‘Mixing up the Medicine’ – 1909 to 1911

‘Look out kid, you’re gonna get hit.’
A woman coxing a men’s crew is nothing new in Poona. Picture: “The Graphic” 6 October 1877.

6 September 2017

Greg Denieffe writes:

Chris Dodd likes nothing better than a good rummage behind the mantelpiece, especially when the sought-after loot is rowing related. Don’t take my word for it: his recent HTBS article, Mixing up the Genders, contains a full confession:

Then there was Mrs Gratton who coxed the Royal Army Medical Corps [R.A.M.C.] to win the Challenge Fours at Lucknow Regatta in 1912. This photograph… was discovered some years ago behind the mantelpiece in the crew room at Trinity College Dublin when Raymond Blake (author of Trinity’s rowing history, “In Black & White”) and myself were rummaging around for memorabilia.

The large gent is the coach – a medic with whom you did not mess, I suggest.

This little ditty and the photograph referred to by Chris, sent me on a rummage of my own. I had not seen the snap before but remember reading in Blake’s book about the 1912 crew. My search revealed that the meaty medic was Colonel N. H. Thompson, who was an alumnus of the University of Dublin and a member of their boat club, as were three of the crew. There was no mention of Mrs Gratton or the identity of the other D.U.B.C. men. My rummage was nearly over before it had truly begun.

Snippets of rowing history turn up in the most unexpected places and as I knew of a few other D.U.B.C. men who had joined the R.A.M.C., I turned to their journal in search of some ammo. First published in July 1903 as an academic paper, the Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps can be a bit of a slog with page after page of military appointments and army notices but amongst these pages can be found a few real gems. There may be more cricket and football than rowing but this makes a ‘find’ even more enjoyable and so it was quite a thrill to discover a wonderful photograph and article in the Corps News section of the May 1911 edition. Admittedly it was not the cox that initially caught my eye but here was another R.A.M.C. crew with another woman at the tiller strings.

‘Try to be a success.’
The R.A.M.C. crew (plus medical man’s best friend x 4) that won the Station Eights at the Poona Regatta in January 1911.

Seated beside Mrs L. E. L. Parker are Captain M. P. Leahy and Captain J. du P. Langrishe, two of the Trinity College, Dublin crew that won the Thames Cup in 1903 at Henley.  On HTBS, we are used to seeing a pooch or two in rowing photos but four together is a first for me. Mrs Parker coxed both the R.A.M.C. junior four that lost to the Gunners by a length and the senior eight, ably stroked by Langrishe with Leahy directly behind him, that won the Station Eights final:

We finished the day as well as we had begun by winning the Station Eights. We had a splendid race with the Gunners, for though we were nearly clear of them at the end of the first quarter of the mile, they rowed with great determination and grit and had cut our lead down by half at the half-mile post. All along the last quarter they chased us home, but Langrishe refused to be bustled and brought us in nicely a quarter of a length to the good, in the same time as last year 4 min. 17 sec.

Leahy was the star of the regatta, having won the Senior Sculls earlier in the day. He was a member of the all-R.A.M.C. four selected to represent Poona in the Championship Fours, the most important race of the regatta. The full crew was composed of Startin (bow), Byatt (2), Leahy (3), Langrishe (stk) – the four men seated in the above photograph – and Rev. T. Bridges (cox):

They had been well coached and were beautifully together, and the dash and finish they showed in the paddle down to the start gave great promise of a good performance. From the start the Madras crew got well away and were signalled as leading by a length at the end of the first quarter-mile. At the half-mile they were still nearly clear, but the Poona crew were beginning to come up, while Bombay was already out of the race. The next quarter saw Poona gradually reducing the distance between the boats, till Madras only led half a length at the ¾-mile, a spurt on their part quite failing to make any impression. As it died away Langrishe saw his chance and called on his crew for a big effort. They responded like one man, and going right away won by a length and a half with the Madras crew completely rowed out. The experts were very enthusiastic over the excellent judgment Langrishe had shown throughout the race and the fine manner in which the whole crew had kept together and backed him up. The time given for the mile was 6 min. 19 sec.

HTBS was in its infancy when it first mentioned Poona. It was in August 2009, five months after its opening salvo, but now eight years ago, that the 1929 Poona Regatta cropped up in an article called Michael Palin: A Decent Rowing Chap. Also mentioned in that article was the very Irish sounding Royal Connaught Boat Club which can trace its history back to 1868. Unfortunately, there are no old rowing photos on its website, so my rummaging for early photographic evidence of women coxing men returned to the R.A.M.C. and D.U.B.C.

‘Join the army if you fail.’
In 1910, Mick Leahy was just a Lieutenant but dogs don’t care about rank.

