The 1965 Women’s European Rowing Championships took place in Duisburg, as they had in 1957, on the purpose-built Wedau regatta course from 20-22 August, shortly before the men’s Championships on 26-29 August.
36 crews entered from 12 countries (almost exactly the same as the previous year, although disappointingly there were only four eights). In comparison, the men’s Championships attracted 89 entries from 22 countries.
Racing was over 1,000m, the distance set by FISA when it first introduced international women’s rowing in 1951.
There were no entries from East Germany. This could have been because of concerns about the possibility of defection from an event in West Germany, or even just not wanting the athletes to see how much more prosperous the western part of their country was. But it could also have been a way of pressuring FISA to change their current policy which only permitted a single entry from Germany in each event and therefore not only required East and West to race off privately in advance for each slot but also meant that when an East Germany crew was competing, it only did so under the name Germany and not the country’s full name of the Democratic Republic of Germany. As sporting success was an important part of national propaganda for most communist countries, you could see why they might campaign for their ‘brand’ to be more visible. As East German crews were good, their absence devalued the Championships, which were hardly flush with entries anyway. FISA needed the East German women, but the fact that they weren’t put forward is an example of politics impacting sport, albeit on a smaller scalethan the Olympic boycotts of 1980 and 1984.
Pauline Baillie Reynolds (known to all as PBR) summed up the approach to selection in 1965 and, indeed, the whole campaign, with her usual dry wit, but also more than a grain of truth when she wrote in the Almanack, “This year’s British entry at Duisburg was even more amateur in its outlook than usual. Since the demands of training college have removed Penny Chuter from the scene… Daphne Lane (United Universities) was nominated for the single sculls and (inevitably?) UUWBC provided a four. Miss Lane had done very little best boat sculling before the 1964-65 season; the four was a resurrection of the 1961 crew, and did not begin practice until June, possibly working on the theory that since they had trained extremely hard in the eight in 1964 and got nowhere, they could hardly do worse this time.” As she was a member of the four, her conjecture is obviously well-informed and so almost certainly correct.
In some ways, the United Universities group was running out of steam by this point. Although they had acquired a few new members whom they were training up, the top group had mostly done five full years as internationals by this point, and almost all of them lived considerable distances from the Tideway. From the 1964 eight, Daphne was getting into single sculling and Zona – who lived furthest away in Reading – was to get married in 1967, she probably had more interesting things to do with her time than drive to London four times a week although she rowed in various other UU crews at domestic regattas that year.
Ann Sayer recorded in her training diary for 11 July that the “Prague four” had a “discussion” with her over their plans, which obviously meant telling her that they intended just to enter a four and that therefore she wouldn’t be in the crew. She clearly wasn’t happy about this, but took it with typical stoicism and went to the Championships as Team Manager and reserve (along with Marg Chinn).
Despite having wound back her training almost totally as she’d started at Bedford PE College the previous autumn, Penny was still Britain’s fastest woman sculler, and remembers how she accidentally finished up attracting the Selectors’ attention:
“Bedford Ladies RC, as it was then, allowed me to keep my boat there and whilst I was very fit in terms of everything you had to do training as a PE teacher, which is virtually everything, I actually got out in my sculling boat very little. But Bedford Ladies said, ‘Would you represent us please at Bedford Regatta?’, so I raced at that regatta just as a thank you for letting me keep my boat there for nothing. I had had about six weeks of trying to get fit, and then I came up against Daphne Lane – it’s still 1,000m at Bedford – so I got to the 500m mark and I was about four lengths up on her and at the finish I was about four seconds up, I think, and so they offered me to go to the European Championships and I said, ‘You’re joking! I’m not anywhere near my best. No thank you very much.’ So I didn’t go but Daphne did go.” Penny’s time, incidentally, was only one second slower than that of the UU coxed four in their final.
On Monday, 2 August (and yes, that is only 18 days before the first race of the Championships so it must have been for the sake of appearances), Daphne and the four took part in trials at Weybridge against the clock with a (male) four and sculler from Weybridge RC to pace them. The UU four did 4:09 and Daphne did 4:32. For comparison, at the 1960 trials on the same course (though almost certainly in different conditions) the coxed four did 4:26 and Penny had done 4:39 in the single.
