DAVID MILLER prepares to mark a World War II anniversary by celebrating the part played by one of his former colleagues from the Daily Express
There are two qualities which have particularly made Sydney Hulls a special sports journalist and a valued companion: affable and enthusiastic. For many years he wrote with characteristic dash, on boxing and athletics, for the then envied pace-setter, the Daily Express. Sydney was 92 in June, not long back from a Mediterranean cruise, still attending gatherings of the Boxing Writers’ Association, and the monthly first-Tuesday reunion of Express veterans at the Bank of England pub on Fleet Street.
An epic event in Sydney’s early adulthood – the 71st anniversary of which falls this Thursday, September 17 – is that he flew in the leading wave of 1st Airborne Division’s ill-fated assault on Arnhem in Operation Market Garden, an Allied disaster in 1944 in which only one-fifth of the 10,000 British and American paratroopers were not killed, wounded or captured.
The 10 days which followed the initial air-drop comprised unremitting attack and counter-attack, house-to-house fighting in the Dutch streets between lightly armed paratroops taking on heavily armoured German Panzer tanks. The Allies were vainly attempting to capture three bridges across the Rhine, but the promised ground reinforcements made too slow progress, leaving the advance guard soon without food and even water, and by the fourth or fifth day nearly out of ammunition and often armed only with rifles captured off fallen Germans. Arnhem was indeed hell on earth.
We in Fleet Street would later seldom if ever hear Sydney mention this experience, his terrifying night-time evacuation back across the Rhine in emergency canvass dinghies, while many officers and medics remained to care for the injured in captivity.
Invalided out of action on return home, Sydney was simply glad to be alive. All Paras are volunteers. Sydney, a gunner with the Royal Artillery, had volunteered his life for an extra three shillings a day (15p), and as he set out to carve a peace-time existence as a sports writer – as Norman Giller recorded, he first joined what was then the Sports Writers’ Association in 1948 – he had no knowledge or even thought of campaign medals.
Seventy-one years on, several of his Fleet Street colleagues have thought it appropriate, in this anniversary year of victory celebration, to mark Sydney’s selfless Para exploit as our guest at an informal luncheon – an exercise for which, it will be remembered, he has been as accomplished as with his pen.
I remember our arduous three-day journey in 1974 to New Zealand for the Commonwealth Games, hitch-hiking round the equator trying to find an operational airline during the fuel crisis and 25 per cent inflation. After fraught pauses in Brussels, the Gulf, Colombo and Singapore, we finally landed at our modest bed-and breakfast chalet in homely Christchurch. Before unpacking, with the relieved exclamation “Ah! That’s better”, Sydney downed a boot-full of G&T in one gleeful gulp. Twelve hour time differences are a news-juggling complexity, and Sydney, having voluntarily courted death, would prove himself to be a stress-immune companion.
My recent chance enquiry with a sailing club colleague and former Para commander revealed that, while the War Office had declined to grant a campaign medal for the Arnhem calamity, there are indeed three 1939-1945 medals for which the unwitting Gunner S Hulls is eligible. Parachuting, so to speak, from the bureaucratic process, the MoD Medals Office has conjured the three medals within one week instead of the customary two months. On Thursday, our unassuming hero of 1944 will enjoy luncheon, not on parade but with the almost boyish satisfaction of the nation’s silent “thank you”.
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UPCOMING SJA EVENTS
Tue Oct 6: Entry forms for 2015 SJA British Sports Journalism Awards published