I didn’t have far to look as the May 1910 edition of the R.A.M.C. journal covered the 42nd Annual Regatta of the Royal Connaught Boat Club and included a photograph of the R.A.M.C. crew and their cox, Miss Dorothy Sloggett. Leahy had a very impressive regatta winning the Oxenham Pairs, the senior Regimental Fours (Miss Sloggett coxing), the Championship Fours in a composite Poona crew and the Regimental Eights. Leahy, Noke and Sloggett were praised in the report for their outstanding performances:

The last day of the regatta saw Leahy keeping up his list of victories by rowing bow in the Poona four, which beat crews from Madras and Bombay by two lengths over the mile course, in itself a good day’s work for an ordinary mortal.

We were exceedingly fortunate to have four oarsmen of the class of our senior four in the Station at one time, but it would be difficult to appreciate too highly our indebtedness to our plucky stroke, Captain Noke. His tact and energy took us through some very troubled waters during the practices, and it was particularly hard lines on him that a most inopportune bout of fever prevented him earning the winning brackets in the Senior Sculls, in addition to stroking two winning crews. Miss Dorothy Sloggett, too, deserves all praise, as she was competing against two well-known Poona lady coxes, and came out of her ordeal with flying colours, steering all her races with great skill and coolness.

Leahy joined D.U.B.C. in 1899 and captained the club in 1904. In 1947, Leahy who was now a major, at the request of Kenneth C. Bailey, wrote Boat Club Reminiscences which Bailey included in his book, A History of Trinity College, Dublin, 1892-1945. Leahy mentions several coaches who helped the 1903 crew win the Thames Cup, including one he names as Andy Jameson. I cannot find an Andrew or Andy Jameson mentioned in the Trinity history and wonder if he meant Robert Jameson, who won the Ladies’ Plate with the club in 1875.

Leahy ‘doing it again’ at Henley after 50 years. Photo: D.U.B.C.

In 1953, Mick Leahy returned to Henley and sculled the course to commemorate his participation in the D.U.B.C. victory in the Ladies’ Plate 50 years before. What is not readily noticeable from the above photograph is that Leahy has less that the average number of legs (c.1.999). If you look closely, you will see a left leg but no right one. According to Blake ‘he had the misfortune to lose a leg in the war, but his enthusiasm for the sport was undimmed, and he managed to row for Leander after his injury.’ By this time J. du P. Langrishe had died but Leahy kindly sent this photograph to H. H. Langrishe, Jack’s elder brother, who had graduated from Trinity College in 1893.

Jack Langrishe joined the club in 1901 and was captain in 1906, his final year. After graduating, he joined the R.A.M.C. He was posted to India in 1908 and was for some time attached as Medical Officer to the 6th Inniskilling Dragoons. At Christmas 1909, he had some leave at Nainital, a hill station in the foothills of the Himalayas, where a rowing regatta was held on the lake.

‘Girl by the whirlpool’.
Unidentified woman coxing the victorious R.A.M.C. four in 1909. Langrishe (wearing his D.U.B.C. sweater) in the stroke seat. Photo: D.U.B.C.
‘Keep warm, short pants’.
Five of the Dublin University crew relaxing at Henley Royal Regatta in 1903. L to R: Jack du P. Langrishe (7), Emerson Bate (cox), Frank Usher (stk), Mick Leahy (3, and with more than the average number of legs) and Arthur McNeight (4). Photo: D.U.B.C.

I searched several of the R.A.M.C. journals for the early months of 1910 to see if they covered the Nainital regatta but to no avail. The Christmas coxswain will have to remain nameless … for now.

Thanks to Bob Dylan for the ‘quotes’. They are all from the song “Subterranean Homesick Blues” which the medics must have suffered with and cured others from during their time in India. Last week, the BBC children’s programme Horrible Histories was an inventions special and it concluded with a wonderful parody of Dylan’s famous video called “And This Is What We Do With It…” Just what the doctor ordered!

One comment

  1. The mention of Nainital brings back marvelous childhood memories, as, during my father’s posting to the U.S. Embassy from 1953 to 1956, when ceiling fans were inadequate in Delhi’s summer heat (and air conditioning non-existent) we decamped to Raniket, a hill station adjacent to Nainital, with accommodations little changed from the days of the Raj (tiger hunts, monkeys hurling pine cones from the trees, no electricity). And if one /rəʊd/ there, it was on horses, not in boats.
    As to women coxing at the place in the era, my catalogue describes one of my favorite photos as follows:
    Albumen print laid on gilt-bordered mount, and inscribed in ink “Regimental Crew Poona Feb ’83 won the Garrison Boat Race v. A.E. 2nd Cavalry, 14th N.I. and 16th N.I. boats. P. Low (3) C.F. Graultcane [?] (2) J. Sladen. Bow Mrs Hamilton-Smythe (coxswain) L.L. Steele. Stroke.” [crew posed in studio in dress clothing; note female coxswain] [print] 16.5cm x 10.2cm [mount] 28.2cm x 20.9cm

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