George Robert Dunckley, 1906-1988
Above: George Robert Dunckley with an impressive array of prizes won during his relatively short career.
George Robert Dunckley was elected a member of Belgrave Harriers in November 1923. He was just 17 years old, born 24 October 1906, the son of a clothier's assistant, Henry, and his wife, Rose, who lived at Camberwell.
Very early promise was shown as a sprinter when at 18 he was the winner of the Surrey County 220 yards Championship for Juniors, held at Battersea Park, and the Club saw fit to enter him for the quarter-mile in their Inter-Club meeting v. Ashcombe A.C. and Thames Valley Harriers, also Battersea a couple of weeks later.
1925 saw the innovation of an Inter-Club Relays meeting between Belgrave Harriers, Croydon Harriers, Epsom Harriers, and Mitcham A.C. George competed regularly in the 4 x 110 yards and 4 x 300 yards events.
By the following year George was a key member of the Club’s teams. In the 'Doris Shield' Inter-Club contest he was sorely missed in 440 yards event on July 21st when he arrived at the Richmond Park venue too late to take part; but there was still the 4 x 110 yards relay to come and after the Belgrave team made a poor start George ran a brilliant second leg along the back straight and it was reported that he, "made hacks of his opponents to hand over a lead that was never in danger of being reduced."
George took his first Senior Club Championship title when he won the J.G. Sawyer Memorial Cup for 440 yards at Battersea Park, winning by a 15 yards margin in 51 4/5 seconds. As the season closed another outstanding victory came in the London A.C. meeting on September 4th, probably held at Stamford Bridge. George ran close to the 50 second barrier with 50 1/5 seconds and his fellow club-mates enthused about his potential for the future.
In a break from his winter training as he prepared for the 1927 season and further stepping stones towards what must have been a credible shot at qualifying for the 1928 Antwerp Olympics, George turned out for the traditional Boxing Day track meeting. As far back as 1896 Belgrave Harriers had staged a 120 yards handicap on this day. Originally the meeting was held on the roadway on the Chelsea Embankment but by the '20s it took place in Battersea Park. George was one of the back-markers, off only 1¼ yards, with the front markers being given as much as a 13 yards start. He won his heat and thus qualified for the final but our records do not show him in the final: he wasn't among the first four listed in the results and may have either not contested the final or given it up as a bad job with the front markers so far in advance of him.
Sadly this was George's last competitive performance for a while and The Belgravian reported:
"Members will be sorry to hear that Dunckley has been ordered 12 months rest by his medical adviser. We thought that we had an Olympic Champion in him ... We must hope that the enforced rest will not have any ill effect on him but that he will return to the track stronger in health and strength."
George was at low ebb and perhaps even thought that his athletic days were over, as by mid-1927 the General Hon. Secretary F.G. Thompson reported to Committee that a letter of resignation had been received from George. The Committee decided to, "Leave it on the table for the present."
Out of competitive action for over two years, George’s success of 1926 was fondly remembered in the Club’s magazine:
"… we want a sound 50 secs. 'quarter' man … Dunkley (sic), a top-notcher, is kept off the track by illness." And … "The quarter was a 'hot-un.' Shades of Dunckley! How they ran!"
The Committee's faith in George and not accepting that resignation paid dividends. On May 15th, 1929, back at Battersea, the scene was set for a return to action in and Inter-Club Relay Meeting. On the last stage of a 4 x 300 yards race a glimpse of his form of three years earlier was revealed as he strode through his stint and carried the Belgrave colours to a win. In June at Finsbury Park he again caught the eye in a medley relay, this time running a 220 yards but he caused hearts to flutter in the 'Doris Shield' match where his team had built a 50 yard lead and he ambled his last, furlong, leg, knowing that he did not have to put himself out to ensure the win. To be fair, he also had a quarter-mile on the agenda for that afternoon – which he duly won in 52 seconds; but was anyone prepared for what followed at the Amateur Athletic Association’s Championships at Stamford Bridge?
We can probably do no better than reproduce the report of the day:
"This year's A.A.A. Meeting was chiefly notable from the Belgrave point of view for the splendid come-back of George Dunckley. After two months' training following upon two years' rest from the track, he qualified for the 440yds. final. It is to be hoped that next year he will have found a little more running— and then Belgrave will boast of a A.A.A. champion.
"In his heat George was content to stride in with V. N. Harrison, of Achilles A.C., in 52 secs. In the second round we saw the old Dunckley—left at the start—forced to the outside of the track on the back straight—and then the superb finish in which he passed G.T. Bird, Finchley H.; J .W. Toms, S.L.H., the Kent Champion; and J. Dacombe, of Surrey A.C. The time was 51 2/5 secs.
"In the final on Saturday, George drew the inside position but, as usual, was well behind on the first bend and was forced to run on the outside all the way without a chance to get through. So came the finish, with Hanlon, 1st; Barsi, the Hungarian record-holder, 2nd; Neame, 3rd. The time, 49 2/5 secs, has only been beaten twice since the War."
With form like this it was hoped that George would be selected for international duty in the forthcoming match v. Germany; but the Club Championships were due up first and after a two year absence George again took charge of the 440 yards event and took home the J.G. Sawyer Memorial Cup. What a success story after two years of inactivity; George was indeed invited to don an England vest and to set foot on the Stamford Bridge oval on August 24th in two races against the Germans.
"…He was timed to run his stage in the 4 x 440yds. Race (with a flying start) in 48 3/10 secs. In the Medley Relay he ran last for England and was about 10 yds. behind Stortz, the German who was fifth at the Amsterdam Olympiad, when he took over. George cut down this lead and was only beaten by 3 yds. — a wonderful effort … and one which deservedly gained the large crowd’s applause.
"The British record for 440yds. Is 48 2/5 secs., and was made by W. Halswelle at Glasgow in 1908. If our man can reproduce his form again next season it should be within his powers to improve upon these figure."
Proud of his achievements, George managed to keep hold of the baton used by his team that day and brought it home to his family.
The season was not done yet for a week later on Club representative duty he helped retain the Horsham Chamber of Trade Cup for a 4 x 440yds. Relay and on September 7th ran an outstanding 21 9/10 secs at Wycombe to win a scratch 220 yards race.
In 1930 George turned out to contribute another sterling last leg for the Club in a 4 x 440 yards race at Ravensbourne and he was known to have won the Metropolitan Police 440 yards championship, but there George Dunckley's athletic career seems to have come to a conclusion.
In August 1931 the Committee took steps to delete a number of members who had not been heard of for some time. The list has not survived but the minutes of the meeting noted that for the time being this would not apply to certain, notable, members and George's name was among these.
Census Returns of England and Wales, 1911. Kew, Surrey, England: The National Archives of the UK (TNA).
Belgrave Harriers Summer Fixtures cards.
The Belgravian, The Official Gazette of the Belgrave Harriers.
Buchanan, Ian, “Who’s Who of UK & GB International Athletes 1896-1939”, NUTS. From 1921 to 1932 teams were styled 'England' although they were drawn from the whole of the United Kingdom.
ARM conversation with George's daughter, 18 July 2012.