Merry Rowing Christmas in 1939

The front of the 1939 Thames Rowing Club’s Christmas card.

Göran R Buckhorn writes:

When I arrived home after having celebrated Christmas in Maine, there was a Christmas card waiting for me in the post. The card was old, and I was not really the recipient, or that is, I was not the first one to receive this card, which was originally sent off as Holiday greetings for Christmas and New Year’s in 1939. I got the card from an eBay seller in the U.K. after having won the card.

It is hard to read the card sender’s hand writing, but it might say ‘Lerman’, ‘Larman’, or something close to these names, however, I am not certain. What caught my eye, when I saw it up for sale at eBay, was that it was a Christmas and New Year’s card from Thames Rowing Club in London. Taking a quick look at the Index in Geoffrey Page’s brilliantly written Hear the Boat Sing: The History of Thames Rowing Club and Tideway Rowing (1991), there is nothing in his book that gets me closer to whom the sender might have been.

The inside of the 1939 Christmas and New Year’s card from Thames Rowing Club.

On the opposite side of the greeting text, there is a photo from the 1923 Henley Royal Regatta, showing Thames RC beating Pembroke College, Cambridge, in the final of the Grand Challenge Cup. The winning Thames crew that year were: C. G. Chandler, R. G. Bare, J. Beresford, Jnr., C. H. Rew, A. F. Long, K. C. Wilson, H. L. Holman, S. I. Fairbairn and J. Godwin.

The most famous crew member in the boat is Jack Beresford, Jnr., who by the time of the 1923 Grand win had taken the Wingfield Sculls in 1920, 1921, 1922 and 1923 (and would continue to take the championship title in 1924, 1925 and 1926), the Diamond Challenge Sculls in 1920 (and would take the Pineapple Cup also in 1924, 1925 and 1926) and the 1920 Olympic silver medal in the single sculls after a well-fought race against the American John B. Kelly, who was one second ahead of the Englishman over the finish line (Beresford, Jnr., would take the Olympic gold medal in the class at the following Games in Paris).

Another famous ‘rowing name’ stands out in the Thames Grand crew of 1923, the stroke S. Ian Fairbairn, son of the renowned coach Steve Fairbairn. Fairbairn, the older, was still the coach at Thames RC at this time, and he was behind the Thames crew’s Grand victory in 1923. The following year, Steve Fairbairn left Thames RC after ‘The Row’ with Jack Beresford, Jnr.’s father, Julius, or ‘Berry’. Archie Nesbet, of London Rowing Club, who had rowed bow in the 1923 losing Pembroke College eight, invited Fairbairn to coach London, which he did.

It is not known why the Thames RC’s Christmas card of 1939 has a photograph of the club’s 1923 Grand victory, it could, of course, be a remembrance of past days’ glory, but Thames RC had also taken the Grand at Henley in 1927 and 1928.

By Christmas in 1939, Thames RC’s Jack Beresford, Jnr., and Dick Southwood had raced a dead-heat against G. Scherli and E. Broschi of Trieste (who were the reigning European champions) at Henley in the Centenary double sculls event, which was introduced that year. It was Beresford’s last win at Henley. The 1939 Grand title went to a crew from Harvard University, USA – maybe a bad omen of what would come at Henley after the Second World War?

Nothing in the printed Christmas text reveals any worries about the war that had begun a few months earlier, in September 1939. It was true, that at Christmas time, the British and the Germans were still ‘only’ fighting what was known as the ‘Phoney War’ – soon enough it would be a real, devastating war.

About the 1939 Thames RC’s rowing year, Geoffrey Page writes:

With the inexorable expansion of the Nazi war machine, 1939 began with the knowledge that war was imminent and that it could well be the last season of rowing for some years to come, if not forever for the unlucky ones.

HTBS has earlier written about Christmas cards sent out by rowing clubs during war time, see also the entry about a card from Vesta RC at Christmas 1914.

One comment

  1. The card is a brilliant relic of a bygone age. Thanks for posting it. I have some scans of letters written by Vincent Radley , the V in V Radley and sons boat builders written in the early 1890s. I found the originals in the Shakespeare archives in Stratford on Avon. Vincent briefly took on the Lease of the Unicorn Inn there in 1889. The Inn had a pleasure boat hire business which he ran and his wife Martha ran the Inn side of things. They were there until 1893 at which point they returned to the Radley boat yard at Lea Bridge. The letters are contained in a sizeable folder of legal documents deposited by his then solicitor in Stratford on Avon pertaining to his move there and then leaving . Sadly there is nothing in the folder explaining why he gave up the lease prematurely. The Unicorn Inn is now the Pen and Parchment. His nephew managed the Lea Bridge boat yard while he was away. Two letters and a bill will appear in the Radley boat builders book. His hand writing is very difficult to interpret. Still as he was born in 1849 it’s good he was able to read and write. His mother Phoebe who founded the Radley business with her husband George Terry Radley in the early 1840s signed her oldest sons wedding record in 1855 with a cross!

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