Guernsey Race Walking : Sarnia Walking Club

September 5, 2020

Church to Church stories

Filed under: Uncategorized — sarnia @ 5:57 pm

Whilst we should have been walking the Church to Church walk, now cancelled for 2020 here are some stories of the event around 75 years ago.

A chance Facebook post by Denise Fallaize about her grandfather Stanley Smith and a tug of war photo led me to making enquiries if it was the same person that won the Church to Church Walk 4 times in the early days. Luckily it was and I was provided with a photo of trophy she has in her possession from 1945. The trophy keepsake awarded alongside the current Victory Cup. This prompted me to write an article on Stanleys race walk achievements from notes made some time ago.

Stanley Smith

4 Time Church to Church Walk Champion 1938 to 1946

With no actual organisers records the following information has come from various peoples memories and mainly from the daily and weekly newspapers of the day read at the Priaulx Library.

Stanley Smith, one of the early pioneers of the traditional Church to Church walk is the name that came to mind from my early days as a competitor in the same event many years later. My interest  lead me to finding out as much as possible about the early races of this great walk.

His name was the first one to be inscribed on the Guernsey Walking Race Victory Cup, which is still being used to this day and which replaced the missing Joybell Trophy. That race back in 1945 was based on the Church course used in the early days over 19.4 miles but for whatever reason was only over a distance of approximately 16 miles rather than the 19.4 miles, hence the faster than usual finishing time.

Stanleys first victory was in 1938 when he crossed the line in 3.19.00, thirty seconds ahead of second man home Otto Le Gallez, with third man home H G Taylor from Jersey four minutes behind.

For his efforts he won the “Joybell Trophy” donated by Captain Jas. E Dye.

Newspaper headines the next day were:

“ Stanley Smith First Home But Le Gallez Was at His Heels”

“ After a grim tussle with O Le Gallez, Stanley Smith won the 20 mile Church to Church walk yesterday returning a time which was 75 seconds outside the record put up last year by H Taylor of Jersey. Taylor finished third.

After being a minute behind Le Gallez at St Sampsons, Smith sent his cyclist in front to set the pace. Quickening his stride he eventually fought his way past Le Gallez at the Salerie Corner to win by half a minute.

Smith, who is married, is a really remarkable winner. He practised little and all this week has been sterilising having only about four hours sleep each night. (note for non locals reading this, sterilising was a seasonal job in the greenhouses and very labour intensive)

Thus Le Gallez has again failed by only a few seconds to win the walk. Last year he was second to Taylor.”

Photo of the start of the 1938 race with Stanley third from the left.

The report goes on to say that following the 2.30 pm start Stanley Smith was well in front going up the Vardes followed by Le Gallez, Le Marchant, Falla and Taylor. With crowds lining the route Smith was still in front after two miles at St Martins Church. Le Gallez challenged strongly soon after and drew level. Both men reached St Peters Church well ahead of Taylor. After 11 miles and at St Andrews Church Le Gallez had a lead of 100 yards over Smith with Taylor a quarter of a mile behind. Positions were unchanged at Castel.

Coming on to the Bridge with only a couple of miles to go and Le Gallez led by one minute. Smith spurted and coming up fast as they hit the coast he had the gap down to 40 yards.

Le Gallez looked around at Fruit Export to see Smith draw abreast, Smith forged ahead but Le Gallez made great effort to draw level at Salerie Corner. As Le Gallez weakened, Smith slowly drew away. Victory was now foregone conclusion as Smith hit the tape at the Weighbridge thirty seconds up on a tired and game runner up.

Photo of Stan Smith and Otto Le Gallez getting tangled up amongst the accompanying cyclists. Stans brother Edward Smith apparently riding the bike and helping with the timings on occasions. Maybe even in this race?

Solo photo of Stan during the race.

With no walk in 1939 Stanley waited until 1940 for his second win in a faster 3.13.15, ahead of a rival who will get mentioned later, Norman Froome only half a minute or so behind. The walk was reported to be 200 yards shorter than normal.

Stanley Smith had accepted a challenge from Otto Le Gallez, whom he had beaten two years earlier. They were together for 16 miles where Le Gallez collapsed and retired.

Any possible winning streak was curtailed during the Occupation with no further walk taking place until 1945. Starting where he left off five years earlier he won the race in 2 hours 40 minutes, but as mentioned earlier over a shorter than usual distance.

