by D.E. Thomas
The origins of the Voyagers are somewhat hazy. While we have all the minute books since 1968, we have precious little information about the early days. We have had to rely on oral history and a popular version of the founding is that a group of London Welsh RFC supporters, having been on the continent in the summer of 1954, decided that their unused foreign currency should go towards the establishment of a charity for the benefit of sport generally. It should be emphasised that apart from having close and cordial relations with the rugby club, the Voyagers is a totally independent organisation with its own committee and constitution.
What we do know is that membership was for men only and limited to a maximum of 200 each paying an annual fee of one guinea. The constitution apparently stated that the balance in the accounts should never fall below £200 and that at the end of the financial year, no more than that amount should remain on the books – a treasurer’s nightmare for sure! Founder members included Dai Davies, Bryn Evans, Doug Evans, Arthur Wall, Fred Andrews, Jack Williams and one other. Early Presidents included these with Tom Peters, Islwyn Jones, Wynne Lewis and Jack Edwardes fulfilling the role in the ‘sixties. Stag evenings were held twice a year and the Ladies Night was very much a feature of the social scene. Teams represented the Voyagers at both XV and VII a side and the original shirts were purchased from donations made by past presidents and members of the committee. There were also reports of Boxing evenings and concerts.
We have all the minute books from 1969 onwards and they make very interesting reading. The range of activities increased substantially: many Seven-a-side tournaments were entered both at home and abroad, we ran our own tournament in the late eighties and early nineties, the Voyeur was first published in 1986 and the 100Club introduced in 1994. Membership reached its permitted maximum in 1974, the restriction was relaxed in 1982 and women were admitted in 1990. The largest recorded membership (275) was in 1991- 92 but that has been recently exceeded and the membership now stands at 312. The membership fee was reduced (yes,reduced!) in1971 to a £1 ‘to make accounting simpler’!
There were several peaks and troughs during the period: in the latter category is the financial crisis of the mid-seventies and the proposal by the committee in 1991 to disband the organisation due to the apathy of the membership. In both cases, the outcome led to theVoyagers becoming even stronger and it has continued to flourish. Another unhappy episode occurred in 1975 when a well known London Welsh figure was banned from future functions ‘for disgraceful behaviour’ and it was also resolved in the same year not to invite a particular Welsh international to represent us in future sevens tournaments.
Throughout the fifty years, the main thrust of the charity has been to help injured sportsmen and women. Need is seen as an important consideration and substantial donations were made to the Aberfan and Tsunami Disaster Appeals. A conservative estimate is that donations in excess of £200,000 have been made over the fifty years
During its existence, the Voyagers has been served by many able, innovative and hard working men and women- certainly too many to acknowledge in this article. However, Colin Hill deserves special mention in that his name has been synonymous with the Voyagers for nearly half its life span. He became Assistant Secretary in 1975 and Secretary in 1976 a position he held unbroken until 1999. He has been a tireless worker and has attended to all those unseen, untold but necessary chores that have been so essential to the continued success of the Voyagers for years. In all of this, he was magnificently supported by his wife, Dilys, He was recognised in the official brochure of the Amsterdam Sevens recently and small wonder – he managed Voyager teams there on fourteen occasions. It is fitting, therefore, that he was the President for the Jubilee year and subsequently made a Life member of the organisation.