The Royal Navy Visit October 2001

The Sarnia Sword Club overcame a spirited Royal Navy fencing team in a series of well fought matches at the Brock Road Youth Centre last weekend. In regaining the long standing trophy for this annual match, the Sarnia Sword Club reversed its defeat by the Navy last year of just one hit the narrowest of margins.

This year, however, the margin of difference between the two sides was wider. Because of the escalating situation in Afghanistan, several familiar faces were missing from the royal Navy team.

Nevertheless, the Navy was still able to filed a formidable side. And in the first match of the weekend, at Foil A, the Navy served notice of its determination to contest the weekend's fencing vigorously. The first three fights went decisively the Navy's way. Dicky Barton fenced neatly and aggressively to defeat Jan Milner. A very fit Mark Needham caused all sorts of problems for Meyrick Simmonds with constant changes of distance and direction, while Paul Engham, using a more classical style, overcame Martin Corbet. This, in fact, set the pattern of the match. The Navy capitalised on its significant lead to run out worthy winners by 45 hits to 36.

On an adjacent piste, The Foil B match between the two teams was being played out to a remarkably similar scenario. Andy Wallis, David Lewis and Ruben Nash, fencing for the Royal Navy, were pitted against the Sarnia Sword Club's Stephen Gilman, Michael Wright, and Robert Hardish, a master from Elizabeth College and one of the Club's newest recruits. During the first three fights, hits were exchanged very evenly, with the Royal Navy emerging with a slight two-hit advantage. As the match progressed, however, the navy's superior skill began to tell and they emerged as comfortable winners by 45 hits to 36.

While the men were battling it out, the two Ladies Foil 'A' teams also locked horns. The three Royal Navy fencers, Shelley Turrell, Louise Oliver and Emma Douglas faced particularly strong opposition. The Sarnia Sword Club was able to field Clair le Poidevin, Julie Dyer, and particularly Naveen Rahman, who has been ranked in Great Britain at junior level. Though the fights were fought with great spirit and sportsmanship, the home side emerged as overwhelming winners by 45 hits to 10.

The Saturday afternoon's fencing started with the Sabre matches. Sabre has always traditionally been a very strong Royal Navy weapon, and their top team of Rubin Nash, Mark Needham, and David Lewis promised a tough match for Sarnia Sword Club's Robert Hardish, Jerry Woodward and Martin Corbet. The match began with two comfortable wins by the Navy to open up a 5 hit lead. Martin Corbet, Sarnia Sword Club's current Sabre Champion, promptly pulled this back. The next two fights went the Navy's way, to restore their 5 hit advantage. This time, though, the strength of Martin Corbet's opponent did not allow him to make up this deficit. As the match continued, the Navy squad's strength enabled them to stretch their lead until, by the time the match's two strongest fencers, Martin Corbet and Mark Needham faced each other for the final fight, the Sarnia Sword Club's deficit had grown to the awesome hurdle of 6 hits. What followed was one of the most remarkable comebacks witnessed in the years of this annual event. With the clock steadily ticking against him (only four minutes of fencing time is allowed per match), and with his opponent younger, fitter, and more manouverable than him, Martin Corbet began to chip away at the navy's lead. Using excellent timing and keeping careful distance, he began to hit Mark Needham without receiving hits in reply. Eventually, the fight reached the point where the entire match was poised exactly even on hits, with one hit remaining and only a few seconds left on the clock. Then, with his strength rapidly weaning, Martin scored the last hit to record a truly memorable victory for the Sarnia Sword Club.

By contrast, in the 'B' Team Sabre match, the Royal Navy's strength at this weapon became more evident. Two of the Sarnia Sword Club's newer fencers, Ross Martel and André Barnes joined the experienced Jan Milner to face the Navy's Andy Wallis, Dickie Barton, and Robert Lutman. The Sarnia Sword Club fencers fought gallantly and managed to keep in touch with the Navy side for much of the match. But with Ross and André fencing Sabre for almost the first time, the result of the match was seldom in doubt. Another victory went the Navy's way by 45 hits to 34.

