St Mirren FC Sports: 1881 – 1887

Westmarch, Paisley

St Mirren moved to Westmarch from their Thistle Park ground in 1883.

Founded in 1877, St Mirren are reported to have held their first amateur sports in 1879.   Reports on the early years events are hard to come by so the intention is to begin with the events of 1881.   The club held their sports to start with at the Thistle Grounds in Paisley and over two Saturdays.   The first day was confined to St Mirren players with perhaps an extra race for boys included but the main event was the four-a-side football for which the preliminary rounds were held.  The following Saturday was the day for the open amateur athletics plus finals of confined events plus the last rounds of the four-a-sides.   Initially there was a tentative holding of a few events – one report in 1881 said there would be five open events including a bicycle race.   But the event grew in stature and was held subsequently at Westmarch and latterly at Love Street.   Since the first amateur athletic club was founded in 1885, the early years races and field events were contested in the main by members of the multitude of football clubs and the universities were also represented in the lists from time to time.   

In 1881 the first day of the sports was held at Thistle Park, Greenhill in Paisley in pouring rain on 22nd July with the football contest being held first before a series of races confined to the club.   The second day was one week later with” five open races of which one is a two mile bicycle race.”  Details of this day’s proceedings are not available at present.   We do not have any actual reports of this meeting at the moment but the quest goes on.   Into 1882 and the first day was held on 22nd July, again at Thistle Park, and the report was largely given over to football with the results of the athletics being sketchily covered.   he following Saturday saw the big Glasgow Police Sports Meeting, plus events organised by the Queen’s Own Yeomanry Athletic Club Sports, a new body who held a very big meeting, as well as games held at Currie and Kelso.   There was no report on the St Mirren Sports in either the Glasgow Herald or The Scotsman – possibly because of the relative size of a meeting with few  athletic games.  

*

The report on the first day of the 1883 event was printed in the Glasgow Herald of July 23rd and began:

“The new grounds of the St Mirren Football Club at Westmarch, Paisley, were opened on Saturday afternoon when the annual amateur athletic sports were held under the auspices of the club.   The field was in excellent condition and a neat cinder track which has been made between the space allotted to the playing of football and the ropes was found to be of great advantage to the “peds” who took part in the races.   A grandstand has been constructed at the north end of the field from which a good view of the events was obtained.”   

The formula of the day followed that of previous years with confined events and the preliminary rounds of the 4-a-side tournament being played.   It is of interest to note that one of the judges was A McPhee, a noted distance runner and prize winner whose two sons – Alex and Duncan – would become stars of the amateur athletic scene.   Among the runners on the day in the confined events, Robert Mitchell would become one of the best half milers in the country winning half mile titles and setting a Scottish record for the event in the countdown to the first Scottish sub two minute half mile.   

The second day of these sports which was held  at Westmarch, Paisley was most successful, a good programme and a large number of entries drawing forth a good crowd.  Held on 28th July, 1883, and the top item in the report in the Glasgow Herald the following Monday was the news that Dumbarton had won the 4-a-side football tournament.   The track and field events were ‘exceedingly closely contested’ and, in the absence of any open athletic clubs the competitors came from football and other sports clubs as well as a few from the Universities.   There were several outstanding competitors: Tom Vallance of the Rangers was second in the high jump and in the 120 yards hurdles;  there were two men running from scratch in the one mile  AP Findlay of Ayr who would go on to win the first ever national cross country championship, and DS Duncan from Edinburgh who would be a multi champion over all the distance races – Duncan was second and Findlay third behind a runner off a 120 yard handicap.   Dumbarton, Rangers, Ayr, Granton, 3rd LRV, Beith, Cambuslang and Queen’s Park were all represented in the meeting.

The preliminary rounds of the sports in 1884 were held on 19th July with events other than football confined to players for the club.   However there were a couple of open events with the sack race “an easy thing for ‘Tuck’ McIntyre (Rangers)“.    

The real open athletics meeting took place on 26th July in the presence of three or four thousand spectators.   It was billed as one of the most important gatherings of amateur athletics that had taken place in the West of Scotland.’   The 4-a-side football was supported by most of the big clubs with Queen’s Park and Rangers both taking part, Queen’s winning from Cambuslang FC in the Final after taking out Rangers in the semi.   The athletics were all hotly contested with several athletes (eg Adam Turnbull and James Logan) who would become well known in the not too distant future taking part..     

The 1885 amateur athletic sports, the sixth annual, were held at Westmarch, Paisley on 25th July.   On a good afternoon as far as the weather was concerned, there was a good crowd and the Glasgow Herald saw fit to comment that “On account chiefly of its fine racing track, the St Mirren meeting has attained the place of one of the first amateur athletic fixtures in the country and the success of Saturday’s gathering is certain to further extend its good name and popularity.”  Note the reference to the fine racing track which corroborates the comments on the first meeting at Westmarch.   

Scotland’s first amateur athletics club, Clydesdale Harriers, had been established in May 1885 and they were represented here too.   The prize winners however were pretty well all from football clubs.   Look at where the heat winners in the 100 and 220 yards came from – 100: RA Taylor (EUAC); AH Donald (St Mirren FC); H Walker (St Mirren FC); WJ Ferguson (1st LRV); D Marshall (St Mirren FC); T Blair (Granton FC); W Shearer (St Mirren FC); J McAulay (Dumbarton FC).   220:  H Barton (EUAC); T Blair (Granton FC); D Marshall (St Mirren FC); R Stevenson (Johnstone FC); W Shearer (St Mirren FC).   The only surprise was the total absence of any competitors from Queen’s Park and Rangers FC.   

The St Mirren players had had the advantage of the preliminary meeting the previous Saturday when the events were almost all confined to players, on which day A Vallance of the Rangers FC was competing in the Our Boys (Dundee) meeting in the Place kick (2nd), hurdles (1st) and One Mile (2nd) but passing the 4-a-side football match where Rangers were second to Renton FC.

T Blair, Queen’s Park

In 1886 the sports, now a major event in the sporting calendar, were held on 24th July with three confined events on the track – 100 yards, 440 yards and the half mile – plus a bicycle race plus the preliminaries of the four-a-sides plus an eleven a side tournament involving Morton, Abercorn, St Mirren, Port Glasgow, Morton and Arthurlie.  St Mirren beat Morton in the eleven-a-side tournament.  The main events however were held on 2nd August where there were open handicap races at 100, 220, 440, 880 yards and one mile as well as three bicycle races at the mile, two miles and five miles.   Interesting as the meeting was, events arising from it were maybe even more interesting.   The 100 yards had six heats, two semi finals and a final in which three men A McNab, R Stevenson and GT Ward all dead heated in 10 2/5th seconds.   The judges ordered an immediate re-run with no time for a breathing space.   McNab won and Ward was third.   In the 220 yards there were two men off scratch – T  Blair of Queen’s Park (2nd in the first heat) and GT Ward of Clydesdale Harriers (1st in the second heat) .   Neither placed in the final where the result was Green (Irvine Academicals) off 3 1/2 yards, McNab (Clydesdale Harriers) 8 yards and Campbell (Rangers)  off 11 yards.   

That was in August and in September that year the sporting public read in the Scottish Umpire paper: “We hear that T. Blair (Queen’s Park FC) is anxious to meet G.T. Ward (Clydesdale Harriers) in a 220 yards race, the Harrier to get 4 yards. If the start is authentic and Ward in form the issue should not be in doubt.”   The challenge could not be ignored and the response came in November: “G.T. Ward (C.H.) thinks T. Blair (Q.P.) was only joking when he said he would give him 4 yards in 220, but if he really means it, he will accept his generous allowance or run level.”

