In December 1913, Ernest Hellström, a Swede who had immigrated to the United States and lived in the town East Orange, New Jersey, received a card from his friend Wilhelm in Stockholm. The card, which has Christmas greetings, has two green, old 5-öres stamps with the portrait of King Oscar II, and carries the postmark, 15/12 1913. The date, 15 December 1913, reveals that Wilhelm had sent this Christmas card a little late if he wanted Ernest to receive it before Christmas Eve. Wilhelm’s message is short: “I hope to soon receive some lines from you. Have a Merry Christmas, Best Wishes, Your Friend Wilhelm.”
Nowadays, slightly 96 years later, we know nothing of Ernest and Wilhelm. Maybe they once rowed together in one of the rowing clubs in the Swedish capital? The motif on the front of the card is very much a rowing scene. In the front is an oarsman, with a red cap and socks, wearing a blue blazer, which has something red pinned on the lapel. The rower is holding an oar with a red painted blade with white stripes. In the background, we can see a coxed four getting ready for the first stroke. The coxswain and the oarsmen in the four are all wearing the same red cap as the oarsman in the foreground. For certain the colour red is to be found on the club’s flag.
Further off from the shell, are some steamboats and a habour and a silouette of a shoreline. It is impossible to know if the motif and its details are from a real place, but for sure it is not a site in Sweden, nor are the oarsmen members of a Swedish rowing club. The reverse side, where Ernest’s name and his USA address are written, discloses German spelling, as does the printed “Hipp, hipp, hurrah” on the front of the card.
But German, or not, the essence is there, and that is probably what Wilhelm was thinking about when he sent his Christmas card to his friend Ernest across the Atlantic Ocean: the battle between crews, the camaraderie, the spirit of friendship, and the pure joy of pulling an oar in a boat with fellow oarsmen.
And as we all know, as Ratty so accurately put it: “there is nothing – absolutely nothing – half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”