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Disgrifiad

FOLLOWING THE FLAME
Howard Smith: Winter Olympics Interview


My name is Howard Smith. I was born in 1956 in Merthyr Tydfil and I now live in Cardiff. Within two days of being born, I went back to my parents’ home in Bargoed and I spent my infancy and my formative years in Bargoed, a village heavily involved in the coal industry.

not going down the mines

There were three coal mines, all within spitting distance of the main one, Bargoed Colliery. My earliest memories are of dirt everywhere and the sound of the coke ovens blasting off at four o’clock every afternoon, and the sirens going off signifying the shift changes. I was brought up in the shadow of the winding gear. My grandfather, my father, my great grandfather were all coal miners and I had at an early age become aware that my grandfather was very ill. He suffered from pneumoconiosis and emphysema and just about every malaise that coal miners had. He was a particular hero of mine and I watched him die slowly and I said to myself at a pretty early age, “I am not going down the coal mines. I don’t care what I do, but I’m not going down there”.

running wild

I had a brilliant childhood. I went to Bargoed Grammar School which was a very sport-oriented school. I played football. I played rugby. I played cricket. I played just about everything really, but most of all, I ran, like an Apache Indian or a renegade up on Bargoed mountain, Gelligaer Common. I spent all my young years up there, running around wild and free, leaving the house at 8.30 in the morning during the summer holidays and coming back at six o’clock at night, and my mother would be saying. “Where the hell have you been all day?” And I would say, “Well, out!” “Well, where?” “Up the mountain.” “What did you eat?” “Nothing!” And we’d spend all day up there, seven days a week, well apart from Sundays, when, of course, we weren’t allowed out at all. We had to go to chapel. That upbringing, that wonderful working class, South Walian background and the freedom to basically do what the hell you wanted within reason, gave me a brilliant grounding.

this whole thing about the army

My father, of course, was a product of his generation. He was brought up as a young teenager during the Second World War. Some of my uncles had fought in the war and I was brought up with this whole thing about the Army going on in the margins. I decided I wasn’t going to stay in Bargoed, I wanted to go away, to have an adventure and I wanted to express myself in sport. I started to play at representative level in school, at rugby. I could have stayed in Wales and played rugby but I decided that the Army was for me and I was going … and off I went. That background of that coal mining valley stood me in brilliant stead, actually, for the Army, because I was a fit young man by the time I’d gone. My father then decided for me that I was going to be an officer, that I wasn’t going to join the Army as just some private soldier. I was in grammar school, I was doing my A-Levels and I had just turned 18, and I decided to go and apply for a commission, so I did. They said to me, “Which regiment do you want to join?”. I didn’t have a clue. My family regiment was the Royal Regiment of Wales - I suppose because most of my grandfathers and uncles had all served in either the Royal Welsh Regiment or the South Wales Borders - but I decided, again, I wanted to do something slightly different, and I did a bit of research and discovered I quite liked the idea of being in a tank and, of course, I found out that the Welsh Tank Regiment was the Queen’s Dragoon Guards which doesn’t sound Welsh at all, but it was. It had been Welsh since 1959, ever since two old regiments that had been around for two hundred and God-knows how many years had amalgamated and they had been given this territorial distinction for recruiting in South Wales, and the regiment by then, in 1974 / 1975, was very much a Welsh regiment.

chalk and cheese

Off I went as a potential officer to the premier Cavalry Regiment of the line and rolled up on a dark and dismal March morning to go out on two weeks exercise with them as a guest of the commanding officer because I was a potential officer, and turned up this coal miner’s boy in flared trousers and hair down to his shoulders, and was confronted with all the flowers of England’s youth from Eton and Harrow. I have to say they were perfect gentlemen - they made me feel incredibly welcome - but I also became aware that that wasn’t the life I wanted, because. We were like chalk and cheese. They were young public school-educated young gentlemen and I was a bit of a tyro from the South Wales Valleys who wasn’t as well educated as them and certainly didn’t have the social skills that they had.

