June 20 2013 Latest news:
Robin Cottle, Reporter
Friday, July 27, 2012
There are few of us who can recall the last time the Olympics came to London but Welling man Ernie Whitcomb had an active role 64 years ago.
While the country was recovering from the destruction of the Second World War the 94-year-old volunteered to be an official at the Games due to his love of bikes.He celebrated his Olympic moment during the road races at Windsor Park, with his duties including directing riders and making sure they did not break the rules.
Mr Whitcomb said: “I remember the day very vividly. It was beautiful weather and I rode over to Windsor with the other officials. At the end of the day everyone got a little meal and a thanks very much before being told to be on our bikes, literally! It was a great honour.
“Cycling has always been a big part of my life and this opportunity came along at just the right time having just finished my army service.”
Ernie left the army in 1947 having been the personal clerk to a staff officer during the war.
The 1948 Games were dubbed ‘The Austerity Olympics’ and the bike enthusiast said he has noticed the vast differences between then and 2012.
“It was very austere, We rode our bikes to Windsor Park over night and were welcomed with a cup and tea at the start and the end before being told to be on our way.
“The money we were given to buy the blazer and badge didn’t go far.”
The Okehampton Crescent resident was most famous in south-east London for the successful bike shop he ran in Deptford with his 68-year-old son Barrie, Whitcomb Cycles.
Founded in 1949, he also owned a store in Bexleyheath but that closed down in 1985 due to business pressures. Mr Whitcomb himself retired in 1998 and his son took over. But he kept doing the odd piece of framebuilding here and there until 2004 and the business was sold in 2008. The store is something he is still immensely proud of.
“I couldn’t imagine doing anything else with my life. It enabled the family to travel the world and it really was a family business, with Barrie joining when he left school.
“Barrie went on to become one of the best framebuilders in the business.”
He has lived in Welling since 1948 and has been married to his wife Lily, 97, for 72 years.
Mr Whitcomb is trying to tap into the Olympic spirit as he looks back to his found memories of 1948.
“I try and keep in touch with my old colleagues but there’s only three of us left now. I’m looking forward to the start of the Games. I have to say I didn’t think I’d see them again in London in my life time.”
To carry on the Olympic connections, Whitcomb Cycles provided the bikes for the British cycling team in the 1952 Helsinki Games as well as sponsoring cyclists Stan Brittain and Phil Liggett.
He wanted to add another chapter to his Olympic story by offering his services to Locog as a Games Maker but thinks his age may have counted against him.
Mr Whitcomb said: “Age is just a state of mind. I’m sure I could have done a job.”