C.W. "Charlie" Walker 1929-2008
Born: 31 May 1929.
Belgrave: 13 December 1948.
Died: 13 February 2008.
Best performances: 880yds – 1:58.6, 1 mile – 4:18.0, 2 miles – 9:18, 3 miles – 14:30.4, Marathon – 2:31:08.
Charles William Walker was nineteen years of age and had barely completed his National Service when he entered Belgrave Hall for the first time. He’d done a bit of running in the Army, just to keep fit, and had come across Belgravians Bob Taylor and John Bromley. Aware of his talent, they had naturally encouraged him to take steps in a Wimbledon direction and he duly arrived at the Hall for a three miles road race promoted by Belgrave Harriers for unattached novices.
The race was won by Charlie with a 14 seconds gap to second place and before the afternoon was over a completed membership application form was in the hands of Road Running & Cross Country Secretary Ernie Duffett. Chas was elected a member two days later.
Almost immediately Charlie became an integral part of the Belgrave running scene, placing 34th in the National Junior CC Championship and 14th in the trial for the London to Brighton Relay, an event which was to play a great part in his athletic career over the next dozen years or so. Come September and he was given responsibility for the initial stage in the Surrey Road Relay; he won that first leg and the Belgrave team went on to retain their title.
Still a junior for the ’49-’50 season, Charlie began facing up to competitors of a similar age who were to become household names in the years ahead. In the South of the Thames “Junior” race at Maidenhead he placed 2nd, nine seconds down on Chris Chataway, won his first Belgrave title just before Christmas to take the “Savage Shield” as our junior cross country champion, placed sixth in the Surrey county championship where he came up against the Pirie brothers and Chataway again, and went on to lead our junior teams in the “Southern” and “National”.
In the Spring, as has for so long been the way among runners, thoughts turned towards the road relays and in particular the “London to Brighton”, one of the most prestigious fixtures on the domestic calendar. The event was in a state of flux. Previously clubs across the country of an acceptable standard had been invited to take part but this year’s race, prior to the establishment of a National Road Relay Championship over the same route, was a qualifying event for Southern clubs only. Third in the Belgrave trial over 5¾ miles, there was no question now that Charlie should be in the team and he was rewarded with 8th leg – taking over at Hickstead. The 21 year-old ran third fastest on his stage and although the team were a little deflated to place 4th after three consecutive victories, it was obvious that Charlie had many such runs ahead of him.
The following track season saw forays over 1 mile in the county and A.A.A. Championships. His first victory in a Belgrave senior club championship came over the half-mile distance but his most startling run was in a one mile handicap where, off 30 yards, he went through the field to record an impressive win at Tooting. However, it was the ’50-’51 winter season that saw Charlie at his majestic best.
At the Surrey Road Relay Charlie led off again and brought the Bels home with a lead which was held to the end. He was “nailed” by the handicapper in the Belgrave Yacht Handicap 3 miles but the only man faster in the 65-strong field was Bill Lucas. The second Saturday in December was always set aside for the club’s 7 miles cross country championship for the “Blackstaffe Shield” and after winning this at his first attempt The Belgravian reported that Chas could be, “the one to challenge Arthur Penny’s fine run of six consecutive wins”.
Farthing Downs in January was the setting for the Surrey Cross Country Championship – and it resulted in another first attempt win. The Belgrave score of just 41 points was the club’s best ever tally. The Inter-County race was stacked with talent and even the formidable D.A.G. Pirie had to give way to Yorkshire’s Frank Aaron. Surrounded by Eyre (Yorks), Sando (Kent) and others of that ilk, our man placed 7th. Two weeks later the South of Thames Championship was won by Charlie as he led the team to a massive win.
Accepting an invitation for the Festival of Britain Race, where he ran Gordon Pirie to a close finish, meant that Charlie could not run in the “Southern”. In those days, when the “National” entry was limited to nine men per club, we sent our first nine men home in the Southern Cross Country Championship to the “National”. No exception was made for Chas. and the team went to Richmond, Yorkshire without him to place 7th – albeit winning the nine to score trophy. Who knows, in his prevailing form this may have cost him an international vest, the club about 110 points and probable bronze medals.
It was road relay time again and Chas led the field by 10 seconds at the end of the first stage of the Ilford race. The Thames Valley event at Cranford saw Charlie racing it out with Pirie again, trying to get away from him on the first lap and finally holding him to just one second. Then, at the first ever National London to Brighton Relay (ten stages in those days, starting at Mitcham), Charlie was beaten only by Alec Olney on the first leg to Purley. This was a prelude to even greater joy that day as Belgrave sped to a victory that would not be repeated until 2002 at Sutton Coldfield.
Many successes came in the following years but perhaps nothing quite to equal that ’50-’51 winter season. He reached 5th in the Inter-Counties mile, 3rd when representing London v Gothenburg and four times wore A.A.A. colours in representative matches.
Charlie made the Belgrave “Brighton” team on no less than 28 consecutive occasions during which time he collected 18 medals:- National gold (1), silver (2), bronze (1), fourth (4), and Southern gold (2), silver (3), bronze (4) and fourth (1). Note that medals were awarded to fourth placed teams in those days. Charlie missed the final two relay runs on the Brighton Road, before the race was deemed too dangerous for modern conditions, but returned to the team in 1965 when the “12-Stage” was held at Wimbledon to collect yet another Southern gold medal.
Charlie continued running as a veteran and in the 1990s teamed up with other Belgravians beyond their 60th birthdays to add further to his relay medal tally.
In 1998-99 he was made President of Veterans Athletic Club and in 2007 he became President of Belgrave Harriers – possibly one of his proudest moments. Sadly he died just six months into his term of office.
Known by all, Charlie was never at a loss for words, an effervescent character with many a tall tale to tell. A carpenter by trade, employed at the Ministry of Works, Charlie encountered numerous politicians of the day and from what we understand they were as awestruck by his loquacity as his club mates. Stories about Charlie abound and as has been said in recent times, “Can anyone imagine the Belgrave of yesteryear existing without Charlie Walker on the scene? What a dull club we might have been.”
Photos: Top - Charlie and trophies pictured circa 1950. Bottom - President of Belgrave Harriers and pictured supporting the team at a Surrey CC League race, autumn 2007.