13 November 2023

Water’s Gleaming Gold

On Thursday, 9 November 2023, the Leander Club had the pleasure of welcoming Gavin Jamieson, grandson-in-law of the remarkable oarsman, aviator and rowing coach Hugh ‘Jumbo’ Edwards and author of his biography, Water’s Gleaming Gold. He came to Leander to give a talk as part of the Rowing Book Talk Series organised by Leander Librarian Irene Hewlett. It was Jamieson’s father-in-law who had asked him to write the biography years earlier and many years of research led to the book being published last June. Not only does the exceptional story make the biography a great read, Jamieson’s prose is beautifully written and makes the history jump off the page.

The Rowing Book Talks are held in aid of the Leander Trust, a registered charity that enables and encourages rowing and sculling. The evening started off with a presentation about Hinksey Sculling School, a community outreach rowing club and past recipient of two grants from the Leander Trust. Bodo Schulenburg, Director of Rowing at Hinksey Sculling School, attended the evening to highlight the achievements gained with limited funds and how these funds have changed the lives of young people. In the past few years, Hinksey Sculling School have generated over 1 million pounds in full rowing scholarships to American universities for young people from non-traditional rowing backgrounds.

Jumbo Edwards was born in 1907 and as a youngster attended the Dragon School in Oxford and then Westminster School in London. It was when he was at Westminster that he first started rowing, after seeing his idol Jack Beresford, an Olympian, rowing on the Tideway. He would regularly lie in wait in his scull for Beresford to arrive so he could try and row him down. After Westminster, he became a student at Christ Church, Oxford where he rowed in the Boat Race in his first year. During that Boat Race, he collapsed from exertion, and was subsequently blamed for the loss suffered by Oxford that year. That experience became a driving force for the rest of Jumbo’s life. He was successful in getting his redemption by completing a hat trick at the 1931 Henley Royal Regatta (which has not been repeated to date) and by winning two gold medals at the 1932 Olympic Games. Besides his love for rowing, Jumbo had a passion for flying. 

He competed in flying races in small airplanes, including the King’s Cup, and later became a pilot for the RAF. During the Second World War, he was able to survive his aircraft being shot down over the Atlantic Ocean by rowing for his life towards the shore. After recovering from his injuries, he turned to coaching, first at the RAF Rowing Association and later at Oxford University Boat Club and Leander Club. The book is available to purchase from any bookshop or from the publishers via this link: https://www.troubador.co.uk/bookshop/biography/waters-gleaming-gold-hb.

The talk at Leander was attended by a huge audience of 66, including not only family of Jumbo himself, but also family of various other individuals featured in the book, including grandchildren of Cambridge oarsman and coach Howard Ricketts, as well as the granddaughter of a rower against whom Jumbo had raced at Henley Royal Regatta in the 1930s. We heard a story from an old friend of Mike Edwards’, Jumbo’s late wife, of how they used to host rowers during Henley Royal Regatta and cook feasts for them. The anecdotes shared by the audience made the evening feel immersive, as stories by those directly connected to Jumbo’s life made the narrative come alive in the Leander dining room. Old Pathé clips of some of Jumbo’s pursuits were shown and enjoyed by all.

Perhaps one of the most poignant moments of the evening, especially so near Remembrance Day, was Jamieson finding the names of Jumbo’s two brothers, both of whom died in action in the Second World War, on the Leander Club Memorial Board.

The next Rowing Book Talk is on 18 January 2024 and is about the history of Leander Club, on the basis of the Leander Club Bicentenary Book. To learn more about the history of the club, do not hesitate to purchase a ticket here: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/book-talk-andy-trotman-leander-club-bicentenary-book-tickets-677500350787? The ticket includes a generous finger buffet with a main, dessert and cheese and is in aid of the Leander Trust, a registered charity to advance the education of young people and their physical education by enabling and encouraging rowing and sculling. The charity has changed the lives of many young people through rowing.

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