The team selected was:
|Coxed Four||Single Scull|
Pauline Baillie Reynolds
Ann Sayer (Team Manager)
Bob Potter, a Nautilus oarsman who was Daphne’s boyfriend at the time, was named as the official coach.
Daphne followed Penny’s approach and went to Ostend in search of decent competition because there certainly wasn’t any at home. She won her heat but was then disqualified. The Amateur Rowing Association International Fund accounts for the year show an expenditure of £7 on women’s rowing at non-Championship continental regattas, which was probably just this one trip.
The UU group’s spring season wasn’t designed as preparation for the Championships, but it started usefully with a ‘learning experience’ when they were beaten at Hammersmith Head on 21 March. Ann Sayer recorded the humiliation in her training diary:
“Ignominy! We rowed v.comfortably – too comfortably, knowing we had beaten UL whom we feared most, and not noticing St George’s [who beat UU by 6 sec] steaming up on UL. Quite nice rhythm, but little bite; not distressed at end at all, in fact at least Marrian and I thought ‘How nice [it would be] to go on to Putney’. Shame of it. Either badly calculated or half asleep. Largely the latter, I think. We had vaguely realized that St George’s were improving, but didn’t think today would see us beaten by them!”
By the Women’s Amateur Rowing Council Eights Head on 25 April 25, they’d got their acts back together, retaining the headship (although there were only a paltry six entries of which a mere two were in shell boats) and beating St George’s by 13 seconds. Ann Sayer again:
We were in fighting mood, after defeat in Hammersmith Head… and petrified too.
Our tempers were not improved by a 40 minute delay on the start, caused as we later found out by Port of London Authority launch going aground and Amy (nit-like) telling four of the six entries all of whom boated from UL to wait until they repaired themselves, leaving the two crews (us and St George’s) who had arrived on time to sit and get cold and stiffen without even having decency to let us or marshals know what caused the delay.
Our fighting mood improved powerfully as a result.
A good row, hard all the way; making up in determination what it lacked in finesse, occasionally.
[UU started first.] Crews 2 and 3 retreated very rapidly and St George’s were overtaking them (three abreast) at Civil Service. At this point they appeared to be upon us so we gritted our teeth and ploughed on. Rate according to Sir [UU’s nickname for Frank Harry] – steady 33-34 throughout. Felt highish, with no quarter asked or given, but not really that high. I was quite tired!
Daff’s [Daphne Lane’s] first time on bowside (except for yesterday) since beginning of 1962. Zona’s good influence at 7 probably v.helpful.
However, this didn’t constitute much in the way of preparation for the 1965 Championships as the only members of the crew who went on to race in the UU four there were PBR and Margaret McKendrick the cox.
UU continued to have fun on the domestic circuit, winning the Lady Fletcher Eights on 15 May and the Borne Cup on 22 May (although only just over the new pretenders St George’s) in what Ann described as “a splendid race” which at least gave them good practice.
On 5 June they won the Ladies Eights at Walton Regatta, beating the University of London Women’s BC in the final by half a length (getting decent racing at home again) although Quintin BC member Lou Barry, who was also coach of the GB men’s team, commented after the heat that they were “rowing like a lot of tired old ladies” and Ann noted that although there was “quite a lot of shouting all along on bank, and clapping in enclosures”, the state of women’s rowing was still concerning; “Race was exciting [to watch] no doubt, but standard of rowing not very high! May have been what people expected of women’s rowing or even better, but far from what best rowing in Britain has been.”
Two days later on the Whitsun Bank Holiday they beat UL again at Brent (formerly Willesden) Regatta. On 19 June a four containing just two of the Championships crew (Marrian and PBR) won at the Barnes and Mortlake Events, and the ‘Championship’ four finally managed all to be in the same place at the same time and won at Weybridge Ladies Regatta on 26 June and Bedford Ladies on 10 July.
