The 1962 Women’s European Rowing Championships took place at Grunau, East Berlin, from 17-19 August. There were no European Championships for men that year because they were racing in Lucerne at the first World Championships (one of only three World Championships that did not include women’s events).
35 crews took part from ten countries which was three crews and one country (France) up on the previous year.
As in 1961, the team almost entirely funded themselves, which cost them about £80 each. The Amateur Rowing Association’s accounts do indicate expenditure of £65.16.6 although there is no detail about what this was spent on. As the Women’s ARA and the ARA were separate organisations at the time, it’s possible that it includes ARA Hon. Secretary Freddie Page’s expenses as he officiated at the regatta as a FISA Umpire as well as acting as Team Manager and coach.
None of the team remember having to prove themselves against other crews to gain selection and Freddie Page later reported in the Almanack that, “The Women’s ARA Selectors had no great difficulty in making their choice, for it must be admitted that those who offered themselves were virtually unchallenged.”
The team was more or less unchanged from 1961 except that the United Universities four turned itself back into an eight, by inserting a ‘middle four’ of new members Marg Chinn and Daphne Lane along with Frances Bigg and Ann Sayer who had competed at previous Championships.
|Eight (United Universities)||Double Scull (United Universities)|
Pauline Baillie Reynolds
(LALEHAM SKIFF AND PUNTING CLUB)
As in 1961, Penny did a lot more preparation than the UU crews, although both the double and the four did go abroad to race before the Championships.
Penny in East Germany
Rather than just nip across the channel to regattas in the low countries at Dunkirk, Ostend and Amsterdam as she had in 1961, Penny centred her 1962 preparation on East Berlin, although her reasons for doing so were as much financial as strategic; “The whole of the communist bloc never came out except for a major Championships so if you were sufficiently good to be of a standard that threatened them, which I was, they would invite you in and they paid for the whole lot. All I had to do is get myself to Heathrow to benefit from a top international regatta with really good opposition, since all of the Eastern bloc countries would go to Grunau as it was the major summer regatta for them. So I’d get good competition and it didn’t cost me a brass farthing but if I went to a Western European regatta I had to pay for everything.”
One of the few hitherto well-known stories about GB women’s rowing in the 1960s comes from when she arrived in Berlin for this annual regatta in Grunau. The organisers had arranged a boat for her to borrow and sent a one-way plane ticket that got her to Tempelhof Airport in West Berlin. The absence of a return ticket worried her parents considerably!
I took my sculling blades with me which became a major problem,” she says. “How could I transport them from the airport to Checkpoint Charlie to pass through the Berlin Wall? I tried the U-Bahn but I wasn’t allowed on it and none of the taxis had roof racks, of course. Remarkably, I was allowed to board a double decker bus where I held my sculls vertically up the circular stairwell, helped by the conductor.
It then took me more time to get through the checkpoint. It was noon on a Friday and the British Ambassador had already left his office for the weekend. The British and American soldiers advised me not to go through in spite of my invitation letter from the East German Ruderverband (rowing association) to attend Grunau International Regatta, complete with several hammer and sickle stamps etc. In the end I asked the on-duty Americans if they could physically stop me and they said, “No,” so I carried my sculls in one hand and my suitcase in the other and walked through to East Berlin.
Alas this wasn’t the end of my problems. When I got through, there was no one to meet me since I was three hours late by that time and they had left assuming I wasn’t coming. I then had the same difficulty with my sculls again, with the added issue that I had no East Deutsch Marks to pay for transport. Finally I found a convertible taxi which had its hood down because it was extremely hot. I persuaded him to take me to Grunau with my sculls lying between us and sticking out of the back – it was his very, very lucky day because I had to pay him in West Deutsch Marks which were worth about 10 times East Deutsch Marks.
When I arrived exhausted, I was told that I could try out my borrowed boat now and I would be racing in the Friday evening heats in about two hours’ time – those were the days! I was also introduced to the East German women’s team who sitting in the shade eating doughnuts.
Despite such non-ideal preparation, she won, and was presented with a bouquet, as was the custom at the time, and also a brass jug which she still has on display today.