you’re playing rugby tomorrow

I was lucky enough to go on exercise with the QDG and I got to know some of the boys - the normal Welsh boys that had joined the regiment as soldiers - so I went back home and promptly told my father that I was not joining the Army as an officer, that I was going to join as a soldier, left school, applied to join the Army and three months later I found myself back in Germany as a trooper in the Queens Dragoon Guards, to be met off the bus on a Friday afternoon by somebody who said to me, “Smith, isn’t it?” “Yes.” “You’re playing rugby tomorrow!” (Laughs) I literally landed on the Friday afternoon to find myself playing for the regimental second XV on the Saturday and that was the first and last time I played in the second XV because, as I said, I was a reasonable rugby player and I joined the likes of Messieurs Sweet and his brother, and Lloyd and all the rest of them playing in the rugby team. I was very happy playing rugby in the regiment and soldiering, and I think, from 1975 right through until the end of 1978, rugby was my main sport in the regiment.

waiting for the russians to come

I played a bit of basketball, I played a bit of this and a bit of that. I certainly went adventurous training and did all the canoeing, did all that was available, because at the time, we were based in Germany, and there was this huge culture of sport in the British Army. You had upwards of 70, 80, 90,000 soldiers sat there, waiting for the Russians to come and, of course, they weren’t coming - we now know that they never even thought of coming, they weren’t capable of coming, they were pretty much spending their whole time drinking anti-freeze but we didn’t know that - and how do you keep, 70, 80, 90,000 fit young men occupied doing nothing all day long? What you do is, you give them something to do and that something was sport and adventurous training, so you were either off doing something or other preparing for the Russians to come which was also good fun, or playing sport. We played sport all the time. QDG became very proficient at four main areas. We had a very good rugby team, regularly semi-finalists - always the bridesmaid and never the bride though, I’m afraid to say - always beaten by slightly better teams when it came down to it. But we were there in the top five teams of the Army without a shadow of a doubt. We had a great swimming team; they were Army champions. We had a great winter sports team; they were absolutely outrageous. And we were very good at hockey. We had a number of players in the Army team and went on to play Combined Services, so, you know, we were known as a sporting regiment. There was a culture of sport.

70% welsh

The regiment fluctuates. It recruits in the whole of Wales and the border counties, so we ended up with guys from Shrewsbury, Shropshire, Herefordshire, on the border, but I would say on the whole, the regiment was always hovering around 70-80% Welsh. That was all of Wales, so you had North Walians, Mid Wales and South Wales, and I would say the regiment was pretty much 45-50% South Walian, so the South Walian sense of humour and the South Walian sense of coal mining industry, hard working class background was definitely the dominant culture. I remember one of my first days in the regiment going into the naffy - it was 1975 and, of course, it had been the miners’ strike in 1974 and a lot of guys had decided to leave the coal mining industry and join the Army because they thought there was no future in the coal mines - and I remember going into the naffy in Hohne in West Germany as a young just-turned-19-year-old boy, being surrounded by all these boys in their 30s who had decided then to join the Army and they were all there with the blue mining scars all over their faces and on their arms, big tough boys all huddled around the table drinking a cup of tea and eating a chip sandwich in the coffee breaktime, and I thought “Bloody hell, what have I come to here?”. It looked like some vast collection of troglodytes had come out of the coal mines and joined the Army which is, in fact, what had happened.

my first bob sleigh run

I found myself in B Squadron which was the rugby squadron, in Third Troop, B Squadron, and my troop sergeant just happened to be one Malcolm Lloyd – ‘Gomer’ as he was known – and he decided to claim me as one of his tank crewmen because we played rugby together, and it was over a period of time as Gomer’s tank crewman that he persuaded me that I should give bob sleighing a go, because by then, of course, he had been doing it for seven years and he said to me, “You ought to give this bob sleighing lark a go, you know.” “Bob sleighing? What the hell is that all about? I’m a rugby player”. “You’re the perfect size for it, you’re six foot, you’re 13 1/2 stone, you’re quite a fast runner. I’ll make you faster and I’ll make you stronger!” “Oh, alright, then”.

