One hundred years ago rowing was just beginning to be recognised as an amateur sport. Until that time boat racing had been the monopoly of the professional Watermen. In 1839 professional boat races were by no means a novelty, for the annual race for the Scarlett Coat and the Silver Badge endowed by Doggett, a London actor, in 1715… is still going today, 224 years after its inception.
But the idea of gentlemen rowing a race in a boat was always slightly ridiculous until the gentlemen of Oxford and Cambridge rowed the first boat race in 1829. Ten years later Henley Royal Regatta was founded, and in the hundred years that followed has grown into the greatest annual regatta open to all amateurs in England…perhaps the greatest in the world. For the holders of the Grand Challenge Cup…may with some justice be termed the champions of the world. This honour was held by the Rudergesellschaft ‘Viking’ in 1937.
I was very sorry, therefore…to find that no German crews were present this year. I was particularly sorry because this year the regatta committee assisted by the British Council and a large number of generous rowing men are able to offer hospitality to overseas crews for the first time in the history of the regatta. I keep much pleasant memories of the hospitality I received in Berlin, Essen, Hamburg, Frankfurt, Koblenz and Bad Ems that I should have been delighted to think that some return were being made to the compatriots of my hosts.
This year there are an unusual number of entries from overseas. Besides crews from the Dominions and the United States there are representatives from Italy, Poland, Norway, Belgium, Switzerland, Argentina and Uruguay.
To anyone with a little imagination it will be obvious, therefore, that each day as the Regatta progresses Henley-on-Thames becomes an increasingly merry place. Each day more and more crews full of lusty young men are eliminated from the races. Each day, therefore, more and more young men in the very pink of health and high spirits are released from the bonds of training. This happy release is celebrated and the sorrows of losing drowned in the traditional manner, until by the end of the regatta all sorrows are drowned in one enormous celebration. This year when there is the centenary of the regatta to celebrate as well Henley-On-Thames will be almost radioactive with happiness.
The last night of Henley Regatta is such a scene of merriment and joy as is seldom witnessed in this sober island. Champagne flows faster than the Thames, and beer than the waves of the ocean. The river is crowded with punts, canoes and other small craft, gaily lit or with a gramophone aboard. The lights of the fair on the bank flash and dance in the water, and the gaudy music from the roundabouts blurs all sound into one great roar of delight.
When dusk falls a magnificent firework display is given from the bank and neighbouring hills, and the soaring rockets seem to typify the spirit of the place and the occasion: the glorious endeavour of youth to attainment.
Jock Lewes – Founder of the SAS seventy-five years ago, gives his pre-war account of Henley Royal Regatta in the above extracts.
John Lewes is the nephew and biographer of Jock Lewes (Jock Lewes Co-Founder of the SAS, (Pen and Sword Books). Links: www.jocklewes.co.
uk Copyright ©John Lewes 2016′
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