Vesta RC At War 1914-1918

After I had posted “Downton Abbey & Vesta RC” on Sunday, 15 January, I received a couple of e-mails from Vincent McGovern, member of Vesta RC Committee, where he very kindly offered to help fill in some blanks in my 15 January entry about his club. For example, I did not know how many of Vesta’s member had died during the First World War, only that many did not come back, according to H.B. Wells in his Vesta Rowing Club: A Centenary History (1969).

Of course, all the rowing clubs in Great Britain had the same problem at that time, the clubs were drained when the young members went to war, a war that many of them thought was going to be short-lived, which would not be the case. From a Vesta Committee meeting on 15 September, 1914, the minutes read that the club regatta has been abandoned due to ‘the very large number of members serving with the colours…’. In L.G. Applebee’s The Vesta Rowing Club 1870-1920 (1920), which Vincent sent a digitized copy of, the author writes that many older members helped the club to survive when it went ‘on the rocks’. Applebee particularly mentions Dan Fitte, who gave 100 guineas to the club during this time which ‘kept the club clear of debt, whilst the young of the club were doing their bit’ (in the trenches). Fitte, who at the age of 40 sculled at the 1919 Peace Regatta at Henley, even beat ‘Gully’ Nickalls who was half his age in a heat, became a great access to Vesta RC in the future, serving as the club’s president between 1920 and 1951 (seen up on the right).

Of the close to one hundred of Vesta’s members who went to war, twelve never came back. They were: Capt. J.M. Bales; 2nd Lieut. R.H. Ballard; Lieut. T.A.W. Crozier, M.C.; C.S.M. T.H. Evans; Capt. R.C. Hall; 2nd Lieut. P.W. Hubbard; Rim. S. Johnson; Rim. E.G. Lewis; Stg. A Reid; 2nd Lieut. C. Vincent; 2nd Lieut. F.C. Walker; and 2nd Lieut. R.B. Wilson-Rae. Their names are now on a wooden memorial, which replaced a larger one that was destroyed in a fire in 1936. See below:

In his e-mail, Vincent points out an interesting thing about one of the names on the War Memorial, 2nd Lieut. C. Vincent. But let us look back to the year 1908 when a young Vesta member, Karl Schwerzl, had won the ‘Junior Sculls’ at Kingston, and the pairs with Dan Fitte at the Metropolitan Regatta. Four years later, in 1912, Karl went on to win the ‘Junior-Senior Sculls’ at three regattas, the Metropolitan, Reading, and Marlow – a promising oarsman, indeed. Then, at a committee meeting, on 6 October, 1914, the minutes for the meeting state that Mr. Schwerzl has changed his surname to “Vincent”. The man with the German-sounding name ‘Karl Schwerzl’ is suddenly ‘Charles Vincent’. He joined the The Buffs (East Kent Regiment) and died on 17 October, 1918. He now rests at Brancourt-Le-Grand Military Cemetery in France.

It was not uncommon that English families with Germanic surnames changed their names to more Anglicised names during The Great War, Vincent mentions in his e-mail. The most famous example is, of course, the British Royal family, who changed their House of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to the House of Windsor, which King George V did in 1917.

Vincent also brings up minutes from a Committee meeting held on 1 December, 1914, where the Hon. Sec. refers to ‘reply paid post cards’ (below). No one knows for sure, but ‘I wouldn’t be surprised if the cost of the Christmas Cards was included’, Vincent writes; that would then be one of the one’s that was featured in the “Downton Abbey & Vesta RC” entry on HTBS a week ago.

At the ‘restart’ of Vesta RC after the Great War had ended, the last point in the minutes from the 14 February, 1920, is the decision to create a War Memorial honouring the members who gave their lives serving their King and their country.

War Memorial for those Vesta members who died during the Second World War.

My warm thanks to Vincent McGovern for all help with information, photographs and copies of Vesta RC Committee Meeting minutes.

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