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London Games recall 1948 relay runner
WHILE Oxfordshire prepares to welcome the Olympic torch, a woman from Witney is remembering the time her husband carried the flame in 1948.
June Barker’s husband, Peter, carried the torch during what became known as the ‘Austerity Games’ following the Second World War.
The country was still rationing food and clothes and Olympic organisers were forced to put up athletes in former prisoner-of-war camps.
Mr Barker, who died in 2004 at the age of 84, carried the flame through Ascot in Berkshire.
Mrs Barker, 83, said: “He was very proud of being a torchbearer, but I think everybody who was chosen to carry a torch was proud.
“My husband was always very keen and interested in athletics and had quite a promising career before he was conscripted.”
Mr Barker, a 400-metre runner, was called up to the Royal Artillery and served between the ages of 19 and 26, ending his athletics career.
He was at Dunkirk and worked on radar systems during the blitz of Birmingham, before being stationed in Burma and India.
Mr Barker was nominated to be a torchbearer by his athletics club in Maidenhead, where he was brought up and studied to become a teacher following the war.
He carried the Olympic flame for about 1.5 miles on its way around the country to London for the start the Games.
The torch crossed the Cchannel on its way to the UK from Olympia in Greece on HMS Bicester. When it reached the UK it was greeted by 50,000 people.
The couple married a year after he carried the torch, at St Mary’s Church in Witney.
They did not move to the town until 1960, when Mr Barker become head of science at Wood Green School.
He continued to work there until his retirement in 1980. The Barkers went on to have three children and five grandchildren.
Mrs Barker said: “As a country, we were in a mess from the war. All the buildings in London were bombed and everything was makeshift.
“Peter ran with a vest and shorts which he supplied himself and the facilities in 1948 were absolutely nil – they were putting people up all over the place.
“The country was behind it but it was not as hyped up as it is now and people were more concerned about picking up the pieces of their lives and finding somewhere to live.”
The 2012 Olympic Torch will visit 10 towns and villages across Oxfordshire, including Bicester, Woodstock, Oxford and Abingdon, on July 9 and 10.
Mrs Barker said she was looking forward to this year’s Games but said there was a tinge of sadness as she watched the torch relay.
She said: “When I see it now I wish Peter was sitting beside me watching it.”