The Rowing Flemings – Part II: The Man with the Golden Oar

Leander’s Olympic champions at Stockholm, from the stern: coxswain Henry Wells, stroke Philip Fleming (Ian Fleming’s uncle), 7 Alister Graham Kirby, 6 Arthur Stanley Garton, 5 James Angus Gillan, 4 Ewart Douglas Horsfall, 3 Leslie Graham Wormald, 2 Sidney Ernest Swann and bow Edgar R. Burgess.

9 June 2017

Here Göran R Buckhorn continues the story about Ian Fleming and his rowing ancestors from 7 June:

After the end of the Second World War, Ian Fleming was back in civilian clothes. He had played with the thought of staying in the Navy, and Hugo Pitman, who had become a great friend of Ian’s, had actually kept a stockbroking job open for him at Rowe & Pitman. Ian turned down both the Navy and the City, as he got an offer he could not refuse. Lord Kemsley was the owner of some newspapers, including the Sunday Times. He offered Ian £4,500 a year, plus £500 in expenses and two months holiday to be the Foreign Manager of the Kemsley Newspaper Group. The Sunday Times needed a charmer to spiff up its reputation as it had not come out of the war without a major dent to its name. A few weeks before the war broke out, Kemsley had made the unfortunate choice to interview Adolf Hitler in July 1939, which gave the German leader unnecessary publicity, which had not gone down well with the British government.

There was another perk that Ian liked working for the Kemsley Newspapers, a similarity the company shared with Rowe & Pitman, its cooperation with MI6, which had some agents working as foreign correspondents for the Kemsley Newspapers, mostly for the Sunday Times, Lycett tells in Ian Fleming. Ian was back in the intelligence world and got well paid for it.

After the war, Ian had bought some land in Jamaica, where he had attended an intelligence conference in 1942 and fell in love with the island. He started to build his house Goldeneye, which for the next two decades would see celebrities coming and going (some as ‘paying guests’), among them playwright, composer, singer, etc., Noël Coward; novelist Rosamond Lehmann, daughter of the famous rowing coach and writer Rudie Lehmann; actress Katharine Hepburn; Prime Minister Anthony Eden; and friends in the newspaper world and intelligence services. One person Ian brought to Goldeneye was his longtime mistress, Ann. Their love affair had been going on through Ann’s two marriages, first with Shane O’Neill, 3rd Baron O’Neill, who was killed in action during the war, and then with the press magnate Esmond Cecil Harmsworth, 2nd Viscount Rothermere, owner of the Daily Mail, whom Ann divorced in 1951.

Ian and Ann married on 24 March 1952 in Jamaica. A week earlier, Ian had finished his first Bond novel, Casino Royale. Different sources give different dates when he began writing it, all from 15 January 1952 to around 16 February 1952 – either way, it is quite an achievement to finish up a 62,000-word manuscript in such a short time. The novel was published on 13 April 1953. In total, Ian wrote twelve Bond novels and two collections of short stories about 007. He also wrote some other books, including a children’s book for his son, Caspar, Chitty-Chitty-Bang-Bang: The Magical Car, which was published on 22 October 1964, after Ian’s death.

Ian Fleming and his wife, Ann, being served drinks by their housekeeper Violet at Goldeneye.

Going back to the ‘rowing Flemings’ – although a prominent rower, Ian’s father Val, was not the rowing star in the Fleming family. Instead, the honour goes to his younger brother, Philip. The Fleming brothers never rowed at Eton or Magdalen together, Philip being seven years younger than Val. At Eton, Philip came in third in the Lower Boy Pulling event in 1904. In the following year’s Procession of Boats, Philip was a crew member of the Lower Boat Dreadnought, while in 1906 he rowed in Victory (Upper Boat). He also raced in the Trial Eights, in the Light Blue crew that won against the Dark Blue at the school. In the 1907 Procession, Philip rowed in Hibernia (Lower Boat) and in the Dark Blue crew that won the Trial Eights. At Henley that year, Philip’s Eton crew went for the Ladies’ where they easily won their first heat by beating Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. However, in their next heat Eton was left in the wake of First Trinity, Cambridge. The following year, Philip rowed in Britannia (Lower Boat) and won the Trial Eights again, now in the Light Blue crew and stroked the House Fours to a third (and last) place, the same position he reached in the School Sculling. At the 1908 Henley Royal, Eton raced in the Grand Challenge Cup, first beating Pembroke College and then another Cambridge college, Caius. In their third heat, Eton won over Thames RC. In the final, they could not overcome Christ Church, Oxford, which took the Cup. Philip was also in the crew that won over First Trinity, Cambridge, in the Ladies’, but Eton lost their second round against Jesus College, Cambridge.

