John Beresford: My Dad as an Inspiration

Greg Denieffe writes from England: Jack Beresford’s son, John, was the guest speaker at the Christmas Dinner for the boys and members of staff of the Upper Sixth Form of Pemberley House, Bedford School, held on 13 December, 2012. He has kindly given HTBS the following report on his talk with the theme of ‘Inspiration’.

John Beresford.
Photo: Pemberley House Blog.

After my father Jack, my uncle Eric and my cousin Michael, who were all successful oarsmen, I was the fourth Beresford to board at Pemberley and I last dined here in 1964. The food tonight is excellent (unlike 48 years ago!) and the camaraderie and spirit evident here is a great tribute to you all and particularly to Peter Sherwin and his wife, Roz, who are an inspirational House Master and wife. You boys are lucky!

My contact with Bedford School was rekindled by Mr Sherwin when he proposed naming the Pemberley House games room, ‘The Jack Beresford Room’. As I was abroad Michael Beresford opened the Room. This was held during the 150th Boat Club Anniversary, which I was sorry to miss, as I had stroked the 1st VIII for two years and been Captain of Boats.

Dad was keener on rugby than rowing at school, playing in the 1st XV for three years and as captain. I would like to give you his 1st XV blazer badge, mounted in a shield, to pair with the 1st VIII one I previously gave you.

(I then referred to the HTBS blog, which Peter Sherwin has a copy of and which aptly describes Jack’s life at Bedford as ‘The making of a man’. I then read the ballad about the Bedford v Shrewsbury race taken from the blog, which went down well).

I want to give you his inscribed 1916 Bedford 1st VIII oar, which is really a return home for it. I also want to give you his 1932 Los Angeles Olympic gold medal winning oar. These Peter Sherwin has told me will make a good pair to be hung in ‘The Jack Beresford Room’.

The 1932 Olympic champions: Felix Badcock, Jack Beresford, Jumbo Edwards and Rowland George. Jack is holding the oar that his son John donated to Pemberley House, Bedford School. Photo: River and Rowing Museum.

Jack’s rugby career ended in 1918, after he was shot in the leg in the trenches. Part of his recuperation at Fowey was rowing a dinghy round the coast and as his father ‘Berry’ had won silver at the Stockholm Olympics in 1912 in the IV, this set him on the path to five consecutive Olympic medals, three gold and two silvers. I won’t go into his achievements here except to say that he described his 1936 gold in Berlin as ‘the sweetest race he ever rowed’.

It wasn’t until Sir Steve Redgrave’s fifth consecutive Olympic Gold medal win in 2000 that I fully appreciated what my father had achieved. I’d simply grown up with his success and there wasn’t the media coverage or interest in those days that there is today.

I know from Peter Sherwin that ‘The Jack Beresford Room’ has been a great inspiration to many of his boys. Having been to the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics and witnessing the immense success of these Games, I now fully understand what he said.

Do you think the London Olympics and Paralympics can justly be referred to as ‘Inspiring a Generation’? (There was general agreement to this).

There were so many inspiring aspects about the Games in addition to the incredible sporting achievements of the athletes. To name a few: the Olympic Park regeneration, the architecture, the on-time completion, the Games-Makers, the transport system and the Opening and Closing ceremonies.

This surely showed that Great Britain has the talent and ability to do many things supremely well and to be truly world class. It is boys like you here this evening who will make this happen in the future.

I’d like to end by saying that sport, at whatever level you play, is a vital basis for life’s enjoyment, for health and for building confidence. It will always give you friendships through common interests which you are less likely to find through your work.

I’m so delighted that my Dad, Jack, has helped to give you some inspiration for your future lives.  He was always keen to help younger people. Thank you for creating a Games Room here at Pemberley where he will long be remembered.

John Beresford

Greg’s comments: HTBS readers may like the following links as they contain a few interesting photographs:

The Bedford School website also has a short report on the dinner, with the title Olympic Legacy. It also has a 1923 photograph showing Jack in a single in the colours of Thames Rowing Club.

The Pemberley House Blog has a photo journal of the Christmas Dinner and you will find a fine photograph of John Beresford (no. 23 and on top of this entry) entertaining the guests.

World Rowing Magazine has a bilingual article about Jack in the Fall 2006 edition, simply called Hero of the past: Jack Beresford and in French Un héros du passé: Jack Beresford. There are three nice photographs showing Jack at the Olympics, in a single (1920), in the eight (1928) and in the double (1936).

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