Barbara Kaye (née Benzing)

Years 1952 International Women’s Regatta (8o 1st)
1954 Women’s European Rowing Championships (4+ 3rd)
1957 Women’s European Rowing Championships (4+ 5th)
Clubs Stuart Ladies RC
Height 5’7″ or 170cm
Racing weight “9 stone (57 kg) if I was lucky – I used to have two dinners a day!”
Born 1933

The photo above shows Barbara stroking her first race at home on the River Lea and is from her personal collection.

Getting into rowing

Rowing was not Barbara’s first choice of sport. “I wanted to be an athlete but there were no athletic clubs around at all,” she explains. “But I had an uncle by marriage, one of the Lutzes, and so he said, ‘Why don’t you come rowing?’ So he brought me down rowing.”

Her uncle was a member of Crowland RC but as this was a men’s club, she joined the newly-formed Stuart Ladies RC; both were part of a group of clubs based on the River Lea at Springhill which amalgamated to form Lea RC in 1980.

Aged about 16, she started rowing in a tub four and later her uncle got her out in a dinghy. “I liked sculling, being on my own,” she remembers.

In June 1951 she won Novice Sculls at Weybridge Ladies Regatta, in which there were four rounds, and on the same day also won Senior Fours, which was fortunately a straight final.

The club’s limited number of boats dictated what they trained and raced in. “We started out with the four because that was all there was,” she explains. They then got quad riggers for the four, but were still constrained by it being the same boat. Even once they got an eight and the club had attracted more members, they only had the one cox, “So we always did eights. All the time. We were very good in eights in the end!,” she laughs.

International career

By the next year – 1952 – Barbara and the Stuart Ladies eight were selected to represet Britain in Amsterdam at the second of three inetrnational women’s regattas that FISA ran to prove the viability of international women’s racing.

After a strong row and a superbly timed finishing ‘spurt’ (as it was always called in those days), the Stuart Ladies eight won by second from the crew representing Holland. The French were considerably further back in this three-boat race. As Barbara remembers it, the British crew were in a heavy, borrowed, clinker boat whilst the Dutch had their own racing shell, making the victory all the more impressive.

b/w photo sof women's eight holding bunches of flowers on landig stage with male coach

The winning Stuart Ladies eight with their coach Ronnie Lutz. (Photo: Barbara Kaye’s personal collection.)

When the first official Women’s European Rowing Championships took place in 1954, in Amsterdam once again, Barbara’s Stuart Ladies four won the bronze medal. This was actually much harder-won than their 1952 gold, as it was from a field of eight crews and the final was dominated by the Rusians, who won every other event too. One of the reasons why the Stuart Ladies four did so much better than all of the other British crews (none of whom even reached their finals) was the way they trained; they were coached by the Lutz brothers – Ronnie Lutz was Marjorie’s husband – who were “fitness fanatics” and had the crews doing land training similar to what club crews would do today with weights, circuits and ergos, albeit without erg scores, unlike the Thames-based clubs who – to their detriment – had no contact with the much more advanced east end rowing scene.

Barbara also represented GB in 1957 although her four that year was less strong, the competition was better, and they didn’t medal. She was the reserve for the quad in 1960.

Full accounts of Barbara’s international years (including details of their 1954 land training) can be found here:

1952 | 1954 | 1957

Domestic rowing

Barbara did a lot of domestic racing throughout the 1950s although she was irritated that the Tideway head course only went to Hammersmith, and that regatta courses were short too; “We weren’t allowed to row more than 1,000m  because they said after the war we all hadn’t had enough food so they weren’t capable of doing over 1,000m. What that had to do with it I don’t know because it wasn’t near the war, really! It was a real fight for them to get to do the full distance.”

Notably, Barbara won the first ever Women’s Head of the River Sculls in 1955 by 30 seconds. Her other high-profile wins included:


WARA Head of the River Race (that became the WEHORR)
WARA Eights Regatta


Senior Fours at the WARA Fours Regatta
Ladies Eights at Willesden Regatta


Shell Eights at the Alpha WARC Regatta
Senior Fours at Weybridge Ladies Regatta
Senior Fours at the Barnes and Mortlake Events


Women’s Fours at the News of the World Serpentine Regatta
WARA Eights Regatta


Clinker Eights at the WARA Eights Regatta
Clinker Eights at St George’s LRC Regatta

It was quite a career!

Later rowing

After having her family, Barbara did a little bit of veteran rowing including racing at the FISA Masters Regatta at Nottingham in 1979 in a four with her 1950s crew mates Joyce Townsend and Marjorie Lutz (who were sisters) and Iris Simpson.

Barbara at FISA Masters Regatta in 1979

Barbara (in blue Stuart Ladies RC kit kneeling at the front) after competing at the FISA Masters Regatta in Nottingham in 1979.

As her children, Lorraine and Paul, got into rowing she coached them and other juniors at Lea RC and was selected to coach several crews at the FISA Junior Championships: Lorraine’s coxed four in 1981 (with her friend and clubmate Gill Webb); a Lea RC women’s pair in 1982; and she also coached in 1984 when Paul was in the eight, which put her on the selection panel that was involved in deciding which crews would go to all championships including the Olympics.

Gill, who rowed for GB in 1975, 1976 and 1979, was recently reminiscing with Barbara about a pairs outing they did for fun at some point:

Gill: “You’d go whizzy up the slidey! I said, ‘Hang on Barbara, wait for me!’ You were a lot skinnier and lighter than me and you were off! And you said, ‘Well keep up then!’ It was fun.”
Barbara: “We used to rate like the clappers. We used to do eights always at the Serpentine and the people that used to hold the boats, one was a world sculling champion years ago, and he said we went off like scalded cats at 40 strokes and that’s nothing now but they thought it was fantastic that we were doing ratings like that.”
Gill: “It’s because you had those big heavy boats. I rowed in clinker boats when I first started rowing and they are damned heavy. So you probably had to whizz it up to get the boat up and running.”
Barbara: “We had a new boat but it was heavy, not much lighter really than the clinker, and you had to get it going and then the big blades [macons!] came in and Ronnie [the coach] wouldn’t let us use them because he said ‘You’re not strong enough girls to do it.'”

Gill Parker and Barbara Kaye

Barbara (right) and Gill outside Lea RC in 2017. (Photo © Helena Smalman-Smith.)

Barbara’s daughter Lorraine Kaye rowed for GB at the FISA Junior Championships in 1981 which was coached by Barbara and Gill. Barbara was a Selector in 1984, the last year that there was a Selection Board.

© Helena Smalman-Smith, 2017.