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SOUTH OF ENGLAND RALLY RIVERSIDE CHARITY SPECTACULAR
Runnymede - Sunday 15 May 2011

This year's South of England Rally, set on a beautifully flat meadow on a deep bend of the River Thames at Runnymede, reflected the setting and theme of a similar and very successful event we held in 2008, just a few miles upstream at Eton. And every bit as successful this time, several thousand people gathered at Runnymede on 15 May - a warm sunny Sunday - to enjoy an occasion to celebrate the contribution of so many organisations and individuals - not least that of our own Sir Henry Royce - to the freedom we enjoy today.

Sunlit display of Rolls-Royc and Bentley motor cars.

The outstanding efforts and ingenuity of Sir Henry Royce, and the immense contribution his engines made on land, sea and in the air during both World Wars, was marked by a sunlit display of 300 Rolls-Royce and Bentley motor cars dating from the original 1907 Silver Ghost AX201 through to the latest models from Goodwood. Added to this a Rolls-Royce 27-litre Merlin engine - undoubtedly and by far the most successful engine of its era - was fired up to the excitement of the crowds as too was a WWI Gnome rotary engine. These were exhibits of the indefatigable team of P&A Woods who brought along an incredible display including a recently restored 8 litre WO Bentley rolling chassis and a pristine and airworthy Tiger Moth once owned by Bentley Motors. The worldwide predominance in aero-engines that Rolls-Royce has upheld for a century was demonstrated by a wonderful display of cut-away model aero engines supplied courtesy of Rolls-Royce plc at Bristol and Derby.

  Silver Ghost AX201.   RR 27-litre Merlin engine.  
  1907 Rolls-Royce Silver Ghost AX201.   Rolls-Royce 27-litre Merlin engine.  

A flotilla of Dunkirk Little Ships and several surviving veterans of the remarkable evacuation of some 330,000 allied soldiers from the Dunkirk beaches supported the event, providing a colourful sail-past honouring the High Sheriff of Surrey, the Mayor of Runnymede, and numerous other dignitaries. On disembarking to a salute from the 1834 bronze guns of the Royal Yacht Squadron, the High Sheriff, Mayor and our new Chairman James Fleming were driven for a review of the rally field in AX201 prior to the opening ceremony and speeches of welcome.

Many others supporting the theme of the day laid on excellent displays and exhibitions. Bletchley Park Museum, the code-breaking centre which played a major role in winning the Battle of the Atlantic, was there with the original Enigma cipher machine and some fascinating related objects (alas David Balme, who retrieved the Enigma machine and the all-important code book from the sinking German U-Boat U-110, was unable to attend on this occasion owing to failing health). RRMC from Goodwood kindly provided a breathtaking new Phantom; and the Royal Automobile Association brought an impressive selection of historic vehicles including their most valuable historic asset, a 1902 French Mors rear-entrance tonneau, registration number RAC 1.


Elegant gondolas.   Boat trips on the river.

City Barge brought two elegant gondolas and the 'Royal Thamesis' shallop, a replica of the ornate six-oared Royal Barge built for Queen May in 1689. Unfortunately, following launching problems at Windsor, it arrived too late to take centre-stage in the sail-past but it still provided a spectacular sight on the river. The Fleet Air Arm, together with its 'Fly Navy' Heritage Trust which exists to keep its historic aircraft in operation, is always keen to support our events, and brought an impressive display including a very large model aircraft carrier which was electrically-powered to pitch and roll as if in a gale. Children (and not a few adults as well!) were invited to assemble a variety of balsa wood model aircraft and fly them, with the aid of a rubber catapult, off the deck into a distant net. Those who succeeded got to keep their aircraft while those who did not kept trying until they did while everyone, it seemed, was totally absorbed in the fun of it all!

Many others supported the day including innumerable Dragon Boats, launches and skiffs of several local clubs, while the Surrey Police and Surrey Fire Brigade turned up with a mixture of historic and modern vehicles plus seemingly countless but very helpful and enthusiastic officers. Unfortunately our planned flypasts, by the Battle of Britain Memorial Flight and by the Swordfish and Seafire of the FAA, came to nothing through the intransigence of Heathrow Air Traffic Control.

One of the undoubted successes of the day was the charter of the 1898 coal-fired steam launch SL Nuneham to run trips every hour from the rally field upstream through one of the prettiest reaches of the Thames. This elegant and sleek 90ft teak-and-brass vessel with its almost silent triple-expansion engine proved so popular it was filled to capacity on the later trips and it was necessary (pleasantly so) to extend the charter to meet the demand.

WH Bence Coachworks Ltd, a Bristol firm which produces massive custom-built vehicles for all manner of purposes, generously provided us with a vast marquee (which, along with other displays, housed the Club Shop) and a huge pantechnicon with a luxury reception area, a verandah for speeches and announcements and an elegant awning where morning coffee and, later, lengthy and very fulfilling lunches were served. Many, however, opted for a traditional picnic beside their cars or on the river bank where the weather suited such arrangements and since then, many members have proposed we come back to this pleasant venue in the future, even suggesting it is one of the best we have ever had.

And I must not forget to mention the raffle, which was a record thanks to so many generous donors (and equally generous subscribers), nor the Egham Brass Band who, with their sterling music, helped turn the whole day into a very delightful and special occasion.

Others, whom I have simply forgotten to thank, may deservedly berate me later.

Andy Courtney - Secretary of the Meeting

Photos: Chris Tween