The Soldier Who Saved The 1946 Grand National

A nostalgic Grand National story came to our attention after it was published by Biggleswade Today. The article told of Bill Wilson, who was involved in saving the 1946 Grand National race. What is notable about that Grand National is that it was the first year that Britain was able to try and return to cultural normality after six years fighting the Second World War.

With the entire country just getting back on its feet, institutions such as the Grand National were an important way in which to bring people together again. It would have been a damaging blow if the race was to have been cancelled, but thankfully Bill and his pals would soon step in to lend a hand.

TELEPHONE OPERATORS STRIKE

A strike by the 16 on-course telephone operators at Aintree threatened derail the 1946 race. Their job was to wait at the 16 fences of the race and phone in to report any accidents, with ambulances requested for horses and jockeys where required.

Mrs Topham the owner of Aintree resolved to called on the help of her friend Captain Hayles, he was able to provide 16 volunteer servicemen from his regiment to fill the roles left vacated by the 16 on strike. Bill was one of the 16 servicemen selected to help out as a telephone operator on Grand National day. Bill’s role during the war required him to work as a wireless operator within a signal office. Of course this made him the perfect replacement for the striking operators.

THE RACE

The 1946 Grand National ended a six-year spell in which no horseracing had taken place at Aintree. The racecourse had instead been used as a a pow camp and truck depot during the Second World War. Mrs Topham only received the course back in February, giving her less than a couple of months to have the course ready.

That year the Grand National had 34 runners in the field, six short of the usual 40. The winner was Lovely Cottage a nine year old bay gelding ridden by Captain Robert Charles Petre, who appropriately was an officer in the Scots Guards.

Despite the race having 25 fallers, fortunately for Bill, he did not have to report a single accident from his fence and was paid a fiver for his days work, later Bill was able to enjoy watching the race in full on a British Movitone newsreel at the local cinema where he spotted himself on screen performing his telephone duty.

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