In 1909, Philip was back at Henley racing in the Grand but now for Magdalen College BC. In the first heat, the Magdalen crew met Thames RC. Rowing in heavy rain, Magdalen won easily. In their next heat Magdalen met the Belgian crew from Royal Club Nautique de Gand, a club from Ghent that was racing in the Grand for the fourth year, already having two Grand victories under their belt from 1906 and 1907 (runner-up in 1905). Despite a brave fight from Magdalen, the Ghent oarsmen took their third victory in the Grand, but only by half a length. The Belgians had not been allowed to compete in the regatta in 1908 to not get advance  knowledge of the course for the Olympic rowing, which was held a few weeks after Henley Regatta. This did not apply to the British crews that were going to race at the Olympics events. All the winners in the four Olympic boat classes that year came from Great Britain.

For the 67th Boat Race in March 1910, Oxford were the reigning champions, having won the previous year’s race by three-and-a-half boat lengths. The Dark Blues were coached by G. C. Bourne, whose son, the great oarsman, R. C. Bourne was stroking the crew for the second year. Other coaches were Tarka Gold and W. F. C. Holland. One of the founders of Rowe & Pitman, Fred I. Pitman, was umpiring the race for the seventh year. One of the newcomers in the Oxford crew was Philip Fleming, who looked ‘very stylish’ – which refers to how he rowed, not how he was dressed. At the start, Cambridge, who had won the toss and picked the Middlesex station, took an immediate lead. However, one of the oarsmen in the Light Blue crew caught a crab, which allowed the Dark Blue to pass them, and at Craven Steps Oxford was ahead by a quarter of a length. Nevertheless, Cambridge put in a spurt which gave them a slight lead at the Mile Post. Oxford answered with a spurt which gave them almost a length in ten strokes. Thereafter, the Dark Blues continued to pull away from the Light Blues, winning by three and a half lengths in a time of 20 minutes 14 seconds. This would be the only time Philip raced in the Boat Race.

At the 1910 Henley Royal Regatta, Magdalen again tried for the Grand, now with Philip at stroke. In their first heat, Magdalen rowed against Leander. Not only did Magdalen have to face the challenge on the Berks station, which was lacking the favourable so-called Bushes Wind on the Bucks station, Leander were stroked by R. C. Bourne. At the start, Philip took his crew away with an enormous speed and after 75 seconds Magdalen had a lead of a length. Less than two minutes into the race, the Magdalen cox, A. W. F. Donkin, steered over to the Bucks station and stayed ahead of Leander. ‘Donkin, it is said, never once so much as turned his head to see whether danger threatened, until he reached Fawley. Magdalen then had half a length of clear water in hand,’ R. D. Burnell writes in Henley Regatta: A History (1957). Bourne put on a spurt at the mile post, whereupon Donkin, very slowly, moved back over to the Berks station, which offered slack water. In spite of a hard row, Leander did not manage to catch up to Magdalen, which won the race by three-quarters of a length. In the final, the Magdalen crew, which had taken the Headship of the Summer Eights at Oxford, met Jesus College, Cambridge, which had won the May Races on the Cam. Magdalen proved to be the stronger crew, taking the college’s first Grand.

In 1911, Magdalen repeated its victory in the Grand, again with Philip at stroke. In their first heat, Magdalen beat New College, which hit the booms at Phyllis Court. Then, Magdalen met Ottawa RC, which earlier had rowed a fantastic race against Société Royal Sport Nautique of Ghent. In terribly hot weather, the Canadians had rowed the Belgians to a standstill.

