The Jubilee Year celebrations in 1977 included a lot of sporting fixtures as well as Band ones and as soon as the festivities welcoming in the New Year had finished, the topic of many discussions was “Why is it that no cavalry regiment ever does anything in BAOR athletics? It’s always the infantry and artillery regiments that dominate athletics.” There were at that time officers in our regiment, such as Captain Arthur DeNaro, Major Rhoderick-Jones and the Commanding Officer himself, BLG Kenney, who were keen on athletics and some even eager to participate in it and I too wondered why cavalry regiments like mine never got a mention when it came to athletics. The Commanding Officer gave his approval for us to enter the army championships that year and I intended to make sure we got to the army finals which were always held in Aldershot. That was a long road, however, as you first had to qualify, by winning or being runners up in the Brigade Championships, the Divisional and BAOR competitions that lead to the Army Finals. We would be up against very stiff competition.
The regiment was notified that there would be an inter-squadron athletics meeting held on our own grounds behind the officers’ mess in Barker Barracks in Paderborn where our football pitches were. This was news to everyone and there were some doubts expressed as to how it could all happen, but after a few meetings, we prepared the grounds by putting in sandpits for long and triple jump, high jump and pole vault and marking out the track. I was asked about acquiring the equipment we would need and the regiment obtained the hurdles and field event equipment through its networks, so we had all that was required to run a full track and field athletics meeting. No event was excluded. Each squadron used these facilities to practice together. It was an exciting time and a little unusual to see shot, discus, hammer and javelin being thrown in a safe environment in the same field where pole vault, high jump, long jump, triple jump and hurdles were being practised. I was asked to train the team and I was very pleased about this as it was what I had wanted to do. We trained hard and when the inter-squadron championship was held, Command and Support Squadron (to which the Band was attached) won it. On the result of this meeting, I picked a team of 20 along with reserves, for the Brigade athletics championships and presented the names to the sports officer, who then presented them to the Commanding Officer. Training began and after a while I picked the team I wanted to take part. Then I asked permission from the Commanding Officer for these athletes to be excused from normal duties so they could train for the upcoming Brigade Championships. This was granted.
We started training in the mornings, mid-afternoons and again every evening too. Throughout this period I kept a record on each athlete’s input. My job was made much easier because the people I selected were all keen and highly motivated to give 100% in all they did in training. What pleased me most was how the officers in the team co-operated and subjected themselves to the same training regime as the rest of us and also helped other members. It all gelled together and was indeed a “family” affair. Everyone was prepared to help each other to achieve the best possible results. This was exactly what I wanted. I had no problems from anyone with punctuality or training in the lead up to the Brigade Championships. Sometimes after training, we would all return to my home for light refreshments and to watch helpful videos. We were truly a team. We trained very hard and then had a three day rest-break just before the competition so as to save energy for the day itself. Light exercise by individuals was all we did in these three days. On competition day, everyone knew what was expected of them and what they had to do.
On 21st May in a packed stadium in Sennelager, the QRIH athletics team, the only cavalry regiment, took part in the Brigade Championships. We, The Irish Hussars, were met with jeers of derision from the Guards and other regiments on our arrival, as we were not only a cavalry team but also an Irish one. By the end of the meeting, we the Irish Hussars were declared the winners by 32 points and those who had greeted us with mockery were in total shock. The only ones who were not shocked were us. We knew we were going to win, and we knew what we had done in training to enable us to do so.
The next day we went straight back into training for the BAOR individual championships which were to be three weeks later. Seven of us were competing in that. I did the long jump and discus and was 3rd and 4th in those events. Lance-corporal Blackett came 2nd in the triple jump and Frank Arscott came 4th in the long jump. Lance Corporal Halus came 5th in the high jump, Lance Corporal Johnston came 4th in the 100m, Lance Corporal Connor came 6th in the 200m and Trooper Wyatt came 5th in the 1500m. Once that was over, the QRIH team had to train even harder to prepare for the 4th Divisional Championships coming up at the end of June. This was also at Sennelager. I told the team not to let the opposition worry them, but just to enjoy the competition and do their best. We had to compete against 12 regiments including the 7 Signals Regiment, who had been BAOR Champions in 1976, and the 22 Signals Regiment, who had been BAOR Runners-up in 1976. That team had in it the young Kriss Akabusi, who was at that time not yet the famous athlete he was to become later on. Our team, apart from me, had never competed in Army athletics before, but they had good hearts and had been prepared well. As a team, we broke lots of records and ended up second, only 5 points behind 7 Signals Regiment who won. We had beaten 22 signals by 2 points. I was over the moon with the team’s performance and so pleased that the Commanding Officer had allowed us to take part. I was even more pleased to dispel the myth that cavalry regiments don’t do well in army athletics. Any team can do well in any sport if they are prepared properly with appropriate training.
Now our team had to go on to the BAOR Team Championships Finals in Sennelager, which was only 5 days later on 25th June. It was the first time in the history of the QRIH to reach these finals and out of the 8 teams, we came 5th. The long jump team of Frank Arscott and Johnno Johnston won their event and the discus team with me and Staff sergeant Rowley also did well.
It was only a couple of weeks after this that the Queen came to review her troops in Sennelager on 7th July 1977 and we played our part in the Queen’s Jubilee Parade of the entire 4th Armoured Division. Our Regiment was the first that drove past the queen in the culmination of months of planning and punishing rehearsals. The parade was all over in a day and we then resumed our summer round of music engagements on the Keeping the Army in the Public Eye Tour of England. Jubilee year was certainly a year to remember for me and for sport in the QRIH Regiment, as in football, we won the Cavalry Cup and I was part of that winning squad. We also won the Balaklava Cup and I was part of that winning squad too. I was also in the Band hockey team that won the Jubilee Cup. However, the highlight of my army career was to be presented in June with The Queen’s Jubilee Medal for services to Anglo-German Relations.
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