Len Mackenzie married Edna, one of Tommy Green’s daughters. The couple who are in their 80s, now live near Redditch in Worcestershire.
To commemorate the Olympics coming to London, Len has shared his archive of family memories of the champion walker with Eastleigh News.
Like Eastleigh’s other celebrated heroes, Tommy Green was born elsewhere, in this case Fareham where his father – also called Thomas Green – was a Police Constable.
The family moved to Eastleigh when Tommy was very young and he developed rickets which left the future Olympic champion was unable to walk until the age of five
In 1906 Tommy falsified his age to join the army aged just 12. He joined the 20th Hussars but was invalided out after a horse fell on him.
As a reservist he was called up at the start of the First World War and he was sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force – nicknamed the ‘Old Contemptibles’ and took part in the Battle of Mons.
During leave in 1915 in married his wife Rose at Eastleigh parish church (now converted to flats).
Tommy was wounded three times but was finally sent home in 1917 after being severely gassed, and began working in the Foundry at the Railway Carriage Works.
In 1926 Tommy – already a keen boxer and distance runner – was inspired to take up competitive distance walking after acting as a guide for a blind competitor during a race.
He went on to win over 700 cups in his career and a gold medal in the men’s 50km walk in the 1932 Los Angeles Olympic games, despite searing heat, to become the oldest gold medal winner in the event – a record that still stands 80 years later.
Tommy was a prolific competitor with a distinctive self taught style which enabled him to maintain speeds of up to 8 mph. During his interwar career he also won races in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany- the Mussolini medal in 1927 and the Hitler cup in 1933.
Len says that the family struggled while Tommy trained for the Olympics because although the Railway gave him time off – it was unpaid. Tommy had four children and the family had no money coming in for the entire seven weeks he was away at the Olympic games.
When he returned to Eastleigh after the games Leigh Road was said to be lined six deep and he was carried aloft in a chair to a civic reception on the town bandstand.
In 1934 Tommy lost a thumb in an accident at the Railway Works and he left. He received no compensation and so pawned all of this trophies to raise cash to become the landlord of the Meadow Bank Hotel on Twyford Road – the pub was later renamed Golden Hind by Brickwood’s Brewery .
Tommy was later able to redeem his trophies and they went on display in the hotel.During the Second World War the pub became a popular venue for American servicemen because of Tommy’s link with their homeland as participant in the Los Angeles Olympics.
He also converted a room at the pub into a makeshift Gym where another railway works employee Middleweight Boxer Vince Hawkins would train. Tommy Green also gave Hawkins financial backing and acted as trainer – the boxer went on to win two Lonsdale belts.
Sadly the magnificent mock Gothic building, was torn down just a few years ago to make way for a block of anonymous looking flats.
The Second World War also saw Tommy back in Uniform as Captain of Easlteigh’s Home Guard.
The railway works, the airport and Pirellis were all targets for the Luftwaffe.
Ironically the man who once lifted the Hitler cup had to defend his home town from the dictator’s bombers.
In 1945 in order to celebrate the end of the war Tommy participated in a special ‘Victory walk’. One hundred and forty six walkers set off from Eastleigh’s Old Town Hall on a 50 km circuit which went to Lyndhurst and back via Southampton Civic Centre.
Tommy, by then, aged 53 still managed to come 17th.
Son-in-law Len says Tommy Green was a generous man who often helped people out. He bought an off licence on the corner of Mill St and Twyford Rd for Len and Edna which was their livelihood until they were put out of business by the town’s new supermarkets.
Tommy was president of Eastleigh Cricket Association, and held various positions in Southampton and Eastleigh Athletic Clubs. He also held positions in many local sporting and other organisations and was very prominent in the Freemasons having once told Len that he was a member of eight lodges.
He died on 29 March 1975
Len Mackenzie said of his father-in-law:
“Wherever he went people loved Tommy for his generous nature. He awarded trophies to sporting organisations at every chance that he had. He knew what it was like to make a great effort, and to struggle to achieve those accolades in the first place. So he wanted others to be able to benefit in the same way.”
Visit the Olympic exhibition at Eastleigh Museum! Details here.
Photos courtesy of Len and Edna Mackenzie