In the Magdalen – Ottawa heat, with the Oxford crew in the lead at the grand stand, Magdalen’s cox, H. B. Wells – maybe borrowing a skill from A. W. F. Donkin of the previous year’s Magdalen crew – steered over ‘taking the Canadians water in a somewhat unnecessary manner,’ Sir Theodore Cook writes in Henley Races (1919). However, Cook thought Magdalen ‘won a great race’. Then, Magdalen overpowered Jesus College, Cambridge, in the final, claiming the boat club’s second Grand. Philip also stroked a four in the Stewards’ Challenge Cup, but the Magdalen crew were unlucky to meet a brilliant crew from Thames RC with J. Beresford, K. Vernon, C. G. Rought and B. Logan. Thames RC went on to win the final against Trinity Hall, Cambridge.

On their first visit to Henley Royal Regatta as reigning Sovereign and Queen in 1912, George V and his Mary were rowed to the Royal stand by eight watermen in Queen Mary’s shallop, which was built in 1689 by order of King William III for his wife, Queen Mary. From the Thomas E Weil Collection of the National Rowing Foundation.

Next year was an Olympic year with the fifth Olympic Games being held in Stockholm. The Grand Challenge Cup at Henley was going to give a good indication how the eight races would play out in the Swedish capital, as also foreign crews, including Argonaut RC of Toronto and Sydney RC, were to race at Henley. The regatta also really became ‘Royal’ when King George V and Queen Mary attended the regatta. Philip stroked a Leander eight, coached by Tarka Gold, which was mostly compiled of oarsmen from Magdalen; only bow, S. E. Swann, not only came from another college, but one from Cambridge, Trinity Hall. Between Philip and Sydney Swann were the following rowers, A. G Kirby, A. S. Garton, J. A. Gillian, E. D. Horsfall, L. G. Wormald and L. E. Tinné; cox was H. B. Wells. In their first heat Leander beat London RC and in the second heat Leander beat Thames RC. Leander was to meet the crew from Sydney, which had beaten the Argonaut crew and then New College on their way to the final. King George V and Queen Mary followed the Grand final from the umpire’s launch. Lo and behold, the Australian crew won a fine race by beating Leander by three-quarters of a length. How would it go in the Olympics which were two weeks after Henley?

Philip Fleming at the 1912 Olympic Games.

At Stockholm, Leander had the same line-up as at the regatta in Henley, with one exception, L. E. Tinné was out and E. R. Burgess was placed in the bow seat moving Swann down one seat. After what had happened at Henley, everyone was hoping that Leander would meet Sydney in the Olympic final, which at this time was still a two-boat race. According to the British, the Swedish organisers messed up the draw, which meant that Leander, beating Argonaut RC in their first heat, in the quarter-final was to meet Sydney RC, which easily had beaten one of the Swedish crews, from Göteborg, in their first heat.

This is how the race between Leander and Sydney (called Australia) is described in the article “Rowing at the 1912 Summer Olympics – Men’s eight” on Wikipedia:

Both crews started very well, Australia retaining its speed of about 40 for the whole of the race, while Leander was content with 36-34, the figures sometimes falling to 32. Sydney put all its weight into its stroke and led by a half [of a] length at the 1,000 metres mark. The time for half distance was 3:02; these figures showing the speed at which the boats were moving. At the boat-house Australia led and took the inner curve a clear length ahead. At this point, however, Philip Fleming began a terrific spurt, which resulted in his opponents’ lead being diminished at the bridge to only half a length. The Australian eight now began to row somewhat raggedly and showed other signs of fatigue; Leander, on the contrary, beginning another magnificent spurt which lasted until the winning post was passed. Roger Fitzhardinge [the Australian stroke] was not sufficiently supported by his men, so that the half-length by which Australia led at the bridge was snatched out of its hands. The two boats lay side by side 100 metres from the finish, but Leander stayed better, and the English style allowed of more being got of the spurt, so that the British boat won by about three metres.

