Wednesday, 9 May 2007
Eyes that were looking into mine.
American soldiers landing in Liverpool enroute to their new camp at Aintree. For an eyewitness account of their journey through Walton Vale read here.
His face was red and growing redder. Veins bulged above and beneath the rope digging into his neck. Engines revved and the two jeeps pulled at each end of the rope and I half closed my eyes, expecting to see the man’s head pop away from his body and fly high into the air. But the man remained standing, snarling in triumph. He didn’t look human, more a lump of muscle with a shaved bullet head and eyes that were now looking into mine. This was my first memory of the Grand National and it frightened the life out of me. I was about three or four at the time and for some time after dreamt about a fierce red face that suddenly exploded. We went to the National every year but I never saw him again. The Grand National was the social event of the year in Liverpool - especially its off-the-course activities, and it all took place a few hundred yards from where we lived.
During the war years there was little call for horse-racing and Liverpool was too dangerous for American celebrities to visit. Instead Aintree Racecourse became a giant camp ground for infinitely more useful people, American soldiers. One of these soldiers was Ralph - a nephew of my grandmother - the American branch of the Henry family. He called several times at my grandfather’s at 24 Helsby Road. Once he borrowed ten shillings - but what that has to do with the Grand National, I don’t know.
More tales from the Races tomorrow.