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All Posts, Military History

Author Guest Post: Matt Merritt

The Commonwealth Division Athletics Meeting, Korea 19 June 1953

In June 1953, during the Korean War, my father Frank Merritt was posted to the 1 Commonwealth Division. He was a Royal Engineer and war photographer. Frank quickly discovered the arduous terrain of Korea that he was to be working in, demanded peak physical fitness. This would be achieved through vigorous training. To encourage this and create a good working relationship among the international mix of regiments making up the 1 Commonwealth Division, a range of sporting activities was organised.

Soldiers, from regiments rotated off the battlefront of the JAMESTOWN Line and stood down from work in the support camps of the KANSAS Line, volunteered to train for and compete in inter-unit sporting events. Every summer a ‘Military Olympics’ was held on the KANSAS Line. It was a light-hearted championship held in good spirits. The event was known as the Commonwealth Division Athletics Meeting, or the Divisional Individual Athletic Meeting or the Athletic Carnival, the name differing between regiments. Each regiment held elimination contests to select representatives to enter the event. The sporting venue of each United Nations camp on the KANSAS line was typically a compacted, dried up paddy field. These dust bowl arenas also doubled up as helicopter-landing pads, including the Royal Engineers camp’s football pitch.

Royal Engineers taking part in the Commonwealth Division Athletics Meeting in Korea Friday 19 June 1953

On Friday 19 June 1953 on the KANSAS Line, the finals of 1 Commonwealth Division Athletics Meeting were held. Ex-schoolboy champions competed against those who had never taken part in a sporting event before. Olympic records were not expected to be smashed or any results included in the statistics of world sports. The results were recorded in the 2 Battalion, The Royal Australian Regiment War Diary. In the track events, the winner of the 220 yards race was Private Lightowler of 1 Durham Light Infantry with a time of 23.8 seconds. In joint second place came Captain Ireland of the 64 Field Park Squadron Royal Engineers and Sergeant Hunt of the 1 Royal Tank Regiment with a time of 24 seconds. Lieutenant Farmer of 1 Royal Tank Regiment won the 440 yards race in 52.9 seconds and went on to win the 880 yards race in 2 minutes 12.6 seconds. Trooper Sibley of 1 Royal Tank Regiment finished second in 2 minutes and 13 seconds and Sapper Bartlett of 55 Field Squadron Royal Engineers finished third with a time of 2 minutes and 14 seconds. My father Frank Merritt was not ‘sporty’ but positioned himself trackside with his Box Brownie camera and took the photograph above, as the spectators cheered on their comrades.

Order The Royal Engineers in Korea here.