To celebrate our nation’s proud rowing history at the time of the Rio 2016 Olympics, we profile two convalescing New Zealand soldiers who ended up rowing in the ‘Head of the River’ race in Oxford in May 1918. If you have any further information on this particular race, we would love to hear from you …
John ‘Jack’ Subritzky was born at Waihopo, Northland on 27 January 1892. He worked as a Kauri gum supervisor and general labourer and served as a Trooper with the Territorial unit, Mangonui Mounted Rifles prior to World War One. The Subritzkys were a well known sailing family and had raced in a number of Auckland regattas.
Jack Subritzky enlisted on 9 February 1915 and after a period of training, embarked from Wellington on 13 June 1915 aboard the Maunganui bound for Egypt. On arrival, he was quickly shipped off to Gallipoli and was wounded soon after with shrapnel wounds to the left shoulder. He was treated offshore aboard the hospital ship Aquitania. After convalescence, he was sent to France and saw service on the Western Front, again being wounded a number of times, once on 7 June 1917, at Messines whereby he received a gunshot wound to the left ankle, and was admitted to the 9th (Australian) Casualty Clearing Station before being hospitalised in both France and England.
During another period of convalescence in May 1918, he was somehow talked into rowing the ‘Head of the River’ race at Oxford. He rowed at No. 2 in the boat and was presented with a medallion which is now held in the Heraldry Collection at the National Army Museum in Waiouru.
Jack Subritzky returned to New Zealand on 27 October 1919 aboard the Remuera and was discharged from the New Zealand Army. During the inter-war years, Jack served with the Territorials and during WWII, he served with the Home Guard at Whangarei and Narrow Neck Camp, Devonport, Auckland.
Jack Subritzky died on 10 December 1950.
Charles Swan was born on 3 January 1894 in Lower Hutt but lived his early years in the Wairarapa. Prior to WWI, Charles Swan was working as a farm hand near Pahiatua.
Charles enlisted on 19 May 1917 and embarked from Wellington on 26 July 1917 aboard the Ulimaroa bound for Plymouth, England. He arrived on 24 September 1917 and entrained to Brocton Camp near Cannock Chase, Staffordshire.
After a period of training, he left for Etaples, France and was soon in the thick of the action. On 22 March 1918, he was caught in a bad gas attack and was rushed to the 44th Casualty Clearing Station. He was later admitted to hospital near the NZ Base Depot at Etaples and after recovering, returned to his unit in the field. His health had been affected by the gas and he was in and out of hospital before being sent back to England to convalesce.
During his convalescence, he was asked to row in the ‘Head of the River’ race at Oxford. He rowed as the ‘Stroke’ and was presented with a medallion which is now held in the Heraldry Collection at the National Army Museum in Waiouru.
Charles Swan was eventually invalided out of the army, classed as being physically unfit for active service. He returned to New Zealand in November 1918. He was officially discharged on 16 January 1919.
Charles Swan lived in the Wairarapa until his death at Mangatainoka on 8 September 1973.