We don’t hear much from Restoration Project Manager, William Collard these days, but he occasionally pings stuff into my email and when he does it is often to pass me a real gem. During the rebuild phase we had found a horseshoe screwed to the front of the wheelhouse and when the wheelhouse was rebuilt we were careful to reinstate the shoe but curious as to how it had come to be there. We put out a call via this blog but nobody seemed to know. It was no ordinary horse shoe, no rough old bend of iron; it was a cast aluminium alloy affair, so we were pretty sure it must be a racing shoe, the horse racing equivalent of racing alloy wheels on modern cars. We may now have an answer but, surprisingly, that answer refers to two shoes, so where the 2nd now is, we can not tell.
William’s email told of a note he had received from an old school chum from 60 years ago pointing to a collection of journalistic articles called ‘Thames at War’ by one Bernard Drew, and William had already looked through these and found reference to Cambria and the horseshoes.
Bernard Drew writes….
Beating the Bombers
Proudly playing their part in the Battle of Britain, many of the picturesque Thames sailing barges daily sally forth into the front line, carrying cargoes around the coasts. Nazi raiders hold no terrors for the tough skippers, who with a rifle as their only means of defence seem more concerned about the weather and the tides. Bombing takes a back seat with these old salts. At least, that was the impression “Cully” Tovell, master of the sailing barge Cambria, gave when, as the first reporter to make awar-time trip in a sea-going barge, I sailed down the Thames and round to an East Coast port with him.
Cambria is the most famous of London barges. She holds both the championships of the Thames and Medway, won in the last races before the War, in 1937. The trip was not without dramatic incidents, though we were not attacked. I boarded the Cambria at her home port, where she was built 35 years ago “come November”, as the skipper figured it. “We occasionally get bombed”, he told me, “but I don’t take much notice of the planes. Not long ago one dropped two bombs 50 or 100 yards away. I thought he was one of ours. Two or three Hurricanes were up in a second, and he was gone like a flash”.
With sails hoisted, we got under way, tacking down river, and I learned something of how these barges, despite all the hazards, are carrying on with their job almost as in peace time. There are regulations, of course, which have to be obeyed, and sailing is not made easier by minefields. But the skippers put up with these additional inconveniences, and trust in the Navy and R.A.F. to guard them. So far, I gathered, the only casualties among the Thames barge fleets in this war have been due to Acts of God. As we stood in the little wheelhouse, which should give the barge its quota of good luck, for two horseshoes hanging in it were once worn by the famous steeplechaser Golden Miller, the skipper told me something about his crew of two – Alf the mate, aged 19, and Jim, the 18-year-old cook and deck hand. “They are good lads and so they should be”, he said. “I was a barge master at 20, but some of the youngsters you get to-day won’t be at 40. My first trip was to Antwerp, and I shall never forget it”.
I found Jim the stuff of which British lads are made. Two weeks previously he was working at a factory in Essex – both Alf and he hail from Grays. Though he did not know it, there was salt water in his veins. Bombs, mines, U-boats or E-boats did not worry him. He tried to get away deep-sea, but being without the necessary experience had no luck. So Jim became half the crew of the Cambria, and with us made his first trip to sea. Alf has been in barges since he left school.”
Fascinating stuff. You can link to the original (long!) document at
The horse, (says Wikipedia) “Golden Miller (1927–1957) was a Thoroughbred racehorse who is the most successful Cheltenham Gold Cup horse ever, having won the race in five consecutive years between 1932 and 1936. He also is the only horse to have won both of the United Kingdom’s premier steeplechase races – the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National in the same year (1934).” on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_Miller.
Thank you very very much for that, William. Nice one.