September 17 2015: The Upper Thames Patrol

At the first meeting of the new subscription year, Geoff Hawkes, Chairman said that David Perry who had been Vice President of the Society has agreed to be president.

The first speaker was an old favourite, Bill King who talked to members on the Upper Thames Patrol (UTP) or ‘Up the Pubs’ as they were known as they so often met in pubs. This was an organisation formed in August 1939 (before the Home Guard) to defend the upper reaches of the Thames, from Teddington Lock to Lechlade. The Thames has 46 locks, 44 road bridges and 4 rail bridges and if there had been an invasion it would have been essential to have these crossing points well defended or destroyed if necessary. There were about 6000 members of the UTP consisting of Thames watermen and recruited civilians some of whose boats were recruited as well. The UTP was divided into the seven counties and within that each section had a stretch of river, e.g. from Lechlade to Oxford there were 30-60 men in three sections. Their duties included patrolling the banks of the Thames and looking for anything suspicious; sabotage was feared. Bill showed the defence plan for Radcot Bridge which through history had always been strategic crossing point of the Thames.

This was no exaggerated threat, there were German spies dropped in the area in WW2 who were captured and shot. The Upper Thames Patrol performed a valuable service from August 1939 – December 1944. Some of the boats still exist and Bill attends a Small Boat Rally which takes place after Henley Regatta with also the Dunkirk small ship survivors attending.

As it is the anniversary of the Battle of Britain taking place, it is important to remember that the threat to this country was very real, and although to the modern eye it seems like ‘Dad’s Army’ these men would have defended their patch to the death.