Vernon S. "Vic" Blowfield, 1919-2017

 

English National CC Championships:

     1947–37th (team 2nd), 1948–2nd (1st), 1949–18th, 1952–26th. 

Southern CC Championships:

     1947–9th (2nd), 1948–3rd (1st), 1949–30th (1st), 1952–11th (1st).

London to Brighton Relay:

     1947 (1st), 1948 (1st), 1949 (1st), 1952 (2nd).

Club Track Running Championships:

     1 mile "Garnett Cup" 1946–2nd, 1948–3rd.

     3 miles "Griffin Cup" 1949–1st.

Club Road Running Championships:

     5¾ miles "Wimbledon Cup" 1947-1st, 1949-1st, 1950-1st. 

Club Cross Country Championships:

     7 miles "H.T.Blackstaffe Shield" 1946–2nd, 1947–1st, 1949–2nd.

     10 miles "A.E.Macher Shield" 1947–1st, 1948–1st, 1949–1st.

Above: Half a mile to go. Wooderson (107) seems spent and Vern Blowfield (35) readies himself for an attack which is to gain him the lead. 

Right: But with 400 yards to the finish and on rising terrain, Wooderson has rallied and after making a supreme effort has got clear.

Above: England's team for the 1948 International Cross Country Championships at Reading. Left to right are S.C. Wooderson (Blackheath H.), J.A. Carrick (Small Heath H.), V.S. Blowfield (Belgrave H.), R.C. Adams (City of Rochester), A. Shorrocks (Halesowen A.C.C.), J. Corfield (Tipton H.), J. Charlesworth (Aylesford P.M.), R.V. Hughes (Polytechnic H.).

Above: Early on in the 1948 English National Cross Country Championships at Graves Park, Sheffield. Vern Blowfield (35) tracks Sydney Wooderson (107) of Blackheath Harriers.  Shorrocks (342) of Halesowen leads.

The period from 1933 to 1952 – albeit interrupted by the hiatus of World War II – was a happy time for Belgrave endurance runners. The club’s distance men achieved a run of success unlike anything they had attained before and unmatched afterwards until the opening decade of the 21st century. During the post war years of that epoch Vernon Blowfield shone like a star, very often leading the Belgrave teams to success.

Born in 1919 Vernon was called up for service with the Royal Air Force during the war. Whether he had shown an aptitude for running as a youth we do not know but certainly he competed in Bengal while on a posting to the sub-continent where an “unofficial Olympics” was held (as was done in other places throughout the world, in spite of the war) to mark the XIII Olympiad which had been due to take place in London.

When hostilities ceased and Vernon returned to England he signed up to join Belgrave Harriers and was elected on 4th February 1946. It would seem that some shadow of doubt about his action crossed his mind for he resigned almost immediately. Happily, his hesitancy was almost instantly countered by a further letter in which he withdrew his resignation.

Known to his club-mates as “Vern” or “Vic”, he almost instantly made his mark in competition by winning a half mile handicap off 50 yards in a shade over 2 minutes and within a month or so won a club race over the full distance in virtually the same time. It looked as if he would go well over longer distances too, for he placed 2nd in his first club championship 1 mile race and 2nd in another inter-club event.

As the 1946/47 winter season unwound Vern was being regarded as a real talent at cross country. He was well up in all inter-club races and placed 2nd in his first attempt at the Club 7 miles championship for the “Blackstaffe Shield” where he had to give way to Len Herbert but got the better of hardened cross country runners Footer, Carter, Lucas and Penny. In January his run in the Middlesex Championships earned him county colours and an outing in the Inter-Counties Championship. A week later he took the “Macher Shield” as winner of the Club’s 10 miles Championship. Len Herbert won the Southern Cross Country title at Ascot but Vern was 9th and they led a string of Belgravians to the silver medals. It was “silver” again for the team in the “National” with Herbert our lead man in 6th and Vern our fourth scorer in 37th.

Onto the road then, where, with Herbert not running, the trial for the “Brighton Relay” held around our “5¾” course proved to be a showcase for Vernon. A fast run in the TVH Road Relay followed, with the Bels out-running Birchfield Harriers, and then all eyes were on the Brighton Road for the News of the World London to Brighton Relay on April 19th. Vernon was entrusted with the opening leg and he gained a lead that was only briefly relinquished on one later stage. The Bels passed the Brighton Aquarium and ran onto Madeira Drive with a 1 minute 14 second lead over Blackheath with Coventry Godiva a further 12 seconds in arrears.

