Helicopter Rescue - Summer 1966 - Canvey Kindness - Hills Family

I wonder if any local contributors recall a small drama that occurred by the Chapman Sands during the August Bank Holiday of 1966? I was 14 at the time and my father, Lawrence James Hills (Jim) had taken his lovingly converted ship’s lifeboat, ‘Kerguelen’ from its mooring at Putney for a weekend trip to the Thames Estuary. The crew consisted of my brother Robert (16), cousin Bill (14) and my father’s friend, Jimmy Sims and myself, Christopher.

Unfortunately, the engine died just as we were passing the Chapman Sands on a falling tide and we were washed onto the foundations of the old Chapman Light, the rubble of which holed the hull.

The weather had turned quite squally and we were being badly battered. Luckily we were able to shout to some passers by on the Canvey shore and they called the coastguard. After some frightening minutes a helicopter from RAF Manston was hovering overhead and winched we three teenages off, landing us just onshore behind the sea wall. Some kind and generous members of a Canvey yacht club took us under their wings and provided overnight food and lodging until the following morning when an uncle came to fetch us home. I believe it was the Island Yacht Club but possibly Benfleet?

Meanwhile, my father and his friend managed to repair the hull with a ‘tingle’ patch during the low tide period: a repair that remained water-tight until the boat was sold some years later! Dad and Jim sailed ‘Kerguelen back upstream some days later.

I just wanted to pay tribute to those very kind and generous Canvey Islanders who raised the alarm and then provided such safety and great hospitality to 3 very shaken youngsters. My father really appreciated the help given to him by yacht club members too. So a belated but huge thank you to anyone involved.

My family on both sides (Hills and Brock) has longstanding connections with the Southend, Canvey, Rochford and Rayleigh area. Both of my parents were born/lived part of their childhoods in Southend and Leigh, until WWII caused both families to move to Surrey. My Great Grandfather, Robert Hills, ran the Cock Inn in Rochford around 1935, lived there and is buried with his wife in the St Andrew’s churchyard. He was a keen boatman and I have numerous old photos of him and his family messing about in boats around Canvey, Holehaven, The Ray, Leigh and other estuary locations. Letters mention forays to ‘The Lobster Smack’. My Great Grandmother, Gertrude Webster, ran the ‘The Weir’ tearooms on the A13 before the war and briefly afterwards, before emigrating to Canada with my Grandparents in the late 40’s. My 2nd Cousins, surnamed Wallace lived in the Rayleigh and Wickford areas during and after the war too.

If anyone has memories of any of these incidents or people, I’d be very happy to hear about them.

With very many thanks and much affection, Christopher Hills.

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