Berkshire

"I ran with the Olympic Torch in 1948"

Charles McIlvenny was asked to carry the Olympic Torch in 1948 at the age of 19, an event which turned him into a local hero.

"I didn't realise it was going to be so popular," Charles, now 81, from Berkshire said. "People were flocking around me, asking for autographs.

"Then it suddenly hits you that it is something you'll do once in a lifetime."

Holidaying at the time in Hayling Island, Charles had a laid back approach to his role as he travelled back to Berkshire to take on his two mile-leg: "Fortunately I had a motorbike and came back in the middle of the week.

"I left my girlfriend [now wife] and all the rest of the crew, and even then didn't realise, but I realise now I was really lucky to do it. I felt very proud to be asked."

Image caption Charles turned his torch into a lamp

Against the clock

Representing Stoke Poges Physical Recreation Club, Charles was one of 1,416 torchbearers who made up the 1948 Relay of Peace.

The route crossed Greece, Italy, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium and England. Taking it all in his stride, Charles was responsible for a stretch of the relay between Slough and George Green, with the next runner taking the torch on through Uxbridge.

"My mind was a bit of a blur. I was thinking 'Goodness me, all these people here watching me.' Some of them knew me and were shouting, Good ole Mac, keep it up!' and it was really exciting to do it."

A keen athlete, Charles was known in his club for competing in the 440 yards (now the 400m). But the two-mile torch run was not without its demands. The flame itself would only burn for 15 minutes, so each runner had to keep up the pace to keep the flame alight within their designated time.

"I had to keep changing hands every two to three hundred yards because of the weight of it." and running amidst the clamouring crowds was sometimes challenging: "The two men who were with me kept shouting, 'Give him room, let him breathe!'

Family legacy

Charles' father was in hospital at the time that he ran with the torch, but his son was a celebrated visitor as he went straight to the hospital after his leg and toured the ward with his piece of Olympic history: "He was really proud, it meant a hell of a lot to him."

"One American offered me a hundred pounds for it. 'Man that looks great,' he said. But I would never have sold it. Its a personal thing."

Image caption Changeover point at George Green

Choking with emotion as he explains the importance of the torch's legacy to his family, Charles explains: "Its been a part of me ever since I had it and when I go.. my son will treasure it as much as I have."

A proud family legacy Charles turned the torch itself into a lamp which was proudly displayed on the landing of the family home as the children grew up, and something of a local celebrity, appearing at local fetes.

Still living in Berkshire near his part of the route, Charles describes how the landscape has changed but his memories remain: "In those days it was just a single road from Slough to Uxbridge. Now its a dual carriageway but whenever I go past there now I always say remember."

With some 8,000 runners being given the opportunity to be part of the 2012 relay, Charles recognises a real difference from the Relay he knew in 1948: "I think it will be run on a different scale to what it was when I ran with it. The ballyhoo will be a lot more."

Asked if he'd like to run again, he says "I'm getting on a bit now to do any running but it would be nice to be involved, have my name mentioned or something. I realise now I was really lucky to do it."

And his advice to those who get to run with the torch in 2012 is simple:

"Savour it. You'll never get the honour or chance again. It will live in your memory forever, as it has in mine."