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Abingdon celebrates 'Dad's Navy'

A crowd estimated at 17,000 flocked to Abingdon riverside on 14th April for a nostalgic celebration of the Upper Thames Patrol, the river equivalent of the Home Guard during WWII.

The inspiration for the event came from Richard Hawkins, the Abingdon lock-keeper. He was creating an information panel about UTP and looking for a way of officially unveiling the memorial.

After talking with Thames boater Bret Wiles, who has been researching the history of the UTP, Richard suggested staging ‘Thames at War’.

Bret and his wife Karen, who live on a barge on the river, are themselves enthusiastic 1940s re-enactors, and have an extensive travelling exhibition for such events.

They persuaded others with military and civilian vehicles, period boats and two Dunkirk Little Ships to make it viable, along with numerous other enthusiasts. A final touch was the appearances from professional Winston Churchill actor Steve McTigue and two WWII-period singers, May Blossom and Jilly Melodies.

“Abingdon Lock was a beautiful setting for the event,” said Karen Wiles. “It has a small island between the lock and the weir for the memorial, and Richard got permission from the Environment Agency.”

Karen also said there was no official budget and everyone gave their services for free. It's been suggested that Thames at War becomes an annual event, but no decision has been made yet.

Bret and Karen are seeking more information on the Upper Thames Patrol, which is much less well known than the Home Guard. You can contact them at info@thamesatwar.co.uk. A brief history of the UTP is on their website thamesatwar.co.uk.

Rear Admiral Sir Basil Brooke takes the salute from the UTP at Wargrave, near Henley in 1940.


The new memorial panel on Abingdon Lock Island. Photo: Karen Wiles.

Churchill arrives on EA launch Evenlode. Photo: Karen Wiles.

'Winston Churchill' inspects the local home guard at Abingdon Lock's Thames at War.

Tuesday 21 May  | Andrew Denny  | 4.05pm, Tuesday 21 May 2019

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