As it was the Boat Race last weekend, we thought we would re-share the story of Cyril Burnand, Downside OG who was the first professed Catholic to row in a Boat Race.

In 1911 Downside alumni Cyril Burnand was selected for the Light Blue (Cambridge) Boat which took place over the current championship course which was set in 1864. Cyril, a talented oarsman at First Trinity Boat Club Cambridge, recorded his achievements in two large scrapbooks which are in the Downside archive collections.

Unfortunately for Cyril, Oxford won in 1911 by 3 1/2 lengths, a record loss and time of 18 minutes and 29 seconds which would not be broken for at least twenty years. Cyril was the first Downside pupil to take part in a Boat Race, and it seems that he took great pride in his Downside connection, sending his old headmaster Dom Leander Ramsey a postcard on the receipt of his rowing ‘blue’. Cyril was the first professed Catholic oarsman to row the Boat Race. It was a remarkable race for several other reasons, chief of which was that it was the first to be viewed from the air as the launches were followed by an aeroplane which took off from the neighbouring bank and was started by obliging members of the crowd. It was also followed by the then Prince of Wales (later to become King George V) and his brother Prince Albert who watched the race from the Oxford launch.

Due to ill health Cyril would not take part in another Boat Race for Cambridge, but remained a key fixture of Trinity Boat Club as a coach and occasional rower. He joined Leander Rowing Club which remains to this day the premier destination for rowing, and was instrumental in securing his college crew wins at Henley Royal Regatta. After Cambridge Cyril enjoyed a brief spell at the East Midlands Railway, where he joined Nottingham Rowing Club.

The Great War would signal the end of Cyril’s rowing career, as in 1914 he enlisted in the 1stBattalion Grenadier Guards as a Lieutenant and was sent to the front lines in France. On the 10th March 1915 at Neuve Chapelle, he was killed aged 23.

He is commemorated several times at Downside (the war memorial, the memorial at the west end of the Abbey Church and on a plaque near the choir), Trinity Chapel Cambridge, Leander Rowing Club, Nottingham City Memorial and Rowing Club and on the Le Touret Memorial in France.

The images below show Cyril Burnand with his ‘blue’ scarf and a portrait of him from the same image; pictures of the Boat Race within Cyril’s scrapbook and his oar which hangs in Downside school.