After the regatta she had arranged to stay on in Grunau for a week’s training camp with the East German women, which involved more than just on-water training:
I was asked if I would be willing to take part in the physiological tests which were being done on the rest of the East German women’s team that week and I agreed provided that I received their results as well as my own. There were no rowing ergos in those days so VO2 max testing was done on a bicycle ergometer. I was hugely motivated by the fact that my VO2 max (4.7 litres on that occasion) ranked about 8th amongst the East German women. I knew I could never train two to three times every day as they did but at least I had the capacity.
I also took part in their anthropometric measurements and body composition assessment (ectomorphy/mesomorphy/endomorphy for leanness, muscle and fat), not knowing then that the latter involved parading naked in front of several sports doctors. By then it was too late to opt out so I joined in and tried not to look too embarrassed which was extra hard because I had been asked to the opera a couple of nights previously, just to give me something to do, by the chief East German doctor – I remember it was Orpheus in the Underworld – and of course he was one of the assessors! I consoled myself afterwards with the fact that I had learned a great deal about rowing performance physiology and the standards of the East German team so at least it was all very useful for the future.
Obviously I wasn’t going to submit to injections or anything like that. But whether I was given any drugs or whatever via food, I’ve got no idea because I was eating exactly the same as they were eating. I remember every morning for breakfast we had this sort of chocolate porridge which looked like blancmange before it set. This big steaming bowl was very sweet and could have contained anything. Since I was only there for a week I would have got no benefit from it anyway.
Penny’s parents concerns about their daughter setting off to Germany without a return ticket were unfounded as the East German Ruderverband had, as promised, arranged her return journey although as there were no direct flights from East Berlin’s Schönefeld airport to Britain, she had to change planes in Prague. “The fact that I had fewer West Deutsch Marks than I had declared when I went through Checkpoint Charlie – because I’d used some to pay the East German taxi driver, which wasn’t allowed – was an issue when I left Berlin to fly home,” Penny remembers. “I might have been stuck there until the Berlin Wall came down, but fortunately the Head of the East German Ruderverband was seeing me off at the airport and he sorted it out for me. I found out later that he was also high up in the Stasi so I was lucky he was around at the time.”
The plane from East Berlin to Prague was just a small propeller aircraft and her sculls wouldn’t fit in the hold so she had to put them on the floor of the aisle and politely ask the other passengers to avoid stepping on them.
Doings with the double
Penny and the double did a certain amount of training together as well as racing each other domestically because they were the only women scullers of that standard at the time.
The three of them went to Ostend regatta in May, and to Amsterdam in June. Despite Vivien having vowed – after bad experiences in borrowed boats at these regattas the previous year – in her rowing diary that [we], “Must take our own boat if we go abroad again. We are too unusual in physique to expect to fit comfortably in borrowed boat,” they once again did borrow boats at both.
The conditions in Ostend were very rough with a cross headwind, which left the double disappointed that they were unable to row in the way they wanted to, and they came second in the final, a result that they repeated at Amsterdam. Vivien noted that they didn’t manage to sprint at the finish of either race, which was rather a recurring theme for them, despite their efforts to work on this in training.
Both boats were asked to go through a selection trial at Weybridge Ladies regatta on 30 June. After beating Christine Dennis by a comfortable margin in the singles, Penny jumped into a scratch double with Jean Wilshee (who had competed in the quad at the 1960 Championships and was a former British single sculling champion) and dead heated in 3.57 with the well-practiced combination of Zona and Viv. Zona remembers, “It was most annoying, it was ridiculous, we should have won it!” Viv recorded the details in her rowing diary; “Gained half a length in 20 strokes when went up slightly after spurt at 200m. Rating 30 to their 32. Round last bend forced rating up, trying not to lose length and apparent verdict of dead heat given. Exhausted – but really good race.” But she added ruefully, “Not sure if we can justify this against two who had never been together before except both good scullers and fitted well (very) together.”
Frances Bigg, who had rowed with both Zona and Viv in the UU/GB eight in 1960 wrote, “This was a thrilling race to watch if one wasn’t worried about who won!!” [not that she had anything against Penny or Jean, but she was fiercely loyal to the UU duo].
Penny still has a letter from Joan Filkins, the Honorary Secretary of the Women’s ARA, thanking her and Jean for taking part in the race, which she described as, “A magnificent spectacle and a joy to watch,” which rather implies that this level of racing was sadly a rarity at the time.