Things ramped up a bit following their selection on 2 August when they embarked on a ten-day training camp at Weybridge staying at Jill’s flat in Woking. Compared with the previous year when the Championships were at the beginning of August, they were able to make the most of the the fact that they were all teachers (or a lecturer, in Margaret McKendrick’s case) and spent this extended period focusing on rowing.
That said, training on the first two days of the camp was limited to one outing a day because they also had to paint their blades. This was particularly time consuming because they also had to paint on the fiddly Union Jacks, although this was helped by use of a stencil which Zona had made some years before.
They’d decided to use their old 1960 set rather than the new semi Macon-shaped ones they’d had made the previous year. As in 1961 they used Quantum, the boat they’d had built that year.
At the Championships
As in 1957, all of the teams were accommodated in the Sportsschule which was only five minutes’ from the rowing course.
After swans on the course caused a little difficulty for both birds and boats, the former were escorted to a safe haven and final training progressed without feathers flying.
Ann recorded that the four were rather unwilling to reveal the times they were achieving in training out in Duisburg, and with unusual brutality wrote in her training diary (which, to be fair, was only intended to be a personal document), “Remarkable – they still think their technique is good! In fact they look soggy in the extreme on the catch and very often laboured in comparison with the others.” Her analysis was entirely in line with that of the writer of an unidentified newspaper clip, though, who commented in a preview of the Championships that, “Great Britain’s contribution is a coxed four and a sculler, both from the United Universities Club, and it would be nice to be able to forecast successes for both, but the truth is that the four has almost no chance, and the sculler, at best, an outside chance of a medal.”
An unidentified newspaper clip set the scene for the British crews; “The opening heats of the Women’s European Rowing Championships that began today were as depressing for Britain as the thundery overcast weather. The four and the sculler, representing Britain, finished last in their heats.”
Daphne Lane (unplaced out of eight)
“In the single sculls, Daphne Lane got off to a fair start but even so was fourth out of five at the half way mark,” according to the correspondent in another unidentified newspaper clip who went on, “[Meike] De Vlas, of Holland, then pulled away and both Mlle [Renée] Camu and Miss Lane touched marker buoys about 200m from the finish but neither was in contention.”
By the second day of racing when the repechages took place, the water was particularly choppy which Daphne struggled to cope with, finishing third in her rep, over six seconds behind the second place qualifying position. As one unidentified newspaper put it, “Daphne Lane never looked happy and was eliminated though not outclassed in her sculls repechage.”
Petites Finals weren’t run in the Women’s European Rowing Championships then (they were in the men’s, but those had around twice as many entries), so she never had the chance to try her speed against the Danish sculler who was the only other not to make the final.
The coxed fours was one of the events which was opened up by there being no German entry and Bulgaria’s scratching before the first race left just seven crews competing.
Again according to an unidentified newspaper clip, in the first round, “The United Universities four were soon led despite starting at 44. At 500m they were third, two lengths behind Romania and they gradually lost ground thereafter. They finished [nearly] 13 sec behind the winners in a time which was the slowest in either heat.”
However, the situation improved in the repechage where the four had what PBR later described in the Almanack as “a more inspired row”. Geoffrey Page, the rowing correspondent for The Telegraph, wrote that, “Britain’s interest in the women’s European rowing championships was kept alive here today when the United Universities four finished fractionally ahead of Denmark for fourth place in their repechage and so qualified for the final. This was a good effort but their chances of finishing better than sixth tomorrow must be very slim. Britain were lying last at 500 metres but a good finishing burst carried them past the Danes with only ten strokes to go though they were 7.5 seconds behind the winners.”
Ann Sayer noted in her diary that, “Danes were considerably better than last year’s chaotic crew,” but this must have been relative as she added that it was still, “Remarkable that they managed to come so close to UU looking so much less tidy.”
PBR described what happened in the final for the Almanack; “Lacking a powerful start, the four was quickly dropped by the other crews and finished last of six.” She also mused that this was “no worse than ever before on a minimum of training,” which wasn’t really a desirable message.