The proposed match became a reality, a sporting gentleman put up a silver cup, the men and their representatives drew up the terms and the match took place at the St Mirren Sports in April 1887.   For the full story of the event and its build up read this article.   

GT Ward

The sports were being held this year in April again at Westmarch and the crowd was reported to be 5000 with big entries (24 in the 100 yards and 21 in the 440).   The event was the feature of the meeting and was reported to be the first of its kind in Scotland.   Who won?   It is reported at the bottom of this cutting:

There was surprisingly little coverage of the sports – probably because of the extensive coverage of the West of Scotland Sports on the same afternoon in Glasgow where most of the established club runners were competing.   We have however noted the development of the St Mirren Sports from a little local meeting held over two Saturdays with few athletic events into a major athletics fixture in the SAAA calendar with a good track, efficient organisation and attracting good crowds.

 

 

J Marshall Mitchell


The Doiran Memorial

Born around 1894, John Marshall Mitchell was the only son of John and Isa Mitchell, of 211 West Princes Street, Glasgow. Before war broke out, John worked at the Craighall Milling Company in Port Dundas. He was also a member of the Clydesdale Harriers – Scotland’s first open athletics club, having joined the club on 20th December 1912.

He was obviously a capable young man being elected as Assistant Club Treasurer in 1912-1913. It was a time when the club was riding high with almost 1000 members and many Scottish international runners as well as officials and administrators of quality. It would seem that he was more of an administrator than a runner – in the club half mile championships in August 1914 he was off the limit mark of 120 yards. On the other hand he was an official at club meetings such as the one in Clydebank in June of that year.

Upon the outbreak of war, John joined the University of Glasgow’s Officers’ Training Corps. Once the hostilities really started, he was made a Second Lieutenant in 1916 as part of the Scottish Rifles, before later becoming a Lieutenant as part of the Machine Gun Corps.
As a member of the Machine Gun Corps, John was deployed to Salonika, where the battalion were engaged in action against the Bulgarian Army. During the Battles of Doiran in May 1917, John was reported missing, before being officially announced as killed.

John is remembered on the Doiran Memorial and the University of Glasgow Roll of Honour.

 

Lieutenant MITCHELL, JOHN MARSHALL
Died 09/05/1917
Aged 23
11th Bn.
Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)
Son of Isa E. Mitchell, of 211, West Princes St., Glasgow, and the late John M. Mitchell.

Wilfred Cramb


Memorial at Noyelles

Wilfrid Brown Cramb was born on the 24th September 1890 at Roselea, Radnor Park, Dalmuir, Dunbartonshire, to David Cramb, a Foundry Superintendent, and Jessie Cramb (nee Brown), who had married on the 18th February 1875 in St Stephens, Edinburgh. He was a pupil at The High School of Glasgow, where he was known for his sporting prowess. In 1911 he followed his older brother Rutherford to the University of Glasgow Medical Faculty. In first year he followed a standard curriculum, though in matriculating for second and third years he enrolled in just one class, Chemistry. Clearly proud of his University affiliation, his address was given in club documentation as ‘Glasgow University Union’.

Like fellow Glasgow University student Philip Oliphant Ray, who died the previous day, he was an adventurous young man. He was a well-known sports enthusiast, a member of the Clydesdale Harriers, a rugby player and motor cyclist who, in 1913 had attempted to ride his motorbike to the top of Ben Lomond before falling and dislocating his shoulder not far from the summit.

In 1914, however, he abandoned his studies and in September went to France as a stretcher bearer with the 1st unit of the Scottish Branch of the British Red Cross. There he also took an interest in motorised ambulances to convey the wounded, and submitted a design suggestion which was later used. In June 1915 he received his commission to the 4th Bn. Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, serving at and surviving the battles of Loos and the Somme before being attached to the Royal Flying Corps in 1917.

Lieutenant Wilfrid Brown Cramb had been flying for just six weeks when he was killed in the skies above Arras. Though numerically superior to the German Air Force, British planes were older, less well armed and crews not so rigorously trained. Bloody April marked the high point for Germany in the air. Britain lost 245 planes, 211 crew were killed and 108 taken prisoner. Despite the losses, crews were still able to bring back reconnaissance photographs which aided the British advance at Arras. Britain quickly made strenuous and successful efforts to gain supremacy in the air.

Cramb is commemorated along with 483 others from the High School of Glasgow on the School War Memorial and also at the Everyone Remembered website and his details are at https://www.everyoneremembered.org/profiles/soldier/2028785/ .

He was posted missing on the 14th April 1917, believed to be well behind German lines after his plane met heavy anti-aircraft fire. His death in the engagement known as ‘Bloody April’ was confirmed two weeks later in news from Berlin

Wilfrid Cramb was buried at Noyelles by the Germans and his identity disc and pocket-book were returned to his family through a neutral embassy. He was survived by his parents and siblings. His brother Rutherford, a Glasgow graduate, served as a Captain in the Royal Army Medical Corps. A further connection to the University came through his uncle, Professor John Adam Cramb (1862-1913), whose book ‘Germany and England’ helped form British opinions of the international crisis looming in the prewar years. Lieutenant Wilfrid Cramb is remembered by the High School of Glasgow and the Dalmuir Parish Church Rolls of Honour, in addition to that of his alma mater

Harold Servant

..

One of only four British Soldiers, and the only Scot, buried in Nijmegen Cemetery. Harold Servant is commemorated with the stone on the right of those above.

Harold Servant was a young man who had been a Clydesdale Harriers for only a few years when he enlisted. He had nevertheless been elected to the club committee where he rubbed shoulders with such as Willie Maley of the Celtic FC and dealt with the day to day running of the club as Assistant Secretary with Thomas Barrie Erskine. He had been elected in 1912/13 to the post of Joint Secretary and that year was also District Convener. The club had for organisational purposes divided itself into several Districts and each District had its own Committee and structure. To be District Convener was to hold a responsible post. The following year he was again Joint Secretary with Tom Erskine but had been moved to be Convener of the Handicapping Committee. A promotion from the District Convener since almost all races other than Championships were handicaps that were organised according to strict rules. He seems to have been a man groomed for future senior administrative office.

What little we have of his running ability would seem to indicate that it was not his real strength. In the club 880 yards handicap in August 1914 he had a handicap of 120 yards and was still unplaced. It should be remembered of course that the club was very strong at that time with several Scottish international runners, and that he was only 19 when the war broke out.

The story of his Army career is encapsulated in the following paragraph:
“Mr William Gardiner, president of Clydesdale Harriers has been apprised of the death at the British Red Cross Hospital, Nymegen, Holland on January 3rd, 1919 on his way home after 20 months as a prisoner of war at Langensalza, Germany and 4½ years service of Pte Harold D Servant, Royal Marine Light Infantry. This is a very serious blow to Clydesdale Harriers which has given so many of its members to our country’s cause. Harold Servant was, along with the late Capt T Barrie Erskine, MC, hon joint secretary of the club and was a keen and enthusiastic supporter of everything that was for the betterment of athletics. The club also mourn the loss of their hon assistant treasurer Lieut J Marshall working on the Salonika front and now presumed killed.”

Langensalza Camp had a fairly large population of prisoners of all nationalities. British prisoners were in the middle hut which is described here.

