TWO French boats took part in a sail past at the Thames Traditional Boat Festival as a tribute to victims of the terrorist attack in Nice.
Patricia Pickard and Christine Lafargue sailed to Henley from St Malo in north-west France on their respective Rampart motor cruisers, Chickadee and Lady Brandon, especially for the event.
Thousands of spectators stood on the banks of Fawley Meadows to pay their respects at about 1pm on Sunday.
More than 80 people died in Nice when an attacker drove a lorry into people celebrating Bastille Day on a beach on Thursday last week.
The two French boats, who both flew a black flag as a sign of mourning, were joined by war ships MTB102, ST1502 and CMB9, which took part in the First and Second World Wars.
An announcement was read by commentator Jan Stanton, from Henley, shortly before the sail past.
She said: “Today in the peace and sunshine of our festival we would like to add to our programme a very special tribute, in the light of the terrible news from Nice.
“This festival has been glad to welcome two boats from France, who have sailed from St Malo to be with us so our own community of the river, residents of Henley-on-Thames and all our most welcome visitors from far and wide, may stand to salute the bravery of the people of France in their own fight against terrorism.” The message was then read in French by Mrs Stanton’s husband Mike.
A bugler played The Last Post while Brian Hughes, standard bearer for the Henley branch of the Royal British Legion, and Colin Davies, the Peppard and district standard bearer, dipped their standards.
As the boats made their way along the Thames, spectators clasped their hands and bowed their heads while people onboard their boats put a hand over their hearts.
Members of the Henley sea and army cadets stood to attention and saluted. Mrs Stanton thought the festival should do something when she saw the French boats sail past with black flags on Saturday.
She said: “The music and the festival as a whole just stopped for 20 minutes – the whole audience. I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house. Sometimes these things happen and they just work.
“The support everybody gave and the emotion that went into the result was absolutely astonishing. It was better than we could have hoped for.” During the sail past boats dipped their ensigns, the flags on boats to show nationality, and the oars on Gloriana, the Queen’s barge, were held up straight in salute.
The festival’s organising committee decided to do the sail past in the early hours of the morning.
John Skuse, chairman of the festival, said: “One of our lady members said at 3am we must do something to show solidarity with Nice.
“We went down to see the French Rampart owners and five of the six people on the boats burst into tears.
“We chose a few war ships as escorts, arranged a bugler and had a naval guard of honour as they came past the commentary box.
“It was very emotional but well received and appreciated. It was pretty moving when we had the sail past.”
Mr Skuse said he thought attendance to the event would be “in excess of 10,000”.
The festival was previously known as the Thames Traditional Boat Rally but was rebranded last year.
“The change to be more of a family festival, rather than a rally, has been a great success,” Mr Skuse said.
Spectators lined the banks, many setting up deckchairs, to watch the boats on the water while others sailed their boats down to the enclosures and enjoyed picnics and champagne whilst soaking up the atmosphere.
More than 180 boats had signed up for the festival but hundreds could be seen on the river throughout the weekend.
They included slipper launches, canal boats, canoes, cabin launches, gig boats, motor cruisers, open launches, punts, rowing boats, skiffs, coracles, tugs and steam boats.
The Queen’s barge the Gloriana returned for the second consecutive year and was rowed by members of Phyllis Court Rowing Club on Sunday.
But Sir Malcolm Campbell’s 130mph world record-breaking speedboat, the Bluebird K3, was unable to appear due to mechanical problems.
At last year’s event the hydroplane boat made it on to the water but was side-lined by an engine fire.
Festival organisers handed out 30 trophies. Categories included best photography, best-dressed man and woman, best hat and best vehicle as well as a host of awards for boats.
The winner of the Fred and Sheila Bourne Trophy, for best boat in show, was won by Susanne Williams, from Burnham, and her 1935 Robinson Commuter yacht Judith R.
The boat has been restored over the last 10 years by Woottens, a boatbuilder in Cookham Dean.
Mrs Williams, who also won three other awards, said: “It’s unbelievable to win the awards. We have spent the last 10 years rebuilding and restoring it with the most wonderful boatbuilder.
“I think the most important thing to say is that we wanted to preserve a piece of history. I also love Art Deco and she is a true Art Deco boat.”
Adam Toop, who took over as chief judge this year, helped to give out awards on Sunday afternoon.
He said: “Judging is a very imprecise science at best. I think it’s fair to say it’s all quite emotional. They have a tough job praising the boats and adding advice where it might be needed. The standards are unrecognisable compared to a handful of years ago.
“What was a remarkable varnish finish then would not win a prize now. The restoration and preservation of these crafts help make sure the standards remain high.
“The depth and expertise in our judging panel is unmatched. They come back agonising and making sure the right decision has been made.”
Ed Simons, chairman of trustees for the Kenton Theatre, gave out awards for best-dressed people.
One of these was won by Lucie Henwood, who runs boatbuilders Henwood and Dean with husband Colin.
She dedicated her award to Peter Freebody, who used to run the Hurley-based boatbuilders of the same name and passed away in 2011.
“I love this festival and so many people make it work,” Mrs Henwood said. “I will talk about my hat, which is dedicated to all boatbuilders, we have some of the most incredible boatbuilders on the Thames here but also there are boatbuilders here from across the country.
“This is dedicated to Peter Freebody, who wore a hat here every year and if you know it, you won’t forget it. He was a truly remarkable man.”
The festival also saw air displays on both Saturday and Sunday, featuring vintage and wartime aircraft including the RAF Battle of Britain Memorial Flight’s Spitfire, Hurricane and Lancaster.
There was a vintage fairground with rides and stalls for all the family and music performances in the Golden Ball pop-up restaurant across the weekend by jazz bands Anne and the Dough Boys, from Henley, and Swing 42.
Henley Mayor Julian Brookes, who officially opened the festival on Saturday, held a barn dance, featuring band Tanglefoot on Sunday.
• Next year’s event will be from July 14 to July 16.