Eulogies

Read by James Gayner

bunny borthwickMy Lords, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Good afternoon and thank you all so much for coming to this service. My Grandmother would be tickled pink to see so many of her old and young friends here. And we, the family, would like to thank you all for your wonderful letters with so many touching memories of her.

Pamela Borthwick, nee Walker, known to all as Bunny, had a wonderful life: she lived in a place she loved, she didn’t have to be a wage slave and she lived in an age when a few little eccentricities were de rigueur! She was born in Bangalore in 1921, the youngest of three children, with an elder brother Malcolm and an elder sister Boodles. Her mother Dorothy, a very independent and adventurous lady had met a handsome young British army officer in 1913 while travelling on a boat up the Irrawaddy. He was on leave from his regiment the 30 th Lancers, known as Gordon’s Horse, in India. The romance was stormy, but she followed him to back to the UK where they were married just before the Great War broke out. The family then lived in India followed by South Africa, finally coming back to England to live in Corfe Mullen in Dorset where Dorothy finally realised her mistake and divorced him. In the mid thirties, Dorothy inherited Bignalls on the death of her sister. There was plenty to occupy a teenager in Beaulieu in those days – sailing with the newly formed sailing club, racing in Sharpies, tennis parties, prawning in the Swatchway and skating on Hatchett pond were some of Bunny’s favourites.

After Bunny left the Royal School at Bath, she first trained as a Margaret Morris Movement dance teacher (this dance form never caught on and certainly her efforts to teach her daughters fell on stony ground) and later as a physiotherapist. In fact, her first job was teaching riding (learnt from her excellent horseman father) at a school near Lydford in Devon. It was there during the early war years, that she went on a blind date with a girlfriend who was having dinner in a pub in Newton Ferrers with her Naval boyfriend. He brought along a brother officer to make up the four and this was one David Borthwick. Romance blossomed. David’s lodgings in Plymouth had been bombed and with his compensation cheque of £12 (for all his belongings!) he bought an old MG sports car called Alexander which Bunny found particularly attractive! She later told her granddaughters to choose a boyfriend by his car!

Bunny loved the war years. Initially she volunteered as a land girl, but her physio skills were called on for treating various silent men billeted at the House in the Wood, which had been requisitioned by the SOE. These men had back and lower leg injuries; she was totally forbidden to talk to them, but their trade was obvious. She then transferred to the Wrens and had exciting times at Portsmouth as a member of the boats crew on the Commodore Landing Craft’s barge in the run up to D-Day. She clearly remembered the build-up of ships in the Solent along with the many landing craft and Mulberry Harbour sections in the Beaulieu River. Her barge also escorted the King who was inspecting the invasion fleet. She could toss the boat hook and dance the hornpipe as well as anyone.

Bunny and David had married in 1943 and were apart for much of the rest of the war. When war ended, David stayed in the Navy and continued his engineering career as a submariner, both at sea and in the construction of the new Polaris boats on shore. Sara was born in 1947, Ginna in 1948. David and Bunny both loved sailing and owned a succession of wonderful old and only just seaworthy boats which Sara and Ginna remember as children. I think they even lived on one of them for a short time. There was a lot of make and mend and life was very contented.

After postings in Malta and Bath, where Emma was born in 1958, the family moved back to Bignalls in 1959 so that Bunny could look after her ailing mother, who then died in 1961. Bignalls had become the permanent home in the village she so loved.

bunny oyster catcherSo, enter the Beaulieu River Sailing Club. The club had been started in 1932 by Pearl Pleydell-Bouverie with Bunny’s mother Dorothy and her aunt Anne Clerk as early founding members, so it had always been a part of life in Beaulieu and the original Beaulieu clinker-built scow was a class boat along with the Beaulieu Sharpie. The club had been based in Buckler’s Hard and Bunny was instrumental in moving it to Need’s Ore in 1957, but they needed a new and more modern class boat than the now antiquated Sharpie. A boatbuilder, Palace Quay Boats, had set up a workshop in 1959 by the fire station in Beaulieu and Bunny asked them to build fibreglass scows which were available in kit form. Various local families bought them and Bunny, recognising that there wasn’t anywhere for local children to learn to sail, while the club also needed regeneration, started her sailing school from Bignalls’s jetty. Many of her pupils are here today. This wasn’t just one week a year – this was for three weeks in the Easter holidays and six weeks in the summer – it took over the families’ lives! The girls also had ponies, so had to ride when the tide was down and sail when the tide was up. Bunny, who loved teaching anyway, had found her raison d’etre. She set out her own method of teaching, very much pre RYA. There was little in the way of a safety boat, they just about had lifejackets; seamanship, rowing, knowledge of tides and knot tying were compulsory and parents were not encouraged to stay to watch. They all had huge fun. Sara and Ginna were probably never given any lunch when the sailing was in full swing and Emma, who was still quite small at the beginning, had to hang around and watch. Bunny invented all sorts of fun races, the Mr and Mrs Smith race, (this involved rowing to the other side of the river, supposedly losing the oars, so Mr Smith had to swim (no health and safety here) and push while Mrs Smith had to use an umbrella like a sail, also obstacle courses, treasure hunts and the now much-loved cork scramble originated with her. There were picnics down the river roasting sausages and marshmallows on bonfires, many races and there were also the camps – many of you will remember these! The last one as late as 1980 ended in disaster as Bunny had not taken into account that the boys might raid the girls’ tents at night – no more camps after that! This behaviour was seen as a symptom of the decline in late 20 th century morals! Her sailing school not only produced some very expert young sailors, but also provided a holiday activity that gathered the local children together. Many became lifelong friends, even resulting in a few marriages! Her legacy of the Junior instruction is still one of the highlights of the BRSC.

