Eric William Wale
30th April 1931 – 11th February 2016
Rowing often runs in families. It is not hard to think of some of the longstanding names in our sport – the Phelps and the Barrys come easily to mind. Still, such longevity remains the exception rather than the rule at Cygnet. That said, though, one family that can point to almost a century of association with Cygnet is the Wales.
Eric William Wale, who died on 11th February 2016, was the son of W.G. (Billy) Wale, who joined Cygnet at Hammersmith in the early 1920s and remained a keen supporter in the post-war period. Minutes of annual general meetings throughout the early 1950s record the presence of both father and son and some of Eric’s surviving contemporaries still recall Wale senior as an enthusiastic cheer leader at regattas, sharing in their trials and triumphs.
Eric joined Cygnet in 1949, directly from National Service, having served in the RAF. Indeed, according to Frank Caughlin, a fellow crew member, Eric’s first appearance at Cygnet was in his RAF uniform. However, Eric quickly made the transition to ‘civvy’ street, initially joining the Treasury Solicitor’s Department, before moving to the Telephones Branch of the General Post Office (GPO), thus maintaining family tradition (‘Billy’ had also worked in the GPO as a postman). In later years, this branch of the GPO would be hived off as British Telecom (BT), where Eric would enjoy a highly successful career until retirement in the late-1980s.
In 1949, Eric would have been welcomed at Cygnet as one of a new wave of ‘young blood’ upon whom the club’s hopes of reclaiming the victorious years of the 1930s would hang. Eric took an active interest in club affairs and soon found himself on the committee. By 1950, the club was in a position to boat an Vlll for open regattas consisting entirely of the post-war intake of new members. Thereafter, Cygnet continued to build up a competitive head of steam such that by 1953, in Eric’s own words (penned in the 1990s), ‘there was a real feeling that the breakthrough had been achieved’.
Eric was referring to a Junior Vllls win at Chiswick, Cygnet’s first win in open competition since 1939. A photograph of the victorious crew drawn from Cygnet’s digitized archives (available to view on the web site) shows Eric standing on the far right, the initials E.W.W. proudly emblazoned across his tracksuit top. Silverware aside, Eric also met Sylvia, his future wife, at Chiswick Regatta. By 1954, Cygnet was riding on a high and Eric rowed in winning Junior-Senior Vllls at Horseferry, Willesden and Kingston, followed by Maidenhead in 1955.
Every generation retains fond memories of their competitive (and less competitive) years at Cygnet. In Eric’s case, we are fortunate that he chose to devote some of his retirement to authoring ‘Cygnet Rowing Club: The Fifties’. This account, which proved invaluable in the compilation of a more recent history of the club, captures the spirit of the post-war era at Cygnet and justifiably concludes that ‘the fifties were by any standard a period of significant achievement’.
Although Eric retired from active rowing in the fifties, he retained a keen interest in the club’s activities for the rest of his days and regularly attended club social occasions. As club historian, I am particularly grateful for the club memorabilia that he periodically passed on to me in later years. Some of this memorabilia dated back to the time of Wale senior, like the 1922 Civil Service Regatta programe, which lists ‘Billy’ rowing three in Novice lVs.
One of Eric’s regrets was that he never competed at Henley Royal Regatta, although ‘the intention or aim was always there’. Nonetheless, he rarely missed an opportunity to attend Henley Royal, joining Vic Reeves and Frank Caughlin for an annual visit to the Stewards Enclosure. That said, Eric was happiest picnicking with family and friends out on the towpath close to the start of the regatta, comfortable in the knowledge (as he put it) that ‘everybody does Henley in their own way’.
Eric is survived by his wife Sylvia and two daughters, Gill and Sarah. Among those who attended his funeral at Chilterns Crematorium, Amersham on 26th February were his rowing contemporaries Frank Caughlin, Maurice Hart and Brian Lovis, all of whom recalled carefree days sparring in club regattas on the Chiswick reach more than half a century ago.
Author: Neil Pickford