There were confined in this building 575 prisoners of war, Russian and British and French, of whom 61 are British, of the 61 British 3 were Sergeants, 27 Corporals and 30 Privates.
The beds were of the bunk type, arranged transversely across the tent division. The British were lodged in the central tent division and a few on the side division. The bunks were built in, of wood, the lower tier a short distance above the floor, the upper tier 4 feet above this. The bedding was of the straw-mattress type. The arrangement is faulty in the sense that the central barrack lacks both light and good ventilation.
The latrines for this division were of the iron receptacle semi-tubular type, open, and flushed into an underground drainage system. The surroundings, floors, etc. were poorly cared for and could. be cleaner than they were at the time of our inspection.
That’s a description of the actual camp and accommodation but more importantly, what were the conditions there that Harold had to endure for 20 months?

*

We have reports and descriptions of life there from other prisoners who survived. One such account is below the photograph.

Langensalza Camp

Feldwebel Rost was especially hard and brutal in his treatment of prisoners. In July 1918 I witnessed the following incident.

The prisoners were on parade, and many of them, being cripples, had difficulty in moving out of the huts. Rost rushed into the barrack, and, without giving the maimed men the time to get out, he caught hold of a private who was very badly wounded in the abdomen, and had to walk with a slick, by the back of the neck and threw him violently down the steps. This is only one of the many instances of his bullying; he was also responsible for sending many men to the salt mines who were quite unfit to go there. The full name of this man is Feldwebel Rost, 6th Company; he lived at Jena, and his occupation is students’ servant.

On 27 November, at 1 p.m. we had just finished our dinner in the British Help Committee hut, and we heard an unusual bugle-call. Three of us went out. The hut was situated about 15 yards from the sentry box at the gate, which led to the tailors’ and bootmakers’ shops, and was about 30 yards from the theatre. The theatre contained dressing rooms, which had been put up by the prisoners, one for each nationality. At this time these dressing-rooms were being pulled down and prisoners used the woodwork for fuel. When I came out from the Help Committee hut I saw that the theatre was surrounded by a group of about 20 or 30 of different nationalities. There was no disturbance or riot of any kind, and the prisoners were only going in and out of the theatre carrying pieces of wood from their respective dressing rooms.

After the bugle call about 30 soldiers, with an under-officer in charge, named Krause, came out of the Landsturm barrack, which was situated some 40 yards from the Help Committee hut and about 40 yards from the theatre. The soldiers surrounded the British Help Committee hut and the theatre in extended order. I was standing near the gate, about 6 yards away from the under-officer. He said to me in broken English, “What are you making trouble for?” I replied “There is no trouble at all.” And I asked him why the soldiers were surrounding the theatre and our hut, but he made no answer. I remained where I was between the committee hut and the gate, and after an interval of three minutes I heard him give the order to fire. I am quite certain that he gave the order to fire, for I had often heard it given before when at the front. There must have been 15 to 20 prisoners standing outside the hut, and I should say about 30 others round the theatre. When the order to fire was given, I tried to get into the committee hut, but the door was so crowded by others endeavouring to do the same that I could not get in. At least 15 shots were fired in the direction of the committee hut, with the result that Private Tucker, Worcester Regiment, who was standing 8 or 9 yards from me, was killed instantly, receiving three bullets; Private Morey, East Yorks, standing 10 yards from the hut, was also killed, being shot in the head. Corporal Elrod, 6th Northumberland Fusiliers, must have been 60 yards away from the theatre, near the football ground; he was hit by a bullet in the spine, from the effects of which he died eight hours afterwards.
Two of the men who were trying to get through the door of the hut were wounded – Private F. Johnson, 4th Bedfordshire Regiment, and Private Haig, West Yorks – and there were three bullet marks in the committee hut door. Private Johnson told me that when the firing commenced he threw himself flat on the ground, and that when he tried to crawl into the hut he was fired at again by the soldiers.

When the firing was over, the under-officer (Krause) Approached Private Haig, who was lying on the ground, and said to him, “Why did you not get out of the way when I told you to go?” Haig said, in reply, that Krause had never told him to do so.

Shortly afterwards Company Sergeant-major Thomas, Somerset Light Infantry, Sergeant. Major R. S. Finch, Northumberland Fusiliers, and I, went to the kommandantur, where we found Captain von Marschall. We asked him if he was responsible for the firing which had taken place. He said no, because he was away from the camp at the time. He was asked from whom the prisoners could obtain satisfaction, and he referred us to the officer of justice, Feldwebel Lieutenant. This officer typed down my evidence, which was interpreted by Dolmetscher Weither. Some days later I gave the same evidence to a judge, a civilian, who examined me, and again a few days after a major from the War Office took my evidence. I asked this officer to forward it to England, and he said that the evidence would go there through one of the ambassadors.    The under-officer Krause gave his evidence at the same time, and he denied that he had ever given the order to fire, but I am quite certain that I heard him give this order.   About a week after the occurrence I saw Krause in Langensalza Camp at liberty and in civilian clothes. I heard that he had obtained his discharge and was living in lodgings in Langensalza.”

*

Harold was one of only five British soldiers buried at Nijmegen Cemetery where his date of death is given as 3rd January, 1919 and his regiment as the Royal Marine Light Infantry (Number Ch/485/S)

From the Commonwealth War Graves website:
Private SERVANT, HAROLD DAWSON
Service Number CH/458/S
Died 03/01/1919
Aged 25
1st R.M. Bn. R.N. Div.
Royal Marine Light Infantry Son of William and Agnes Servant, of 549, Crow Rd., Jordanhill, Glasgow.

Gabriel Brock

The photograph above is believed to be that of Gabriel Brock, a member of Clydesdale Harriers who ran in club championships and other cross-country races as well as on the track.

The Brock family was one of the best known and most distinguished in the West of Scotland, he was brought up in the wonderful house shown below and yet. Having been wounded very early in the 1914-18 War he died a tragic death as a result of the treatment of these wounds.
The family were partners in the Denny Shipyard in Dumbarton. The Shipyard was a major feature in the lives of the people of Dumbarton: having been founded as Tulloch & Denny, the name was changed to Denny and Co.in 1862. Walter Brock became a partner in 1871, and Henry William Brock became a partner in 1885. The family remained an integral part of the firm and various members were involved in the local government of the city and the county. They had been patrons of the club, first of the local Dunbartonshire Section then of the Club as a whole from 1894. As patrons of the club they were mixing with senior politicians, minor nobility and major industrial figures.

Gabriel had been born in 1889 in Dumbarton and brought up in Levenford House in Dumbarton, which is illustrated below. His membership application was accepted by Committee on in 8th September, 1911, and he was elected to serve on the General Committee of the club committee at the AGM on 5th September, 1913. He attended regular committee meetings, held at that time in the YMCA in Glasgow, and his first contribution of note was on 11th December, 1913, when the Minute records:
“Mr Gabriel Brock reported that a Dumbarton gentleman, a Mr H Horne, had expressed his willingness to act as a trainer. It was agreed to accept his kind offer, but it was added that Mr McKimmie would again be available also in a short time.”
Not only that, but he was District Convener for the Dunbartonshire Section. The club at that time had 5 sections in Glasgow and five county sections: each section had its own organiser and was represented on the Club Committee, so it was a fairly responsible position.
As a runner, Gabriel was good enough to have won the club’s Two Mile Handicap in season 1912-13. The last meetings in which he competed of which we have records, were the club championships at Ibrox Park in 1914 and the club open meeting at Kilbowie Park in June that year. On 12th May, he ran in the eleventh of sixteen heats of the 100 yards. He must have been quite good because he was off a handicap of 2 yards while Ralph Erskine, a frequent prize winner on the open circuit and double silver medal sinner at the SAAA Championships was off 3 yards. He also ran in the half mile that night when he was running from the 50 yards mark along with three others, one of whom was the Scottish cross-country internationalist Robert Frew and of course Ralph Erskine, twice silver medallist in the SAAA half mile championship was not far behind.