I carried on playing rugby until - it was the latter half of 1978 - I messed my knee up on the rugby pitch and I found myself on the margins and somebody was playing particularly well, as well, in my position, so Gomer was off bob sleighing and I remember him coming up to me on the touch line - I was still limping around - and he said, “You are not going to get back in the side this season because Rhys is playing really well. You may as well come bob sleighing with me for the rest of the season”. I said, “My knee is knackered”. “No”, he said, “It’ll be alright in a couple of weeks. Come down with me. You can watch how it goes, and when your knee is better you can give it a go”.

And that’s what we did, we went down to Winterburg. I poodled along with them, and I remember walking around the track thinking, “This is amazing, you know. Look at the way these things move and how fast they go. It’s just outrageous”. Gomer said after about a week, “How is your knee feeling?” I said, “Okay”. He said, “Do you want to give it a go?” I said, “Alright, we’ll give it a go”, so we got all the gear on, went to the start block with him. It was a couple of days before the start of the British Championships and Gomer had a brakeman but he wanted to be competitive and he had a limited amount of practice rides in which to get ready for the British Championships, and he said to me, “Look I can’t afford to mess around here. You’re going to have to push this sled, okay?”

I knew what to do because we had been doing it on the dry practice tracks and he said, “I want you to push this bugger because I don’t want to waste this run”. So, we lined it off and off we went and, of course, the adrenaline was flowing, so I gave him a very reasonable start actually, and off we went. I remember thinking, down to the first corner, into the second and into the third, “This thing is going faster and faster”, which is exactly what it was doing, and I remember going around a big corner called Crisle - which is basically looping the loop sideways - and out we went and from that moment on everything is just an absolute blur, and the next thing I was aware of was him shouting, “Brakes!”. I put the brakes on and we stopped and I just froze, and I remember him getting out of the sled, tapping me on the shoulder and saying, “Well done, Smitty!” - he used to always call me Smitty for some reason – “Well done, Smitty,” and I just got up and I remember looking at him and thinking, “Who is this man that I thought I knew that can control that thing at that speed around that track?”, and this new sense of awe inspiring respect for Gomer came over me and I thought, “My God”, but it was also hugely exciting, massively great fun and I was sold on it.

rugby could wait

That was the early part of 1979 and I watched them then, that season, compete and prepare for the 1980s Olympics in Lake Placid, which I didn’t have a hope in hell of going to. I was just the new boy on the block but, at that moment, I decided that I was going to throw myself into this sport. Rugby could wait. I’d played rugby all my life. I loved rugby and if I wasn’t bob sleighing I would play rugby, but bob sleighing was going to be the thing I was going to do because I wanted to be in the Olympics in 1984. So, I knew I needed to be faster, I knew I needed to be stronger and I knew that I needed to be more technically proficient in the game, and that’s what happened, under Gomer’s tutoring for a couple of years. He stayed in the Army until 1982, then left and we carried on as a regimental team anyway, and he then became a civilian but was still driving the team. We progressed then over a number of years. We managed to get ourselves some sponsorship and bought a better, faster bob sleigh.

We had a lot of soldiers on the team, but we decided that if we were going to get anywhere, we needed to replace some of the soldiers with faster men, and we recruited two other guys into our four man sled. I’ll talk about our four man sled because Gomer had his own two man crew and I used to drive a two man in the British Championships, not particularly well but it was good fun, and I also drove for the Army, which, at that level, I was a competitive driver but, at international level, four man is where it was at as far as I was concerned, and I was Gomer’s number two. I was also his team manager. I was the man that made sure that everything was at the right place at the right time, ship shape and Bristol fashion. So, we recruited two athletes into the team, a chap called Peter Briniani who had been the 1977 Junior Decathlon Champion of Great Britain, and we had a guy called Gus Mackenzie on the brakes who was the first man in Great Britain to jump over seven foot in the high jump and was also a 10.4.1 electric sprinter. Now, I could shift but I couldn’t shift at that pace.

