Oarsmen Who Gave Their Lives

The good Tim Koch of Auriol Kensington RC has sent me some e-mails about my entry The Carefree Boys (Saturday, 15 May 2010). Tim writes,

Your piece on ‘The Carefree Boys’, oarsmen who were killed in the 1914-1918 War, was very interesting. It is a topic that I have been thinking about for some time following research that I have done on my great-grandfather who was killed off Jutland in 1916 in the only great sea battle of The First World War. I think that many of us who have never served in the military are both fascinated and repulsed by the idea of exposing ourselves to danger. In the words of the eighteenth century man of letters, Dr Johnson:

“Every man thinks meanly of himself for not having been a soldier […] were Socrates and Charles the Twelfth of Sweden both present in any company, and Socrates to say, ‘Follow me, and hear a lecture on philosophy;’ and Charles, laying his hand on his sword, to say, ‘Follow me, and dethrone the Czar;’ a man would be ashamed to follow Socrates. Sir, the impression is universal; yet it is strange”.

All wars are tragic but the carnage of the 1914-1918 War, ‘The Great War’, is especially poignant. In Britain in August 1914, oarsmen would have been the first to volunteer for the war that was to ‘be over by Christmas’. They were young, fit and subject to the peer pressure of the crew and club. Men from the same street, workplace, college or sports club joined up in groups and were put in the same battalions. In Auriol Kensington we have a picture of the Kensington eight that won at Molesey Regatta in 1914. Four years later, four of them were dead. Three of the Auriol RC Henley Thames Cup crew of 1914 were killed.

I would think that about half of the British rowing clubs that I have visited have memorials to members killed in two World Wars. The most magnificent is in Thames RC in Putney, London. It is a very large oil on canvas painting showing an eight rowing firm, followed by a coach on horseback and two of their club mates. It is entitled ‘In The Golden Days’ and was painted by Hugh G Riviere. The reflection of the glass makes it difficult to photograph but the image is reproduced in greetings cards and a calendar obtainable from Thames RC, sold in aid of their 150th Anniversary rebuilding fund. (To see the image and read more about the calendar and the greeting cards, please click here.)

Auriol RC and Kensington RC amalgamated in 1981 and so have separate War Memorials. Auriol has a richly illuminated scroll which was altered to add the names of those who fell in the Second World War (see above at the very top on the right). Kensington has two brass plaques, one for each of the conflicts (see above on the left).

Tim will continue on this interesting topic in an entry which will be posted tomorrow!

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