At the Clydebank Meeting he was entered in no fewer than three events. He was one of five entrants in the high jump with a handicap of 7 inches, and he was also entered in the Dunbartonshire County Championships for the 440 yards and the 880 yards. Although unplaced in any of the events, it was a hard afternoon.

He had qualified from the first Ibrox meeting for the finals which were held on 5th August, again at Ibrox Stadium. He was again off 2 yards, only two men starting behind him. He had also qualified for the final of the half mile and, starting from 50 yards, was conceding 70 yards to a group of ten men running from 120 yards. Two of that ten would also lose their lives in the war, as would at least another four with Tom Erskine being the first to go – in July 1915, less than a year later.

It is of interest to note that at many of those competing at this meeting died in the War that started in September – Brock and Tom Erskine in 1915, Ralph Erskine and Alex Younger in 1918. James Marshall Mitchell and Wilfred Cramb in 1917 and Harold Servant in 1919 and many others such as RW Patterson and James Miller.

The Brock family initially stayed in Spittal Cottage in Victoria Street in Dumbarton, before moving to Levencroft House, above.

When the War started, Gabriel joined up with many other members of the club. Indeed many sportsmen from all sports joined up to fight the war which would be over by Christmas, they were told. Like other friends in the club he was to meet a tragic end very early in the war.
One of the many notorious battles of the War was that at Ypres with the fighting at Hill 60 being particularly ferocious. As a member of the 8th/9th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, he may gave been involved in the tunnelling at Hill 60. The following is from Wikipedia:

In Spring 1915, earlier French preparations to raid the hill were continued by the British 28th Division, which took over the line in February 1915 and then by the 5th Division. The Allied plan to attack Hill 60 was expanded into an ambitious attempt to capture the hill, despite advice that Hill 60 could not be held unless The Caterpillar nearby was also occupied. A French 3 by 2 feet (0.91 m × 0.61 m) mine gallery under the hill was extended by experienced miners from Northumberland and Wales, after it was found that Hill 60 was the only place in the area not waterlogged.
In the first attack of the newly formed Royal Engineer tunnelling companies in the Ypres Salient, the 173rd Tunnelling Company laid six mines by 10 April 1915, an operation planned by Major-General Edward Bulfin, commander of the 28th Division and continued by the 5th Division after the 28th Division was relieved.[7] The 173rd Tunnelling Company began work early in March and three tunnels were begun towards the German line about 50 yards (46 m) away, a pit first having been dug some 16 feet (4.9 m) deep; the tunnels were more than 100 yards (91 m) long.[8][9] Two more mines in the north were charged with 2,000 pounds (910 kg) of explosives each, two mines in the centre had 2,700 pounds (1,200 kg) charges and in the south, one mine was packed with 500 pounds (230 kg) of guncotton although work on it had been stopped when it ran close to a German tunnel.[10] The attack began on 17 April and the 5th Division captured the area quickly with only seven casualties but found that the new salient made permanent occupation of the hill very costly.

Loss of Hill 60

On 1 May, after a bombardment by heavy artillery, the Germans released chlorine gas at 7:00 p.m., from positions fewer than 100 yards (91 m) away from Hill 60, on a front of 0.25-mile (0.40 km). The gas arrived so quickly that most of the British were unable to put on their improvised respirators. As soon the gas arrived, the Germans attacked from the flanks with bombing parties and artillery laid a barrage on the British approaches to the hill. Some of the British returned fire and reinforcements arrived by rushing through the gas cloud and bombing parties forced the Germans back. The original garrison lost many casualties in standing their ground, including many gas casualties.
The 5th Division held the hill on a 1.25 miles (2.01 km) front with the 15th Brigade on 5 May, when the Germans discharged gas from two places opposite the hill at 8:45 a.m.[13] The wind blew the gas along, rather than across, the British defences and only one sentry was able to sound the gas alarm. The British defence plan required troops under gas attack to move to the flanks but the course of the gas cloud made this impossible. The gas hung so thick that it was impossible to remain in the trenches and troops who stood their ground were overcome. The German 30th Division advanced fifteen minutes after the gas cloud and occupied nearly all of the front line on the lower slope of the hill. British reinforcements bombed up a communication trench and two more battalions were sent forward but before they arrived, the Germans released another gas cloud at 11:00 a.m. to the north-east of the hill.
The right flank of the Zwarteleen Salient was overrun, which increased the gap left by the first discharge; a few men on the left delayed the German infantry until 12:30 p.m., when a battalion advanced through the gas cloud and an artillery barrage. Constant counter-attacks forced some of the Germans back and regained several lost trenches. The Germans held on to the crest and released more gas at 7:00 p.m., which had little effect and an infantry attack which followed was repulsed by rifle-fire. At 9:00 p.m., the 13th Brigade arrived and attacked at 10:00 p.m. after a short bombardment the darkness, state of the ground and alert German infantry repulsed the attack, except for a party which reached the top of the hill, then withdrew at 1:00 a.m. under enfilade-fire from the Caterpillar and Zwarteleen, which made the hill untenable. Both sides were exhausted and spent the next day digging-in. At dawn on 7 May, the British attacked with two companies of infantry and attached “bombers” using hand grenades, all of whom were killed or captured. From 22 April – 31 May 1915, the British had 59,275 casualties in the Second Battle of Ypres and the fighting for Hill 60.
Gabriel was wounded very early in the hostilities, which began on 22nd April, as is reported in the following reports.


“The British Hold Hill 60”

The first report below is from the Evening Times of 19th November, 1915. .
On Monday last the death took place at Royal Infirmary, Dundee, of Lance Corporal Gabriel Brock, Pioneer Section 1-9th (Dunbartonshire) A & S Highlanders. He was the only son of Mr William Brock, Spittal Cottage Dumbarton, and joined the local regiment at the outbreak of war and proceeded to France in February last. He took part in the fighting around Ypres and Hill 60 and was wounded in the knee by shrapnel on April 26th. As a result of the wounds he had to undergo several operations and for the past six weeks was at Glamis Castle but, taking seriously ill, he was again conveyed by ambulance to Dundee where he died from lockjaw*. Prior to the War, Lance Corporal Brock was employed as a joiner in the Leven Shipyard in Dumbarton.”
Lockjaw is contracted by bacilli infecting an open wound, and is maybe better known now as tetanus

Coverage from the ‘Lennox Herald’ below.

Military Funeral at Dumbarton

“On Friday afternoon last, the remains of Lance Corporal Gabriel Brock, 1/9th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders were laid to rest with military honours in Dumbarton Cemetery. Lance Corporal Brock, the only son of Mr William Brock, Spittal Cottage, Victoria Street, was wounded near Ypres on 26th April last and brought over to Dundee Royal Infirmary where, after having undergone several operations, he succumbed to lockjaw; His death is regretted by a wide circle of friends. Besides being a popular member of his company and regiment, he was well known locally as a member of the West of Scotland Harriers and the winner of prizes on the track. To trade he was a joiner in the shop of the Leven Shipyard and his funeral was attended by members of the firm, and a large representation of his brother workmen. There was a short, impressive service conducted in Dumbarton Parish Church at which were present a large congregation. Chaplain, the Rev AS Insch, MA, of the 1/9th Argylls, the Rev WW Reid, BD, minister of the church, occupied the pulpit, the latter paying an eloquent tribute to the memory of the deceased. The coffin, which was wrapped in the folds of the Union Jack, was then carried on the shoulders of six sergeants of the regiment and placed in the hearse. A firing party of nineteen men, including a piper and a bugler, was supplied by the 2/9th from Arbroath, and this party preceded the hearse on the way to the cemetery, the piper playing “the Land O’ The Leal”. The officers present were Captain FC Stewart, 1/9th and Lieutenant James Napier, 8/9th A & SH. Representatives from the local Men’s Volunteer Aid Detachment also attended, and there was a large turnout of the general public. At the grave a short burial service was conducted; volleys fired, and “The Last Post” sounded.”

