Basil Gray



Basil was born in 1921 in Westcliff-on Sea following on behind his older brother Alan.

Six years later the family moved to Thames Ditton thereby influencing his lifelong interest in the river and boating.

His application to become a pupil at Tiffin School was an important step for Basil. Apparently the Headmaster of that time one Tubby Dean in assessing Basil as a suitable candidate asked him how to spell the word ‘bicycle’. He seemed to have got that right thus ensuring his acceptance to the school. Clearly his other qualities were beyond dispute! No eleven- plus then!

Basil in due course became a keen member of the school boat club no doubt wishing to emulate his older brother, Alan who was already making waves as an oarsman competing for Kingston Rowing Club.

The Second World War quickly put a stop to these river pursuits and Basil volunteered to serve in the RAF and learnt to fly.

Amongst various escapades including the ‘pranging ‘of three aircraft for various reasons [I’m sorry I can’t enlighten you on this information] he was seconded to Canada in 1942 and taught budding pilots there to fly Harvards. He was then transferred to flying Mosquitos which he flew on active service over France in 1944.

One particular ‘highlight ‘of his flying missions was a raid set for August 9th 1944 into France when as one of four Mosquito pilots he flew to target the suspected secret Gestapo HQ in the Garonne district near Bordeaux. The twin towered building was successfully breached and a large number of the French Resistance [believed to be in the region of a hundred] were able to be freed.

After the war Basil quickly returned to the river and his boating interests both at KRC and The Skiff Club both clubs sharing the same Turks Boathouse HQ.

In 1946 KRC put together a crew to race in the Grand [the top event for eight oared racing ] and Basil found himself in the thick of it at No. 2 being stroked by the formidable character of Dick Bale. [I was coached in my early years at KRC by Dick and well remember his aggressive but dedicated style.] This was part of a learning curve for Basil however as the Crew succumbed to a Leander Eight by one and a half lengths.

In 1947 the same KRC crew raced Imperial College winning by one length but losing in the next round to Delft Sport. It was perhaps an irony that Kingston on Thames was by then already twinned to the Dutch Town of Delft.

Basil continued to compete at Henley Royal Regatta in the Grand Challenge Cup event for KRC having been promoted to the stroke seat on three occasions and including in 1949 competing in both The Grand and The Silver Goblets with his brother, Alan.

In October 1949 he was asked by Richard Burnell then head of the selectors to ready himself to represent England in the team to travel to New Zealand for The Empire Games. Unfortunately he didn’t quite make it as a heavier crew were finally selected

In 1953 the Club entered the Thames Cup event with Basil valiantly stroking a rather mixed ability crew of characters-- one being my schools rowing master who at the time was regarded by me as somewhat ancient! [he was probably only in his late thirties!]. Sadly they did not progress further.

Basil’s last entry to HRR was in 1956 in the coxless Wyfold Fours event when he took on the thankless task of steering from the bow seat. Despite cries from the towpath of ‘hit ‘em Bas’ their efforts did not match those of the Lady Margaret crew who rowed clear to win.

One of that Wyfold Four crew and Skiff Cub member was one Leslie Saywood who now hails from New Zealand where he is still very actively involved in the sport of rowing there. On hearing of Basil’s passing he sent these words:

“I am terribly sad to hear the news about Basil. He was a shy man but with a puckish sense of humour. Together in a double skiff we were quite successful over a number of years. I remember on one occasion we were asked why we drank between heats [I can only presume here he means a beer or two!] Basil’s riposte to this was that ‘we were idling below peak form’!!” Leslie adds that he rowed behind Basil in eights and fours. He was tenacious, never gave up and always determined to win. I will always remember him.’

Basil’s Skiff Club record is also impressive winning many events over the post war years and up to 1956 in both the Club Championships and The Skiff Championships and during that time he also served on the Skiff Club Committee.

I personally did not get to row with Basil joining KRC in 1957 as a sixteen year old but in my first year there found myself in the Thames Cup crew at Henley in1958 alongside the aforementioned Leslie Saywood . –So there is a tenuous link there between us.

Basil was by then a senior and stalwart supporter of the Club and of the younger generation and the new intake of recent schoolboys such as myself. My memories of Basil then were of his ever friendly face and keen interest in the crews and their fortunes.

In 1965 Basil’s life took quite a different turn meeting and marrying Ros. In 1974 Laurette came along and his interests matured into an active family life.

His interests for rowing and KRC did not fade however and Basil was always to be seen at the Regattas and Heads and the Club’s major social events. His particular involvement with concocting and dispensing the grog at the Club’s Christmas Rum Punch Party over many years is I am sure, well remembered!

John White [one of my contemporaries] now Chairman of Kingston Regatta has sent his regrets at not being here today but has written: ‘We young rowers never really appreciated how much the heavies like Bas did to run the club for our benefit. That only hit us when our turn came! And in more recent years I really appreciated his support for the Kingston Regatta and to see both Bas and Ros enjoying themselves at the Regatta Lunch.’

Basil who was often referred to by his generation of oarsmen as ‘the boy’ certainly became a ‘man’ in all respects and we salute you today.

Basil. You will be sorely missed.

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