Not only did Tim Koch send me the copies of Steve Fairbairn’s letters, he also sent me some wonderful stories about an old member of Kensington RC, Tom Everson. I leave the scene over to Tim and Tom.
While looking for Steve’s letter I also found a wonderful piece by an old Kensington member, Tom Everson (1908-2008). He was active from 1928 to 1939 but maintained his membership and interest in the club until his death. His prose is pure Bertie Wooster, though even those not familiar with the works of P.G. Wodehouse [seen in the photograph] will still appreciate it:
[Tom Everson recollected] Piggy Eyre, Thames but also Kensington: “I remember a very bent heavily built old gentleman who would (weather permitting) come up onto the club balcony from time to time to watch the ‘shipping’. Deaf as a post – BUT he had his moments. At a club dinner once the elder John [Julius] Beresford was replying for the guests as from Thames Rowing Club. His speech (often the same one) was a sort of traditional rowing homily and (usually) rather long. Through the haze of tobacco smoke came Piggy’s booming voice ‘Why’s HE replying for the visitors? HE used to belong to this club YEARS AND YEARS AGO’. And again much later ‘IS HE STILL TALKING?’”
Other people remembered by Tom – in the style of Wodehouse with no nod to political correctness:
“Henry Castlemain. Old prep school friend of mine – went to sea – gained 2nd mates ticket – swallowed the anchor – was my best man. Killed in war defusing a Jerry bomb in Liverpool.
Howard Smart. Until you got to know him he gave the unfortunate impression of of a ‘public (private) school lout’. I went to finals day at Henley with him once. We both got very pickled indeed in the company of two very serious minded individuals from New College Oxford who drank nothing but WATER.I don’t know how either of us got home – or how much of our sinful life we must have confided in them, but we both received polite little invitations to an Oxford Group Squash – a sort of earnest, hysterical self-examination orgy beloved of the late Dr Buchman. We didn’t go.
Major Lisle. President for a number of years. A keen cyclist, in fact, I believe, in the early years of the century, he was something of a pioneer in organising mobile infantry units. He was five foot nothing in height, had a round bullet head and a walrus moustache. In spite of his advanced years he would come down, collect an unwary crew of shy newcomers and take them afloat. He always stroked, and crammed in as many as he could to the minute, racing up and down his slide like a steam piston with his moustache puffed out in front of him. Tradition has it that he was once stroking a leading a crew in a race when a certain Frenchman in the crew suddenly threw away his oar, waved his arms in despair and shouted ‘I CAN ROW NO MORE. I DIE. I AM OUT OF BREETH’.
There was a time when we went a little international:
Eckhaus. A little blond German with a ready smile. I was never sure where he fitted in the German political spectrum. He might have been Semitic in which case our nickname for him of ‘Adolf’ could have been hurtful but it never seemed to worry him seriously.
Zimmerman. A Czech who frightened the life out of us with his fitness…. I once pointed out the club dartboard to him and his comment was ‘For TRAININK JA?’
Broady Broadbridge. 1914/18 veteran, got the MC, had a fixed idea on the absence of intestinal fortitude in all foreigners. Had two daughters that he referred to as his ‘coxless pair’.
Just before the War (we had several members who) belonged to the ‘Westminster Dragoons’ (a Territorial Army / National Guard Armoured Unit). Rude non military types like me refereed to them as ‘Hyde Park Lancers’. There was a tendency for ‘bum freezer’ mess jackets to appear at Club Dances.
SERIOUSLY though, I love to remember bitterly cold still frosty Sunday morning when we manned the boats. The first mile was HELL with hands stiff and numb with cold. Then the blood would start circulating and the boat would travel smoothly over the dead calm water as we settled down to alternate firm and light paddling up to the Doves at Richmond where we landed for a sandwich and a glass of beer. Then back in the afternoon. We gained a wonderful belief in ourselves, I remember few things in life I have enjoyed so much. My eternal thanks to the Club.”
“Nicely put,” Tim writes, and I agree. They don’t make them like that anymore… Thank you Tim, for yet another brilliant and entertaining entry, and for the copies of the Fairbairn letters!