(A repost of a past email, from the days before Bytes was a blog).
In 1942 the Melbourne Cup was won by Colonus, ridden by H McCloud, trained by F Manning and owned by L Menck.
War was on Australia’s doorstep with Darwin having been bombed in February of that year. Interstate travel restrictions were in force for both people and animals, the result being that the 1942 Cup was contested only by Victorian horses. Colonus won by 7 lengths. For the years 1942, 1943 and 1944 a cup was not presented. Instead, in keeping with the theme of austerity, the winner was given a £200 Austerity Bond. The race was known as the Austerity Cup.
In the hellish Sandakan prisoner of war camp in Borneo in 1942, a place far beyond austerity, the race was still known as the Melbourne Cup and the trophy was still a cup.
The person who made the improvised 1942 Melbourne Cup from a bully beef tin in the Sandakan camp is unknown. Below the 1942 date is another metal plate with the year 1943, the same cup having been used the following year at Sarawak.
The following extract is from the Australian war Memorial website:
This improvised Melbourne Cup was made at Sandakan prisoner of war camp in North Borneo in 1942. Deciding to mark Melbourne Cup day with their own race, the Australian officers at the camp set up a straight track, for nine or ten entrants, between the officer’s huts. Each track was divided into thirty squares and each competitor wore a coloured top of some kind to represent jockey’s silks. Drawing a number from a deck of cards to determine their position on the track, a race caller then proceeded to draw cards which determined how many squares each jockey could advance. The first to reach the end was the winner and was presented with the ‘Melbourne Cup’. In October 1943 the officers were transferred to Batu Lintang prisoner of war and internee camp at Kuching in Sarawak. This camp had a parade ground and in November that year the officers built a circular track and competed for the Melbourne Cup again, using the same method. At both events bookies took bets and evidence from the 9 Military History Field Team which collected the cup from the barracks in 1945, suggests that Lieutenant William Peck, of 4 Anti-Tank regiment, won the cup on at least one occasion and possibly both years.
As you enjoy the day and the race, perhaps at a party, with friends or in your office, take a moment to reflect on another Melbourne Cup in a prisoner of war camp 68 years ago…