Friday, 6 May 2016

How Sydney personified a nation's brave post-war spirit

*SUDBURY HILL in 2016 . . .  the scene of Sydney's first post-war victory in his native London.
THE war was effectively over, but things were still kicking off big style in the opening few days of August 1945.

The Americans dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, followed by another on Nagasaki, and the Soviets declared war on Japan. 

Two national heroes were also in the news: Head honcho Winston Churchill moved out of 10 Downing Street to make way for Clement Attlee, and the bespectacled Maestro of the Mile Sydney Wooderson thrilled a huge White City crowd with a brilliant run against world record breaker Arne Andersson.

Sydney, not long recovered from a career-threatening illness, was narrowly pipped by leggy Andersson. It was a brave effort by the little Brit - running for an Army team - for he was up against an athlete from neutral Sweden whose recent nutritional and training routines had not been affected by the rigours of war.

Just three days after this White City Bank Holiday showdown, Sydney came out fighting again - appearing at the Anti-Aircraft Command Championships event in leafy Sudbury Hill in the west London suburbs.

*PIPPED at the post . . . but Sydney (No.3) won the hearts of a nation with this White City run in 1945.
I visited this site as part of my year-long tour of Sydney Wooderson race venues (see * below) and found a pleasant bucolic setting, relatively unspoiled by the intervention of 70 years’ worth of development and population growth.

Having so recently thrilled a war-weary nation, Sydney's presence boosted the the size of the crowd at the Lyons Sports Ground, which was just down the road from Sudbury Hill Harrow station and not far from the famous public school. However, in terms of performance, it was inevitably a case of ‘After the Lord Mayor’s Show’ with Sydney winning the mile in a relatively modest 4:26 (a massive 17 seconds slower than his White City epic).

Anti-Aircraft Command was a British Army set-up that controlled the Territorial Army anti-aircraft artillery and searchlight formations and units defending Britain. It took control of smoke screens in 1943, which were manned by the Pioneer Corps in which Sydney had been a corporal for several years.

Immediately after the AA Command meeting, Sydney was named in the GB team for the big head-to-head with France scheduled for Paris a month later. This would be swiftly followed by a meeting in Gothenburg in which Sydney would get another crack at Andersson. Sports fans couldn’t get enough of it, and the crowds turning out were huge. 

These were exciting times for athletics fans after nearly six years of war. Exciting for Sydney too, who less than 12 months earlier had suffered a bout of rheumatic fever which hospitalized him for four months and had the medics fearing he’d never run again. 

During the following summer of 1946 Sydney would return to the Lyons sportsfields venue, turning out in a mile race for a team of past and present servicemen, selected by the AAA. He won by a huge 80-yard margin in 4.19.2 in front of crowd of 22,300. Clifford Bunton (London Univ) and Len Herbert (Belgrave) were left trailing in his wake, a distant second and third. Sydney was one of several famous names claiming victory in seven events that were the highlights of that day's Lyons Sports summer sports carnival.

* ‘Project Sydney’ is more than just my forthcoming book about the running career of forgotten British hero Sydney Wooderson. It also incorporates my 60th birthday ‘challenge’ - to visit and run at 60 of the places where Sydney raced during his remarkable career - all to be done while I am 60! This blog records the progress of that challenge. Conveniently, it will help keep me fit as well as assist with the research for the book!

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