1921 – 2010
A gold medalist at the ‘austerity Olympics’, local rower Bert’s achievement was immortalised in the TV movie ‘Bert and Dickie’ in 2012.
The London Olympics of 1948 helped to lift the gloom of post-war austerity in Britain. One of the highlights for the United Kingdom was the double sculls in the rowing event. Competing for the UK were Bertram (Bertie) Bushnell of the Maidenhead Rowing Club and Richard (Dicky) Burnell of the Leander Club, Henley. They had not rowed together until six weeks before the games.
On the surface, they were an unlikely pairing. Dicky was Eton and Oxford educated, a decorated army captain. Bertie, on the other hand, was grammar-school educated and a marine engineer who spent the war manufacturing motor torpedo boats. Although his father ran a boatyard in Wargrave, Bertie did not work there as that would have made him technically a professional and therefore ineligible for the Olympics.Both men were single scullers, but the selectors felt that the competition for the single sculls was too great – the Australian Merv Wood was deemed to be unbeatable – so Bertie and Dickie teamed up and rowed in the double sculls.
On the day of the finals, the river bank at Henley was lined 30 deep. “It was just like the Henley Regatta, except there were a few more foreigners thrown in”, recalled Bertie. Bertie could have missed the final as he was almost denied entry to the Leander Club, not being a member. However, all was well as the pair won gold by a length and a half from the favoured Danish team.
In the 1950s Bertie built up a successful hire cruiser business on the river at Maidenhead. He was the last surviving gold medalist from the 1948 Olympics, and donated his gold medal to the Henley River and Rowing Museum.
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