Meanwhile, the ladies took to the piste again as the Navy and the Sarnia Sword Club's top Epée teams were matched together. Carol Wood, Catherine Taylor and Naveen Rahman fenced for the Sarnia Sword Club against the navy's Emma Douglas, Catherine McGillan and Shelley Turrell. Epée is a popular weapon among the Sarnia Sword Club's ladies. They get regular practice at this weapon through the Club's monthly Epée league matches. So the home side was able to field a relatively strong side. The first fight of this match went to the last hit, with Emma Douglas coming out on top for the Navy. The next two fights went decisively Sarnia Sword Club's way, however, as the home team's strength in depth began to tell. Once significantly in front, the Sarnia Sword Club team was never going to surrender its vice-like grip on this match, and Sarnia duly won comfortably by 45 hits to 14.

So the first day's fencing ended with the Royal Navy's superiority in Foil and Sabre matched by the strength of the Sarnia Sword Clubs' ladies, and by the Men's 'A' Sabre team's remarkable victory, with both sides claiming three match victories each.

On the Sunday morning, the duel was resumed with both 'A' Epée teams fencing each other. Once more, the Royal Navy's Paul Engham, Mark Needham and Dickie Barton were pitted against Meyrick Simmonds, this time joined by Kees Zandvleit and Michael Beausire. Michael Beausire won his first fight against Paul Engham to gain a two hit advantage but this was soon clawed back and overtaken by Mark Needham, who used his mobility and distance to out hit Meyrick Simmonds. Kees Zandvleit clawed back a slight advantage against Dickie Barton and the match then stayed more or less level for the next two fights. It was only in the last two fights, when Meyrick Simmonds outfought Paul Engham and Kees Zandvleit overpowered Mark Needham, that the Sarnia Sword Club emerged winners by 45 hits to 38.

On another piste, the Men's 'B' Epée teams were fencing a much closer match. The Sarnia Sword Club's Ross Martel, André Barnes and Jerry Woodward confronted the navy's Andy Wallis, David Lewis and Gareth Green in a match that seemed, at first, to be going Sarnia's way. By the fourth fight, Sarnia had built up a lead of 7 hits, usually a decisive margin at this stage of a fencing match. But the Navy were not to be beaten, and first Gareth Green then Andy Wallis narrowed the gap to 4 hits in the next two fights. By the last fight, however, the margin between the two sides had opened up to 8 hits again and David Lewis, the Navy's strongest fencer, faced the daunting task of trying to score 13 hits against the clock, while trying to prevent his opponent from scoring the 5 hits needed to win the match for the Sarnia Sword Club.In the event, the challenge proved too much and despite David scoring seven hits to his opponent's five, the match ended in Sarnia's favour by 45 hits to 40.

The Ladies 'A' Sabre Teams fought each other on the third piste of the afternoon. The Navy's Louise Oliver, Emma Douglas and Catherine McCall faced the Sarnia Sword Club's Linda Jones, Catherine Taylor and Naveen Rahman. With the results of the other two Epée matches still unknown, and the whole weekend's result still hanging very much in the balance, this match was hard fought.The Navy scored an early success, with Louise Oliver opening up a 5 hit lead with her first fight. By the third fight of the match, Naveen Rahman had managed to claw this disadvantage back. But by the seventh of the nine fights, the Navy had regained a 3 hit advantage. Catherine Taylor then took firm charge of the match, overcoming Louise Oliver by the margin of 9 hits without reply to give the Sarnia Sword Club a 5 hit lead, coming into the last fight of the match. Though Emma Douglas fenced very well and gained the Navy three valuable hits, she was not going to overturn such an advantage against an opponent as strong as Naveen Rahman, and the Sarnia Sword Club won another match by 45 hits to 38.

With this result, it became clear that the Sunday matches had swung firmly in the favour of the Sarnia Sword Club, who won the weekend's series of matches by six victories to three.In fact, with such a high standard of fencing, and with such sportsmanship shown in every match, the reality was that everyone was a winner through enjoying an excellent weekend's fencing.

The mystery of the weekend was the abrupt disappearance of the Sarnia Sword Club's mascot, Touché Tom. Rumours are circulating that he has gone off to help the UK armed forces in their struggle against the Taliban regime. It is understood that he will be undergoing training in Oman with the Royal Marines, before moving on to the Falkland Islands and beyond.

Watch this space for news and photographs of his progress!