So, Gomer - who was built like Fred Flintstone - was at the front. I was a little less built like Fred Flintstone and number two, and then we had these two race horses at the back and, all of a sudden, we started having start times which were right up there. We were competing behind, but only just behind, the likes of East Germany and Switzerland and West Germany and, in fact, we beat the West Germans which was a first. They were stunned into action when we beat them on the start time, but we simply couldn’t convert that ability to match them physically with the end time which was always about half a second slower, which in bob sleigh terms is an age, and that was because we didn’t have the equipment. They had equipment at the cutting edge because their countries - East Germany, Switzerland, West Germany. They invested huge sums of money because, of course, they were their flagship sports. They were winter sports’ nations. They were great athletes. The East Germans were all soldiers, they wore these brown tracksuits with ASK Army Sports Klub on the back, all soldiers. I married a German girl and I speak German, so I was speaking German to them. That was always very amusing because this was in the days when they had a Stasi official with them to make sure they didn’t do anything outrageous like run away. I got friendly with one or two of them and they were very guarded about who was around. They would tell me about their training regime which was absolutely nothing but bob sleighing. They had teams of scientists and technicians developing and looking after their sleds, and these boys were 365 days a year bob sleighers. They were Army only in name, whereas when we went back we were back in a tank, trundling around the North German plain waiting for the Russians to come. So, that was the difference between them and us, and we managed to approach matching them on the physical states but we never ever managed to come anywhere near them technically.

it was always about the equipment

I’ll tell you a little story. We were always around about 10th, 11th place, sometimes 9th, but usually in that area, and the East Germans and the Swiss would be competing for six places. And, then, you’ve got the West Germans and some Italians. Then, there was us and then, some behind us. The Americans were big guys but they didn’t really have much of a start, they were always around 17th, 18th, 19th, and that was pretty much the way it always was. Leading up to the Olympics in 1984, the Swiss had had a race off and one of their drivers had been sacked and in a fit of peak, he decided to sell his bob sleigh - this finely-tuned / engineered Swiss bob sleigh - to one of the Americans. There was a chap who was watching the Olympics, an American businessman who bought it for them for a great, great amount of money. The American who started driving this Swiss bob sleigh in the build up to the Olympic Final - as I said, he was always seven or eight places behind us – but when it came to race day, he catapulted himself with a slowest start into fifth place. He went from 17th to 5th in that Swiss bob sleigh. He actually said to Gomer, “After three runs, I don’t know what I’m doing. The damn thing is going down on its own! I think I’m driving it but it’s doing it itself.” I’ve always said that if we had had that sled, I’m pretty sure Gomer would have been in the silverware.

It was made of all the latest. It had all the technological advances. They had designed the fiberglass shell in a jet aircraft wind tunnel environment. They were using the finest steels of a composition that we had no sight of, and this carried on, really, until the wall came down. As soon as the wall came down, they started selling all the bob sleighs to our guys and Sean Olsson won a bronze in the Garno. So, it was always about the equipment. I liken it to them pulling up on the track in Ferraris and Aston Martins and we were pulling up in, maybe, a Sierra Cosworth. We were just never quite good enough with the gear.

a vicious circle

The problem with Britain is that bob sleighing has slipped down the ranks a bit, now. When Olsson won his bronze, it was right up there and it started getting lottery funding, but because the results tailed off, they don’t get funding. It’s a vicious circle. If you don’t get the funding, then you don’t get the equipment, and if you don’t get the equipment, then you can’t compete. I think the women are doing better these days than the boys.