Bunny and David were prominent in most of the other BRSC events at Needs Ore and had helped to choose a new class of sailing dinghy for the older children to graduate into after scows. This was the 420. There were many regattas including 420 and Finn open meets – in the early days, before the first hut, the facilities at Needs Ore were non-existent with no cooker, so Bunny took down her mother’s old wartime caravan and flashed up hamburgers from that – the NAAFI at Needs Ore! The great difference between Needs Ore then and today was that the Swatchway (now Bay of Pigs) was open to the Solent creating a ready-made triangular course for racing – out through the Swatch, down round the tripod and back up the river. The spinnakers were up for the Solent run, usually in quite a heavy sea, and many dramas took place. The safety boat was David’s old launch which was very slow and difficult to start! The Club had become moribund during the war: Her enthusiasm and energy did much to revitalise this much-loved Beaulieu institution both for those on the water and those who just attended the social events such as the Winter Dance.

David and Bunny always owned a yacht of some sort and family holidays were usually on the boat for a couple of weeks somewhere, either down the West Coast or across to France and the Channel Islands, and then skiing in the winter - Bunny actually won a lady’s race one year, probably on skis with cable bindings!

All this came to a halt in 1966 when David was posted to Australia on secondment to the Australian navy. Bunny was horrified – there will be kangaroos in the garden and Aussies just don’t know how to behave! She packed up the necessities of life to take out to make it more like home in Canberra – these included silver candelabra, Persian rugs, paintings of the Beaulieu River and a 420 dinghy! They bought a house in a pleasant suburb of Canberra and my Grandmother realised it wasn’t so bad… and then totally loved it – all the adventurous early pioneering spirit came to the fore and she was forever setting off digging for gold or opals, riding out into the bush, swimming in rivers, gathering and eating oysters off the rocks at the coast, skiing, possibly then a bit old for surfing! Ginna went on an opal digging expedition to Lightning Ridge with her and a friend. The whole thing was completely mad and great fun. Driving home down an outback road they first came across a very large dead, or possibly dead, snake. Bunny stopped the car and announced she was going to collect the snake and put it in the car to take back to show David – ‘no way’ the others cried and don’t even open the car door! Further on they passed a dead echidna – same again happened, but they let her collect it until, after about a mile the stink was so awful, that even she agreed to stop and throw it out. She made new friends, Emma was at school in Canberra and the swimming pool was always teeming with children and adults. David ran an enormous fridge in the garage which was for booze only and parties were frequent as were trips to other parts of Australia. She loved the warm weather as arthritis was beginning to take its toll on her joints even though she was still in her 40s. They were there for 6 years in all and despite many threats to stay there for good, they realised that their daughters were now starting to marry and have children back in England, so they returned to Bignalls.

The sailing started again, but not for quite so many weeks. The 420s had been superseded by Lasers as a single-handed boat was now more appropriate for the club. Bunny became known as the Admiral of the Upper Reaches and Helen Tew as Admiral of the Lower Reaches. They jointly kept the young sailing and the club’s activities developing. By the late 1980s Bunny was slightly slowing up, she had in total 5 hip and one knee replacements so in 1986 she retired from teaching the children and my mother took over, but only with continuous lectures on the right way to teach. She still sailed her scow occasionally and enjoyed rowing and sailing lessons with the grandchildren. She was elected Vice-Commodore of the BRSC in 1996 after the death of Pearl Pleydell-Bouverie and she much enjoyed this more land based role.

The garden, her other great love, had taken its toll on her physically and skiing accidents hadn’t helped. Her garden at Bignalls was a huge source both of pain and pleasure - there were regular unexplained deaths amongst the Rhodys and Azaleas, but the amazing show of colour in early summer was worth all the hard work and she devoted much time and love to this along with the fruit cage and vegetable garden much to the benefit of her children and grandchildren, especially her homemade raspberry jam!

She started up new interests and rarely sat still – there was china mending which was actually quite useful, then stone polishing which was not. All the girls have totally unwearable bits of jewellery made out of polished stones crafted with lots of loving care. She painted quite well using her aunt’s 1920s watercolour box, but sadly never took lessons. One wonders what she might have learnt if she had embraced the internet, but that was a step too far.

Fortuitously for my grandparents, Sara and Bunter bought Bignalls off them in 2005 so Bunny and David retired down to the Boat House at the bottom of the garden. This had its problems and Bunny never really understood that the garden, or even the house, were no longer hers, but it was a good solution as to where they were going to live and their family could keep an eye on them. Sara, by then sadly widowed, gave much of her time to their welfare. David’s ketch Artful still lived on the jetty, so life went on much as before. Bunny could keep an eagle eye on the scow sailing and the junior instruction weeks from the vantage point of her terrace.

David died in 2010 after a short illness when they were both aged 89. Bunny was fine up to the age of 95 and even still driving until an altercation with a gate post persuaded her to hand over the car keys. She never failed to remind us that she had learnt to drive on a naval lorry, so was in fact a far better driver than any of us could ever hope to be – age just didn’t come into it! However, her health was failing and in her last two years she was very well looked after at St George’s in Milford where the staff became very fond of her. We are extremely grateful to them.

Bunny was kind and thoughtful - she would be the first with a posy of flowers or even ‘beef tea’ for anyone who was ill! She was generous, eccentric, energetic, indomitable, indefatigable, at times impossible, an institution all of her own and absolutely wonderful. There is no doubt that she will be horrified if the Angels and Archangels don’t know how to row, sail, tie or tie a bowline, so lessons will be given. Many of you will have your own stories of Bunny, she was truly a one of a kind and she will be hugely missed by many more than just her family.

15 th March 2019