World War One – 100 Years

On this, the 100th anniversary of Britain’s entry to World War One, we remember the rowers who lost their lives.

Close to 300 oarsman who had competed at Henley or the Boat Race died during the Great War – provincial club rowers alongside Olympic Champions.

In the June/July edition of Rowing & Regatta, Martin Cross travelled to the River Somme to pay his respects to our fallen rowers:

“I wanted to focus on two men in particular: Captain John Somers-Smith, killed attacking Gommecourt on 1 July 1916 and Lieut-Commander Frederick Septimus Kelly, who lost his life attacking the village of Beaucourt-sur-L’Ancre  on the 13th of November 1916. 

“Somers-Smith had won Olympic gold at the 1908 Games in London as part of the British four. But up near the village of Gommecourt, on the very northern part of the Somme offensive, there was nothing resembling a river, or so much as a stream. The countryside up there today is very open: perhaps a reason why all attacks on that day failed. The body of Somers-Smith was never found. So his name is one of the 72,191 commemorated on the huge memorial to the missing, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, up on the Thiepval Ridge. I make sure I wear my Olympic tracksuit, take my sculls and a single rose to pay my respects. 

“In contrast FS Kelly lies buried not far from where he fell in Martinsart Cemetery. By many accounts, he was the best and most stylish rower and sculler of his day. He won the Diamonds three times at Henley and was part of the British eight that took gold in 1908. But the Australian-born Kelly is perhaps more noted for his beautiful compositions. His cemetery is like no other I’d ever visited, in part because the gravestones are all stained a deep brown colour. I spend some time by his grave. It was made all the more atmospheric by listening to his incredibly beautiful and equally haunting Elegy for Strings, composed in 1915 to mark the death of his great friend, the poet Rupert Brooke. You can listen to it here:

FS Kelly’s Elegy for Strings will be performed at the Proms on Sunday 17th August. For more information, visit www.bbc.co.uk/proms/whats-on/2014/august-17.

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