This race was billed in the local paper as a “Smith versus Froome” race. Norman Froome had won an approximate 14 miles race earlier in the year on July 26th, but not on the Church to Church course and there seemed arguments at the time who the Island Walking Champion was. As it turned out Smith won the Church race narrowly from R Le Poidevin with Froome retiring.

A diary piece by a family member for 27th September 1945 reads that:

Stan won the fifteen miles walk this afternoon, Le Poidevin was second, very good for him, his first time. Most of the people were there to see Froome beaten as there was too much talk about him because he had won last time. Stan was not at that walk. Froome gave up before finish”

A letter in the paper after this event from Stanley Smith claiming not only being the new distance walk champion, but unbeaten except once over 4 miles by Norman Froome. He stated his Church wins in 1938 and 1940 and a 10 miles win in 1941 beating H Le Marquand by a few seconds.

Newspaper reports in 1941 mention Island Walk Champion “Biffer” Smith being a boxer. A 9 miles event in 1941 (the 10 miles mentioned by Stan in his letter) was set up for July 30th evening.

Starting at the Albert Pier and heading to Bordeaux, La Moye, Vale Church, Route Militaire, Half Way, Albert Pier.

Stan won in 1 hour 19 minutes 54 seconds, 15 seconds ahead of Le Marquand, with an S Ashcroft a further two minutes behind in third. Stanley reportedly opened up at the Weighbridge after the first two home were together at the Vale Church. The first 5 walkers reportedly were all members of the St P P Boys Club.

A year later and reported in the May 28th 1942 issue, Norman Froome had victory over 5 miles (the 4 miles in Stanleys letter), finishing 20 yards ahead of Stan Smith.

The October 6th edition of the Star newspaper has an interesting article by “Stardust”.

“ I notice that Stan Smith points out that he has been long distance walking champion for the last 6/7 years and rather resents being called the “new” champion. From enquiries I have made it seems Smith has never been beaten over the full course of approx 15 miles since his first victory. Norman Froomes win was over the much shorter distance of approx 4 miles I believe. Not much doubt I think that Smith is and has been for the last 7 years our champion long distance walker.”

Then he goes on to suggest a handicapped event over the same course and that the newspaper would be proud to collaborate in promoting such an event, around April or May. Later editions still suggested this promotion but nothing came of it.

In 1946 the newly formed Guernsey Amateur Athletic Club took over the organisation of the Church to Church from the early organisers the Guernsey Wanderers Sports and Social Club.

This was there first event, as the accompanying 7 miles road run due to be held the same day never took place. The race was to start at the Weighbridge and finish between Weighbridge and the GPA sheds near London Steamers Quay, passing the Churches of St Peter Port, St Martins, Forest, Torteval, St Peters, St Saviours, St Andrews, Castel, Vale and St Sampson.

The paper reports that 35 years old Stan Smith, a well sinker from Plaisance, St Peter in the Wood won in a new record time of 3.16.27, ahead of H Mahy in 3.26.25.

Possibly reported as new record as his 1940 time was slightly shorter course, although later claims that competitors failed to touch one of the church doors in 1946 so record shouldn’t stand.

Personally I am not sure on the touching of the Church doors and the walk certainly since my involvement since 1970 has only seen walkers touch the Gran Mere at St Martins and the church wall sometimes at St Sampsons.

Later in the year in the November 8th issue of the Star there is a photo of Stan Smith, light heavyweight boxer and captain of tug of war.

Although times are slower than what has been recorded since his personal best some 80 years ago, Stanley is still in the top 30 local performers. It is fair to say that others above him in the rankings were racing and training year round for race walking whilst Stanleys training was more like walking long distances to and from a manual work day.

Some years ago, I had a conversation with Len Duquemin, who won the event 3 times and was a Commonwealth Games competitor in 1970 about Stan Smith. He said Stan had shown him his medals for walking and that he (Len) would get his own. Len said to him, or words to the effect, that Stan was the one to follow and he had done it already.

After his winning performances he dropped down the field in 1947 with a second place, finishing behind J A Broughton, who narrowly won by 17 seconds.

The following year a fourth place was achieved, with further performances credited to a S Smith in 1949 and 1951, much slower than in his winning days, but assuming it’s the same Smith.

Stanley Smith Church to Church performances

1937 14th 3.41.00

1938 1st   3.19.00

1939 No walk

1940 1st   3.13.15

1941-1944 No walk

1945 1st 2.40.?? (approx 16 miles)

1946 1st 3.16.27

1947 2nd 3.24.11

1948 4th slower than 3.37.00

1949 7th= no time

1951 6th 3.42.48

Photo of Stan Smith with winner Len Duquemin

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