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Sad passing of Michael Jennings

Posted on: 18th January 2024

Michael Jennings 1938-2024:
It is with great sadness that we have to announce the death of Michael Jennings in hospital after a series of long illnesses in 2023, at the age of 85. He is survived by his lifelong supporter and wife Ann, it would have been their 50 th wedding anniversary this year.

Michael was a committed supporter and lifelong member and friend of the Channel Swimming Association for 65 years. In the 1960s he was a member of the CSA committee which was largely responsible for the formulation of the relay rules.

He completed his first crossing from France to England in 1960 in a time of 13hours 31 minutes and six years later he became the 25 th person to swim from England to France in 13 hours and 2 minutes. In the 1960s he also observed or crewed on a number of swims with Capt. Len Hutchinson including those of Norman Trustee, Margaret White Wrixon and Robert Fletcher.

He was a most entertaining contributor to the CSA Handbook recalling many of the exciting happenings of the 1960’s.

He competed in many of the BLDSA events in the 60’s and more recently took part in the 2010 Hellespont swim from Asia to Europe in which he came second to1960 Olympic Gold medallist Murray Rose, one of his life-long heroes.

In 2012 he was invited to be an Olympic torch bearer, an honour of which he was very proud.

He was an incredible personality and everything he did, he did with a flourish and in more recent times he wrote a book entitled “Believe it or not” in which he gave a report on the most entertaining and unbelievable events that had happened in his life. He published the book himself.

He had the most amazing humour, a brief example of which I give below:

I hardly covered myself in glory on my first swim in the 1960s. I entered the water about 01.00 am and was dragged out by my lifelong pal, Norman Trusty, about five minutes later coughing, spluttering and with a sprained ankle. But what did I expect with about 2,000 participants and half a million onlookers. It followed the most amazing New Year’s Eve party ever and the fountains in Trafalgar Square just couldn’t cope with us all. Central London heaved with happiness that night as us twenty somethings finally shook off the austerity and restrictions of our earlier lives, putting behind us the thought that any one of those one million bombs, doodlebugs or V2 rockets that fell on our city might have had our name on it.

We were ready to move on and start fulfilling those dreams, aims and ambitions we held. And my dream? To swim the English Channel! So welcome to the “Swinging Sixties” the most exciting decade of the last century. And later that year there I was, 01.41am Aug. 1st 1960, on Cap Gris Nez beach after an horrendous 3 hour trip over from Dover on Captain Hutchinson’s launch, the cabin in which I tried to sleep stinking of fish, diesel fumes and a blocked toilet, every wave juddering the boat ... a nightmare!

Shards of ice flew from the twelve feet raging surf crashing onto the rocks, great white sharks and killer whales roamed the depths and it was rumoured polar bears stalked the Goodwin Sands! Oh yes, it was seriously different in my day! One of the bears, shot and stuffed, 8 feet tall, stands on the landing of the second floor of the Dover Museum. Don’t believe me? Visit and see for yourself.
As I plunged into the waves I couldn’t help but think ... Captain Matthew Webb, you have an awful lot to answer for, and being a boy brought up with the scriptures I offered up a prayer, “ELOI, ELOI, LAMA SABACHTHANI” which as all you educated CSA members know is the ancient Hebrew for “MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?” Fifty-one years on and I’m still waiting for an answer!

In 1966 he made the fastest crossing of the year.

In 2010 Michael Jennings came up with the idea to write a book about his adventures and to donate all the proceeds to charity. As his Press Release said: A devoted fundraiser he raised a staggering £21,121 for the EllenorLions Hospices after writing a book about his “amusing, amazing, hilarious and horrific” life. The 73-year-old penned the works in celebration of the 50th anniversary of his first English Channel swim and to raise money for the EllenorLions Hospices – a charity very close to his heart.

Michael said: “My first France to England swim happened on August 1 1960 and took me 13 hours and 31 minutes. In 1966 I swam from England to France, making me the 10th person to swim the English Channel in both directions. I wanted to write a book to celebrate the 50th anniversary of my first swim, and to raise money for a deserving charity.
No stranger to a challenge, Michael set to work on his book Believe it…or not!

The finished 311-page work, contains 14 amusing anecdotes and 78 photographs, and explores the interesting lives of the fundraiser and his wife Ann. To ensure he raised as much money as possible, Michael covered all of his own expenses and the book’s promotion and publishing costs. His hard work and dedication paid off after selling 2,000 copies of the book and smashing his £20,000 fundraising target.
Michael, a former Royal Marines Commando, said: “My target was £20,000 so I’m thrilled to bits that I managed to exceed it. Every penny raised has been donated to the charity.”

Rest in peace, Dear Friend, although I suspect there may have to be some changes upstairs!
President, Channel Swimming Association