Penny, Zona and Viv then raced each other in singles at the News of the World Serpentine Sprint Championships in early August with Penny winning by five lengths over Zona in the final after beating Viv in the first round. Penny was in a borrowed boat because hers was already on the road to Berlin by this point.
In early July, Viv recorded in her rowing diary that the double had been working on their catch because, “Zona firmly sighted on [a] medal,” although a couple of weeks later she noted that they were still having trouble maintaining their pace in the middle 250m of pieces, and that, “Zona is remarkably mild about lack of progress.”
In their third season together, the eight benefited from an injection of new ideas from Freddie Page who was a successful coach at St Paul’s School as well as being Hon. Secretary of the ARA. Ann Sayer recorded the experience in her training diary:
Saturday, 28 April: First outing with Mr Page as coach… Freddie had so many new things to say to us we were quite saturated mentally by half way through outing!
Exercises (various) including easying with hands over middle of stretcher holes – when pass through this position, make sure knees under each arm. [This was the style of the time, at least partly because your feet would fall out of their ‘clogs’ if you kept your knees as close together as nowadays – Ed.]
Sunday, 19 April: Drive off slide fractionally before blade touches water i.e. hitting water with a running slide. [! – Ed.]
Emphasis on jumping backwards as quickly as possible because ’tis said of women that their reactions are slower than men’s. [Gah! – Ed.]
Sunday, 6 May: Fear that too much of Mr Page might kill us.
Thursday, 17 May: Mr Page’s last outing with us (for time being at least… we hope to see more of him in the future because he works such wonders for us!) A very good outing which left UU bubbling. Freddie has really made UU confident that it can raise the rate, and do things it never dreamed of before. If we never do as well until July it won’t be too bad.
The eight raced at Willesden Regatta on the Welsh Harp on 11 June, beating Leiden University from the Netherlands, but by three and a half lengths so it probably wasn’t much of a learning experience or test of their newfound ability to change the pace.
They then headed over to Holland for the Nereus Bosbaan Regatta on 22-23 June. They borrowed a boat called Princess Juliana from the student De Vliet club which several of them had used before when they had raced as University of London Women’s BC at Hollandia Regatta 1958.
On the Saturday they had two practice paddles to get used to the boat which, as Ann recorded, “Will run well if we allow it to – which we generally did not”. On Sunday they had a pre-race paddle to try and get to grips with the “extremely fast following conditions in very strong breeze”. Again, she was dubious about their success in achieving this aim.
In the race itself, “Pauline Baillie Reynolds’ seat stuck on second stroke of start, and in her efforts to get back onto it, the whole seat parted company from the slide… When she finally regained her seat, we were so relieved to be able to row properly that we set off in hot pursuit in efforts not to come in too bad a last… Miraculously two crews hove into sight. We passed Nereus II who had trouble with crabs; and very nearly caught Nereus I on our bowside but we couldn’t quite make it, and finished about a third of a length behind.”
As in the two previous years, they benefited from a week’s training camp at Weybridge again. Ann’s training diary records that they had a 19 mile row to get there which included passing Hampton Court and Dittons [skiff] Regatta where Penny was racing.
Frances Bigg recorded in her training diary that on the last afternoon they did a 1,000m course in 3.08, which is very good, although she admitted that it was with both wind and stream.
While they were at Weybridge, Amy Gentry, Chairman of the Women’s ARA, threw a send-off party for them at which, according to an unidentified newspaper clipping, she gave Daphne Lane, “A piece of Wedgewood to take as a gift to East Berlin, the exchanging of gifts being the usual practice at international events.” Daphne doesn’t remember this at all, so another item of homeware sinks into obscurity.
Even more extraordinarily, and in a line that is practically one of those classics hat might open a novel, Frances noted, “I borrowed a [sun] lamp and thoroughly enjoyed it – sunbathing on the billiard table has its points.”
Much as Penny, Zona and Viv had given each other competition because there wasn’t anyone else good enough to do so, the eight raced itself in fours at the Serpentine Regatta immediately before they flew to Berlin. Outside four (which was also the 1961 European Championships crew) beat middle four by six seconds, but middle four may not have had a practiced stroke. They did also race the eight at the Serpentine but won over a Bedford Ladies/Alpha composite by a mighty 17 seconds which clearly had little benefit other than in further stocking the UU trophy cabinet.
