Bevis Sanford: 1939 Light Blues Stroke Dies

Cambridge 1939 stroke Bevis Sanford has died at the age of 101.

22 April 2019

By Göran R Buckhorn

Cambridge’s oldest oarsman, Bevis Sanford, passed away on 4 April 2019 at age 101.

Bevis Sanford, who rarely missed to watch the annual Boat Race, never saw his Cambridge win the race this year. He passed away three days prior to the race. Sanford was the Light Blues’s stroke in the last race before World War II put a six-year hold on the official race between the universities.

Christopher Bevis Sanford was born in 1918 in London to Major George Christopher Sanford and his wife Elma, née Twigg. Major Sanford, who was a civil engineer, served in the Royal Engineers in both wars. As a baby, Bevis was evacuated to Tunbridge Wells, Kent, before attending a prep school in Thanet. He would later amuse everyone by saying that the school became a home for juvenile felons, according to an obituary in The Times.

Bevis Sanford arrived at Eton in 1931 and was rowing in Thetis in the Lower Boats in 1934. The following year, he captained Dreadnought. Sanford rowed at 3-seat for Eton in the Ladies’ Challenge Plate at Henley in 1936, but the crew was beaten in their first heat. He went up to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, to study natural science and to row, and he won several races, including Bushe Fox Sculls and Colquhoun Sculls. At the 1937 regatta in Henley, Sanford rowed 2 in the Trinity Hall crew that won the Visitors’ Challenge Cup by easily beating Oriel College, Oxford. He also rowed 4 in the Trinity Hall eight that raced in the Grand Challenge Cup that year, but the Hall crew were over-powered in their second heat. The next year, Sanford stroked the Hall crew to victory in the Grand over Clare College, Cambridge.

Showing his caliber, Sanford was placed at stroke in the Light Blues crew for the 1939 Boat Race. Cambridge were coached by H. E. Boardman, Noel Duckworth, and Derek Mays-Smith, while Oxford were coached by Con Cherry, Gully Nickalls and J. H. Philips. William Rathbone, old Dark Blue oarsman and coach, acted as the race umpire.

Who Will Win?

Oxford’s stroke, Bobbie Bourne, the third-generation Bourne to race for the Dark Blues, injured his hand while practicing for the race and had to be replaced during training. Unfortunately, he never fully recovered before the race and was dropped. Oxford had ‘a powerful, orthodox crew without a weak man in the boat,’ the rowing correspondent for The Manchester Guardian reported. About the Cambridge crew, he wrote, ‘Cambridge are not orthodox, and they have not quite the same uniformity of style’. The rowing correspondent for The Times agreed, ‘Since 1936 Cambridge rowing has certainly deteriorated, and they have produced this year as heterogeneous a crew as has ever been seen in the race.’ With the Dark Blues as clear favourites, the rowing press believed that Cambridge would be an easy match for Oxford.

Bevis Sanford at stroke with the Light Blue crew on the Thames in March 1939.

However, came Race Day on 1 April 1939, the rowing press would be proved wrong. Cambridge took an early lead and by the Mile Post, they were two lengths ahead, which became two and a half lengths going through Hammersmith Bridge. At Barnes Bridge, Sanford called for a push and with a higher stroke rate, Cambridge increased their lead. The Light Blues won by four lengths in a time of 19 minutes 3 seconds. Sanford was elected president of Cambridge University BC for 1939/40.

Cambridge Win!

At the 1939 Henley Royal Regatta, Sanford, at 2-seat, raced in the Leander boat that lost in the final to a strong crew from Jesus College, Cambridge.

At the first of four unofficial races during World War II in 1940 (no races in 1941 and 1942), C.U.B.C. President Sanford led his crew to five-length victory on a 1 ½-mile (2.4 km) course at Henley-on-Thames. None of the oarsmen racing in these war-time races were awarded a ‘Blue’.

Cambridge win at Henley.

Sanford was in the Territorial Army when the war broke out in 1939. He took a course in colonial administration at Cambridge and was seconded to the King’s African Rifles and was fighting the Italians in Eastern Africa. In 1943, he was appointed district officer and commissioner in Tanganyika. Sanford stayed in the colonial service until 1955, after having fought the Mau Mau Revolt in Kenya.

Back in Britain, Sanford worked for different electric and engineering companies. He retired from the Vestey Group.

At Bevis Sanford’s 100th birthday, he was joined by Trinity Hall Boat Club members Matthew Gutteridge and Angus Fotherby. Photo: Trinity Hall website.

He was active in sports, especially swimming, at a high age. In September 1990, Sanford rowed in a veterans’ race in Berlin to celebrate the reunion of the two German states.

Family and friends celebrating Bevis Sanford’s 100th birthday (29 min 27 sec).

Bevis Sanford married twice, both ended in divorce.

Bevis Sanford, born on 15 March 1918, died on 4 April 2019.

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