In the beginning
It was David Reaves who was the true originator of the Droobers, he had left KHVIII and been introduced to orienteering at London University. The sport was currently being promoted with enthusiasm in Surrey by a group who had formed the Southern Navigators, and who included in their numbers such famous names as John Disley, Chris Brasher, Gordon Pirie, Peter Palmer, Toby Norris, and Chris James [latter three active in WMOA in 1995!]; while their southern rivals, the Occasional Orienteers, boasted Martin Hyman, Frank Salvat and Bruce Tulloh - it was if Coe, Cram, Ovett and Moorcroft were to be amongst our leading competitors today! [Remember it is 1986]. Clubs had already been formed and event organised in both Scotland and Lancashire - in both these areas it was mountains rather than the track which were the background of most competitors.
I met David early in the Autumn Term of 1965. He told me that he had joined the Southern Navigators, and invited me to compete in a major event that was the be held on the North Downs at Abinger Hammer on October 17th - the largest event to date in the south. All the leading Southern competitors were to compete, together with Ted Dance, Alan Heaton and Alistair Patten with the Pendle Forest Orienteers from Lancashire. I had always collected and studied O.S. maps, and used them constantly on mountain expeditions and long training runs; and since, in those days, I was quite fit and possessed at least some speed, I travelled to Abinger with hope and interest, but with no idea of what to expect. The map as always in those days, was a photo-copy of the O.S. 1:25,000, and all seemed straight forward enough.
The first control was a knoll in thin woodland, and I easily memorised its position and the route as I marked my route - first a lane, then right along a path, then a saddle, and so on to the control; then I ran to it without further consulting the map, and without break in my running rhythm. This success was the first control ever visited by an Octavian Droober - and the best O-running of my entire career to come, which has been downhill from that point onwards!
However the rest of the course went well that day, with only minor hitches, and I was amazed to finish 7th - less than four minutes behind Pat Murray [do you remember this Pat?] in second place - his twin brother Mike was the winner another ten minutes faster. I was even more amazed to find the names of Tulloch, Pirie and Hyman, and others almost equally distinguished, well behind me - although Martin Hyman had a valid excuse for his lowly 34th: 'he had already that morning run a three mile track race in under fourteen minutes in connection with his forthcoming visit to Mexico City to do some research into the problems of altitude'. Over the years teaching I had become a connoisseur of excuses, and I award Martin ten out of ten for that one.
Clubs a forming
In a discussion after the event - I was back before the Pub closed, which never happens now - I learnt that a West Midlands O.A. was also in the process of being formed - with Championships planned for Clun Forest in Shropshire on October 31st - they were wasting no time. I decided then and there to form a school Club and to enter these Championships. The next Sunday I took a group in my Land Rover to Sutton Park. We purchased 6d. park maps at Town Gate - and because Sutton Park is such an unhelpful shape we had to turn it round and draw north-south lines on the maps. There followed the first OD Club training event - and one week later in Shropshire John Walker with Greg Thompson won the under-19 West Midland Championships - juniors competed in pairs in those days; Robin Harvey and Richard Beamish were 8th - and with the support from twelve other eager young Droobers we won the Team Championships.
Other events quickly followed thick and fast in 1965, 1966 and 1967, and all out teams - Under 15, Under 19 (as they were then called) and Senior - were immediately - forces to be reckoned with throughout the country. National titles - both team and individual were won at all ages. A national newspaper previewing the Southern Championships (of 1967, I think) wrote:The Coventry Club have not missed a major Championship in Britain this year and will be difficult to beat. They have an enviable depth of strength and will be formidable opposition for any Club when their present Intermediates move up to bolster an already successful senior team. In Scotland, too, we had successes and often shared honours with Edinburgh University.
I also became involved West Midland O.A. organisation - as chairman for a period. I have memories of organising the entire West Midlands Championships in Mortimer Forest in 1968 - a major national event - with the help of one school boy, George Herbert, whose main functions were moral support and to carry the heavy measuring chain; and by organise, I mean everything - from planning the course, to taking the entries, to arranging refreshments, to putting out the banners, to organising the parking and toilets, to producing the results, and even dealing with Brasher. In fact, on finishing, Brasher, who had returned a fast time, came up to see me with words marvellous event Norrish! But it soon transpired that he was the only competitor who had, by accident, found the right control which was in the wrong place (this was our only blemish, and no fault, I might add, of Herbert). Brasher became very argumentative when it became clear that his only mistake had brought him his seeming success. I had some limited success in competition of my own, including a win in Scotland and a third in Wales. The beginning of the downward curve in my own performance started soon with the coming of re-drawn maps. Somehow for me the thread was broken, and I never felt as confident in using the infinitely better new maps as I had in using the uncorrected O.S. photo-copies. Perhaps I missed the interesting new name which sadly disappears in the interests of clarity. Even in the Karrimor mountain marathon I preferred, in my most recent venture [Rhinogs], to use the O.S. 1:50,000 rather than the re-drawn Harvey map - disloyalty indeed from an OD. (In fairness it must be stated that Robin has brought back names to excellent maps). But it was during this period that John Walker, an outstanding Junior competitor, who did more than anyone else to secure the future of the Club and to set it on its future course; he invited his friends Bob & Pete Carey to an event.
Their first efforts were painful to see - over five hours each on Cannock Chase, with less than half the course completed - but Careys don't give up. With Sheila (then Taylor, soon to become Mrs P Carey, and 5th and4th in successive Olympic Finals of 1968 and 1972) they became our first ever members from outside the school, leading the way into the future - and good orienteers too. An Open Club, a Constitution, a Committee and all you see today followed in due course.
But what of the origins of the Club name - a mystery to many within the WMOA, and far more so to the outside world! The Club name came into being on the evening of Sunday, October 24th, 1965, at the flat of my friend and colleague of those days, Hugh Allen. I was making - late, as usual - the entries to that first School outing at Clun. I had almost written King Henry VIII School at the head of our entry sheet, but asked Hugh if he had any better idea. With only a minute's pause for reflection Hugh (who has a quick mind) replied Octavian Droobers - and so it stayed. Octavian, of course, is easy - Octavus (Latin for eighth) indicated the KHVIII connection.
Droobers, however, was different, and I might say bold on my part. My nickname at school in the sixties was 'Droob' - monosyllable well suited to unflattering or unsympathetic usage - and in those days for a schoolboy to use such a name in the hearing of the owner was, at least a detention offence! And so to use the word 'Droober' openly - and even to write it, and to see it on results sheets - was taking the fight to the enemy's camp; and even those who speak freely of a 'Droober' still refrained from open use of the shorter word 'Droob'.
But what of the word? It was first used, I think by Michael Cole, a leading KHVIII runner and Warwickshire Cross-Country Champion, when I first joined the school in 1959. It was intended to epitomise running - especially the mud and the misery, and is perhaps vaguely onomatapaoic - and was quickly and readily attached to one who possessed a mad enthusiasm for such activity.
Orienteering is much different today - and although much has been gained, I am sure a little has been lost. I look back with fondness to those brave days. Here is a gem from the results of an event in Gwydyr Forest: 'the organisers apologise to the four competitors whose positions are marked with an X; they got round the course so quickly that they beat the flag to the fourth control. Three of those four were ODs - but they did not seem to mind too much.