the last of the great amateurs

Briniani was of Italian extraction. He was an East End boy from Enfield, and Gus was a home counties boy. By then, frankly, the sport had moved on a bit. Graham (Sweet) and Billy, Jackie and Gomer and Scouse and all the rest of them, they were the last of the great amateurs, frankly. When they started, they were in the ‘Hooray Henry’ category and it was Billy Sweet that actually took that sport by the scruff of the neck, Michael Sweet, and said, “If we’re going to do this, then we’re going to do it properly”, because he was an incredible athlete. I remember looking up to him. He was a Sergeant when I first joined and, you know, Billy played rugby, he played basketball, he was a superb athlete, great 400 metre runner. He introduced a training regime and it was Billy that transformed that QDG team to where they were, but they could only get to a certain level because, of course, they were soldiers. They weren’t professional athletes. By the time I’d reached the sport, we knew that if we wanted to get anywhere we had to have the durability and pragmatism that the soldiers were bringing - all the servicemen, because there were some RAF boys and some Navy boys involved as well - but to get us to where we needed to be, we needed finely-tuned athletes.

to be in the medals

We started trawling around and there was a guy called Tom McNab who was a very famous athletics’ coach, a Scottish guy, and he came out on a fact-finding mission to get to the bottom as to why we were knocking on the door but never able to open it, and he identified it straight away. He said, “You guys have got to improve your start times. Try as you might, you simply aren’t at the same level that these guys are”, and we went, all of sudden, off training with people like Daley Thompson who I remember said to me, “Get over there and run towards me”. It was about sixty metres and for a rugby player and a young fit lad from South Wales I could shift, but I couldn’t shift like Daley Thompson! I remember him watching me - he was watching the mechanics of how I was sprinting - and he said, “Come over here, you. You run like a horse!” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “I can knock three tenths off your hundred metre time simply by teaching you to run straight”. He said, “You’re going all over the place. You gallop”, and he did. We were there for a week and we had tutoring from him and Tom McNab and a whole load of other top British athletic coaches and they improved us, the soldiers, and then they took athletes and put them with us and, between the two of us, we started creating the ability to compete at a higher level. Gus Mackenzie on the brakes, 10.4 sprinter. I think my personal best was 11.2. I mean you could have competed in the Commonwealth Games with that and I think he did. That’s what happened. We, then, took it to the next level and I’m convinced that if we would have had a commensurate rise in technical support as we had had in our physical attributes, if Gomer had had that sled with the start time we were giving him, I’m positive we’d have been in the medals.

everything just goes into slow motion

Memorable races, there were a number. The most memorable races, in my mind, were one or two where we won competitions. Gomer and I won the British Championships in 1981 and 1983. Being selected for the Olympics, of course, was wonderful.

But my most memorable races were the ones I’d crashed because they sear on your brain. When you’re traveling along at 70mph or 80mph in a lump of metal and, all of a sudden, you go over, it is a pretty horrific experience. Two particularly stand out in my mind. One was at Cortina in the 1981 World Championships where it had been a particularly warm winter and the track was a natural track and so it depended on cold weather to maintain its viability and it had become quite mild and the track was melting, and so we were having to bob sleigh in the early hours of the morning but still there were patches of it that weren’t right. The Americans went off before us. A fella called Morgan was driving and they crashed in the final corner and we had a bit of a delay. His sled had gone off and we moved our sled into his place and we were doing all the warm-up techniques and the stretching, ready to go, and we heard that he’d crashed. So, we put our coats back on and they cleared the bob sleigh out of the way and took him away, and then we were given clearance to go. So, off we went, down we went and we crashed right in the same place and I remember going over and hitting the wall on this side and, where it should have been ice, it was concrete and I remember that the concrete wall was like this and my helmet was on it like that, and we were going up this thing at 80mph. Everything slows down when you crash. Everything just goes into slow motion, and I remember this thing coming down over the edge of my helmet and going on to my neck, and my neck was going along a concrete wall and I was thinking. “My God, this is taking my throat away”, and we came to a halt and I looked down and there was blood everywhere and, of course, I thought it was mine and I was thinking, “Oh, my God, I’m dying”. I was going crazy at my neck like this with gloves on and, of course, it wasn’t my blood. I had a graze. The blood was there from Morgan who had gone down before us and had cut his throat on the wall and had, in fact, died on his way to hospital. That was a sobering moment, I can tell you.