Other than the fact that he is noted as being a member of the rival West of Scotland Harriers, the report is a full a detailed one.

As noted above, lockjaw is contracted by open wounds being infected. Poor Gabriel was moved from one hospital to another while his condition worsened leading to his eventual death. He was only 26 when he died. Like other members of the club such as the Erskine brothers who both lost their lives in the same war, he was able, personable and a bright promising young athlete, popular with his colleagues and it was all brought to naught.
The funeral was a big one in the town – see the pictures below and link them to the text. There is also a clipping from the ‘Evening Times’ which listed some of the Clydesdale Harriers who had enlisted – from all walks of life they had volunteered and at least a dozen of them died in the conflict.

.
The list below appeared on 21st August, three months later he would be dead. Many of the other above also made the supreme sacrifice – the two Erskine brothers being notable losses and contemporaries of Gabriel mentioned above, Alex Younger, Wilfred Cramb, J Marshall Mitchell, Harold D Servant, Gilbert  AM Brown and others.

Bill Melville: Journalist

Bill’s publisher describes his journalistic career as follows  “During twenty years in journalism he covered a broad spectrum of news and of sport…..Athletics, Badminton, Canoeing, Curling, Cycling, Gymnastics, Judo, Mountain running, Mountain biking, Netball, Orienteering, Rowing, Skating, Snow sport, Squash, Swimming, Tennis, Triathlon, Wrestling, many to world championship level, plus on occasion basketball, boxing, football, golf, pentathlon, rugby and show jumping.
 
He supplied material to a large number of outlets including
 
*BBC Radio,    *Belfast Telegraph,    *Birmingham Post,    * Dundee Courier,
*Daily Mail,    * Daily Express,    *Guardian,    *Glasgow Herald (+Sunday),    Independent,  
* Irish Independent,   *Irish Radio,    *Irish Times,   *Mirror,
* Newcastle Chronicle and Sun,  *News of the World, *Aberdeen Press and Journal, 
* Daily Record, * Scotland on Sunday,   * Scotsman,    *Sun,
* Telegraph (+ Sunday),   *The Times (+Sunday), * Western Mail
plus newspapers and press agencies in Australia, Canada, Iceland, Finland, France, New Zealand, Spain,
 
That is some list – and is probably not at all comprehensive.   In the UK: from Aberdeen to Bristol and London via Newcastle and Birmingham and across the Irish Sea.   In the wider world from Iceland in the North to New Zealand in the south.   Each paper had different requirements, different deadlines and different ways of dealing with the same facts.   To do all that must have been a daunting job.   You can also add in the magazine work – Ron Hill produced a magazine that started out as ‘Jogging’ but became ‘Running – Bill wrote for it too, editing the Scottish pages it contained.   And then there was his own Scottish Running magazine.   There was also some writing away from the sports journalism altogether.   For instance, His script for the documentary drama video, The Two Way Split, won an award.  
 
“Journalism was my second career.   I started writing away back when I was a college boy and tried, but failed very early, to get a newspaper job. I got an interview for one of the Scottish nationals but my interview didn’t go well. I thought I was chatting to some minor player in personnel,  waiting, as I thought, for my career deciding get together with the editor. But that was never on the agenda. This was my interview. Suddenly I found myself standing, surprised if not shocked,  outside the front door again,  my chances, like the interview, blown.   I wrote occasional pieces for magazines and papers in the years that followed and did a fair amount of small bit reporting on orienteering. I was taking part in the sport and found it was getting nil press coverage. I thought I should do something about this.    To my surprise, I found myself getting paid for my “work”.
 
I still meet up with familiar phone boxes across Scotland. One or other of them would be my office of the day after an event. There, covered with sweat from my run,  I would stand notebook in hand, phone pinned to my ear, while I dictated my brief report along with the basic results, to copy takers in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow.   In hot summer sun these phone boxes were torture chambers.”
The story about the phone boxes rings true:  several reporters have similar stories to tell.   It was a time before mobile phones and first man at the phone box was on to a winner.    Colin Shields tells of leaving the stadium, running down the street and, finding a house with a phone connection, ringing the bell, asking if he could use the phone, promising to pay the cost of the call, and getting his story in that way.   Even in stadiums with one or even two public phones, club members who had said they would phone home when they were leaving, found that the telephones were hogged by a reporter phoning in detailed results or copy to his employer.  
 
We have already  seen the extent of Bill’s involvement in the sport as a competitor and he had been involved in organisation and committee work but how did the reporting come into the equation?    Bill himself describes the move into journalism from teaching and speaks of some of the highlights from his many years in that profession.  He says:
“My move into full time writing came around ten years later. I gave up teaching and went out on my own.   I got in six months of practice when I produced my own newspaper, Scottish Runner, using a £2000 government grant. The shed in my Ayrshire garden was my office. It had bats in the roof panelling, I remember.   Amongst a number of contacts I used were photographer Graham  Macindoe and Doug Gillon.   The grant ran out after six months and Scottish  went out of business.  But I had learned a lot in the time about interviewing, newspaper editing and production and all the time I was fielding bits and pieces to any newspaper I thought might be interested. And I was writing the Scottish section in Ron Hill’s Running magazine.   There was no going back.”
 
Scottish Runner, Number 1, June 1985
When Bill says it was a newspaper, that was a fair description.  Not glossy paper, not printer paper but newsprint.   It was very professionally laid out and made good reading.   Scottish athletics magazines and papers frequently appear and since the end of the war in 1945, there had been the ‘Scots Athlete’ and the ‘International Athlete’ by Walter Ross in Glasgow covering the years 1946 to the mid 1960’s, and then ‘Athletics in Scotland’  by George Sutherland in the 1970’s.   It is a very hard market to break into as was proved by the ‘Scots Athlete’ which was professionally produced with many photographs, a colour cover and just about every Scottish race, domestic and international, reported on.   It didn’t make money – rather the reverse.  Another example of how difficult it was is shown by way of the “Scotland’s Runner” monthly.  Immediately after Bill’s venture, “!Scotland’s Runner” appeared.   It was produced by a top class team of professional journalists with lots of race results, articles on athletics topice, letters pages, several results pages every month and interviews with current and former champions.   Produced in full colour, it lasted from 1986 to 1993 before it stopped publication.   Bill’s was a very good publication but it was fighting its corner in a tough neighbourhood.   His reference above to the help that he received from Doug Gillon and Graham MacIndoe is notable because they both speak well of him.   Graham is a really top class photographer whose pictures were published in all the very best athletic magazines including the athletics ‘Bible’, Athletics Weekly.   Doug wrote for the ‘Glasgow Herald’ and his reports were always meticulously written.   He indicates that the traffic was not all one way when he says,
“I knew Bill and his wife Kath for many years during which he worked as a freelance sportswriter, filing to many national and regional papers, including The Herald when I worked there.   He was an affable and most helpful and diligent colleague, always prepared to give information and advice. I’d consult him often when he was at a track or cross-country event which logistics had prevented me from attending, and we would swap information.”   He went a bit further when speaking on the telephone describing Bill as helpful and friendly adding that Bill was one of a few colleagues that he would contact in this was because he knew that Bill was always scrupulously accurate.  
 
