Photograph: Werner Schmidt

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Bournes: 1 - 'GDBM'

‘GDBM’ – what does it mean? Well, the good Tim Koch of Auriol Kensington RC has drawn my attention to New College Boat Club’s web site where you will find the explanation to ‘GDBM’.

But let me start from the beginning. By now, I have written quite a lot about the 1912 Olympic Rowing Regatta in Stockholm, both here on my blog, but also elsewhere, see for example "Samuel F. Gordon and the 1912 Olympic Rowing" and "Olympiaden 1912" (the latter article is in Swedish). At the Stockholm Olympics, each country was allowed to enter two crews in each boat class. Great Britain sent its two best eights, from Leander Club and from New College BC, Oxford. The Leander crew consisted mostly of oarsmen from Magdalen College. New College web site claims that the two British crews were the favourites for the gold in the eights, disregarding that a good eight from Sydney RC actually two weeks earlier had taken the Grand Challenge Cup at Henley, beating New College on the way to the final, where the Aussies had over-powered the Leander eight.

However, in the Olympics, Leander defeated the Australian eight, making the final an all-British affair, between Leander and New College. On New College's web site the story goes: “The course in Stockholm was not straight, and one of the two lanes was clearly favoured, the other requiring the cox to steer around a protruding boathouse and then back under a bridge.” [Yes, the course was not straight, but not really that bad, as it had a slight bend where both boats had to go under a bridge.]

New College's web site continues “Before the final, the two British captains met to toss for lanes. New College won the toss and following gentlemanly tradition offered the choice of lanes to their opponents, who would - in a gentlemanly fashion - refuse this offer. However the Leander/Magdalen captain accepted this offer and chose the better lane. Leander went on to win the gold medal, leaving New College with the silver.” [Although, I have done a lot of research on this regatta, this was news to me.]

The New College web site goes on, “King Gustav V of Sweden was so disheartened by this display of ungentlemanly conduct that, as a consolation, he presented his colours to New College. Ever since then, New College has raced in purple and gold, the colours of the royal house of Sweden.” [The colours of the House of Bernadotte, or the Royal House of the Kingdom of Sweden are blue, gold, white, and red - not purple. However, in a case of printing a legend or the truth, print the legend!] And then the New College web site comes to GDBM: “A further tradition has been the adoption of the toast: God Damn Bloody Magdalen!, the supposed words of the New College stroke Robert Bourne (seen in a SPY drawing on top) as they crossed the line. The abbreviation GDBM is still used commonly, being on the bottom of the NCBC letterhead to this very day.”

More about Robert ‘Bob’ Bourne tomorrow!


  1. King Gustav V of Sweden was buried in a purple coffin as attested by contemporary newspaper reports available on the internet. So whilst purple and gold may not be the official colours of the Royal House of Sweden the colour purple clearly had personal significance to Gustav V. I don't think you get buried in a purple coffin by accident. I think therefore the New College Boat Club story perhaps has a little more substance than you may care to admit. I am sure an expert on Swedish heraldry could shed light on the the matter.

  2. I do not have ready access to an expert on Swedish Heraldry but I could find the exact colours of New College Boat Club on the gold medal awarded by King Gustav V of Sweden for "For Trohet och Flit" which translates as "For Truth and Diligence". I think the New College Boat Club website may be imprecise about the origin of the colours but, it seems fitting that when someone behaves in such an ungentlemanly fashion, that the King outraged by such behaviour, sees fit to award the colours "For Truth and Diligence".