Renforth: The True Story
by Sgt. Leo Pye

How many folks today recall
The year of nineteen-twenty-one
When stalwart Hilton A. Belyea
Had, many rowing laurels, won.
A man, was he, of talent, rare
A native son of West Saint John
A rugged, fighting, matchless foe
Whose deeds of greatness, still live on.

Though mighty "Hilt's" achievements, were
Then recognized by world acclaim
Misfortune, grim, denied this man
His just reward, the Hall of Fame.
This unpretentious sportsman, grand
Would each reverse, with courage, meet
And each success, however great
Though overjoyed, would humbly treat.

An age, since then, has truly passed
'Twas fifty years one month ago
But turn, you now, the pages back
One hundred distant years or so
You've read, I'm sure, that tragic tale
Of August eighteen-seventy-one
When precious human life was lost
And Renforth's gallant name, was won.

Four years before, our four-man crew
Upon the placid river Seine
'Mid wild applause, to vict'ry, rowed
And thereby, world renown, did gain
From that time on, the "Paris" Crew
For they, as such, since then, were known
We truly classed as men of steel
And hailed them proudly as our own.

You must recall the record of
That morn of August twenty-third
When English oarsmen, tried and true
The blood of cheering sportsmen, stirred.
The "Paris" Crew and Britain's best
Then matched their courage, wits, and speed
To race a course of six long miles
The rival oarsmen, had agreed.

With Fulton, Hutton, Ross and Price
The sculling "greats" of old Saint John
Opposing Britain's hope and pride
A crew of men of skill and brawn
Like Renforth, Chambers, Kelly, Pearce
Aquatic stars of talent, rare
Engaged in action, fast and fierce
Would mean a race, beyond compare.

The "Queen Victoria," fast and trim
The peerless, vet'ran, British boat
Against the "Harding," then was matched
The Carleton "Paris" shell of note.
By horse and foot, they came that day
They came, in truth, from far and wide
To watch a race, on which, was bet
Five hundred English Pounds a side.

So truly vast a motley throng
Was never witnessed here before
Full twenty thousand people stood
Upon the Kennebecasis shore.
The river waters teemed with life
And anchored craft of ev'ry size
So picturesque and grand a sight
Was rarely viewed by human eyes.

A breathless tension filled the air
Suppressed excitement running high
As in the shells the crews prepared
The fateful moment drawing nigh.
Their muscled sun-tanned bodies told
Of weary months of toil and sweat,
And once again had come the day
When "champ" and challenger had met.

Three years before at old Lachine
The "Paris" shell, then ill-equipped
Had lost a match to Renforth's crew
Whose hollow vict'ry truly stripped
Our local lads of name and crown
A bitter pill that day to take
But now, on even terms, they'd fight
And English hearts, they vowed, they'd break.

The starter's sharp and frenzied shout
The sculler's trend of thought upset
Their bodies tensed and snapped erect
Their potent oars, the water, met.
As though possessed with human life
The rival boats then forward, shot.
As shoreward, now, with lightning speed
The cry of "Go" was clearly brought.

Now Renforth's clip of forty-two
To grab the lead, it seemed, was meant
But Fulton too, the "Paris" stroke
With all his heart, was vict'ry bent
If such a grand, ambitious, thought
Had flashed through Renforth's anxious mind
To disappointment, he was doomed
For inch by inch, they fell behind.

The massive crowd, enraptured, watched
An eight-man match of strength and skill
The flashing oars and speeding shells
Were truly, then, a sight to thrill
Through superhuman effort now
The "Paris" Crew retained the lead
While English strove with might and main
To still surpass her rival's speed.

The half-mile mark saw Fulton's crew
A hard-earned precious length ahead
Though Britain tried, she failed, and found
A slowly wid'ning gap instead.
Jim Renforth knew as British "stroke"
That row, he must, much faster yet
He squared his jaw and grimly vowed
He'd strike a clip they'd not forget.

But mortal man, could not, that day
The potent Fulton pace, outdo
And so, despite his desp'rate spurt
The gap, between, still wider, grew
The ardent throng, a vict'ry, sensed
And human-like, began to yell
But cries of joy, to horror, turned
As mighty Renforth, forward, fell.

Before the sun, that August morn'
It scorching path, on high, had burned
Though Renforth's life, they fought to save
A truly saddened world, had learned
This loyal son of England, who
So many crews, to vict'ry led
Would race no more on Britain's shore
For noble Renforth's soul, had fled.

This handsome man of twenty-nine
With more to lose, than then, to gain
For England's glory, gave his all
A costly price, and all in vain.
One hundred years, since then, has passed
That tragic day, has long since gone
And time, the mem'ry, now, has dimmed
But Renforth's gallant name, lives on.