With Leander’s victory over Sydney in the quarter-final, Philip and his crew had got their revenge on the Aussies from the final of the Grand at Henley. In the Olympic semi-final, Leander met a crew from Berlin, Berliner Ruderverein von 1876, which were coached by the English professional Dan Cordery of Putney. This is how the race is describe on Wikipedia:

At the very start, Leander managed to get a couple of metres’ lead, but the German crew soon recovered itself, and at the 500 metres mark was leading by about half a length. As seen from the shore, the English eight seemed to take the race very quietly, rowing scarcely more than 34 to their opponents’ 38, and at the 1,000 metres mark the Germans were leading by nearly a length. Just before reaching the boat-house, Leander, which had the outside curve, spurted and managed to pick up about half a length, while the Germans, committed the fault of not making use of the advantage given by the possession of the inner curve, and making an extra exertion which [would] have certainly increased the distance between them and the English crew, or, in any case, would have kept them at their previous distance in the rear. Philip Fleming put his men to a severe test from the bath-house to the bridge, and the determination and speed by means of which Leander drew level with their opponents after one minute’s rapid spurt, were simply unique. The German crew was not rowed out, however, and a desperate struggle took place all the way from the bridge to the finish, the result being that Leander won by about half a length. Once more a British boat won with excellent tactics.

Leander’s eight. Philip Fleming is standing second from left.

Leander was in the Olympic final, where they were to meet their countrymen from New College, stroked by R. C. Bourne. The Oxford crew had had a fairly easy way to the final. In their first heat, they met Christiania RK from the Norwegian capital, then the Swedish team Roddklubben af 1912, a crew coached by James Farrell of London RC. ‘It was chiefly Robert Bourne’s cleverness that decided the race, the manner in which he gathered his crew for the final burst being simply masterly,’ Wikipedia writes about New College’s victory. For the semi-final, New College was lucky to draw a bye, which meant that it was a well-rested Oxford crew that showed up for the Olympic final of the eights in Stockholm. About the final, Wikipedia writes:

The two boats rowed side by side until the 1,000 metres mark was passed, when Leander spurted in order to neutralize Robert Bourne’s efforts at the bath-house, where New College had the inner curve. Then Philip Fleming pressed his men from the bath-house to the bridge, so that Leander led by a clear length at the latter place, all Robert Bourne’s efforts being unable to prevent New College from falling behind. Leander won by about a length.

The final of the Eights: Leander lead New College as they go under the Djurgården Bridge.

In August 2016, Tim Koch wrote a brilliant two-part article about the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm. Read part I here and part II here.

Some 1912 Olympic rowing trivia: Leander’s J. Angus Gillan, later knighted, became historic as the first person to take two Olympic gold medals in rowing. In the 1908 Games, he took a gold in the coxless four with three crew mates from Magdalen College. As mentioned previously, in the 1912 New College silver medal crew was Hugo Pitman, who would become the mentor of Philip Fleming’s nephew, Ian, at Rowe & Pitman in 1935.

Frederick Archibald Hugo Pitman stroked the Oxford crew in the 1914 Boat Race, which Cambridge won. Two years earlier, he had rowed bow in the Dark Blues winning boat. In 1912, Pitman also took an Olympic silver medal in the eights, rowing for New College, Oxford.

Like his brother Val, Philip Fleming began working in their father’s bank and he also joined the Queen’s Own Oxfordshire Hussars and went out in the First World War with them. He was luckier than his brother and survived the war.

Eve Fleming died on 27 July 1964, age 79. Always consuming a lot of alcohol and smoking several packets of cigarettes daily, Ian passed away only two weeks after his mother, on 12 August, age 56. Philip Fleming, passed away on 13 October 1971, age 82. Amaryllis Fleming died on 27 July 1999, age 73. Ann Fleming died on 12 July 1981, age 68. Ian and Ann’s son, Caspar, who lost his father on his 12th birthday, committed suicide on 2 October 1975, at age 23.

The James Bond literary franchise has grown tremendously since Ian Fleming died in 1964. A number of authors have continued to write James Bond novels and short stories, including Stephen Cole’s books of Bond as a boy studying at Eton. Read more here.

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