 
Bill continues:
Operating as an independent is a hard way to make a living.    To do it covering just athletics and orienteering in the UK was impossible.  So to make ends meet I covered everything from the action in Kilmarnock Sheriff Court to results from the midweek Irvine road race.   Court coverage certainly concentrated the mind on getting the facts straight.   I was in court when the editor of the Daily Record was called  before the judge for a contempt hearing.  A sub-editor’s bid to give a catchy headline part way through a murder trial was deemed to pre-empt the jury’s decision.  The editor got off with a warning.    I could do without that sort fame. Write the story rather than become the story is a good guideline in journalism.
 
Working as an independent in any field, running your own business, tones up the initiative. If I wanted to make money I had to both pick a market and diversify.   I opted for sport.  It has lots of stories happening every day.    I covered any that I could search out and I could use to raise a spark of  “sports desk”  interest.   In my time I covered everything in the sporting alphabet from badminton to weight lifting.  I went to major or national championships in badminton, curling, rowing, cycling, judo, swimming, tennis, and triathlon as well as athletics and orienteering.
 
I sold a preview piece to the Independent on a largely unheard of Graeme Obree and his home built bike before his first British championships win that same weekend.   The same London paper took a piece on the Carnethy 5 Hills race season opener.   I travelled to work across Europe  – Bulgaria, Italy, France, Sweden, Norway, Spain, Germany, Czech Republic, and Portugal as well as to S. Korea, and Canada.    I was fielding material to papers  across Britain, and Ireland as well as to Canada, Australia, Iceland, Scandinavia and Spain. “
 
In my time I supplied regular but not continuous Scottish athletics coverage to the Record, Daily Express, Daily Mail and the Times.
(Curling coverage for the Times was one of my major earners.)   Often I picked minor championships that I knew the newspaper regulars would not be covering – World Student Games say or World Junior Athletics Championships, catching many athletes at the start of what blossomed into glittering careers…….. Jon Ridgeon in Zagreb, Haile Gebrsellassie in Seoul, Steve Backley in Sudbury, Ontario, sprinters Darren Campbell, Christian Malcolm and Trinidad’s Ato Boldon.
 
If you say the previous two paragraphs quickly, it seems like a lot of travelling, if you read it slowly you see just how much in detail.  All over Europe ( was there a country not included?  There was France, Germany, Spain, Portugal, Italy, Norway, Sweden and much of Eastern Europe), Asia, Africa and North America.    As a freelance, these events had to pay for themselves and so Bill covered many of the minority sports at the same Games or Championships.   As he says there was interviewing star performers, often informally: this also sounds quite glamorous but there are times when even the best athletes are on a ‘down day’ and not feeling friendly, and for the reporter not all athletes approached would be as friendly as those quoted.    It was serious work.   And then there was the work to be done at home.
 
“Minor sporting events also produced some major sporting moments.     I headlined a young Graham Williamson in a Radio Clyde piece when he won a Greenock Highland Games mile. I can’t recollect how fast he ran but I do remember he had breathtaking style.   I was in the Kelvin Hall in 1990 when a next to unknown Ian Hamer ran a more or less solo 3000m in close to 7m 55s to win the Scottish Universities Indoor title.  By March he was in the British team.
 
Journalism gave me the chance to visit a range of sporting events, meet a lot of interesting sports people and interview some of the famous. A shy Zola Budd competing unexpectedly at the same meet in North London where I was reporting on the Scottish women’s team; the then Liz Lynch who was running there that same day; Linford Christie,  who stopped at my behest as he was leaving the Kelvin Hall to answer a few questions. I was late but I needed a quote or two for a news agency piece. He was not only helpful but unhurried and gracious with it.   The list could go on and on.
 
And there were the hundreds of less well known sports people who willingly gave me of their time.   With few exceptions they, the great and the not so great,  treated me with friendliness and respect. On my part I considered it a privilege to speak to them. It was one of the perks that came my way because, and only because, I was a journalist and I never forgot that.”
 
I would suggest that any journalist would get the success he does, or not, because of his own manner and approach.   Anyone I have spoken to, and both of those quoted here, speak of Bill’s manner and his knowledge of sport which would play no small part in any success he had.   There are journalists and reporters that we have all met who came across as anything but pleasant
Another of his friends, colleague Sandy Sutherland, says.
“He was certainly a do-er..he ran and wrote and announced and publicised the sport he loved or the sports he loved if you count orienteering as separate as they certainly would!    Much of what he did was a service for the sport and he was often press officer for events I attended in a professional capacity    He rolled his sleeves up and obtained the result sheets for others, unlike some of the present generation who are solely interested in getting their story out BEFORE the few journos who are left get their turn!”
 
Sandy draws our attention not only to Bill’s work ethic, but also to his work as a Press Officer at Scottish Championship events – where he was often also one of the best informed announcers around.  As he said on the previous page, “I was heavily involved with Irvine AC by that time, represented the club at the West District Committee meetings for some years and helping Jim Young and his organising squad at many of the local races. ”   Where did this lead?
 
 For many years, 1980 to 2010) he was Press Officer or Announcer at the Scottish National Cross Country Championships covering events in Glasgow,  Dundee and Hawick but mostly at the Irvine Beach Park venue. In fact he was a member of the Organising Committee for the NCCU Championships, and from 1980 to 2010 with a few exceptions, was either announcer or press officer at the National Championships.     In SCCU Centenary Year, Bill was Press Liaison Officer with Colin Shields, but surely his busiest day was in 1982 when he was Clerk of the Course and Press Officer as well as having been a member of the Organising Committee.   There were family occasions too as In 1992 when Bill doubled up as Announcer with Alex Naylor plus Press Officer with Kath Melville as Assistant Press Officer.   He went on working at the National Championships until well into the 21st Century.
The organisation at national level over the years was noteworthy and many would have been content to count that as their major contribution to the sport.   Bill however was using his organisational talents in the sport of orienteering.   A member of Tayside Orienteers. he attended many Annual General Meetings of the governing body and indeed served as Development Director, where he concentrated on the tertiary education sector for a time.   At his home club, he served on the Committee and worked as a race organiser for many years.    As Sandy said, “Bill was a do-er!”  

And of course, when speaking of Bill as a writer, we cannot forget his book which was published in April 2012/   A book launch at te Birnam Arts Centre after which they repaired to the Birnam Inn for eats.   The publisher’s blurb reads:

YEAR of the PERFECT RUN http://peakpublish.com

 sports journalist, and award winning writer, Bill Melville makes his own bid for sporting success.
At an age when most go pottering in the garden or taking the dog for a walk to “keep fit” the Birnam based Scot, a one time road runner before injury forced him off the tarmac, and for many years now an orienteer, travels across Britain and into continental Europe as he goes all out to score a perfect run.
Having given himself a year, to do it once or even make it a habit, his autobiography charts his travels, his successes and his failures.
He covers the problems facing the aging competitor. And working from a background in physiology, investigates the science of performance run-down.
It’s a “must read” for every sports person over forty.
At the same time the book looks at running sports and runners, the greats and not so greats, comments on the changes athletics and orienteering have seen, and on the world in general.
“I enjoyed writing it,” he says. “I hope it is a joy to read.”

