Saluting Moulton hero Johnny Douglas – by our columnist Trish Burgess

Johnny Douglas ANL-141212-131225001
Johnny Douglas ANL-141212-131225001
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I’ve never really looked closely at the front of a bus before. The back end, yes, when I’m driving behind one or sitting in traffic, but rarely the front.

Last weekend, however, after a two day shopping trip to London, I was face to face with Norfolk Green’s 505 bus at Spalding bus station and realised, as I queued to board, that my chosen bus had a name.

All Norfolk Green’s buses have names, a bit like Thomas the Tank Engine and his friends, but the majority are named after famous historical figures linked to the area.

There’s an Adrianus Van Driel, named after the Dutchman who designed the floats for the Spalding Flower Parade, a John Palmer which was the name used by highwayman Dick Turpin while on the run from the law and lying low in Long Sutton and Turkey Smart, the successful Fenland speed­skater you may remember was featured in one of my columns some months ago.

Our bus was called Johnny Douglas to honour an old boy of Moulton Grammar School who went on to captain the England cricket team and represent his country as an Olympic boxer.

I hadn’t heard of Johnny Douglas but was keen to know more so, on returning home, I did a little research (OK, I Googled him).

John William Henry Tyler Douglas was born in Stoke Newington, London, in 1882. He studied at Moulton Grammar between 1895 and 1897 where he learned how to play cricket.

His father’s wood-importing business helped to support Douglas in his amateur sports.

At the London Olympic Games in 1908 he became the middleweight boxing champion. There was some controversy afterwards with supporters of the silver medallist, Snowy Baker, claiming that Douglas’ father was sole judge and referee.

This proved to be incorrect as John Douglas Sr. had only been at the ringside to present the medals.

His boxing fitness made him an excellent fast­medium bowler although he was a slow, steady batsman which gained him the nickname Johnny ‘Won’t Hit Today’ Douglas, a play on his initials.

Named Wisden’s Cricketer of the Year in 1915, he captained England 18 times and had a brilliant career with Essex cricket club.

But it was the final chapter of Johnny Douglas’ life which, at this time of the year, stopped me in my tracks as I continued to read about this sporting hero.

On December 19, 1930, aged 48, he was travelling with his father on a Finnish liner, The Oberon, to purchase timber. In rough, foggy conditions off the Danish coast, the ship collided with its sister ship, The Arcturus.

The captains of the two ships were brothers and were trying to get close enough to send wireless Christmas greetings to each other.

Only four passengers on The Oberon survived and an eye witness account stated that Johnny died while trying desperately to save his father as the ship sank.

• You can follow Trish Burgess on Twitter @mumsgoneto and read her blog at www.mumsgoneto.blogspot.com