70-Year Anniversary of an Unofficial Boat Race

The Oxford University Boat Club is just to launch their eight on the River Great Ouse 70 years ago. Photo: Eastern Daily Press.

Last Sunday, the Eastern Daily Press, a newspaper in the Norfolk area in the East of England, published an interesting article about a rowing 70-year anniversary. Then, in 1944, Cambridge and Oxford met in an eight race on the River Great Ouse, close to Ely. In the article, “Anniversary of only Oxford-Cambridge boat race not rowed on River Thames to be commemorated”, the newspaper writes, ‘It was the only time that the race was contested away from London, forced to seek refuge from the “doodlebug” V1 bombs that were raining down on the capital.’

Now, whether you believe me or not, I just hate to be a Besserwisser, but I still feel I have to point out at least two inaccuracies in the article: The first Boat Race between the universities was held in 1829 in Henley-on-Thames, so there was one time the official race was held outside of London. The 1944 boat race on River Great Ouse was one of four unofficial boat races between Oxford and Cambridge held during the Second World War. The first race during the War was in 1940 at Henley-on-Thames, and then followed two years when the universities did not met, while in 1943, they met on Sandford-on-Thames, in 1944 on Great Ouse and for the 1945 race, Oxford and Cambridge raced at Henley-on-Thames again.

These four unofficial boat races are not in the official list of the Boat Race between the universities and none of the oarsmen who competed were awarded Blues. This being said, the boat races during the War years were met with a large interest from the public and the newspapers.

And for the oarsmen who raced during the War, like Martin Whitworth, who was in the four seat in the Cambridge boat, and Michael Brooks, who was in the three seat in the Oxford boat, the 1944 race was the race of their life-time, being awarded Blues, or not. Whitworth and Brooks, now both in their late 80s, will attend the reunion of the 1944 boat race – I tip my cap for both these gentlemen.

One comment

  1. The article in the 'Eastern Daily Press' mentions a film being made by 'The Diamond44 Community Film Project'.

    'diamond44' was set up in 2002 by Terry Overall and was (and still is) dedicated to celebrating and documenting the 1944 University Boat Race and to organising a re-enactment of the 1944 race in February 2004 on The River Great Ouse.

    The project has a website (address below) where you can discover much more about the original race and the diamond celebrations of 2004.


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