Well, this reader enjoyed reading it.   He discovered it hiding on a shelf in Waterstones in 2018 and read it in a night – and then went back shortly thereafter to have another look at particular sections.   The book is more than a book about running or orienteering, it deals with all sorts of thigs like freedom of movement in Europe, sporting ethics and much more besides. 

Samuel Johnson once said that you don’t need to be a carpenter to know when a table’s well made.   While that’s true of most things, it is almost impossible to write about sport convincingly without having been a competitor yourself.   The best Scottish sports writers of the last few generations have been in this category of having been in the arena – Doug Gillon, Sandy Sutherland and Bill have all been competitors.   The level of competition is not really the point but the intensity is.   Bill writes and talks in a language that these people understand.  It informed his journalism and shines through in the book.  A few quotes will demonstrate this.

From page four:

“Running on the track, roads or the country can make you feel good.   Pub philosophers are likely to say that it is all the chemicals in the brain.   The brain produces ‘endorphins’  which, like a number of manmade drugs, make you feel good.   These are people who don’t run; people who feel pain and break sweat if they up the tempo to a fast walk down the boozer, let alone try to run there. …..  Running can hurt, especially at the end of a long outing when the muscles are both running out of energy and are suffering the combined effects of repeated contractions and are absorbing the impact.”

I doubt whether a non-runner could have thought that, never mind have written it.   Or how about this one about the 800 metres:

“The fast staggered start, the jockeying for position at the break, a brief settling of the status quo round the bottom bend before heading for the bell, with half an eye watching out for any breaks or drives from behind.   Then it is into the second lap with the field, sometimes strung out, sometimes bunched, everyone straddling a metaphorical line between perfection and going over the top, with anyone liable to make a telling move down the back straight or going into the final bend before making a final sprint for the line.”

You won’t convince me that that could have been written by a man who has not raced middle distance at some point in his life.   There is no straining for the mot juste, no high flown language, just a man telling it how it is.  Clear, unpretentious, direct, insightful.   But if you need further convincing, how about this:

“finishing with my heart pounding and that unforgettable flavour of “blood” on my laboured breath, breath which grated like rusty files…”

I once coached a runner who often said after a good run “I could taste the blood“, it’s something that only distance runners understand.   And there was often a bit like “I knew he was going to ‘tank’ me!” 

Bill with Kath in 2015 at Pitmedden

I have in the course of 60+ years in the sport read many a journalist and reporter on athletics.   First of all there was George Dallas, a former international runner and outstanding athlete over distances from 100 yards to the half mile, who reported on athletics for the “Glasgow Herald” One of the three best journalists and reporters in my time in athletics.   He knew what athletes wanted from the dailies: first a good results service, second a decent report on the race, third as much journalism as they good get – and in that order of importance.   He had started writing in the 1920’s  for the “Daily Record” under the moniker ‘Ggroe’ and after a wee hiatus for the War, took up the pen again, writing for “The Scots Athlete” and the Herald.   He was an out and out reporter.   He was followed at the “Glasgow Herald” by Ron Marshall who saw himself primarily as a journalist and he moved on to work on Scottish Television.    Doug Gillon is the name that will resonate most with those who were runners in the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s and up to 2010.   He wrote for the “Glasgow Herald” and covered many championships – read his profile by clicking on his name above.   Doug had a good results service and was also a journalist of quality – he wouldn’t have lasted as long otherwise.   Sandy Sutherland was based in the East of Scotland but wrote for a multitude of papers and also covered a wide range of sporting activity, mainly athletics and Basketball.   I would put Bill up with George, Sandy and Doug as a reporter and with the latter two as a journalist.   Bill was up there with the best who have dealt with athletics in the Press.

Doug Gillon and Sandy Sutherland in Moscow for the 1980 Olympics

 

Bill Melville: the competitor

Bill Melville is a very good journalist indeed who is well respected.   He would have been a good journalist whatever his chosen specialism had been: we are fortunate that he chose sport rather than politics or any other subject.   But within sport he had a wide range of subjects that he wrote knowledgeably about.   

That was the writer but he was more than that. As his friend and colleague Sandy Sutherland says. “Much of what he did was a service for the sport and he was often press officer for events I attended in a professional capacity and rolled his sleeves up and obtained the result sheets for others, unlike the present generation who are solely interested in getting their story out BEFORE the few journos who are left get their turn!”

Not entirely subjectively, it is possible to say that Bill Melville is one of the better writers and one who really loves the world of sport. One of the top three in Scotland in my 60+ years in the sport.  He has never received the credit that is his due.

 

It is always interesting to see how someone gets into sport.   When he was asked about his own journey in his chosen sports, Bill was happy to give us the following outline.  
I am  an inveterate sports spectator – everything except football.  Becoming a journalist let me do it professionally.   As a runner I am a participant – road racing, (cross-country a long time ago) and orienteering, which I still do.   I got into athletics by a side door.
When I arrived as a 24 year old in Kenya to take up a teaching job, headmaster Ollie asked if I knew anything about athletics. The American currently in charge of organising “track and field” was about to leave at the end of his contract and they needed a replacement.  Athletics was the after-school sports activity for one term in the year….. the one just coming up.   I had done athletics at school and had watched the Olympics on TV so I said – OK.   It was a decision that guided my life thereafter.  
We had a few good athletes which was a pity because I knew nothing about coaching and training them.   They were competing at about 5000 feet in altitude, on grass, in bare feet, which made some of their performances nothing short of remarkable.   Heading the list of talents was 18 year old Abdul who could clear over 22 feet in the long jump.   And then there was Peter, same sort of age, who was around 4 Min 20 sec for the Mile.   Both competed in bare feet on rough grass.   That came out of two hours training each week during athletics term time.
As the term got underway we were looking forward to a couple of inter school matches, which we duly won (my predecessor had done a good job), and the local area championships with teams from all over the district supplying the opposition.   These were not school teams. They were local area squads and included everything from tiny girls (mostly running the six miles), to big, well built blokes like Magwe who won all of the running events from 440 yards up to the three miles.
 
(If you want to see what it was like – look up the You Tube page  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iYSCbprPbDw  .
The track was in better condition in my day but it catches something of the atmosphere).
 
Magwe went on to the national championships in Nairobi as the core of the local team taking on the likes of Wilson Kiprugut, Kip Keino, Temu, and Kogo. 
Next year Abdul won through to the long jump in Nairobi, enjoyed his trip into the big time but finished out of the medals.
I always said, and still say, that the Kenyan system  – feeding athletes from local areas up to the national championships on an annual basis was a major reason for Kenya’s international strength in the sport. This was the way that their hidden talents were unearthed and passed on to athletics nurseries in the police force, prison service and army.
The school staff was mainly made up of young foreign guys like myself from the UK and USA. That first athletics term, someone suggested that we should see if we could run a mile – NON-STOP. The very thought of it was breath taking. It took a few weeks of trying but in the end we all managed it.   And that was me started in my life long running career, and it must be said, a life long interest in going to athletics events.
 
 
Bill after the Clydebank to Helensburgh 16+ miles in 1976
(Note the old road runner’s dodge of the hankie tied to the wrist for easy mopping of sweat)
 
On my return to Scotland I joined the long since defunct YMCA club in Kirkcaldy before going on to play a leading roll in setting up and organising a new club in Glenrothes. After a move to Ayrshire I joined the Kilmarnock club and helped develop the short lived Ayrshire Club amalgamation designed to give our top athletes a place at the top table in the summer leagues and at road and cross-country events.   I competed without distinction across the spectrum in search of league points for my various clubs- everything from sprints to throwing the hammer, a close to disastrous outing in which the hammer almost threw me.  I threw the javelin with style but not very far.
 