Roundup and observations
The Russians won four out of the five events and only lost the fifth – the quads – by 0.37 seconds to Hungary. They also pulled off the impressive feat of winning a medal in every event in both the women’s and men’s Championships.
As PBR reported in the Almanack, there was plenty of excitement in the finals despite the absence of the East Germans to give the Russians a run for their money. “In the single sculls, [Galina] Konstantinova, having reached the final via the repechage, was pushed very hard by [Renée] Camu of France who missed the gold medal by 0.9 seconds.”
There was drama in the eights’ final too in difficult conditions with, “All three leading crews suffering crabs near the finish,” according to an unidentified newspaper clip, which added, “The Romanian bow crossed the line with her oar handle behind her back to win a bronze medal.”
PMR also wryly observed that, “In the Russian national championships a few weeks later, the double, eight and four were all beaten… a frightening commentary on the standard of women’s rowing in Russia.”
The ARA’s International Fund expenditure was £205 on women (six competitors in two boats) and £430 on men (seven competitors in three boats). the discrepancy was apparently down to the men’s team deciding to eschew the on-the-spot accommodation provided by the Sportsschule in favour of an “extremely comfortable little hotel” just outside Duisburg on the grounds that their previous experience had “shown that the additional expense is well justified”, according to Freddie Page’s report in the Almanack, although he provides no details about what the benefits were.
Around the Championships
The UUs’ good relationships with competitors from other countries whom they’d got to know over the years once again led to various adventures in Duisburg.
“We met a girl in Duisburg who we’d met at, I think it was probably at the London Championship [in 1960], and she was delighted to see us,” remembers Margaret McKendrick. “She recognised us all. We’d been sitting in the stands and the Germans had been sniffing round us and she came rushing up the steps and kissed us all, at which point the Germans became friendly. She said, ‘You must come and have supper with us.’ Well, she had married into a family which made brushes, that’s by the by, but they lived in one of these enormous great German houses. And the parents were on the ground floor and all the others were on top and I think we walked there in the evening but we were brought home in a very large Mercedes and it was the expression of the authorities when we got back to the hostel when this enormous chauffeur-driven Mercedes arrived and we all tumbled out!”
At the end of the Championships, she says, “We used to have the party on the last day, and they used to provide the money and we used to go out and buy the drink [on behalf of the Russians, many of whom came from the Baltic states]. Because, they said, nobody would bother about you buying anything, and the illegal transactions that went on! One year they’d all got American dollars. They came from Latvia and they’d obviously got them from the docks – from American ships coming into the docks. And they said, ‘We don’t know what they’d do if they found we’d got these, but you can change them for us?’ So we had to change all these American dollars, which we did. And of course they were all paid and the better they did the more money they got.”
“Our favourite girl won the double sculls for donkeys years [1965 was the third time, actually, but this is a gargantuan achievement compared to GB’s record of course] – Daina Mellenbergua. She was getting married. And she wanted a pair of white satin shoes which you couldn’t get [in Russia]. But you could in West Germany of course, so she got her shoes.” The Eastern bloc competitors were apparently allowed to go shopping so long as they were with the British, Margaret explains. “We never ever mentioned politics of any kind. And they [the minders] obviously came to the conclusion that we were quite harmless because they were ALL allowed to go with us.”
The end of the UU era
The 1965 Championships were the last ones at which UU competed, although they continued to race domestically – with frequent success – until they merged with Thames RC in 1973.
The club was absolutely fundamental to the establishment of GB women’s international rowing; although they were never serious challengers for medals on the European stage, they did push up the standard domestically (albeit from an exceptionally low level) as they were always the crew to beat. Their willingness to self-fund kept the team going in 1961-63, and the sheer strength of the personalities of those in the group gave a boost to the next generation of female rowing officials: several of them became umpires; several of them were Selectors; Pauline Baillie Reynolds was Secretary of the Head of the River Race for 25 races; many of them had other long-term though lower-profile roles in British events; three of them (Jill Ferguson, Dorothea Newman and Ann Sayer) were awarded MBEs an Margaret McKendrick was a recipient of Maundy Money.
A full history of UU can be found here.