1958: Australia Goes to Europe – Part 1

Racing Against the Crew from the Land of the Hammer and Sickle

The Australian eight training on the Henley course for the 1958 Grand Challenge Cup. The crew were: Bow Bruce Evans, 2 Neville Clinton, 3 Ralfe Currall, 4 Victor Schweikert (article writer), 5 Kenneth Railton, 6 Peter Waddington, 7 Graeme Allan, Stroke Kevin Evans and Cox Lionel Robberds. Ahead of the eight are the Australian coxless pair with Steve Roll and Kevyn Webb and the double scull with Murray Riley and Mervyn Wood. Photo: V.S.

11 September 2018

By Victor Schweikert & Göran R Buckhorn

Some time ago, Victor Schweikert of NSW Australia contacted HTBS. Victor wondered if we knew how to get hold of former members of the Russian rowing club Trud from what was once Leningrad, now St. Petersburg. Victor had some photographs and a film that he had taken of the Russians when he, as a 21-year-old, was visiting Britain as a member of the eight that represented Australia at the 1958 Grand Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta and the British Empire and Commonwealth Games in Wales. ‘I was a bit of a camera buff and had a Voigtländer 35mm film camera’, Victor writes. He continues to write, ‘I’ve been fortunate to row in an eight-oared crew when you can hear the skin of the boat, travelling at full speed, singing through the water, it is quite remarkable.’ Of course, with a statement like that, HTBS could not let the story pass, so here is the tale of the 1958 Australian eight for the 60th anniversary of the Australians’ trip to Britain, told by Victor, with a little help from HTBS editor Göran R Buckhorn. Most of the photographs are taken by Victor or provided by him (marked ‘V.S.’).

In 1957, Australia started to put together a team of oarsmen for the 1958 British Empire and Commonwealth Games, which were going to be in Cardiff, Wales, with the rowing regatta held on Lake Padarn in Llanberis, 169 miles north of Cardiff. The games had once started as the British Empire Games in 1930. The Australian eight was made up by members from Mosman Rowing Club and Leichhardt Rowing Club. In January 1958, the crew won the trial heats in Ballarat, Victoria. The eight had the following members selected for the games: Bow Bruce Evans (Mosman); 2 Neville Clinton (Leichhardt); 3 Ralfe Currall (Leichhardt); 4 Victor Schweikert (Leichhardt); 5 Kenneth Railton (Mosman); 6 Peter Waddington (Leichhardt); 7 Graeme Allan (Mosman); Stroke Kevin Evans (Mosman) and Cox Lionel Robberds (Leichhardt). The crew was coached by Leichhardt RC’s Eric Longley, who once said, ‘Style is no substitute for fitness’, which sounds like a semi-Fairbairnism.

‘We [the Australian rowing team] left Sydney on 18 June 1958 (prior to the other Commonwealth Games teams), so we could compete at Henley Royal Regatta in the beginning of July,’ Victor writes. ‘We were flying with Qantas Airways in a Super G Constellation to Fiji, then Honolulu and San Francisco. In San Francisco, we changed to a Bristol Britannia to fly to New York and then London Airport.’

From London the Australians were taken to Henley-on-Thames. ‘Our accommodation in Henley was an old home, which had been turned into a boarding house. It’s now apartments, I believe. Each day, we walked to the Thames for training, where the traditional tents had been set up to house racing shells,’ Victor writes. ‘We didn’t take any racing shells with us, which was a big mistake. So, we had to borrow an eight. Although we had been assured that there wouldn’t be a problem, there was. Anything decent by way of a modern eight was being used by the English crews, so we had to settle for an old, well-worn boat.’ Victor continues, ‘We were all sorry we hadn’t brought our own boat with us, but it was all down to cost.’

A photo showing the Australian team, a picture taken at Leander Club in Henley. Missing is the team manager, Eric Holford. Photo: V.S.