The team flew in to Templehof Airport in West Berlin and then traveled by road to the East through Checkpoint Charlie. Ann recorded an all-too-real observation; “When we arrived [at the border] the pavements were still wet because the water cannon had been used on various demonstrations the day before which was the first anniversary of the wall.” And Margaret McKendrick remembers, “The Westerners didn’t want us to go across. But there were the Easterners standing on the other side waiting with bunches of carnations waiting for us.”
Final preparations at the regatta
The GB team were allocated rooms above the boathouse at the TSC Oberschönerweide club right on the course. This was the very best place to stay as it was right on the spot and there was also a perfect view of the racing from the balcony. Some countries were based further away which led to an interesting experience for the GB crews later in the regatta.
With their regular coach Frank Harry again unable to join them because his wartime activities forbade him from travelling behind the Iron Curtain, the eight were looked after at the regatta by Freddie Page and enjoyed more of his coaching input. “The ARA very kindly paid launch hire so Freddie came out with us daily,” Frances explained. On Monday, 13 August Ann recorded in her training diary, “Mr Page’s first time of getting his hands on us since his spring time spell; getting at me consistently for looking at blade because said this caused me to over-reach. This seemed a simple cause-and-effect! Concentrated so hard on keeping head straight! He again seems to have managed to get more out of us than we dreamed.”
In between outings, the eight and the double (sometimes leading Penny astray too) spent a shocking amount of time sunbathing (without suncream), and sometimes even rowed in bikini tops to work on their tans. On being asked recently whether this was really so, Zona replied, “Oh I think some people did. I don’t think I did, I had too many rolls of fat!”
The course at Grunau, which had been used for the rowing at the 1936 ‘Hitler’ Olympics, was on the ‘Langer See’ (‘long lake’ in German), is one of several widenings in the river Dahme, and all the teams were taken on a pleasant steamer trip round the lakes one evening at the beginning of the Championships. Less pleasant for the competitors was the effect of the commercial barges using this waterway.
After some bumpy training outings, a system was put in place so that the barges were only allowed to pass the course at certain times, although the GB contingent rather bafflingly failed to make best use of this with Vivien noting in her rowing diary that, “All river traffic stopped 9-11am so we went out at 11!”
The Championships had a formal opening ceremony for the first time that any British competitors can remember. “That was the only one where we had a formal march round,” Margaret McKendrick remembers. “We shambled round, and then discovered that Freddie Page had been a drill instructor in the army. We said ‘Why didn’t you say? At least we could have done it decently!'”
Penny Chuter (second out of eight)
Penny qualified directly to the final from her heat, coming second behind the Russian Galina Samodorova but finishing well clear of the Belgian and the German at a low rate, according to her team-mate Frances Bigg’s observations at the time. Penny’s old adversaries Alena Postlova of Czechoslovakia and Renée Camu of France got through from the other heat, with a Dutch sculler getting the fifth slot in the five-lane final via the repechage.
Postlova won the final by three seconds from Penny who, in turn, beat Samodorova by 4.2 seconds (the British sculler having probably played a tactical game in the heat in which she only needed to finish in the first two). The rest of the GB team watched with pride. “It was very exciting,” Zona Howard remembers. “We were standing on the balcony so we had a birds eye view and it was lovely!”
There were no podium ceremonies and the competitors remained in their boats while the medals were hung round their necks. However, the flags of the three medallists were then raised on flagpoles as their national anthems were each played in turn from a gramophone record that each country had to bring to the Championships. “Of course, we had the most crackly one,” Penny recalls, adding, “But we managed to get it there without breaking it. I think that was due to Freddie Page.”
“I got more drunk than I’ve ever got in my life at the party afterwards,” Penny remembers. “Thomi Keller wasn’t helping. Every other Western nation, not just GB, was celebrating my silver medal but I was drowning my sorrows because I hadn’t won a gold medal! I had alcohol poisoning and really suffered for the next three days.”
