1919 Peace Regatta—and other Inter-Allied Armies Regattas after WWI
This is an extract from Soldiers and Sportsmen, an account of the sporting activities of the Australian Imperial Force during the period between November 1918 and September 1919, prepared for the A.I.F. Sports Control Board by Lieutenant G H Goddard and published by the A.I.F. Sports Control Board in 1919.
Yet another activity of the Sports Control Board was rowing, and Australians entered into this sport with characteristic enthusiasm. That they were successful is proved by their having won the biggest event of the year. It was early suggested that there should be a big revival, and the rowing men in the A.I.F. decided to play a part in it. This decision led to early formation of crews, which were only completed after exhaustive trials.
Unlike most other forms of athletics there was little opportunity for any number of rowing men to engage in their particular form of sport during the war. Cadets training for commissions at Oxford and Cambridge Universities were the exception to this rule. The rowing authorities at the various Colleges very generously allowed the use of their club houses, boats, and oars by these prospective officers, who were enjoying a spell from the front line. This generosity was freely availed of and greatly appreciated, and, incidentally, many burly young Australians were enabled to have their first paddles in first-class racing boats. Undoubtedly these men will help to fill the casualty gaps in the Australian rowing world later on.
During the war, however, there was very little competitive rowing of first-class order in the United Kingdom. Among the Services, the racing that took place was confined to the Head-quarters Staffs of the various Military Organisations. On the cessation of hostilities, however, some of the more enthusiastic "wetbobs" of the Armies turned their attention to rowing, and it was very evident that the golden opportunity for a race open to members of the Allied Forces would not be lost. Very little searching showed that there was a prospect of getting together good crews, and early in the year the matter was taken up with enthusiasm.
Created for the winners of the 1919 Peace Regatta Eight-Oar Race
A meeting was convened in London on January 22nd by the Leander Rowing Club, England's premier rowing body, and attended by officials and members of rowing clubs affiliated with the Amateur Rowing Association and honorary secretaries of regattas. The main question which came under consideration was as to how the sport should be revived in 1919. At this meeting a proposal, subsequently adopted, was made that a Henley Peace Regatta should be held in July, and that races should be included in the programme far amateur oarsmen of the Allied Armies. It was subsequently decided to suspend the competitions for the usual Henley trophies, such as the Grand Challenge Cup for eights, Diamond Sculls, and other events known widely as the blue ribands of the rowing world.
Prior to this decision having been taken, the French Rowing Association had advertised a race to be rowed on the Seine in Paris on April 27th open to soldiers of the Allied Armies. With these two events already definitely fixed, there was something for which to prepare, and the A.I.F. set about the task of collecting and sorting out its oarsmen. With such a long period of rowing stagnation behind them, this was not an easy task for those who undertook the collection of a crew. Arrangements were made by which the whole of the A.I.F. was canvassed, and experienced men who were fit and willing to row were communicated with, and eventually brought to London. Many gaps had been made in the ranks of rowing men by casualties, and the rigours of war had incapacitated others.
However, there was still some of the old brigade at hand to lend their help and experience to the "unknown quantities" who volunteered in large numbers. The chief difficulty at the beginning was to keep the best men in England. They had been away from their homes for long periods, and were, naturally, anxious to return. This, of course, was a difficulty not peculiar to the A.I.F.
Assembling the prospective representatives of the Australian Army was a slow process. It was necessary to collect them from their units in the field or the depots in England. However, a start was made early in March with the training. The work was done from the London Rowing Club's shed at Putney, and sufficient men had been secured to boat an eight-oar crew daily.
A sub-committee of experienced oarsmen was formed to take charge of the rowing, and this consisted of Major E. W. Tulloch, M.C., a Victorian Inter-state representative, Lieut. O. J. Wood, honorary secretary of the New South Wales Rowing Association, and Lieut. H. Ross-Soden, a Victorian Inter-state oarsman and a representative of the Olympic crew which rowed at Henley and Stockholm in 1912.
This Committee was charged with the work of selection and coaching. By the time the narrowing down of the aspirants had been completed and a party of oarsmen selected, several weeks had elapsed. The next difficulty was that of securing a suitable coach. Several oarsmen with sufficient experience were in London, but were either required in the boat or were not available owing to duty. This difficulty became so serious that the question of securing a suitable coach from Australia was seriously considered. It was necessary to inculcate the principles of the established Australian style into the rowing of the younger members of the crew, and because of this, the coach difficulty was not easy of solution. It would have been a very easy matter to engage the services of a man conversant with any of the recognised English rowing styles, but since an Australian style had been evolved, perfected, and brought to Henley with such success in 1912, it was considered that that style was the one which the A.I.F. should adopt, and no departure from it was allowed consideration.
The matter of sending to Australia for a coach was not entertained for long, as the time was getting short, and there would not be much time after his arrival until the race. Eventually Mr. Stephen Fairbairn, an Australian who had rowed with a Victorian Inter-state eight many years before, offered his services, and these were gratefully accepted. Mr. Fairbairn had been actively associated with Cambridge University and Thames Rowing Clubs during his residence in England. The work of definitely selecting a first eight from the party, which had now been reduced to twenty, was proceeded with. Capt. H. C. Disher, A.A.M.C., an experienced Melbourne University oarsman, was selected as stroke, and he, together with the rowing sub-committee and Lieut. H. Hauenstein, M.M., a New South Wales Inter-state and Olympic International oar, acted as a Selection Committee.
By, this time the Inter-allied eight-oar race promoted by the French was close at hand, and it became
necessary to make a decision as to whether an Australian crew should be entered. There was a good
deal of Army enthusiasm regarding the race, and Major S. A. Middleton, Organising Secretary of the
Sports Control Board, and Lieut. Harry Ross-Soden — both 1912
Olympic representatives of Australia — visited Paris to obtain full particulars regarding boats, course and conditions. On their return, both officers reported against sending a crew, giving, as their reasons:
(a) What little training the A.I.F. men had had, had been in racing boats, and this race was to be rowed in heavy clinker boats, without outriggers.
(b) The course was not satisfactory, as there were seven bridges to be negotiated, and the stream, being very fast, was very rough with any breeze blowing.
Although the members of the crew were very anxious to compete in the race, it was thought that, owing to lack of training and for the reasons given above, it would be unwise to interfere with Henley training. All efforts were accordingly concentrated on winning the King's Cup at Henley.
The Paris Race was over a course of a mile and a half, and was rowed with a strong current. Six crews entered, and they were divided into two heats, first and second in each heat starting in the final. Crews from New Zealand, America, France, Portugal, Newfoundland, and Alsace-Lorraine entered. France and Newfoundland qualified for the final in the first heat, Portugal being eliminated. In the second heat New Zealand and America qualified at the expense of Alsace-Lorraine. The final was a great race and was won by New Zealand by eight feet from America. Twenty-five thousand people watched the race from the banks.
Meantime, the Australian party continued its training at Putney. A house was secured close to the boat sheds, and made comfortable by the Commissioners of the Australian Comforts Fund and the Y.M.C.A., and the party went into residence there. The crews rowed from the London Club, along with the Canadians, while the New Zealanders were training from the Thames Rowing Club.