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Olympian who became ‘Recirc Bert’ of cruiser hire
Published 25/01/10



BERT BUSHNELL has died, aged 88, following a short illness.

He was born Bert Harold Thomas Bushnell on September 3, 1921 in Wargrave, where his father ran a boatyard.

He attended Henley Grammar School where he excelled at sport and won many athletics trophies. Bert ran the 100 yards in “evens” at Palmer Park, Reading, where he was coached by KS Sandy Duncan, later general secretary of the British Olympic Association.

However, Bert’s real talent lay in rowing and he competed on the water for the first time at Maidenhead Regatta in 1939.

To meet with the then stringent rules of the Amateur Rowing Association, he was unable to retain his amateur status while working in the family business, so he was apprenticed as a marine engineer at Thorneycroft’s. He worked on motor torpedo boats during the war and participated in the evacuation of Dunkirk.


While attending Marlow Regatta in 1946, Bert received an invitation from a visiting Argentinian group to tour, train and race in South America.

Throughout the winter of 1947, he remained unbeaten in races there and was presented to President Juan Perón and his wife Eva.

After winning the Diamond Sculls at Henley and the Wingfield Sculls on the Tideway in London in 1947, Bert had high hopes for the single sculls in the 1948 Olympics.

But these ambitions were frustrated when he was chosen instead for the doubles with old Etonian Oxonian rower Richard Burnell. Their differing physiques — Burnell was 6ft 4in and weighed 14½st, while Bushnell was 5ft 10in and 10½st — presented some difficulties in the boat, which Bushnell had to re-rig so that they were able to reach together.

In front of a home crowd on the Henley Royal Regatta course, the duo beat off the favoured Danish duo of Parsner and Larsen and won the gold medal in 6:51.3.

Bert later donated his medal to the Henley River and Rowing Museum.

After the Olympics, Bert retired from rowing, married Margaret and returned to work at the family business in Wargrave.

He always retained a keen interest in sport and played football for Maidenhead United. Later, he became a skilled squash player and a keen golfer.

In 1951, he set up his own boatyard in Maidenhead and ran a fleet of 50 hire cruisers, pioneering the development of recirculative “pump-out” lavatories which freed the holidaymaker from the miseries of elsan emptying and earned him the affectionate nickname “Recirc Bert”.

He was a founder member and later chairman of the British Hire Cruiser Federation.

He sold the business in 1979 and retired to the Algarve, returning to Britain after he was widowed in 1988.

Bert spent his last years in the Henley area, where he remained a staunch supporter of Reading FC, regularly attending home matches at the Madejski Stadium.

He died at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading on Saturday, January 9. He is survived by his three daughters and six granddaughters.

His funeral will take place at St Mary’s Church in Henley on Wednesday.

Published 25/01/10

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