Last Fall while driving home from work, I stopped in a favorite second hand store in Parksville, BC on Vancouver Island to look through the used book section hoping I might find something to stimulate my interest. Nothing bore fruit in the book section, but on the way out I noticed some old medals resting in a display case, nothing track and field related, but there was a small plaque with some engraving and a runner in a sprint start. On it was inscribed, "British Games Inter County Athletics Championships 1951". Further inscription indicated the plaque was "presented by News of the World". At the bottom was an embossed logo CAU. I asked a clerk to take it out for more careful evaluation. Nothing more to be seen however, no name of an individual, no event , and no finishing place. Still I was intrigued and the price was right, $8.47 Canadian. How that price was derived is anyone's guess. Actually who won the plaque was anyone's guess. I didn't have a lot of knowledge of British track and field, but I knew a few blokes who do have a good background in the game. So I made the purchase and brought it home with me, set it on my desk and contemplated who might have earned that award 68 years ago.
The cover of anodized brass was held onto a Bakelite backing with a single threaded screw and nut. It measured about 5 inches by 6 inches. Hoping there might be some clue behind the cover, I carefully removed the nut and lifted the plate off the backing. Was there perhaps a 20 Pound note hidden or even something more precious? Sorry to disappoint you, but there was nothing, so I reassembled the two plates and got on my computer to send an email to John Cobley who lives only a few hours away in Sydney. John is an English gentleman and scholar who might also be described in American vernacular as a track nut. He writes the running blog racingpast.ca as well as a jazz blog and translates Russian poetry. He came to the US as a runner and attended and ran for Brigham Young University and was for a semester, a teammate of Lasse Viren when Viren also attended BYU. I also wrote to Tim Johnston who was 8th in the 1968 Mexico City Olympic Marathon and whom I've met through the blog. All he could say was, "George, you've got a treasure." He also explained that the All Counties was one of the top three meets each year in England.
Englandatheltics.org explains the current system this way:
I believe that the system and schedule are much different in modern times, but I noticed that The England Senior UK CAU Championships are July 27-28 this summer in Manchester, if you happen to be passing through.
I thought John Cobley might be able to give me some ideas about the plaque. After all an Englishman should know something about the English All Counties Athletics Competition of 1951. He did know of the All Counties Athletics Championships, informing me that it was one of the early big meets each year in England. Each county in England is entitled to send one entry per event to that meet. So it is an important and fairly well contested meeting. But that's about all that John could tell me about the 1951 event. After I sent him a picture John decided to forward it to Bob Phillips in Australia. Bob is one of the foremost authorities on track and field in the Commonwealth. He once wrote for the publication Athletics Weekly which is the British equivalent of Track and Field News.
What came back from Bob Phillips was a copy of the meet results from The Times of May 14 and 15, 1951. The only North Americans who appeared in the meet were Mal Whitfield and Reggie Pearman, neither of whom would have been known to have moved to Canada and carried the plaque across the Atlantic. But Bob displaying his incredible knowledge of the sport and the athletes went through the results and came up with a name, Geoff Elliott, one G.M. Elliott from Essex County placed second that day in the pole vault at 12' 6", same as the winner but with more misses. Bob also knew that Geoff Elliott did indeed move to Canada, and he strongly suspected that the plaque had belonged to Mr. Elliott. I also learned that "CAU" was the logo for 'Counties Athletics Union' the organizing body.
FYI, Mal Whitfield won the half mile at the meet in 1:53.7 over De Kroon of the Netherlands in 1:54.1 and Reggie Pearman was 3rd in 1:54.2. Mal also was 2nd in the quarter mile as they called it to Arthur Wint who ran 47.9. Oh yes, Whitfield also ran a third race finishing 2nd to Herb McKenley in the 300 yards in 30.3 a British All Comers Record. Further, one R.G. Bannister won the mile that day in 4:09.2 and C. Chataway took the 2 miles in 9:03.8. Of note, G. Ruston of Yorkshire County won the Seven Miles Walk in 54 minutes and 18 seconds in a nailbiter over B. Hawkins of Middlesex County who crossed the line 17 seconds later in 54 minutes and 35 seconds.
Note from Dennis Kavanaugh : It appears that Browning Ross, another American, also ran—the next to the last line in the right hand column.
So what about this Geoff Elliott chap? Where do I find him or his heirs? That was the easy part. I had all of Canada at my door and Google at my fingertips. My effort, after about 10 seconds of work, led me to a speech made by Dr. Walter Herzog, founder of the Human Performance Lab at U. of Calgary, when he was presented with an award for his scholarly work in the field of sport. Dr. Herzog is on the faculty at the University of Calgary. In his speech, he mentioned his close professional association with Geoff Elliott, now passed away. I found Dr. Herzog's address and emailed him about Geoff and the award I had found. He referred me to an Elliott family friend who again informed me of Geoff's passing, but he also gave me the postal address of his widow Pamela and a daughter who lives with her. I wrote them and the daughter's sister, Yvonne Graf contacted me in late February. Yvonne told me that she was on a short visit to Nanaimo on Vancouver Island. I happened to be passing through Nanaimo the very next day and was able to return the plaque to her in person. Below you see the two of us, with Yvonne holding the long lost plaque. She couldn't figure out how it got to Parksville, because the family still had boxes full of Geoff's awards from years past. She thought that perhaps her father had leant some of the awards to a good friend and neighbor, and when that man passed away his family may have disposed of them including our now resurfaced plaque. That is the only explanation.
Yvonne was kind enough to share with me and you readers some pictures of her father and mother including a film of Mom running and winning the 80 meter hurdles agains the Czechoslovakian team in that country in 1954. Both parents competed for England. Geoff at one time held the British record for the polevault and was also a decathlete. Pam made it to the semis in the hurdles at Helsinki in 1952. They met and married and eventually moved to Canada in 1963 where they remained all those years. See below for more pictures of them and the film of Pam competing
|George Brose and Yvonne Graf with the plaque. |
Czechoslovakia vs England Women 1954 clik here for Link to that meet. In this you will also see Diane Leather, first woman to break 5 minutes for the mile that year winning the 800 meters as well as Pamela Seaborne, Geoff Elliott's future wife, winning the hurdles.
The couple's results in major internationals were as follows:
Pamela Seaborne: 8th overall in Helsinki 80m hurdles. Eliminated in semis when only six went to finals.
9th in Decathlon Helsinki 1952, 22nd in PV
1954 Empire/Commonwealth Games Vancouver 1st PV 8th SP
1958 Empire/Commonwealth Games Cardiff 1st PV
Soviet Union vs Czechoslovakia 1954 Slightly off subject but while downloading the England Czechoslovakia women's meet, I found this meet with a lot of footage of Vladmir Kuts defeating Emil Zatopek in a 10,000. Zatopek was past his prime and Kuts was on the way up, shortly to win the 5000 and 10,000 at Melbourne while Zatopek would take a courageous 6th place in the marathon behind his dear friend Alain Mimoun of France. Also a good sequence of Dana Zatopek throwing the javelin.
It is so interesting to see pictures of these deceased people when they were young, usually looking so good. When those pictures were taken they could only view old age and death as a concept rather than a reality. However, all of us are alive and so are the people you return these plaques to. Bill Schnier