Reaader recalls original Lundy swim challenge

THE story of an epic charity swim from Lundy to the North Devon mainland has evoked special memories for one Gazette reader. As we reported earlier this month, a team of swimmers hopes to raise �10,000 for the Children s Hospice South West and become the

THE story of an epic charity swim from Lundy to the North Devon mainland has evoked special memories for one Gazette reader.

As we reported earlier this month, a team of swimmers hopes to raise �10,000 for the Children's Hospice South West and become the first people to swim from the island to Woolacombe at a special event on Sunday.

But it is a little-known fact that, more than 50 years before they attempt the arduous 21-mile swim, an Egyptian army captain made a similar, albeit shorter a 12-mile crossing in the opposite direction, from Hartland to Lundy.

Champion swimmer, Captain Hassan Abdel Rahim, had already set a record for swimming the English Channel by the time he took part in the first ever "England to Lundy Swim", organised by the then owner of Lundy Island, Martin Coles Harman.

Hailed a hero in his own country, Capt Rahim was one of only two swimmers to take up the challenge and claim a prize of "four fat bullocks or a minimum of �250".

While in North Devon training for the event, he stayed with the Webber family in South Street, Barnstaple. After reading the story, John Webber contacted the Gazette to shed more light on the original island swim that caused its own ripples back in the early 1950s.

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Mr Webber's parents, the late Cyril and Joan Webber, were both on the organising committee and founder members of the original swim that took place on June 30, 1952.

His father Cyril was an internationally-renowned swimming and water polo coach accredited with turning the Australian and New Zealand water polo sides into Olympic hopefuls. Locally, he taught thousands of North Devon children to swim at a time when indoor swimming pools were few and far between. In the 1970s, Cyril played an instrumental role in helping to get the leisure centre built in Barnstaple, raising thousands of pounds so that people would be able to learn to swim indoors.

Although a swimmer as a young man, ironically, it was a spell in the arid climes of an Egyptian desert that cemented a life-long love affair with the sport.

"My father met Capt Rahim and his trainer Ali Denk when he was stationed in Egypt during World War Two and organised swimming and water polo games against the Egyptian teams," said Mr Webber.

"They came to North Devon with the intention of my father swimming alongside Rahim and stayed with us here in Barnstaple.

"I was only three years old at the time but mum once told me a story of how Rahim chased a chicken he intended on having for his tea around a field - with a machete in his hand and me sitting on his shoulders!"

Mr Webber said although a strong swimmer, his father had to give up his attempted swim to Lundy due to sea-sickness, but accompanied Rahim in the covering rowing boat.

"Rahim completed the swim having only fruit and the drink "American Cream Soda" to sustain him and claimed the cash prize. He was unable to take the four bullocks back to Egypt and my mum wrote that she had no knowledge of a Challenge Cup donated by the Lorna Doon Cider Vintage Ltd ever being presented."

Mr Webber still has a copy of the original rule book especially printed for competitors wanting to enter the swim that took place on June 30 that year.

The book describes how the swim evolved from a letter to the then Bideford and North Devon Gazette, a forerunner to the North Devon Gazette.

The letter, written by Lundy owner Mr Harman, invited friends of the island to come to a meeting at the Williams Arms, in Wrafton, where he would announce the terms of an England-to-Lundy swimming competition.

"Mr Webber said that he'd read the article in the Gazette with great interest and was delighted that year's after the event his parents had organised, a new group was now making the attempt.

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