Amy Gentry sent Penny a telegram saying, “Thanks for your wonderful work and sincere congratulations on gaining silver medal for us.” Freddie Page’s comment on this excellent achievement in the Almanack was considerably more measured; “The British representative had acquired vastly more strength and technique since Prague [the previous year], and should be well satisfied with her steady progress towards her goal.” Pauline Baillie Reynolds noted in her subsequent report in Rowing magazine that, “Miss Chuter… deserves every congratulation for getting Britain’s first silver medal in these championships; a distinction deserving more notice than it has received from most of the national rowing correspondents.”
Eight (fifth out of seven)
The eight came last in their three-boat heat from which only one crew would progress straight to the final. The winners, Germany, were well out in front. “We were rather worried as all the other eights seemed to have improved as much as we had,” Frances wrote, but added that, based on times, “The heat proved that we could beat the Poles and maybe the Hungarians.”
The repechage the next day was critical, though; three crews out of five would go through to the final. GB rose to the occasion magnificently. Ann Sayer recorded in her diary afterwards, “Rate apparently 38 for much of course – goodness knows what the start was like because we steadied markedly after Mac’s count of 10.” It seems all that high-rate work they’d done with Freddie Page earlier in the year had paid off.
They finished second out of five, ahead of Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland. Frances Bigg wrote later in her rowing scrapbook, “At the 800m I was worried that Pauline would roll out of the boat, but she responded to a ‘sit up’ from Ann. The papers were most complimentary about our finishing spurt.”
One of these described their performance as “a great sensation”. Frances said, “We excelled ourselves!,” while Margaret McKendrick described the achievement as, “Our finest hour. Three crews finished behind us!”
Sadly, they were unable to repeat this performance in the final, in which they were last, nearly ten seconds behind the Romanians in fourth place. Ann’s diary records, “A bad row, lifeless, not together; we felt jellied or listless. Mental attitude probably at fault, as well as actual tiredness after yesterday’s efforts. Relief at actually getting into final so great as to make real ruthlessness difficult. Very disappointed; tears flowed intermittently for an hour or so.” Frances’s analysis was in a similar vein though she noted the impact of changed weather conditions on them, writing, “This was partly due to mental and physical tiredness, and partly due to the knowledge that the wind had now got up against us and roughened the water and we had the second mot exposed position. After the 500m – where we were just last – we flagged badly.”
The Times commented that, “England [sic] kept hard at it [in the final] but they were not in this class. The surprising thing is that they have progressed as far as they have, in the face of lack of facilities and support.” It would have been nice if the correspondent had said “impressive” rather than “surprising”, but at least it was recognition for their achievement in adversity.
That evening, the eight – like Penny – enjoyed the hospitality at the party or, as Ann put it in her diary, “UU got disgustingly canned at the regatta ball.”
Double (unplaced from eight crews)
The GB crew came third out of four in their first round with only two qualifying directly to the final. Vivien recorded in her rowing diary how the race panned out – and how they failed to capitalise on another crew’s poor steering; “Good start and second at 500m [Poland leading], some 1.5 lengths up on Romania and Hungary. Then Hungary applied pressure and Romania hit buoys. Hungary took second place at about 750m and we wallowed in wake of Poland who steered v.v. badly to finish third. In fact probably threw away race because did not spurt to catch Poland in our water.”
Only one crew progressed from the repechage and, agonisingly, the GB double missed out by just 0.1 second. “We made a big mistake,” Zona explains, “Because we were leading in the repechage and we allowed the Dutch to get past us at the end.” As Viv described it in her diary, “Failed to have a really effective final spurt and lost by a very narrow margin. Only a matter of 4-5 feet. Sickening.”
Still, they had showed themselves to have improved and Zona remembers, “We were getting closer, which made us feel we wanted to go on,” although Viv was fairly clear that this would be their last chance, writing in her diary that, “We will probably have one final fling next year when it will have to be medal or bust.”
The event was won by the Russian crew. Interestingly, Penny noted that they had three double sculling boats with them and used a different one in each race.
The final of the doubles was delayed because Poland and Hungary collided during warm up and and the Poles broke a rigger. Luckily for them, they happened to have a British-built boat so Zone and Viv lent them their riggers which fitted.
The Russians won three of the five events and medalled in the other two which were won by Romania and Czechoslovakia.
