Track Stats - Walter Henderson

“Herkers”: stalwart of the high jump and hammer and a discus international at 43

Walter Henderson was a durable British all-round athlete of the early 20th Century. His career was reviewed in “Track Stats” May 2009

British field-events athletes were of no great consequence in the 1920s and 1930s, with the notable exceptions of the high jumper, B. Howard Baker, and the hammer-thrower, Malcolm Nokes. Even so, one of their contemporaries who was never quite of international class but nevertheless enjoyed a remarkably long competitive career – and, for that matter, a most interesting life – was W.E.B. Henderson, among whose numerous noteworthy achievements was to have had his death prematurely published in “The Times”.

Baker and Nokes were impressively versatile, but even they could not match Henderson’s feat of attaining a very respectable level at each of the disciplines for which the two were most renowned. He was equal 2nd in the AAA high jump in 1902 and 4th in the hammer the next year. He was also 6th in the shot in 1912 before concentrating his attentions on the discus and ultimately placing 2nd in the Championships of 1923 only six inches behind the winner, George Mitchell, of London University, and two places ahead of Nokes. He also won the discus at the first English Championships instigated by Captain F.A.M. Webster largely in the hope of improving domestic standards in the field events and staged that year at Fallowfield, Manchester. Webster himself was 2nd in the discus and won the javelin. Henderson then appeared for England against France at the age of 43, having previously taken part in the Olympic Games of both 1908 and 1912. He competed again in the 1924 season and was 3rd in the hammer at the English Championships. He then appeared once more in the discus at the AAA Championships of 1925 – a quarter-of-a-century after his debut at the meeting.

Walter Edward Bonhôte Henderson was born in Leeds on 21 June 1880 and was educated at Winchester before going up to Trinity College, Oxford, in 1899. He represented Oxford in the Inter-Varsity match on four occasions in the high jump, three in the shot and two in the hammer, winning the high jump in 1900. At the 1908 Olympics he took part in the standing high jump, standing long jump, the freestyle and classical discus, and the javelin without achieving anything of great note as his only appearance in a final was equal 8th in the first-named of those events. In 1912 he was 32nd of 41 competitors in the discus and had his best ever throw of 128ft 4½in (39.13m) at Mortlake a month later for the third of his British records, which was not to be beaten until 1928. He also won a discus trial event for the 1920 Olympics but was not selected for the team. He was one of the first members of the Achilles Club and then of London AC, for which he was elected as president in 1930 and appointed a life member.

He died on 2 September 1944, having been incorrectly reported as dead the year before, and a touching obituary was written for “The Times” by Harold Abrahams’s elder brother, Sir Sidney Abrahams, who had also competed in the 1912 Olympics and served as LAC president. At Oxford Henderson had been known to his friends as “Herkers”, though Sir Sidney wrote of Henderson that “his classic head and beautifully proportioned body suggested Apollo rather than Hercules”. Henderson had been called to the Bar (qualified in the legal profession) in 1904 and had joined the solicitors’ department of the Ministry Of Labour after World War I and continued working there until his death. He was the author of two volumes of verse and of a novel entitled “Behind the Thicket” and wrote short stories for the magazine “Truth”.

Sir Sidney concluded his tribute to Henderson by saying: “Popular and admired by his athletic contemporaries he will be held in affectionate remembrance by that little group of field event men who endeavoured to popularise and improve that branch of athletics in which this country was so lamentably weak. Those who were admitted to a closer intimacy will cherish the memory of a loyal friend, a sympathetic listener and a delightful companion with a richly stored mind and a delicate wit tinged with irony but never cutting”.