A Very British Holiday
For many families in years gone by, a holiday camp was the destination of choice. Susan Claremont-Smith shares her recollections.
Susan Claremont-Smith remembers
AS a child, I spent many happy times in holiday camps with my parents, sister and extended family of aunties, uncles and cousins. Our first three holidays were at Minster on the Isle of Sheppey, Kent, whilst our last campers’ holiday was at St Clare, Puckpool, Ryde, on the Isle of Wight.
What a great idea Captain Harry Warner and his three sons had – setting up camps which allowed families to holiday by the seaside.
At the time we lived in London, so for us it was quite enchanting to wander through a gate in the hedge that led from the holiday camp down to the beach – a pebbly one at Minster and a sandy one at St Clare’s, perfect for sandcastle-building competitions, and where my sister won a prize.
I had an unexpected win, too, but mine was for wildflower posy arranging on a countryside ramble later in the week.
Even now, I can clearly recall the friendly welcome of the Greencoat team standing arm in arm as guests walked through the main gate before being shown to pretty chalets with brightly patterned curtains.
By today’s standards the accommodation was small, but oh, how I loved the snugness, with cosy double bunk beds and a narrow rickety wardrobe in which we squashed all of our clothes for the next two weeks.
Every day was exciting. Mornings were heralded by a jolly Tannoy announcement with a timetable of entertainment. Soon chalet doors would be slamming shut as groups of holidaymakers hurried to the communal dining-rooms, where I thought the first meal of the day was a feast.
We were encouraged to join Warner’s Wagtails club. We had a great time and learned the secret sign that we believed only club members knew about, but it didn’t take our father very long to work out that the rubbing of our right ear lobes meant something other than that we had a problem with our ear!
Grown-ups told us they knew we weren’t far away when verses of the club song could be heard before the multi-coloured centipede of new friends came into view, back from an outing or a jaunt around the camp.
And while the children were away, the adults would play, if they wished. Holidaymakers were divided into two teams on arrival for the duration of their stay – Cads and College. Some games were amusing, such as walkingstick hockey and knobbly knees contests, others more serious like tug-of-war, swimming and diving.
No holiday would be complete without beauty parades for young and old. We clapped and cheered with great admiration as beauty queens and princesses, musclemen and princes were selected on the terraces beside the swimming pool.
On hot days we swam in the swimming pool. On cloudy days it was a great treat to be transported by our parents in a cycle for four as we raced and laughed with them around the camp.
At some time during the day there was usually a trip to the amusement arcade. The whole family played penny slot and pinball machines, whilst music from the juke box blared out tunefully in the background.
A guaranteed reward could be had from the sixpenny trinket machine, brightly lit and enticing. I couldn’t resist it and listened as my sixpence dropped, then watched longingly as a miniature white box containing a surprise was pushed towards a chute.
Down it slid to the metal collection area below and I eagerly looked inside to find a gilt brooch or a sparkling pendant. Best of all was a pair of lilac floral clip-on earrings, which after a while made both of my ears smart.
The ballroom was a hub of activity in the evenings, starting off with family singing followed by dancing.
It seemed that everyone could ballroom dance and the ladies’ dresses were a whirl of full skirts as they were swished around the dance floor. Mid evening, magicians and other variety acts followed.
At this stage children could be taken back to their chalets and tucked safely up in their beds. Doors were locked and a hankie tied on the handle to indicate to the Greencoat childlistening service where they must check and alert parents if a child was awake. How times have changed!
Well, I don’t suppose every minute was rosy and happy, as the smell of Germolene and the mustiness of the first-aid hut comes to mind, too, but a few years ago I came across an old Warner’s Wagtails badge for sale in a bric-à-brac shop.
Its edges were worn dull with time, but the memories it sparked were cheerful and fresh, just like the perky little bird logo that still shone in its centre.
photographs. We treasure our holiday camp
All set for the fancy dress party.