“I was out regularly on the country and roads – one of the many who targeted and bettered 6 minute mile pace.  Good enough to see me well up in any of today’s mass turnout road races.  
My best outing came in the Balloch 12.1 miler which finished up the main thoroughfare in Clydebank.  I arrived late at the line, started back in the field and found my pace slowed as I worked my way through the slower back markers. But then I picked it up slowly and found myself passing and dropping people I had no right to better. I went through 10 miles in around 56 or 57 minutes – my best ever time for the distance. But shortly thereafter, i was in trouble. I didn’t exactly hit the wall. I had done that in the Edinburgh – N Berwick and knew exactly how that felt. But my legs tightened, muscle hurt and my pace didn’t just fall away, it collapsed. While sub-70 had been on the cards  I crossed the line in just under 72 minutes.
I was heavily involved with Irvine AC by that time, represented the club at the West District Committee meetings for some years and helping Jim Young and his organising squad at many of the local races. “
 
Bill is being a bit hard on himself here.   Six minute miling is not bad running at all – it would give you a 2:36 marathon for a start and not too many years go (ie after 2010)   there were only two marathons run by Scotsmen in Scotland in 2:30 or faster.   But running is also about competing.  Bill’s comments on cross-country, based in his experience are worth reading. 
With the trophy after winning the Scottish age group title in 1970
________________________________________________________________________________________________
Bill’s book contains from time to time opinions that will resonate with many runners of his generation: the following extract from his book refers:
” I can remember a time when cross-country running meant just that, with courses likely to take in grassy fields, rough pasture, stubbled winter fields, ditches, hills and even the occasional farm track.   It could be tough going in the wet,and even tougher going when the frost had turned the rough ground into a “pebble bed”.   I can remember too that the top runners took all that in their stride.      ……     What is needed now is a sport of Real Cross Country Running taking in the most runnable fields, forest, rough pasture and moorland”    I would comment that a decade or so an English club put on a 15 mile,no entry fee, no prizes, cross-country race and it was a great success.   
________________________________________________________________________________________________
 
Winning in Yorkshire
 
He goes on: By this time I was also very involved with orienteering. A handbill on my car windscreen at a cross-country event aroused my interest. I went along to what turned out to be a district championship and finished runner-up in the M35 class.
 
My family took to orienteering more than I did. They could walk around a short easy course finding all the control sites while playing in burns or climbing on trees and  boulders on the way. Meanwhile, I was running too fast for my orienteering skills. Inevitably the man walking the course in wellies and raincoat would catch me up as a I searched out the next control.
 
But orienteering offers something road or country running does not. It is less monotonous, you have something to think about as well as running and like sinking a good putt you can get that certain feeling by running around a tree or boulder or over a hill and finding the marker just where you thought it would be.   I have orienteered all over the UK,  In Canada, New Zealand and Hong Kong in multi day events in half a dozen European countries.  There is more detail in my book – free on Kindle – Year of the Perfect Run.
In 2013, a friend introduced me to parkrun. I ran a few times at Dundee’s Camperdown course before getting the idea that something closer at hand and a bit less hilly was needed in my advancing years.  With a lot of help from the local authority and other runners I set up Perth parkrun. I am close to my 200th run and have volunteered 79 times as of January 2020. What is it they say – running is dangerously habit forming.”
 
How good is Bill as an orienteer?   Olympic, Commonwealth and world class athlete as well as very talented orienteer, Gareth Bryan Jones says, “Bill was always a very skilled orienteer, challenging for places in each age class as he moved up the age brackets.   He is still competing regularly in the M75 class.”   Every runner has his own opinion of what was his best ever run.   For some it was in a minor county championship or some race like the Beith New Years day race, for others it might have been a national event like one particular run in the national championships or a stage of the Edinburgh to Glasgow relay.   When I asked Bill what was his best race/s he said:   “Very few awards for competition success. As I said, I am a participant athlete not a medal winner. I have, however, won a few Scottish age group trophies in orienteering from about M60 onwards and a third place (age group) at the British Jan Klellstrom Festival. The Hungarian win was M70 at the Hungarian Cup Five Day Event.”   
 
For me, the Hungarian win was the tops.   Five races over five days, against the very best in his category, was a real test.   Look at the variables – unknown trails, where at home he knew the different conditions at every race he entered, opponents that he knew not of, a time difference (and that matters more than many realise), language – and you see the magnitude of the task.   And it was not covered in any of the Scottish papers that I checked
.
 
My own opinion is that running is more a disease than a sport but Bill’s comment about it being habit forming is accurate – there is much more detail in his book – which is free on Kindle.   Bill goes on to point out that   “Journalism was then my second career.”    We will look at that on the following page.

 

Rangers Sports: August 1960

The 1960 Sports were probably the best athletics meering held in Scotland that summer.   The National Championships are always the highlight of the season but in terms of the quality of athletes from around the world as well as the best of Scots who took part, the Rangers event was quite outstanding.   Evidence can be found for this statement in several events – eg the Open Long Jump where there were two from India, 2 from AAA’s, 1 from the West Indies plus Scotland’s outstanding David Whyte all jumping from scratch plus two from Pakistan and one from the RAF, as well as six other Scots.    Or have a look at the half mile invitation where the two Scots faced two from AAA’s, one from India and one from the West Indies.   In terms of domestic fields the open mile had such as Bert McKay, Joe Connolly, Jim Mclatchie, Tom O’Reilly and Eddie Sinclair starting of virtually together while there was a Colin Shields and Andy Forbes both off 105 yards.   Handicapping was often queried.   However here’s the programme.

 

 

 

 

Rangers Sports: August 1958

The Rangers Sports were traditionally held on the first Saturday in August and lasted from the 1880’s until 1962.   They were far and away the biggest sports in the land and one of the biggest in Britain.   They have been written of elsewhere on the site but we have just received copies of the complete programmes for the 1958 and 1960 meetings from Chris Holloway and ill put them on site.   This is the programme for the meeting in 1958.   There is a lot of items of interest in it – of course if you were old enough to remember the meeting, or better still to take part in it, you can wallow in the nostalgia of it all.   The officials are listed on page two with lots of good ex-athletes (Tom Riddell, George Dallas, Dunky Wright), the two handicappers Nangle and McNeillie, the great Fred Evans, starter extra-ordinaire, legendary names like Fred Graham and Willie Armour ….    The rules for the 5-a-side tournament are listed and make for interesting reading, then there are the international athletes from Europe, Africa and the Americas racing against our own Alan Dunbar, Graham Everett, Bert McKay, Andy Brown and the rest.   And rubbing shoulders with them all the club runners entered in the open races – some winning prizes but all gaining inspiration.   Take your time and see them all – TP O’Reilly, Danny Wilmoth, George Rodger, Bill Purdie, Jack Brown, Ewan Murray, John Young, Eddie Sinclair …. 

Shrubb at Ibrox: A Contemporary Report

On 4th November, 1904, Alf Shrubb ran at Ibrox Park in Glasgow and broke the world one hour record + all amateur records from six to eleven miles  +  all professional records from eight to eleven miles + running a distance of 11 miles 1137 yards in one hour.   Read any of the periodicals of the time and the magnitude of what he achieved will maybe sink in.   He was not a Scotsman but he provided one of the great nights of Scottish athletics.   Hugh Barrow has provided the following clippings about the event and they have a place on any site devoted to the history of distance running in Scotland.