Football archives - Looking back to a time when ‘the threat of nuclear war’ played on the minds of local footballers

PUBLISHED: 10:00 11 May 2020 | UPDATED: 13:12 14 May 2020

Newspaper headlines from 1963 during the time of the Cuba crisis at the height of the Cold War. Picture DICK STURCH

Newspaper headlines from 1963 during the time of the Cuba crisis at the height of the Cold War. Picture DICK STURCH

Archant

With no football being played at the moment owing to the Coronavirus pandemic, we continue to receive football-related articles and here is one from the pen of Dick Sturch, who, when football is being played, keeps us up to speed with all things Millwey Rise.

Newspaper headlines from 1963 during the time of the Cuba crisis at the height of the Cold War. Picture DICK STURCHNewspaper headlines from 1963 during the time of the Cuba crisis at the height of the Cold War. Picture DICK STURCH

On October 20, 1962 I was playing football for Winfrith FC and that was a date that was right in the middle of the ‘Cold War’ crisis that was threatening to take the world to the brink, writes Dick Sturch.

In the week preceding the match, and indeed ahead of the game, all out general chat had been about Russia, America, Cuba, Kennedy, Krushchev and Castro.

I cannot remember the result of the match or even who we played, but I do recall being more concerned about the Cuba situation than my older team mates.

My only concern after the match finished was to get home quickly and catch up with the latest events, but I was reliant on the Pullen brothers for my transport back to the village and once there I still had quite a long walk to our cottage, though, on that particular Saturday, it was one I completed very quickly.

Newspaper headlines from 1963 during the time of the Cuba crisis at the height of the Cold War. Picture DICK STURCHNewspaper headlines from 1963 during the time of the Cuba crisis at the height of the Cold War. Picture DICK STURCH

I had recently left Millwey Rise and was working in Broadmayne near Dorchester for an Agricultural Engineering Company who were main Massey Ferguson Machinery Agents for Dorset.

We were living in a rented cottage at Glebe Farm on the outskirts of the village with a young child and not a lot of money.

Though, like many other people during the coming week, that would not be our major concern.

The previous Monday (October 15) it had been reported that an American U-2 reconnaissance plane had discovered a Soviet missile site in Cuba.

Newspaper headlines from 1963 during the time of the Cuba crisis at the height of the Cold War. Picture DICK STURCHNewspaper headlines from 1963 during the time of the Cuba crisis at the height of the Cold War. Picture DICK STURCH

As I arrived home that Saturday evening the news, on our small, black and white TV, covered President Kennedy’s announcement that a new discovery of Soviet missiles in Cuba had been identified.

The tension was ratcheted even further when it was discovered a fleet of Russian ships were already on their way to Cuba, transporting more missiles.

The whole atmosphere was becoming increasingly tense as it stirred up all the old conflicts of the Cold War which had been dragging on for years.

It also has to be remembered that while all this was happening, both the US and USSR were carrying out nuclear tests which seemed to intensify even more during this period. In fact, on the Thursday of that week, America had carried out a 1.59 megaton hydrogen bomb test and even on this Saturday, a low kiloton missile test!

The H bomb, something that was very much at the forefront of everyone's fears back in 1963 during the Cuban crisis at the height of the Cold War. Picture DICK STURCHThe H bomb, something that was very much at the forefront of everyone's fears back in 1963 during the Cuban crisis at the height of the Cold War. Picture DICK STURCH

When I came home from work on Monday evening, it was to the news that Kennedy, in a broadcast to the American people, confirmed the US military alert has been raised to DEFCON 3 and he was ordering a Naval blockade of Cuba.

Castro, in retaliation, mobilised his military forces onto a war footing and the Russians carried out another high altitude nuclear test. Our fear and consternation were growing by the hour.

The first item in Tuesday’s news bulletins was that US reconnaissance flights over Cuba had identified Soviet missiles now readied for launch and capable of hitting targets throughout America at any time.

There were other reports of the discussions going on at the UN in an effort to alleviate the escalation and remove the threat of all-out nuclear war.

At work on Wednesday, everyone’s mood switched between doom and bravado as the events unfolded around us.

We even had a customer ring and cancel his order for the MF 500 combine harvester he’d ordered for the following year’s crops! The poor chap was convinced, as a consequence of the coming conflict, he would no longer need it for there would be no harvest to cut or life to require it.

That evening the news brought little further information, but more speculation by the ‘experts’. It was reported later that the Soviet fleet had reached the blockade line, but apparently after receiving orders held their position. An unwelcome rider was that a Russian nuclear submarine was also shadowing the Soviet ships.

Thursday came and went. Life, and work, went on - but so did the general fear!

There was news of tense talks at the UN and the Us forces were tasked by Kennedy to implement DEFCON-2, the highest state of military readiness ever in American history and that cranked up our level of anxiety accordingly.

On Thursday morning, I had the usual post card turn up from Dave Massart, who was the manager of Winfrith FC, informing me I was chosen to play on the coming Saturday away at Bere Regis FC. The card did finish with the ominous words - ‘god willing’.

I still don’t know if it was his black humour or his firm conviction of the events before us (I really wished I had kept that card).

On Friday, October 26, some people chose to remain at home with their family in case the worst happened.

A report from the CIA said that work on the missile sites in Cuba was continuing at an accelerated rate.

We were also told Castro had sent Kruschev a cable requesting him to order a nuclear strike against the USA if they invade Cuba.

On the brighter side, offering the smallest crumb of comfort, it was indicated that direct communication between Washington and Moscow was taking place.

Then, as if to dash any hope, America carried out another low kiloton nuclear ballistic missile test. Would there actually be anybody left to play in the match the following day!

On Saturday, October 26, at work that morning, we were all convinced the end was nigh.

The news bulletins announced that an American U-2 reconnaissance plane had flown into Russian air space. Another is shot down in flames over Cuba. America carried out a further hydrogen bomb test.

However, the match at Bere Regis went ahead. The game seemed to be played with a frenetic intensity. A chance to forget what was happening elsewhere in the world. In the game, playing perhaps as if it would be out last, we seemed to charge into very tackle with more conviction. We gave it our all and won 4-1.

After the match in the changing rooms and as we were dispersing to return to Broadmayne there were several hands shaken, a lot of inane comments made in relation to the ever pervading threat of our total annihilation. We went to bed that night hoping we’d see tomorrow, but far from certain, knowing that if a nuclear war began, as America’s ally, we’d definitely be the first casualties.

As things turned out, Sunday, October 27 developed into one of the most unforgettable days I have experienced!

We were still alive and had woken up to the heart-lifting news that the crisis was over. Krushchev announced on Moscow radio he had agreed to dismantle the missile rocket sites in Cuba.

There would be another game of football next Saturday. Life, as we knew it, would begin again. We didn’t know at the time this was only a precursor of what proved to be an unforgettable 1962-63 football season for what came next was - the ‘Big Freeze’!

Dick Sturch can be contacted via email at derek-bretondream@hotmail.com


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