By the day war was declared, Sunday, September 3, 1939, Burnham Week had been cancelled, but the River was still full of yachts. I had recently got engaged to the prettiest girl and the best crew in the Club, Commodore Horace Pitchers daughter Peggy, and we listened to the radio at 11 o’clock when Neville Chamberlain told us that we were at war. Then, among a handful of other yachts we went for a sail down the River in Felise half expecting to see German aircraft before we got to the Roach. What were our thoughts?Relief, Fear, Anti-climax, or just a nice day for a sail?
Surprisingly, the Club continued to run very much as usual. There had been an approach from the Training Ship Exmouth for boys to be evacuated to the Club, but this was resisted because of possible requirements of the armed forces. In fact, soon afterwards the Royal Corinthian accommodated the Exmouth boys for a year or so. The premises of the Corinthian and Crouch were closed to members early on. The Burnham was fortunate, and was able to offer facilities to them. In October 1939 honorary membership was extended to their members as a temporary measure. Then in February 1940, Corinthian members were invited to apply for membership without proposer and seconder, but in April they were all made Honorary members on payment by the club of 31lOs. The Crouch were also made hon. members and the United Hospitals were offered cadet membership.
In the early part of the 1940 summer, sailing was still going on, although there was a boom near the Mouth of the River below which yachts were not allowed. The R.B.O.D. and R.C.O.D. classes were racing, and as late as May 24 the Sailing Committee was appointed. Throughout the war, between the lines of the minute book, can be read an absolute refusal to accept that the Club could be prevented from continuing at least on a social basis.
The evacuation from Dunkirk was completed on June 4and it was not until just before this that all boats were laid up, except for a few requisitioned by the Services.
On August 4, 1940 it was recorded that the ladies dining room was to be used as a Naval Officers Mess and that the Admiralty would have the use of two small rooms. These were two of the cabins under what was then the ballroom. Kit Deacon, the Clubs steward was put into uniform to serve as steward for the officers mess.
This Naval presence was very small and was part of H.M.S. Pembroke IV, (Chatham Barracks.) It administered the personnel appointed to take over the M.L.s which were being built at Kings.
There can be little doubt that all through the requisitioning, the Navy treated our premises much more kindly than did those occupying the Corinthian. Other transient forces were invited to use the Club, not always with such happy results, and in Oct. 40 an Emergency General Meeting was called to consider the large amount of money owing to the Club by the officers of 8 Commando.
In August 1940 Commodore, Glynn Terrell, altered and furnished, at his own expense,two rooms which he rented for 20 a year. Then he presented the furniture to the Club. This might have been a happy arrangement, but the bickering over what belonged to the Commodore and what to the Club was not ended until 1946, when the Hon.Solicitor was asked to negotiate.
Two of the flats on the ground floor under the ballroom and cabins were owned by Mrs. Pitcher. Negotiations for the Club to buy these were the cause of a row between the Commodore and the current Hon. Solicitor, Joseph Wylie Patterson, extending over a long period. Eventually they were bought for 700 in March 1946.
On November 2, 1940 The Committee resolved that as far as possible the Club should get back to normal, both dining rooms being used. This was when the Blitz on Britain was in full swing, the Italians had occupied a large part of Egypt, and Germany had just invaded Rumania and Greece.
In October 1941 a decision on using the Cocktail bar permanently and closing the Gloster Lounge was deferred until the situation was more stable. In June the Germans had attacked Russia and in December the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbour.
During 1941/2 the River was being patrolled by No. 2 Motor Boat Company of the R.A.S.C.. These boats were requisitioned yachts but there is no record that any of them belonged to R.B. members.
At the A.G.M. in December 1942 a program of post-war racing was approved, though a member (Gurth Kimber) did ask whether it was realised that the war might last another four years. In June 1942 Rommel had reached El Alamein, probably one of the lowest points of the war, and in October he was pushed back again giving grounds for a glimmer of optimism. Also, in June, Lieut. Peter Watkinson Roberts was elected an Hon. Life Member in recognition of the award to him of the Victoria Cross for an operation in a submarine of which he was First Lieutenant.