In an article about the 1958 Henley Royal Regatta in the British Rowing, magazine editor Hylton Cleaver writes about the conditions at the regatta:

Before the regatta began the boat-tents had been flooded; the lawns were a slimy swamp; the tow-path was almost impassable; and on one day 11,000 gallons of rain water were pumped into the river. By that time the boatman of Brasenose College, Oxford claimed to have caught a fish with a rod and line in his boat tent, and exhibited the fish and the rod outside his domain. This may not have been true, but it was the kind of year in which anything could happen. Ladies were losing their shoes in the mud; men were carrying girl friends, or even strangers, to safety; fashions had become a mere matter of rainproofs and umbrellas.
(From Rowing, Vol. 3, July 1958, No. 65)

The famous Henley Bridge. Photo: V.S.

There were five entries for the Grand Challenge Cup: London Rowing Club, Thames Rowing Club, University of Washington, Trud Rowing Club and the Australians, rowing as Leichhardt Rowing Club. The members of Leichhardt and Mosman ‘had a toss of the coin’ for which rowing club they should enter at Henley, as the Henley Stewards did not allow a crew to enter as a country. ‘Leichhardt won,’ Victor writes. Washington, Trud and Leichhardt were regarded ‘fast’, according to Henley Royal Regatta 1939 – 1968 (1969), adding that ‘Trud Club were outstanding – powerful, fit and well together.’ The crews had the following members:

Leichhardt Rowing Club
(as mentioned above)

London Rowing Club
Bow P. H. C. Fraser, 2 C. D. Kester, 3 D. A. Littleton, 4 D. Ashton, 5 O. E. Bryant, 6 J. M. Russell, 7 P. E. Gilbert, Stroke G. V. R. Summer and Cox J. B. W. McDonnell

Thames Rowing Club
Bow R. J. Workman, 2 J. P. M. Thomson, 3 J. A. Stephenson, 4 H. A. Wober, 5 A. C. Hancock, 6 J. F. C. Badcock, 7 D. R. Mount, Stroke D. S. S. Elliot and Cox R. L. Penney

Trud Rowing Club
Bow O. Vasiljev, 2 Y. Rogozov, 3 Y. Popov, 4 G. Brjuljgart, 5 J. Cherstvyj, 6 A. Antonov, 7 G. Guschenko, Stroke B. Fedorov and Cox Y. Poljakov

University of Washington
Bow R. A. Svendesen, 2 R. D. Erickson, 3 G. A. Phillips, 4 P. A. Kieburtz, 5 C. P. Alm, 6 L. W. Gellermann, 7 A. S. Hovland, Stroke J. S. Sayre and Cox J. G. Bisset

In the first heat, on Thursday 3 July, it was the Americans against the Russians. This was the first time University of Washington had sent a crew to Henley Royal Regatta. Trud led from start to finish. Henley Royal Regatta 1939 – 1968 reports:

Washington started at 38 and rowed 34 thereafter, except for a period of 32 from the ½ mile to the ¾ mile. Trud Club started at 40, were not below 36 throughout, took the lead from the start and steadily increased their lead. They had a ¼ length at the ½ mile, ¾ length at Fawley and ¼ length at the Mile.

Trud won by 1½ lengths.

Trud Club beating University of Washington in the first heat of the Grand. Photo: V.S.

What Henley Royal Regatta 1939 – 1968 is not mentioning is the weather for the race, something that Cleaver is not missing in his article in Rowing: ‘During the big race in the Grand Challenge Cup on Thursday between U.S.A. and U.S.S.R. there was one of the fiercest thunderstorms ever remembered at Henley, the cheers of the crowd being deadened by the crash of thunder, and the scene being limelit by incessant lightning…’

In the second heat of the Grand, on Friday 4 July, Victor and his crew mates met Thames Rowing Club. Henley Royal Regatta 1939 – 1968 writes:

Leichhardt started at 40, did not drop below 35 and finished at 37. Thames started at 39, settled to 36 and finished at 38. They were level to the ¼ mile. Thames led by a few feet at the Barrier and by a canvas at Fawley. They were level again at the ¾ mile. Then Leichhardt led by ½ length at the Mile.

