Eastbourne 1996


All the preparations for Dawn Watchers '96 were complete: the venue was booked, the meal and entertainment organised, the SDWS ties manufactured and the box of freebies from Tiger Breweries already delivered to the hotel, so Mick Conway and I thought that we could relax. How wrong can you be!   First Geoff Wightman phoned me one evening to see how the function had gone the previous weekend, (he had managed to get the wrong dates in his diary and was suicidal at missing an occasion that had not yet taken place!), quickly followed by Alan Jacobs and about twenty more Dawn Watchers all worried at the last minute whether or not tney had returned their bookings and were they booked into the Hotel?   Were these omens I wondered? 

So, with a little trepidation Pam and I set off for the "Fix of '96".   We RV'd with the Conway's mid-afternoon only to find some Dawn Watchers already in, or suspiciously close to, the bar.   Yes 'Noddy' Jones, narrowly beaten by Ken and Alison Smith on their first re-union, had just arrived.   On checking into our room, I find that the management have installed a fridge - stocked to the brim with Tiger Beer.   My protestations of innocence did not seem to be wholly accepted on the Distaff side for some strange reason, so I decided that it was probably safer to join the ever growing throng downstairs. 

Why is it that those with the furthest to travel invariably arrive first?   Already the Germany contingent of Chris and Nick (1988 Man of the Match) Collett were in situ, but they were upstaged totally by the appearance of Malc Bryan all the way from Dubbo, New South Wales. 

Most of the familiar Friday faces were soon catching up with the news, with Span and Muriel Spanholtz making a welcome return to the fold.   Once again a wonderful atmosphere prevailed, with the highlight(?) of the late evening/early morning being the community hymn-singing led by Dave Peaks on ancient guitar and Pete Pugh on bass ... voice.   Soon the bar of the Chatsworth Hotel rang to the sounds that had once made the rafters ring in Ayer Rajah Road.

Saturday saw many Dawn Watchers taking the bracing Sussex air, or being dragged round the Eastbourne shopping precinct with plastic money at the high port.   Several even made a nostalgic trip back to Maresfield and the Chequers and at one point there appeared to be a geriatric traffic jam in the old camp.   However, the absence of Connie meant that there were no posting orders available at the village inn.   Nick Collett thought that our cover had been blown wide open when, on entering a jewellers shop in Eastbourne he was asked "Are you going to 
the do, then?".   Not the local KGB resident, but rather ex-Corporal Ron Lawie RASC, the posting clerk from Maresfield circa 1964, whom I had found the previous year and who was to be our star surprise guest at the evening dinner.

Back at the hotel more guests had arrived, checked in, shaved, showered, cleaned their shoes and mustered by the bar at 1900 hours for dinner at 2000 hours.   Even Ken Downey was there, having previously booked into the wrong hotel entirely! The place was packed, buzzing to the hum of reminiscences of days of yore, and long lost friends greeting each other for the first time in many years.   First timers included Mick Rentell, John Mole and Jock Cassidy who by the end of the evening had lapsed into what seemed to be a dialect of Chinese.   Acker Dee arrived sans clarinet or photo of himself, Ray Feather without truck, and elder statesman Les Ledger with lovely wife Brenda.   Altogether 82 people sat down to a wonderful buffet worthy of any Christmas Draw or Summer Ball in the Officers' or Sergeants' Mess, and entertainment by a combo provided free by the hotel management.

Naturally the customary duck raffle was held after everyone, including Willie Lawson, had been bludgeoned into buying tickets by Pam and Margaret.   First prize of a duck chocolate jar was won by Bill Guest; second prize of a quacking cuddly duck was won by the aforementioned Willie (I only need one ticket) Lawson; and the third prize of a free weekend for two at the hotel was snaffled by another first-timer, Rod Harris.   In gratitude for his generosity in giving this last prize the owner of the Chatsworth, Mr Peter Hawley, was made an honorary Dawn Watcher by being presented with our special tie. 

The festivities continued well into the early hours, with even a mini reunion taking place:


Ex-Tonfanau Junior Leaders posing for photographs on the hotel steps.

Back Row L-R: Gavin Greenwood - Mick Roberts (P/S PTI) - Fred Philpott - Steve Whitney - René Dee
Front Row L-R: David (Mack) Mackney - Alan (Jake) Jacobs - Dave (Scouse) Wakelam

[Dave Wakelam]