The other crash was in St Moritz. We were practicing for the European Championships and Gomer crashed us in Horseshoe. Now, Horseshoe was this incredibly famous corner in St Moritz. (It featured in a James Bond film actually, where Roger Moore was supposed to have been skiing around it - he was doing nothing of the sort, but that’s another story.) As we were going around, I just knew we were going to crash because, by then, I was pretty experienced and I just knew that we were going on our heads. It was 1983, I think, and over we went. Horseshoe is at the top third of the track and we had two thirds of the track to go down on our heads and, by then, the bob sleigh had evolved and had become like a torpedo, and whereas in the old days the old adage was ‘Out you go’, in these new bob sleighs, it was ‘Hold yourself in as best you can’. So, the three of us in the back, holding on for everything we were worth, and this thing was on its head and Gomer, who was driving, was such a barrel-chested individual he couldn’t get his head under the cowling, so he just literally sat upright and we’re going down and his head is banging on the ice. I can see him, because I’m just behind him, and all I can see is his massive shoulders and this bloody great big bullock of a neck going bang, bang, bang, all the way down. The Italian film crews were there, filming it for television, and they were convinced that Gomer was dead. I knew that he was going to be in a bad way. When we got to the bottom he wasn’t unconscious but he was pretty shook-up but he wasn’t dead, and the reason why he wasn’t dead was because he was built like a bullock and he was a tight head prop in the rugby team and he’d basically locked his head into his shoulders. He had his full face helmet on and he had taken a pounding that Mike Tyson would be proud of, and all I remember him doing, we stopped and he flopped back into my lap like this and was going, “Ah, God” and I was slapping his helmet, going, “Gomer, are you okay?” and he said, “Oh yes, I’m alright Smitty”, and got up and walked away and everybody was just thinking, “How the hell did that happen?”.

The following day, we all had to go to hospital for a mandatory check up. We spent about three hours in there having all sorts of X-rays on our heads and things, but, other than ice burns and a few bruises, we were fine and, yeah, it was the following day we were in there and I know it sounds completely crazy but it was the only way you could do it, because, if you didn’t do that, it would play on your mind and actually by then we were all fairly seasoned bob sleighers who had crashed before and knew that it looked an awful lot worse than it felt. We just got on with it, really!

very un-welsh sport

There is nothing genetically predisposed in Welshmen to be great bob sleighers. What happened was that it came up on orders in 1971 for a few volunteers to go on a jolly down into Switzerland and lift a few bob sleighs around or a few Hooray Henrys, and the boys that volunteered to go there were big lumps of rugby players who actually thought, “Well, this sounds like a good idea”. They went down, saw the sport, fell in love with it, became passionate about it and imbued everybody within the regiment with a similar passion for bob sleighing. So, the big lumps in the regiment, the big rugby-playing athletic types, almost every single one of them gave it a go. Many of them didn’t like it, many of them were not successful. You’ve got to have a certain mindset to be able to push yourself off a hill at 90mph and with a reasonable chance of getting hurt.

It was purely by accident. If those boys hadn’t have gone down there they’d have stayed as rugby players or basketball players, or whatever they were. They went down there, they fell in love with it and they came back and they imbued everybody else with the same idea that this was a great idea. And, of course, being a Welsh regiment, having lots of rugby players that fitted the bill - great game for a centre or a flanker - those were the body types that we were looking for. Many many QDGs gave it a go over the years.

We continue to supply soldiers to winter sport but, of course, today they’re busy in Afghanistan. Sport is seen as a very important outlet for nurturing that competitive mentality that soldiers necessarily have to have. You can’t have couch potatoes as soldiers. You have to have people who are prepared to get up, make the best of what they’ve got, and that is nurtured through things like adventurous training and sport, so when they’re not on training, they’re very heavily into their sport.

