Tragedy of 1914 Oxford Cambridge boat race

By laura mitchell on 6 Apr 2014

The 1914 Oxford rowing crew by Christina Broom

As we speak, crews from Oxford and Cambridge are gearing up for the 160th Boat Race between Putney and Mortlake, with thousands lining the banks of The Tideway to cheer on their favourite team in an event that is watched the world over.

100 years ago, 18 young men took to the Thames in much the same way as the crews this afternoon. Little did they know that just a few months later they would be marching off to war.

The 1914 Cambridge boat race crew by Christina Broom. L-R working backwards, starting with Cox at front: L.E. Ridley (Cox); Dennis Ivor Day; Sidney Ernest Swann; Philip Clermont Livingston; John Andrew Ritson; Kenneth Gordon Garnett; C.S. Clark; Clarence Edward Victor Buxton; Geoffrey Egerton Tower.

The 1914 Cambridge boat race crew by Christina Broom. L-R working backwards, starting with Cox at front: L.E. Ridley (Cox); Dennis Ivor Day; Sidney Ernest Swann; Philip Clermont Livingston; John Andrew Ritson; Kenneth Gordon Garnett; C.S. Clark; Clarence Edward Victor Buxton; Geoffrey Egerton Tower.

Having recently acquired a series of incredible images from pioneering press photographer Christina Broom, photos documenting 1914’s poignant race have came to light. All under the age of 25, the rowers in Christina’s photograph are well-educated and ambitious young men, with three of them Olympic gold medallists. In a matter of months, however, war was to cast its dark shadow and seventeen of the 18 crew members that took part would go on to serve in the First World War. Whilst one escaped into the sanctuary of the church, five would never come home alive:

• Oxford’s Reginald William Fletcher died at Ypres in 1914, aged 22
• Cambridge’s Dennis Ivor Day was tragically shot through the eye by a German sniper at Vermelles, in September 1915. His parents were called for and crossed the channel to take him home to St Ives, but he did not regain consciousness. Day died of the injury on 7 October 1915, aged 23 years old
• Cambridge’s John Andrew Ritson died in 1916, aged 24
• Cambridge’s Kenneth Gordon Garnett died in 1917, aged 25
• Cambridge’s L.E Ridley died in 1917, aged 23

Portrait of Cambridge’s Dennis Ivor Day, 1914

Portrait of Cambridge’s Dennis Ivor Day, 1914

With many Londoners out cheering on the university teams this afternoon, Christina’s candid photography serves as a reminder of the far-reaching impact of World War One, and offers us a glimpse into a world on the brink of monumental change. You can see a small selection of Broom’s work in our introductory free display, at the Museum of London now.

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