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Sports Day in Tel Litwinsky

"The First Infantry Division, Royal Artillery sports are to be held on the 14th of August. Are there any among you who can throw the hammer?"

I came to attention and said "Yes sir."

"Well done, Hall, fall out and report to Sergeant Robson."

"How much experience have you?" asked the Sergeant, handing me a heavy metal ball with its length of wire handle.

Throwing the hammer
Photo: Leif Thomsen

"Not a lot and it's some while ago," I replied.

I didn't tell him that I was 10 years old when, after seeing a hammer-throwing Scot at Tideswell Picture House, I had thrown my Uncle Colin's cobbling hammer and it had gone over Mrs Flint's garden wall, never to be recovered. The sergeant looked a bit down in the mouth so I sought to reassure him. "I'm not short of strength. When I was a schoolboy I worked for a farmer and a furniture remover. At 15 years old I worked on a coal lorry bagging and carrying." Heartened, he smiled and said, "Go and practice. I'll be along later."

"Sorry sergeant, I've got to get ready for guard duties, unless you could get me off?"

"I can't do that," he said, shaking his head.

"Perhaps you could ask Captain King?"

"No!"

Never mind, I thought, it was worth a try.

There was still time for 10 minutes practice. Although it didn't go in the direction intended, my first throw gave me a great deal of satisfaction. My second attempt went higher and farther and fetched an overhead wire down near the tent lines. In biblical times they would have said something like "Begone, oh tall one, pick up thy heavy ball and get unto the wilderness forthwith!" But this is Palestine 1947, and in the tents they shout, "Piss off Lofty, yer daft sod, before yer kill some bugger!"

Obediently but not disheartened, I moved on to the next open space. Legs apart, flex my muscles, swing the hammer low and slow, higher, faster, spin around, so difficult on sand. Rhythm lost, balance gone, let go! With a crash like thunder the whirling hammer bounced off the nearby lavatory's tin roof. Shouts of alarm came from inside the doorless but not odourless circular construction. With alacrity I recovered the hammer but before I could disappear a wide-eyed Jock Ness came out from within. "What the fuck is going off?"

"It was an accident, Jock!

"I nearly shit myself, I thought it was a fucking bomb" he said, dusting some flakes of dried whitewash from his head and shoulders. He grinned, winked, turned and shouted to the lads inside "It's only Lofty Hall practising his hammer throwing. Half a dozen more throws and he'll be gone."

"Tell him to fuck off now."

Their shouted demands were easy to comply with but not with the hammer in the place they suggested. It was time to go and get my kit bulled up for guard-mounting.

No more hammer-throwing practice, too many duties, no time, no facilities.

Tel Litwinsky Sports Ground 10.00 hours on 14th August 1947, not a cloud in the sky and already scorching hot. We are brought to attention and informed by the Announcer, Captain Morr, that Brigadier KF McK Lewis, DSO MC RA, has kindly consented to present the divisional Artillery Athletics Challenge Shield and Individual prizes. He then read out the long list of officials starting with the President, Lt Col Cobbold RA and ending with the Chief Marshal, Regimental Sergeant-Major Woodrow, thus ensuring that all decisions reached would go undisputed.

The Band of the 1st Bn The Suffolk Regt began to play as we line up for our colours. HQRA-White, 20 anti-Tank Regt-Black 88 LAA Regt RA-Yellow, 41 Field Regt RA-Red, 48 Field Regt RA-Blue. We of 59 Field Regt RA were wearing the Green.

At 10.30 hours on the dot the Sports commenced. In teams of two with three throws each, Sgt Robson and myself finished up in second place. Although it was my throw that had pulled our aggregate down he shook my hand and said, "Well done, Hall." Available are Minerals, Beer, Tea and Sandwiches, all on sale, none for free. Open all day, the Officers' Bar is doing a roaring trade, so is the Bar for the Senior NCOs. Our watering hole, the Other Ranks Bar, is almost empty which is to be expected considering the pittance we get from the Army.

Finding a seat I closed my eyes and thought of home and Sports Day on the exposed high ground of the Cliffe. Often there I sought the shelter of a dry limestone wall from squally showers and a biting wind. Underfoot the green and honest land I've known since birth.

Here from the burning sun, I seek the perfumed shade of orange and eucalyptus trees and in this tragic and dangerous land I tread with caution the ancient dust and shifting sand.

Noise aplenty on the Cliffe, laughter, arguments in abundance. Rare was the event that ran on time, or without dispute. At Tel Litwinsky we have applause and a little merriment. No arguments, no disputes. Everything, every event on the dot running like clockwork. It is only the music that links this place with home, for when on form Tideswell Band are every bit as good as these Suffolks."

Enduring the Hour, Ted Hall.