What a first year with Belgrave Harriers.  The Belgravian reported, “With good training Vic is going to be a menace to the best in the country during the next track season …” As it turned out, his track season was of somewhat lower key than the winter that had gone before. There were various wins over the mile in club races and he was 3rd in the Middlesex 3 miles with a 14:48.0 timing but it was the winter of 1947/48 that had Belgrave supporters enthralled. This time he had the beating of Herbert in the Club’s 7 miles Championship and after Christmas took 2nd in the Middlesex race, added the Club’s 10 miles Championship to his haul, and placed 3rd in the “Southern” – first Belgravian home – with Belgrave taking the team race.

The 1948 English National Cross Country Championships were held in Graves Park, Sheffield, on March 13th. Blackheath’s Sydney Wooderson, the “Southern” winner, was the favourite but newspaper coverage also tipped Blowfield for a good run.

It became clear that barring accidents the winner would come from four men who broke clear: Shorrocks of Halesowen, Charlesworth of Aylesford Paper Mills, Blackheath’s Wooderson, and Belgrave’s Blowfield. These men gave each other no quarter as they ran shoulder to shoulder throughout the race. With half a mile to go Wooderson looked pale and tired while Vern Blowfield was looking the strongest.  The Belgrave man took his chance, moved past the crowd’s darling and pulled away to gain a small lead. Was this it – Belgrave’s first ever winner of the “National”? Supporters streamed back to the finishing funnel where a roar from the crowd went up as they saw the runners come over that final uphill stretch. Wooderson had hauled himself back into contention and as the pain of the hill bit deeply he was back in front. What a finish. Blowfield, having probably made his move just too soon, held on for 2nd, only four seconds down, with Shorrocks  a further three seconds behind. Disappointment at losing first place was ameliorated by the fact that Belgrave had swept up the team race with their next five runners occupying 12th, 15th, 27th, 41st and 57th.

Wooderson later acknowledged that it had been the hardest race of his career and he believed that he had still not recovered by the time the international race came around.

The International Cross Country Union Championships were staged in Reading on 3rd April in warm conditions. Shorrocks (11th) easily had the beating of Wooderson (14th) while Vern Blowfield (35th) was just one place behind England's last scorer. England took the bronze medals behind Belgium and France.

The spring road relays followed a similar pattern to the previous year – Vern Blowfield running mighty stages in the TVH race, where Birchfield won, and the toughest and most important long leg to Hickstead in the London to Brighton race where the Bels turned the tables on the “Stag-bearers”.

As it turned out this was Vern Blowfields’s finest year.  With 18th place he led the team home again in the ’49 “National” – although the team could only place 6th – and took on another long stage on the Brighton road to help cement a sixth Belgrave win in the premier road relay; but as Vern’s star slowly declined, so too did the fortunes of his club and it was many years before wins at this level came along again. 1950 and 1951 were relatively quiet years but a flicker of his old self came in ’52 when he won the “Harry Parker Memorial Trophy” once more by leading the team in the “National”, and took the Bels up to 4th, just a few seconds down on 3rd, on his stage of the London to Brighton (the team eventually placed 2nd).

Vernon worked at Cricklewood for Smiths Industries, a company with its roots in clock and watch making but after two world wars now a world leader in motor and aeronautical instruments. Further expansion was planned and a factory in Witney, Oxfordshire was purchased in 1949 to enhance the company's automotive product line. The company joined with housing authorities nearby to provide dwellings for their employees. Vernon took advantage of this situation and moved to Oxfordshire in 1952. Early intentions were good and he hoped to return to Wimbledon when possible and looked forward to a good 1952/53 season but things worked out differently and the Club regretfully accepted his resignation in January 1953.

Continuing to run on a daily basis until his eighties, Vern helped found a running club at Smiths and was on hand for the formation of Witney Road Runners in 1985 by whom he was later made Life President. He was also made Life Vice President of the Oxfordshire Athletic Association.

Vernon passed away on 26 February 2017 at the age of 97.

References:

Athletics (monthly magazine).

Belgravian, The.

Essex Newsman, The, 8 Nov 1949, British Newspaper Archive (http://search.findmypast.co.uk : accessed 10 Mar 2017).

Gloucestershire Echo, The, 21 June 1948, British Newspaper Archive (http://search.findmypast.co.uk : accessed 10 Mar 2017).

Richardson, L.N., The Jubilee History of the International Cross-Country Union 1903-1953, International Cross-Country Union; 1st edition (1953).

Smiths Industries PLC History (http://www.fundinguniverse.com/company-histories/smiths-industries-plc-history/ : accessed 10 Mar 2017)

Thurlow, David, Sydney Wooderson Forgotten Champion, British Sports Association for the Disabled/BSAD; 1st edition (1989).

Witney Road Runners Newsletter

 
 

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