Maj John Barrington-Ward, of Brighstone, in his Olympic blazer. Picture by Jennifer Burton.
THE VIEW FROM HERETHE 2012 London Olympics are being fine-tuned to the last millimetre of finishing tape. If, that is, they have finishing tape these days. Probably not — it’s more likely to be some techie operating an i-result app by remote nerdiness, digitally correct to a billionth-zillionth of a second.
Anyway, it’s all getting very frenetic and certainly extremely commercial. The intellectual-property despots are out in force, making sure the corporate giants get their money’s worth, with everybody else arrested if they dare make even a cupcake decorated with the Olympic logo.
Let us, therefore, enjoy a brief respite from the 2012 Olympic juggernaut and return to a gentler age, when sportsmanship was the cornerstone of the games and nobody thought it would be a good idea to get an American rapper to carry the torch through Taunton in a completely irrelevant display of celebrity hysteria.
Let us meet Maj John Barrington-Ward, who, more than 50 years ago, embraced the true spirit of the Olympic Games.
He’s 84 now and living a life of peaceful retirement with his wife, Anna, at their home in Brighstone. But you can still see in him the courtesy, sense of duty and relish for challenge which, as a young man, made him the perfect choice to represent his country.
The UK last hosted the games in 1948. They are known as the austerity games and, despite a budget of only £600,000, were enjoyed just as much as anything this year’s junket (costing around £11bn) will produce.
John was, at the time, a 20-year-old cadet at Sandhurst. A self-confessed "duffer at sports" at school, he had nonetheless found a niche in cross-country running, winning numerous trophies in army competitions. When the Olympic organisers asked if Sandhurst could provide two cadets from a strength of 1,500 to take part in the torch relay, John was chosen.
Dressed in his ordinary running kit, he took the torch (a simple and dignified design of stainless steel and fuelled by hexamine and naphthalene) on a two-mile leg towards Torquay, where the sailing events were held.
There were few spectators but the organisation was meticulous. And having done his bit, John returned to Sandhurst. No fuss, just simple national pride.
After being commissioned into the Royal Artillery, John continued to win trophies for long-distance running, on one occasion coming first in the prestigious inter-service cross-country competition. And then he was chosen for the UK Olympic Squad to go to the 1952 Helsinki games.
As a runner? Well, no. Despite never having done any sailing before 1952, John became an Olympic yachtsman.
He was chosen to join the three-man crew of Sabre, a Dragon-class boat, owned by Lt-Col Thomas Somers, who had had the idea of training a complete novice as foredeck hand, responsible for the spinnaker.
Lt-Col Somers, who coincidentally lived in Seaview, gave John his first sailing lesson in April, 1952. They trained in The Solent, got through the Olympic trials and went to Helsinki just four months after John first stepped on the boat.
Sabre didn’t win a medal but her crew distinguished themselves sufficiently to come 13th in their class, out of around 60 competitors. And that, particularly in light of the fact one of the crew had joined them only recently as a total newcomer to sailing, exemplifies the Olympic spirit more than any American rapper or hyperbolic Boris-bluster.
John Barrington-Ward still has the official uniform, with its blazer and striped tie, he wore when he took part in the ceremonies at the Helsinki games. It fits him perfectly and, as he stands to be photographed, a wonderfully unique spirit of Olympia comes to this quiet spot in Brighstone, as touching and as patriotic a sight as any you will see at the London event this summer.
What, pray, to do with the bats?
MASSIVE numbers of bats at St Hilda’s Church, Ellerburn, Yorkshire, are threatening the future of worship in the 1,000-year-old building. Damage to the fabric and an overpowering smell means the church can no longer be used for regular services.
Bats are a protected species and churches are especially vulnerable, being largely powerless to evict them.
However, there is a solution. Here’s the story of a vicar moaning to another cleric about the bats in his church.
"We just can’t get rid of the wretched things," he said. "I don’t suppose you know of any way to deal with them?"
"Certainly," said his friend. "I have absolutely no problem with bats. If they come into my church, I christen them and then I confirm them and then I invite them to join our youth worship group. And that’s the last I ever see of them."