The days of the unique Regimental team that were in the early and mid seventies is over because now there’s a much more joined-up selection process and they will match people to a bob sleigh for a driver, whereas Gomer chose his team. There are a number of drivers that will drive and the team manager will say, “You’re driver one, you’re driver two, and you’re driver three. You’ll have Evan, Smith, William and Jones on your team and you’ll have ...”. That’s how it works now. It’s much more professional, it’s much more results based. In my day, it was coming towards the end of it, really, when we started having the athletes arriving. We had two QDGs on the back of our sled who were perfectly competent bob sleighers, but we just couldn’t move out of that margin.

the three amigos

There were three significant individuals at the start of it all. There was Jackie Price, who sadly is no longer with us, Michael Sweet and Gomer Lloyd. They were the three significant individuals that took that sport on and then, as time went on, we ended up joining in. Billy left in 1978/’79, Jackie soldiered on until about 1980, I joined in 1979 and the only one that carried on then was Gomer and by then Gomer had done three Olympic Games. He’d done Sapporo, Innsbruck and then Lake Placid. His last Olympic Games as a competitor was Sarajevo, which I competed in with him and then, from Calgary onwards, he became a coach and he has either competed or been a national coach for a team from when he first started in 1971 to today. He currently is the Russian women’s bob sleigh coach, and he flits around all over the world coaching now. Gomer is a legend on the bob sleigh track. The rest of us are just distant memories amongst men of a certain age, but Gomer continues to be a legend. He was a legend in the Queens Dragoon Guards, an incredibly physically-imposing individual. He was my tank commander and you didn’t mess around with Gomer, you got a clip and he was a big lump of a boy. I met him last May, hadn’t seen him for about six or seven years. He’s 63 now but he looks about 48, and he’s in good nick.

He was from Gorseinon - he was a Swansea boy - and like everybody else, he decided to join. He’d been a collier. I think Gomer is a Welsh nickname. I know a few Gomers but he was Gomer Lloyd. Malcolm Denys Lloyd his name is, but Gomer is his name as far as the world is concerned. He joined the Army in the late 1960s, teamed up with the likes of Billy and Graham and off they went. They were like the three amigos, the three of them were very, very close friends.


a british welshman

I’m proud to be Welsh. I’m also proud to be British, having served in the British Army, traveled the world, married a German girl, had German children, lived in Germany. I like history. I like the history of the British Army. I’m very proud. I class myself as a British Welshman. I like Scotsmen, I like Irishmen, I even like Englishmen, particularly Geordies. I just love this country that we have that is an amalgamation of these four identities. It has made us the greatest nation on the earth and, I think, if it wasn’t for criminal mismanagement by the political classes, we’d still be one of the greatest nations on the face of this planet. But to be Welsh and British is very special. I’ve just come back from New Zealand. I went to watch the Rugby World Cup and the Kiwis were very welcoming to the Irish, very welcoming to the English and the Scottish, but they love the Welsh. Everybody seems to love the Welsh. I think it’s because we are a very relaxed people, we’re happy in our skin, we are not an overtly aggressive bunch of people. Generally speaking, we’re great ambassadors for Britain.

As a British team, we came third in the last Olympics. If we were to break up, we would just be also-rans. We’ve got Dai Greene and we’ve had great Paralympians, and we’ve had great individual performances within the British team. I think, actually, competing for Wales at the Commonwealth Games is a fantastic achievement and, I think, that’s great, but really, when we compete on the world stage against other nations who are also federations - look at America, that’s a great big federation with guys from the southern states, they’ve got nothing to do with the people living up in New York - they’re in a similar situation, but when they compete, they compete as Americans, and they’re very patriotic about being Americans, and I like that. I like the British Lions. I’m always a great follower of the British Lions but I love watching the Six Nations when Wales play. I’m a passionate Welshman but I’m also passionately British, and I don’t think that we would get necessarily the recognition at that level if we were to compete as a Welsh team at the Olympics. I’m a realist and content to be British.

on my gravestone

I’m an Olympian. You can write that on my gravestone. There are two things you can write on my gravestone, “This man was Regimental Sergeant Major of the Queens Dragoon Guards”, and “He went to the Olympic Games and represented Great Britain”. I’m very proud of both of them.


(interview conducted by Phil Cope on 21 November 2011)

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