RUNNERS FROM 41 SQN FOLLOW THE OLYMPIC TORCH
On Wednesday 27 June, a rare sunny day, the Olympic Torch wound its way through East Lindsey in Lincolnshire. Following it for 22 miles from Louth to Wainfleet-St Mary’s were a group of 10 Engineers and Aircrew from of 41 Squadron raising money for a local children’s sporting charity.
The Squadron were inspired to do it by the exploits of its Battle of Britain Squadron Commander, Group Captain Donald ‘Don’ Osborne Finlay DFC, AFC, probably one of Britain’s greatest Olympians you’ve never heard of.
Don Finlay not only competed in the 1932, 1936 Olympics, but remarkably at the age of 39 he came back to captain the British Olympic Team in the London 1948 Olympics. This is all the more impressive given he’d had a hard war, seen a lot of action and was shot down and wounded in the Battle of Britain.
Although not the tallest athlete, his event was the 110m Hurdles, which he took up as young apprentice at RAF Halton. He excelled in this discipline and competed at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1932 winning Bronze, then went onto win Gold at the 1934 British Empire Games. In 1936 in Berlin he won silver, possibly making him the only Battle of Britain Spitfire pilot to have shaken the hand of Hitler!
When the war came he initially flew Spitfires with No. 54 Squadron during the Battle of Britain before being wounded and later commanding No. 41 Squadron. He received the DFC in June 1942 and won a further AFC in Burma in 1945. His victory tally flying fighters was 4 and 2 shared destroyed, 3 and 1 shared damaged.
After the war he remained in the RAF, but continuing a long tradition of Armed Forces personnel supporting Team GB, he participated in the London 1948 Olympics. He not only was the Great Britain Olympic Team captain, but he also swore the Olympic Oath at the opening ceremony on behalf of all the participating athletes. If you ever see any newsreel footage, he can be seen wearing his beret, whilst swearing the oath.
Post the war, as a Group Captain in charge of the No.1 School of Technical Training at RAF Halton, he regularly took part in the station sports meeting and even at the age of 43 won every event he entered: 110m Hurdles, 100m, 200m, High Jump, Long Jump and the Veteran’s (over 40) Handicap, in which he took the offered three yard start!
We clearly felt this remarkable link had to be commemorated and whilst the current Commanding Officer of 41 Squadron does not quite share Gp Capt Finlay’s sporting prowess (although he was a great 3-legged racer in his day he assures us!), we wanted to do our bit to support local grass-roots sports.
Therefore, as the Olympic Torch reached Lincolnshire we joined the Torch relay and followed it for a foot-blistering 20 miles through East Lincolnshire. With large crowds lining the whole route, the team grinned through the pain and were inspired by the support and generosity of the spectators. The highlight for many was high-fiving the rows and rows of schoolchildren who were out waving their flags at the Torch as it went through, probably mistaking us for some very out of shape Team GB rejects!
In doing so we’ve managed to raise over £900 for Coningsby Allsports which is a local sporting initiative for young people in the Coningsby/Tattershall area. Coningsby Allsports is the brainchild of Kathy Roberts from Coningsby Town Council. She saw that kids in Tattershall and Coningsby were crying out for some kind of community sports team, to organise and coach them at the new Tattershall Multi-Use Games Area (partly funded by RAF Coningsby). So she just pitched up one Friday night armed with a football and a basketball and asked the kids if they were interested in forming a team.
From that embryonic beginning 12 months ago, they now have 54 kids on the books aged 7-19, train every Friday night, provide coaching in Netball, Football, Hockey & Basketball.and compete in events. It’s a real grass-roots success from one person’s initiative, so 41 Squadron were really keen to get behind them and hopefully be able to generate some funds to keep them going.
We’re so close to the £1,000 pound mark, so if our run has inspired anyone to donate, then we’d more than welcome any more donations. You can donate by sending a cheque, made payable to ‘Coningsby Allsports’ to: Flt Lt Gerry McCormack, 41 Sqn, RAF Coningsby. It’s a great cause and a little bit of money will go a long way.