Olympic dreams come true

Liz Westby will carry the Olympic Torch in Barnsley
Liz Westby will carry the Olympic Torch in Barnsley
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HE fought for his country in the scorching North African desert during the Second World War - and 92-year-old Sheffield war veteran Jack Andrew is now set to do his country proud again by carrying the Olympic flame.

Jack, of Warminster Close, Norton Lees, joins other lucky Sheffield residents who have been chosen as torchbearers, making the honour the latest episode in a remarkable life.

92 years old Jack Andrew who is to carry the Olympic Torch

92 years old Jack Andrew who is to carry the Olympic Torch

The former soldier also expects a little help on the torch route from his daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and said he wasn’t nervous about taking on the important role.

“I’m just deciding whether to run or walk but it’s not far doing 300 yards,” said Jack.

“I might be able to just trot. I’ve had two knee replacements but they are okay now. I’ve always had sport in me, it’s what I live for.”

Jack said playing football kicked off his sporting passion aged 11. He then took up cycling aged 16, and has received a lifetime member award from the Cycling Touring Club.

From 1937 Jack was player and secretary for Sheffield Oak Street Football Club, but this came to end when war broke out.

Jack, who spent five years driving tanks in Italy and the North African desert, said he was ‘lucky’ to survive the conflict.

“I was one of the ones who got to go home,” he said. “In Italy we were attacking a German position and one of our tracks came off and the tank flipped. That was good fortune though. The following tank got knocked out and the crew didn’t make it out.”

After the war Jack spent 10 years at Burngreave Boys’ School coaching football and cricket. Later he took up golf and, despite his age, has a handicap of eight.

He has two daughters - Barbara, aged 64, and Jackie, 62 - as well as four grandchildren and four great grandchildren, who have promised to cheer Jack on when he carries the torch in Cleethorpes.

Meanwhile, schoolgirl Lucy Wade, from Aston, will be carrying the Olympic flame as it travels through Conisbrough on Tuesday.

The 14-year-old Sheffield High School pupil, who aspires to be a doctor, said it was a ‘once-in-a-lifetime opportunity’.

“Only 8,000 people in the whole of England will be able to say they carried the torch,” she said. Lucy will be keeping her torch, and has promised to bring it into school to show her classmates, as well as carrying it during a special Olympics concert.

Popular scout leader Liz Westby, 63, was nominated by pal Helen North to hold the torch after volunteering with the Chapeltown Scouts for 30 years.

Liz, who lives in Chapeltown but is carrying the flame in Barnsley, leads the Beavers at the 82nd Chapeltown scout group, said she felt ‘overjoyed’ at being selected.

“I didn’t want to do it at first, I didn’t know what was involved,” she said.

For many years, mum-of-two Liz also used to run after-school and breakfast clubs for youngsters at Coit Primary School in Chapeltown. She said her young scouts are eager to see her replica torch, which she will be purchasing following the big day next week after a relative donated the money.

“The kids are just fantastic, they’re all like my own children! Carrying the torch is something very special.”

Torchbearer Julie Smethurst, chair of the Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, who is also blind, will be hoping crowds are on song on Monday when she carries the flame in Parson Cross.

She has invited her musical colleagues along to perform a rousing version of You’ll Never Walk Alone as she holds the golden torch aloft on Yew Lane.

“Carrying a torch in the relay will be one of the proudest yet most humbling moments of my life,” said Julie.

In March the chorus led Sheffield’s Alight Festival, which featured 30 performances by local musicians, including the premiere of a piece called Olympic Triptych.

A host of students, staff and alumni from Sheffield University will also be holding the Olympic torch on its tour of the UK.

First-year psychology student Simon Wheatcroft, 29, is carrying the torch in Armthorpe, Doncaster. He lost his sight at 18 because of a degenerative eye disease, but taught himself solo running with the help of volunteer guides.

“It feels amazing to be selected,” he said. “The torch is confirmation that other people have seen what I’ve done as a great achievement, but it’s just everyday life for me.”

Dr Elspeth Whitby, a radiographer and researcher at the university, will carry the torch in Sheffield as part of a run to raise money for spinal injury charity Aspire, while masters student Chris Ince, 26, will be carrying the torch in Dunsville, Doncaster.

Chris, a science graduate studying for a masters degree in education, was nominated for his work teaching students part-time at Barnsley College.

“I can’t quite put into words how I feel,” he said.