It is generally known that, during the Second World War, many sailors were evacuated from the bombed HMS Vernon to Roedean School, Brighton. This move has always been related with embellishment of the sailors' reaction when they discovered the little bell push above their beds labelled "Press for Mistress". The bells rung all night to no avail. From that time on, an affiliation was established between the school and Vernon and occasional reciprocal visits were arranged.
Back in 1974, a proposed visit from the 6th formers was arranged. The day dawned and a small apprehensive committee awaited the arrival of the coach, fully expecting to greet a group of demure young ladies in Panama hats and modest school uniforms - wrong!
The coach duly arrived and out tumbled the most delightful and healthy of nubile creatures clad in tiny shorts or tight-fitting jeans and low-cut blouses. Phew!
Very rapidly, the news travelled around the establishment and in no time at all, tools in workshops became idle, machinery ground to a halt, instructional programmes were abandoned and every window that could be brought to bear was loaded with astonished leering faces; a self-inflicted 'make and mend' ensued.
For my part, I was responsible for the waterfront and all the service boats thereon. I had prepared an afloat programme for the young ladies to embark in both sail and power vessels. Prior to this day, I had experienced a lack of interest and a dearth of volunteers to man the various craft. Suddenly, I was inundated with helpers from young ratings willing to act as bowmen, sternsheetsmen or just to hold on to a fender through to seniors who had vowed and declared previously that they would never sail again after stormy cutter days of bitter winds and icy seas at Ganges.
Once afloat with their precious passengers, proposals of sharing a drink in Ryde or Cowes had to be discouraged and the Captain's motor boat was despatched to shepherd them back for tea and stickies.
What I had not realised was that our Commander, John Jacobsen, an accomplished flautist, had quietly made arrangements with the Headmistress for the woodwind section of the school's orchestra to be part of the visiting team. On reflection, I had wondered why he had directed that Vernon Creek be kept clear and the 36' pinnace be made available after tea.
Later, when the orchestral surprise was under way, I was called to the phone. The Queen's Harbourmaster was relaying a request from HMS Laleston to enter harbour and berth in Vernon Creek an hour earlier than expected.
My reply had to be in the negative...berth unavailable until later. I just hadn't the courage to give a reason, namely that the berth was occupied by the flautist Commander, in the pinnace strung across the Creek, leading the lovely woodwind musicians in a rendering of Handel's Water Music. This formed a wonderful conclusion to one of those many memorable occasions in HMS Vernon that can never be repeated.
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