Victory on water for two desert rats!
Ran Laurie and Jack Wilson were British establishment through and through. University friends who first met at Cambridge, the pair rowed together in The Boat Race, the annual rowing duel between Oxford and its historic rivals Cambridge, from 1934 to 1936. Laurie competed in the 1936 Olympic Games, as stroke, but Britain missed out on a medal as the boat came home fourth. Laurie was later to suggest that if Wilson had been in the boat, they would have won.
The pair won the prestigious Silver Goblets trophy at the Henley Royal Regatta in 1938, but the Second World War denied them the chance at competing at either a 1940 or 1944 Games. Instead, both went on to work together as part of the British Civil Service in Sudan, where, not surprisingly, they failed to find decent facilities to keep up with their rowing.
After the end of the war, and despite not touching an oar for ten years, they returned from Sudan to prepare to compete once again at Henley in 1948. They trained for six weeks and again won the Silver Goblets. Their selection for the Olympic team was now a formality.
A month later, the so-called “Desert Rats” finally got their Olympic chance in the coxless pairs. Laurie described it as “the best row we ever had”. The pair took the lead just after halfway and were never seriously challenge. The Swiss Kalt brothers did launch a late attack, but it didn't affect the result, with the British winning by a clear margin of almost three seconds.
After their victory, both Wilson and Laurie continued working for the Colonial Service for another six years. In later life, Jack Wilson worked in the steel industry, while Ran Laurie qualified as a doctor. His younger son, Hugh, is an internationally-known actor and comedian who himself also took part in the Boat Race.