Around the Championships
Vitamin C? Really?
Zona remembers an extraordinary incident to do with their friends the Romanians:
One thing that happened in East Berlin, which just showed how naïve we were, was that on the finals day, the Romanians said, because our accommodation was on top of the boathouse so we were on the spot and the Romanians were obviously somewhere else, could they come and lie on our beds between their races because they were in the four and the quad? And so we very sweetly said, ‘Yes of course you can!’
They came in and they all lay down. The doctors came in and they were given injections. Vitamin C! So we all thought, ‘We’ll take vitamin C next year, it’ll make all the difference.’ But it just makes you wonder what it was because they went along and got another gold medal. And I think we were just… you know, we hadn’t a clue. We thought rowing was a clean sport. I don’t know [whether the Romanian athletes really thought it was Vitamin C]. I think they were probably told it was Vitamin C and it would do them good.
Penny has other unexpected memories of the Romanians’ habits: “We certainly learned about the Romanians because they were a jolly good bunch, however, they used to smoke and drink like you wouldn’t believe. They’d put out a cigarette just before they raced!”
Off the water the eight engaged in lingerie diplomacy. Margaret McKendrick explains, “In those days you used to take a little present for your equal person in the home country. And it was the year when frilly knickers were fashionable… so we bought them all frilly knickers. And of course they, poor dears, hadn’t ever seen anything like that. They couldn’t believe their eyes when they opened these little packets! Their mentors were not very pleased actually, but they thought it was marvelous.” Sadly, no pictures were taken.
Communist countries were always very proud of their workers, of course, which is probably why the event organisers had arranged a tour of the ‘Fortschritt’ (Progress) women’s outerwear clothing factory for the competitors. Margaret McKendrick remembers the details, “We walked round and we were asking quite sensible questions because we were in fact interested in what they were doing. I was wearing a skirt made of Terylene, and as we walked through the factory, every time we stopped, I could feel somebody feeling it because they obviously didn’t know what the cloth was. And then we had a meal, and I think it was Pauline made a speech in very fractured German at which they fell about laughing. But we left as their sporting friends and their [communist] party member, who was one of these little square ladies, kissed us all on the way out!”
Daphne Lane adds, “Our guide described the [workers] as ‘sewers’, pronounced like ‘drains’, which we found most entertaining!”
Oranges, yoghurt and shorts
Daphne’s feeling was that “the Soviets kept East Germany very poor”. And she remembers, “One of the East German team lived in Dresden and I think we visited her home. When Marrian found a single orange in her backpack and gave it to our hosts, they were overwhelmed. They hadn’t seen an orange for years. And Dresden itself remained pretty much as it had been at the end of World War II – bombed out ruins and piles of rubble everywhere. I was shocked.”
Ann Sayer was also humbled by the situation in East Germany. “One thing I remember about the non-rowing side was that we had yoghurt,” she explains. “And I don’t think I’d had yoghurt before. And we were getting yoghurt and I was aware that it was highly unlikely that the people outside, the ordinary folk outside, were having such a luxury as yoghurt.”
The group all bought rowing shorts of the type they’d seen the Communist bloc countries wearing, and which were much more suitable for rowing than the stiff cotton shorts the whole of Britain wore for rowing at that point. “They were fairly stretchy,” she recalls. “They were knitted cotton but they were very comfortable. They were just like old-fashioned gym knickers that one had at school.” The said shorts are being worn by Pauline and Marrian in the photo above, but they couldn’t be worn for racing as GB shorts had to be white back then. Penny had first found the shop when she’d been in Grunau earlier in the year and had bought some maroon shorts as this was one of Laleham Skiff and Punting Club’s colours. “They had a wide elastic waist band rather like current men’s Calvin Klein pants, and were a snug fit,” she says.
Penny’s silver medal was a very significant achievement in British women’s international rowing. An unidentified newspaper clip quite reasonably observed that, “There is no doubt that with a further year’s devotion to this lonely form of discipline she may well put Great Britain in the lead of women’s sculling. In her three years of international competition she has made quite remarkable progress and with her excellent physique and determination deserves to attain the highest honours and can well do so.”
Unfortunately, this was not to be, and 1962 turned out to be as much her finest hour in international competition as it was the UU eight’s.