Leichhardt won by ¾ length.

Later that day, Trud met London Rowing Club. Henley Royal Regatta 1939 – 1968 again: 

London started at 42, Trud Club at 38. Trud Club led by ½ length at the ¼ mile, by 1¼ lengths at the Barrier and by 2½ lengths at Fawley. They were able to drop to 30, and later to 28. They were 3 lengths ahead at the Mile.

Trud won by 2¾ lengths.

Trud Club bringing up their boat after easily have won over London RC in the semi-final of the Grand. Photo: V.S.

With both the English and American crews out, it was the Australians and the Russians left to fight for the Grand. Henley Royal Regatta 1939 – 1968’s report on the Grand final reads:

Leichhardt started at 41 and maintained 35-36 throughout. Trud Club started at 37, continued at 36 to the ½ mile and then rowed 34. Trud Club led by a canvas at the ¼ mile, by 1/3 length at the Barrier and by ½ length at Fawley. Leichhardt made a strong effort at 36 at Fawley, but Trud Club held their lead. Trud Club had ¾ length at the ¾ mile and then gained steadily.

The crew from Leningrad won by 2½ lengths.

Trud Club winning the final of the Grand, beating the Australian crew. Photo: V.S.

Victor’s laconic comment about the final tells the story of the race: ‘They did us like a dinner’.

When the crews came back to the boat tents after the race, ‘the Russians gave each of us some small gifts and we had some photos taken with our counterparts,’ Victor writes.

Trud’s four man G. Brjuljgart and Victor. Photo: V.S.
Trud’s stroke B. Fedorov and the Australian stroke Kevin Evans. Photo: V.S.

Leichhardt RC’s most famous sculler was also competing at Henley that year, Stuart MacKenzie. Though in the Diamond Challenge Sculls, MacKenzie rowed for Sydney Rowing Club. The previous year, MacKenzie had beaten Vyacheslav Ivanov in the Diamonds. In the 1958 Diamonds final, they met again, and once again the Australian sculler proved to be the stronger of the two. While MacKenzie’s victory had Cleaver’s approval, the journalist did not approve of the Australian’s ‘gallery play’. Cleaver writes in Rowing: ‘S. A. Mackenzie [sic] gained his third consecutive win over V. Ivanov of Russia in the Single Sculls [this was actually MacKenzie’s second victory over Ivanov for the Pineapple Cup!]; unfortunately he [MacKenzie] still cannot conduct these great occasions without a certain amount of gallery play and one feels that after a full year in this country he might by now have become psychologically acclimatised.’

About MacKenzie’s behaviour, Victor writes, ‘Stuart was a bit of a larrikin, (a lovable larrikin)’.

Stuart ‘Sam’ MacKenzie (left) after beating Vyacheslav Ivanov in the 1958 Diamonds. Both scullers are still alive, MacKenzie is 82 and Ivanov is 80. Photo: Leichhardt RC’s website.

In a British Pathé newsreel on sports in 1958 both the Grand final and the Diamonds final are shown in a 1 minute clip. The newsreel starts with rowing (ends at 1:07):

The University of Washington crew must have felt bad coming all the way from the American west coast to Henley only to be kicked out in the first round by the Trud crew. But the Huskies would get their revenge. The U.S. State Department had managed to arrange for the University of Washington eight to go to Moscow for the Moscow Cup – the first Western team to compete behind the Iron Curtain. On 19 July 1958, the Huskies beat the Trud crew and three other Russian boats in a 2,000-metre race on the Khimkinskoe Reservoir course. Legendary broadcaster Keith Jackson was there for Seattle’s KOMO Radio. It is said that his report about the race to the USA was the first sports broadcast from the Soviet Union to the Western world. Huskies’ victory was remembered 50 years later in an article in The Seattle Times.

The story of the 1958 Australian eight continues tomorrow.

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