One Hundred Years Ago
12th February 2019
Reunion and Rebuilding
The world of 1919 was very different from 1914 when so many men had departed in high spirits for the Western Front. Organised sport had ceased to exist in all but name for the best part of five years and those Cygnet members returning from France were uncertain of what or to whom they would be coming back to. Seventy nine active members had served in the war; eleven would never return.
Prime Minister Lloyd George had promised 'demobbed' servicemen 'A Land Fit for Heroes'. Reality proved rather more prosaic. Some Cygnets may have had the good fortune to reclaim pre-war jobs as post office sorting clerks and the like at Mount Pleasant or The City. For other more lowly grades, advertisements such as this one in 'The Post' offered successful candidates the prospect of promotion, if not riches: "Large numbers of Postmen are returning honourably discharged. The best is not too good for these. They can secure a big advance in prospects by passing a Sorting Clerkship". For all, there would have been a longing to pick up the threads of pre-war life and leisure pursuits.
The first recorded club meeting following the end of WW1 took place at club headquarters - the Rutland Hotel, Hammersmith - on 18th June 1919. 'Wally' Wheldal took the chair as he had done at the last pre-war general meeting in September 1914. Among those present were a mix of old and young including many who had seen active service. Doubtless, some would have reflected upon 'absent friends'.
For the 'old swans', who had kept the club 'ticking over' during the war years, the election of thirteen new members heralded a new beginning for Cygnet that had hardly seemed possible during the dark days of 1916-17. One of the newcomers was H.W.T ('Jack') Sheppard who would make his mark on many aspects of club life in the coming decades, ultimately serving as club president in 1962-71.
Anxious to resume business as usual, the meeting immediately set about drawing up a fixture list for the remainder of 1919. Given that Cygnet like most other clubs on the Tideway found itself in a period of post-war convalescence, there was a sense that planned events should not be overly ambitious. Formal race fixtures were therefore confined to two races for four-oared boats - one fixed and the other sliding seats - and one for eight-oared craft.
Having dealt with the active aspects of club life, the meeting's attention turned to the social side. There was a strong desire among those present for a reunion supper to be held at Hammersmith and a more elaborate concert to be held at the Pillar Hall Restaurant in the Cannon Street Hotel in London. Organisation of the latter was put in the capable hands of G J Leates who set about engaging artistes, contacting relatives of deceased prize winners from 1914 and selling some 300 tickets at 2/- each.
The Reunion Concert took place on 24th January 1920 and followed familiar lines, which would itself have been a comfort to many. There were sixteen items on the programme which opened with an overture and processed through such contemporary musical renditions as 'The Body Upstairs' and 'Phonofiddleoddities' before closing with a monologue entitled 'Teeth'. The prize giving was divided into two halves: 1914 and 1919. The latter featured such names as Bueler, Carter, Sheppard and Yunk who would figure largely in regatta successes throughout the early 1920s.
So ended the first year of reunion. Apart from the resignation of the president Rudy Lehman, due to ill health, there was cause for quiet satisfaction. The club had survived to see its thirtieth year and there was £104 in the General and Accident Fund. Plans were already afoot for a much more ambitious regatta programme in 1920 and there was even talk of acquiring the freehold of an appreciable plot of land on an upriver island at Shepperton.
Rutland Hotel far right