and you have been warned to steer clear of them’.

 

image of aircraft carrier in Felixstowe
National 12 sailing in Felixstowe harbour 1940’s. In the immediate aftermath of war Anne’s local sailing club at Kingston upon Thames used to tow their dinghies to the coast for holiday sailing

She was based at Kingston upon Thames near her home at Weybridge.

image of National 12 sailing dinghy
Anne Bowater’s National 12 sailing dinghy on the river at Kingston upon Thames.

In 1952 she met my father whose early nautical adventures were very different.

William’s Biography

My father Stuart Mills was born in 1909 and joined the RAF in 1928 aged 19 as an apprentice mechanic. He subsequently received a commission and trained as a pilot.

On 9th April 1940 Hitler invaded Norway.

The British Government promised immediate aid and Stuart, now a flight lieutenant with No.263 squadron RAF Fighter Command was ordered to fly onto aircraft carrier HMS Glorious and head to war, eventually landing on a frozen lake in the mountainous Scandinavian far north on 24th April.

image of Ft Lt Mills and his Gloster Gladiator plane.
The remains of F/Lt. Mills’s 263 sqn Gladiator II in Norway. He was later seriously wounded . photo credit Fighter Command 1939-45 by David Oliver

The above iconic photo has been published several times. It depicts Stuart standing next to his Gloster Gladiator which he’d just landed on a frozen lake. After the ice melted the plane sunk in the shallows.

A Norwegian farmer towed it out and hid it in a barn. And there is stayed until discovered in 1982 when it was restored and is now exhibited in a museum in Oslo.

They traced the pilot, who was now Group Captain R.S. Mills DFC, RAF (retd.), and he flew over with Defence Minister Keith Speed MP to the unveiling ceremony.

Back in 1940, no 263 squadron made it into the history books for being the first squadron to suffer 100% casualties in one day when they lost all 14 of its aircraft on 25th April.

But they re-equipped, and Stuart was in action again.

image of Heinkel 111
Heinkel 111 shot down over Lake Lesjaskog, Norway by Sqn Ldr Donaldson and Flt Lt Mills of No 263 Squadron RAF on 25th April 1940.  photo credit The Battle of Britain by Jon Lake

The British evacuated from Norway in early June and the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious was despatched from Scapa Flow to bring back the RAF contingent.

Stuart, as walking wounded, was assigned to act as an aircraft spotter from the bridge of another ship to help avoid friendly fire incidents.

His RAF colleagues weren’t so lucky as HMS Glorious was overwhelmed and sunk by the German battleship, Scharnhorst sneaking up on them on 8th June. Over 900 went into the water and only 37 survived when they were picked up on 10th June.

The circumstances surrounding the sinking and its aftermath were highly controversial resulting in a parliamentary debate as recently as 1999. Stuart recounted to me his viewpoint from an RAF perspective, and it makes a fascinating story, but to be told another day.

On his safe return to the UK Stuart was allowed to convalesce and recover his health during much of the summer.

But with the fighting raging there was a shortage of experienced officers, so having been promoted to squadron leader, on 24 August 1940 took over command of no. 87 squadron based at Exeter.

image of OOB 1940
Group 10, which covered the West of England was smaller than the more famous groups 11 & 12. photo credit The Most Dangerous Enemy by Steven Bungay

In 1952 we find him a Wing Commander and service member of the Hamble based RAFYC. It was there he met my mother and they shared their hobby of sailing, together.

Stuart and Anne sailing together 1952
Stuart and Anne happily rigging a boat together 1950’s

In 1945 the Royal Air Force acquired a number of pleasure craft which they had found moored in Northern Germany and lying within the British area of occupation.

Under the terms of the surrender, as it was unconditional everything was deemed to be ‘a prize of war.’

A number of these so called ‘windfall’ yachts were allocated to the RAFYC and sailed to the River Hamble.

In 1952 Stuart and Anne sailed together in the Solent.

image of Anne Bowater helming
Anne Bowater helming a windfall yacht in the Solent 1950’s
image of Wing Commander Mills sailing in the Solent 1950's
Wing Commander Stuart Mills sailing in the Solent 1950’s

 

image of Anne Bowater Hamble 1950's
Anne Bowater afloat on the River Hamble 1950’s

William’s Biography

And finally in 1954 they tied the knot. Anne’s father Sir Noel V. Bowater Bt, GBE, MC, was Lord Mayor of London so they were able to have their reception at the Mansion House.

image of wedding 1954
Wing Commander Stuart and Anne Mills April 1954 London

I was born in August 1957 and am pictured here with my elder brother and father in Kingston upon Thames where our National 12 was kept.

William with his father and brother Kingston upon Thames 1958
William(right, fair haired) with his father and brother Kingston upon Thames 1958

I was lucky enough to grow up in the countryside in West Sussex.

In the early 1960’s my mother crewed on dinghies from Sussex Yacht Club at Shoreham.

However she felt the river tide was too strong with young children on board, so preferred to drive us all the way down to Itchenor Sailing Club in Chichester harbour where we acquired a 9ft Duckling dinghy.

I remember driving back through Shoreham and waiting for ages to cross the old footbridge which in those days permitted single file road traffic.

image of William at Tomario Spain 1965 William's Biography
William on holiday in Spain 1965

Around 1970 we had moved again and bought a Scorpion 14 ft dinghy which we kept at the Arun Yacht Club in Littlehampton. I was a young teenager at the time. 

William’s Biography

image of William Mills 1972
Arun YC around 1970. William is the teenager on the left of the image.
image of Scorpion 14ft dinghy sailed by William and his elder brother in William's Biography Littlehampton 1970
William is crewing for his elder brother on their Scorpion 14 ft dinghy Littlehampton 1972

In 1971 I was sent to Lancing College and we sailed 12ft Fennec sailing dinghies on the upper reaches of the River Adur above Shoreham.

The following year my house won the school’s sailing championship and I was one of a team of six. I was awarded my house sports’ colours for this achievement.

One summer in the early 1980’s I worked for the Sports Council as a dinghy instructor for a couple of weeks on Lake Windermere, in the Lake District.

Around this time I owned a Fireball 16 ft dinghy sailing it from Chichester harbour.

image of Princess Anne
HRH Princess Anne visits Hayling Island SC in early 1980’s

Finally in 1987 I bought my own home moving to Brighton’s vibrant Kemptown area and immediately joined Brighton Marina Yacht Club.

William’s Biography

There I met Barrie Dixon who owned a UFO 31 named ‘Info’. For the next three years I was part of his crew and learned much of my sailing knowledge from him, which up until then had been mainly confined to dinghies.

Then in 1991 I pestered my mother into buying Info as she had always wanted a yacht of her own and we kept her until 2004 having some fabulous sailing trips along the way.

Yacht Info Fecamp harbour 1990's William's Biography
Anne Mills’ yacht Info in Fecamp harbour, Normandy 1990’s

I soon found myself immersed in a whole new world of boat yards and refits as well as winning yacht club trophies for racing.

image of Brighton Marina harbour entrance
Brighton Marina in 1990 when it was still easy to park

Fortunately I have always kept a daily diary of these more recents times and will write a sequel detailing my early adventures afloat in Brighton and beyond.

image of Anne MIlls Info
Anne Mills sailing on her yacht ‘Info’ off Brighton 2004

William’s Biography

https://rafyc.org.uk/combined-about-us/

http://yachtingnews.uk/2018/04/08/solent-sailing-1/

 

 

 

 

 

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here