On the centenary of the Great War, Leander Members have returned from a tour of the battlefields of France and Belgium, where 136 Members of the Club lost their lives.
Led by experienced tour operator Nicky Bird, and accompanied by local expert Mike Willoughby, the party visited key sites at Ypres and the Somme. They concentrated on those areas where many of Leander’s Olympic champions fought and died.
At the 1908 Olympics, Great Britain won gold in all four rowing events – a total of fourteen athletes. By the time the armistice was signed ten years later, six of those men had died.
During their visit to Ypres, the Leander men took part in the nightly ceremony at the Menin Gate (pictured), where two wreaths were laid on behalf of the Club.
Former Leander cox Jeff Easton was particularly interested in Gilchrist Maclagan, another Leander cox from 1899 to 1908.
“It was moving to find his name remembered on the Menin Gate – he has no grave. But it was not uplifting to find his death was in a notoriously bungled action, even the British official historian writing that men were mown down by machine-guns in a massacre” he said.
Later, at Martinsart on the Somme, the party listened to Frederick Kelly’s Elegy for Strings in memory of Rupert Brooke, before laying another wreath at Kelly’s grave. The 1908 Olympic gold medallist was a noted musician and friend of Brooke’s, and had been present at his burial on the Greek island of Skyros.
“We lay this wreath in memory of one of our great oarsmen, and in remembrance of all Members of Leander who lost their lives in the Great War” intoned Easton on behalf of the group.
For Paul Mainds, the visit to High Wood on the Somme was especially memorable. “It is hard to imagine that over eight thousand men died fighting over that wood, but I feel now that I can at least begin to imagine a little better the journey that every one of them took along that road. We at least were able to drive on” he said.