CAF crew honoured to join history and celebrate diversity at elite rowing regatta

Henley Royal Regatta is an international rowing competition held annually since 1839, except for the years during the First and the Second World Wars. In 1919, following the First World War, the highlight of the event was The King’s Cup, a special rowing competition between military crews from Canada, Australia, France, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States, which consisted primarily of soldiers waiting to return home from the war. ***Les Henley Royal Regatta sont une compétition internationale d’aviron qui a lieu tous les ans depuis 1839, sauf pendant les années des deux conflits mondiaux. En 1919, après la Première Guerre mondiale, le point saillant de la rencontre a été la compétition d’aviron spéciale dite de la « King’s Cup »; y prenaient part des équipes militaires du Canada, de l’Australie, de la France, de la Nouvelle‑Zélande, du Royaume‑Uni et des États‑Unis, composées surtout de soldats qui attendaient d’être rapatriés après la guerre.

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“Your achievement is a badge of honour for life, and your names will always be on the pages of history.”

That’s how LCdr Peter Reed, OBE, three-time Olympic rowing gold medalist and five-time rowing world champion for Britain, described the accomplishment of King’s Cup rowers, including a Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) crew comprised of Officer cadets, Naval cadets and recent graduates of the Royal Military College of Canada, at this year’s Henley Royal Regatta in England, July 5-7.

The regatta, renowned since 1839 as the finest, most historic and most prestigious river regatta in the world, is normally reserved with the world’s rowing elite. This year, the storied Thames River course was opened to crews from the militaries of eight countries to commemorate the centenary of a peace regatta held on the same course in the wake of the First World War.

“At a time when the world was on its knees, the rowing community came together to heal wounds and build normality again,” said LCdr Reed. “One hundred years on, the fittest and finest military crews from Canada, the Netherlands, from Germany, United Kingdom, France, Australia, New Zealand, and the United States of America, have shown their enduring solidarity honouring the past.”

Part of history

As it was in 1919, the King’s Cup event at the regatta was an “eights” competition, a race for boats designed for eight rowers, steered by a coxswain.

The Australians won the race in 1919; this year, the United States was victorious. It was a knock-out format. After a qualifying run to determine the draw, quarter-final races reduced the field from eight to four, and two semi-final races determined who would compete for the cup.

In the quarter-finals, France beat the United Kingdom, the United States beat Canada, Germany beat New Zealand, and Australia beat Netherlands. In the semi-final, Germany edged Australia and the United States downed France to set the final. Ultimately, in a tight race, the United States prevailed.

Despite being defeated by the eventual champions, the members of the CAF crew were thrilled to have the opportunity to participate in such an historic event.

“It’s an absolute honour to be here, representing Canada, representing everyone who has gone before us,” said OCdt Liam Vickers, whose father served as a CAF member in places such as Somalia and Afghanistan, and whose grandfather landed on Sword Beach during the D-Day invasion. “It’s an honour to be able to show my respect as tribute to him as well as all the other Canadians who have gone before me.”

Likewise for OCdt Deven Deguara, whose great-grandfather immigrated to Canada from Malta before the First World War, but later took up arms and fought for Canada at Vimy.

“I’m extremely proud to be a part of the Canadian Armed Forces and have a seat in the boat that’s going to row to commemorate 100 years since the First World War,” he said.

All in the same boat

At the awards ceremony, LCdr Reed, a serving officers in the Royal Navy, noted the King’s Cup event was also significant because it marked the first time men and women rowed together in the same boat at an elite rowing event. A first, he said, that is “in keeping with our forward thinking defence.”

RAdm Luc Cassivi, Commander of the Canadian Defence Academy and one of the CAF’s Co-Champions for Gender and Diversity for Operations, certainly agrees. He visited Henley to acknowledge and thank the Canadian crew and was glad to see mixed crews featured at the event.

“It’s great,” he said. “It’s recognition that everyone contributes to the team and we’re stronger when we’re together and that more barriers are breaking down when it comes to gender or other elements of inclusivity.”

Building alliances

History and commemoration were key to the event, as were opportunities for the military crews to get to know and face each other in friendly competition.

RAdm Cassivi said such competitions such are invaluable opportunities for young CAF members to learn about our allies and begin relationships they will build throughout their military careers.

“The competition is about peace,” he said. “The more we know each other, the more we understand each other, the more we work together.”

Lt(N) Carolyn Pumphrey, a rower for the CAF crew, said getting to know competitors from the other militaries will certainly be something the young Canadian officers always value.

“It allows us on a professional basis to become better leaders and understand how other nations operate,” she said. It’s also important because it allows us to understand where other people are coming from.”

LCdr Reed said rowing, in general, is particularly well suited to the military because the qualities that make great rowing crews are much the same as those valued by military units.

In his comments to the competitors, he spoke of technical proficiency, courage and cheerfulness in the face of adversity, commitment, self-discipline, selflessness, integrity, loyalty, humility and respect for others (the crew as well as the opposition).

“These values, this mindset, this spirit that makes you special is synonymous with that of the military ethos that we see here in abundance today,” said LCdr Reed. “My sincere congratulations for everything you have achieved and everything that you are. Enjoy this moment. You have most certainly earned it.”

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