Tim Koch has spent a day in Henley:
Wednesday, 30 September was ‘National Sporting Heritage Day’ in Britain. It was established in 2014 ‘to raise awareness of the rich sporting heritage that exists in the UK’. Its aim is ‘to inspire and support all those that know about, own, or manage sporting heritage collections to provide greater access and understanding to as many people as possible’. We here at ‘Hear The Boat Sing’ were expecting cards and perhaps breakfast in bed – but you, dear reader, obviously forgot…… Indeed, when I greeted people in the street with ‘Happy National Sporting Heritage Day’, I got some strange looks. To tell the truth, I only found out about the under publicised event by chance when browsing the website of the River and Rowing Museum.
As part of Sporting Heritage Day, the RRM held a Q&A with Olympic Gold Medalist Heather Stanning on ‘what it takes to be an Olympic rower’. Other sports museums and venues around the country also had special events.
Heather Stanning (a.k.a. Captain Heather Stanning MBE, Royal Artillery) has, since 2010, formed a remarkable partnership with Helen Glover. Stanning and Glover are the reigning Olympic, World, World Cup and European champions in the coxless pairs. They are also World, Olympic and European record holders. When the pair won at the 2012 London Olympics, it was Team GB’s first gold medal of the Games and a first ever Olympic gold medal for British women’s rowing. At the recent World Championships in France, they won by a massive 3.8 seconds. Unbeaten in their last 28 races, good things at Rio 2016 seem likely.
Heather answered a wide range of questions from the small but enthusiastic audience including several young girls from local rowing clubs, clearly inspired by their heroine. Keeping up with two brothers (now both also in the armed forces) was an early influence, as was attending and thoroughly enjoying the notoriously rugged Gordonstoun School in Scotland (though Heather claims that it was less spartan in her time than when Prince Charles famously suffered there). Seemingly always determined to have a military career, she first took up rowing at university in 2006 under the fantastically successful Team GB Start Programme. Heather spoke with gratitude about how the army has supported her rowing, though there is clearly a little frustration that she cannot currently give the military the full dedication that she would like. However, one suspects that when Captain Stanning has finished with rowing (and she did not rule out going for the 2020 Olympics) her determination will take her to the highest ranks of the British Army.
There were several questions to Heather about her long break from the GB Squad when she was on active service in Afghanistan in 2013. She spoke of the difficulties of fitting back into rowing after such a long time out – though as Stanning and Glover won at two World Cups only six months after the former’s return, it can be assumed that any problems were overcome. As is the practice with rowing superstars these days, Heather freely handed around her medals for people to hold. Had I won an Olympic Gold Medal, I would be far more precious about people pawing it (though this is probably not a problem that I am likely to encounter).
While I was at the River and Rowing Museum, a notice reminded me of the 2015 Rowing History Forum to be held on 21 November, with a dinner at Leander on the night before. See my report on the 2013 Forum here. This year the event has been ‘rebranded’ and it will be on the theme of ‘Women in Rowing’. Keynote speakers include Annamarie Phelps, Chair of GB Rowing, and Miriam Batten, chair of Henley Women’s Regatta, and Olympic medal winning sculler. Mike Sweeney will talk on his years as chairman of Henley Royal Regatta – which includes the time of the opening up of HRR to female competitors. To book: email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01491 415600.
My visit to Henley-on-Thames coincided with day three of the six day Henley Literary Festival and I was able to attend some very interesting (albeit non-rowing) talks by authors who happened to have copies of their latest work available. Today, 2 October, there is a talk of interest to HTBS types when Jon Cooksey, Graham McKechnie and Mike Read speak on Frederick Kelly and Rupert Brooke’s Great War. Kelly is one of HTBS’s heroes and we have written about him many times before. Cooksey and McKechnie are authors of Kelly’s War: The Great War Diary of Frederick Kelly 1914-16 (2015).
The publisher of Kelly’s War tells us:
……. historians Jon Cooksey and Graham McKechnie present the extraordinary story of Frederick Kelly, the musician, composer and Olympic rower, killed in action during the Great War. Frederick Kelly’s war diary, written between 1914 and 1916, is a unique document recording some of the most significant events of the 20th century. This is the story of a singular, brave and brilliant man who inspired the respect of those who served with him and the love and devotion of his many friends. It is not just a war diary – it is about music, art and humanity. Kelly was a man who, in the depths of war, still found time to compose evocative music or use the songs of Wagner to entice German soldiers to surrender. Despite his eccentricities and artistic temperament, he repeatedly proved himself on brutal battlefields, from Gallipoli to the Somme, without losing his tenderness of sense of humour. Olympic champion, composer, pianist, intellectual, leader of men and diarist; never before published in full, Frederick Kelly’s story is a tale of courage, tragedy and lost potential. It is a fascinating and at times emotional insight into the mind of one of the era’s unsung heroes during some of the most deadly battles of the First World War.
The Festival’s website says that Mike Read ‘is the founder of the Rupert Brooke Society and now author of Forever England, a fascinating account of the man who wrote his own epitaph: “If I should die, think only this of me: that there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever England”.’
Book tickets for the talk here.
Sadly, one author who will not be at the Henley Literary Festival is HTBS editor, Göran Buckhorn. However, as the picture below shows, his latest work A Yank at Cambridge – B.H. Howell: The Forgotten Champion is available at ‘the oarsman’s bookshop’, that is Richard Way Booksellers in Friday Street, Henley.