Commonwealth Games medallist who lost his life in WWII

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On ANZAC Day we honour the career of Commonwealth Games silver medallist and Olympian, Gerald Backhouse who lost his life serving his country in World War II.

 

Gerald Backhouse was raised by his grandmother in Geelong, after he lost his mother when he was aged two. He attended Adwalton Preparatory School and later Geelong Grammar School.

He started to emerge as an athlete, at the 1929 Combined Public Schools athletics carnival.

“It was only by accident that I became interesting in foot-running,” said Backhouse in 1940.

“I was never considered good enough at sports to be included in anything higher than the third eleven in cricket or the seconds football team,”

“When the schools’ first choice for the mile run at the public schools’ sports became ill one month before the day of the race, the sportsmaster suggested I should train for the race. At first, I was indifferent about the suggestion, but his kind encourage decided the matter.

“When the race started, I jogged along at the back of the field, but the roar of the crowd created within me a mental condition which I cannot explain.” He won in a time of 4:52.0 and was invited to join St Stephens’ Harriers.

Still in his teens, in 1932 he made his first appearance in the national senior rankings running a 2:01.0 880 yards and by 1935 he was the leading middle-distance runner in Australia, including braking the national record with an 880 yards time of 1:55.1.

The following year he won the national 880 yards/mile double and was selected for the Berlin Olympics, where he progressed through the heat and semi-final and into the 800m final.

He smashed national records, including becoming the first Australian to break four minutes for 1500m.

Ahead of the Sydney 1938 Commonwealth Games he defended his national 880 yards/mile national titles and won silver in the mile on the SCG.
He was given an unofficial time of 4:12.3 in the mile, but a week later in Melbourne he officially broke the national record running 4:16.8, a mark that would not be bettered by an Australian for 11 years.

He again led the national mile rankings in 1939 and 1940, but with the outbreak of war, there were no national championships in 1940.

On 17 February 1940, he ran his last known race, winning a mile in Melbourne.

Two months later he enlisted for the war.

In June 1941, he sailed to England with the Royal Australian Airforce.

Tragically on 28 December 1941, aged just 29, he was killed in England when the plane he was on was involved in an accident.

 

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