RIP Jack Corfield (04/05/2020)

Gentle Gentleman Jack

The club were saddened to hear of the recent death of one of its more famous members from the past, Jack Corfield. Jack passed away on 21st April 2020 at the age of 96 in Himley Mill Care Home after moving there from his Chatwin’s Wharf home in Tipton three years ago.

Jack was born in Gornal Wood on 13th September 1923.

Jack was one of two children of Jim and Sarah Corfield and lived, together with sister Hilda, in Abbey Road, Gornal near to the Zoar Methodist Church. Jack’s father worked as a slaughterman at Palethorpes, the famous sausage and meat processing factory in Tipton. Jack was later to join his father and work for the same firm.

Jack attended Redhall & Robert Street Schools in Gornal. He recalls starting & enjoying running around the age of 10. Whilst at school he continued to run and also played football. It was through running that he enjoyed success at school and he continued to do so on the field at the bottom of his garden.

After leaving school Jack, like many, followed his father to work for Palethorpes in Tipton. He was a delivery driver for most of his career with the firm.

Gornal at this time was a hot bed for talented runners and many were spotted by Harry Edwards who was then Chairman of the club and lived in village. Harry could spot a talent and Jack was one of them.

Like a lot of locals at that time Jack Holden was an inspiration and hero and for a young Jack Corfield this too was the case.

We do not have the exact date Jack officially joined the Harriers due to the irregularity and sparsity of club committee meeting minutes due to the war but it was mid 1940 as we have his first recorded and reported race for the club being the opening race of the Birmingham & District Invitation Cross Country League race of the 1940/41 season. It was held at Dudley on the 9th November 1940.

Jack’s debut for the club, aged 17, as reported in the Tipton Herald, resulted in him placing 19th in the field and fourth Tipton scorer alongside the likes of Joe Timmins; Joe Carter, Joe Collins & Jack Holden. Looking back now considering his age and on the quality of the competitors ahead of him you can see that he was destined for greater achievements.

His first major championship event was the 1940 Midland Counties Youths event staged at West Bromwich in December. Jack won by one second. Not only did he win the gold medal but he led a young Tipton team to victory by a single point as well. The Tipton Herald remarked “Corfield showed fine judgement” a sign of things to come. Clearly a new generation of Gornal racers were within the club ranks.

Jack followed in the footsteps of other Tipton Harriers in the form of Tom Williamson (1937) and Joe Timmins (1938) who had both won the same Midland Youth’s championship previously.

Competitive athletic opportunities were naturally limited due to the war but the Birmingham & District Invitation Cross Country League provided a regular focus along with other local club action. Jack participated and impressed in all.

In February 1941 Jack showed his progression by placing 4th in another “Northern Section” Birmingham & District Invitation Cross Country League race at Stourbridge. Ahead of him in that race was Jack Holden, the winner, running for RAF Hednesford, with Joe Timmins (2nd) and George Law (3rd) for Tipton.

In the deciding race, in March at Harborne, where Tipton met Small Heath Harriers, Jack was 2nd scorer in a strong Tipton Harriers winning team. This was the fifth time Tipton had won the League and Gornal runners were at the heart of the team.

As the 1940/41 cross country season came to a close the focus now changed to the roads and, in particular the road relays. Tipton Harriers now have a long history of success in road relays and it must be said this really began in Jack Corfield’s era.

Harborne Harriers had staged a road relay for many years around the Outer Circle Bus Route in Birmingham and Tipton Harriers had supported this event. 1941 saw the 14th staging of the race. Due to the war and transport/petrol issues the race was staged on a local loop and of four laps. Jack Corfield was charged with running stage 1. He teamed up with Timmins, Law & Holden to take the title.

Relay success continued that season with a win in the Warwickshire event at Rugby. Summertime brought a plethora of open meetings and handicap races around the area staged by clubs, businesses and local charities. Jack took part in many such events racing regularly over 880 Yards and a mile.

Athletics was not the sport we know today. The majority of opportunities for runners were in handicap events where, depending on your ability, you would be given an allowance or “head start”. This meant that most athletes never actually raced the full advertised distance though competition was fierce.

There were only a small number of track championships for runners where they would actually run over the full specified distance. For athletes of Jack’s standard these would be County (Staffordshire AAA), Area (Midland Counties AAA) and National (AAA) Championships.

In these championships he continued on an upward path with a win in the 1 Mile Midland Counties Junior Championships in 1941 at Bournville and a second in the 880 Yards. He was to defend and retain the mile in 1942 but also added the 880 Yards.

Throughout this time, he was enjoying his time with the Harriers and learning from those experienced hands with whom he trained and socialised.

Later in 1941, now aged 18, when the cross country season began in the autumn, he was quick to make his mark by registering a win in the first Birmingham & District Invitation Cross Country League race of the season, again at Dudley, beating Joe Timmins and Jack Holden.

Midland officials were on hand at this race and Jack’s performance earned him area representative honours in a match featuring teams from the forces of Canada & Belgium as well as the RAF held in November. He placed 10th. He continued to earn such honours and ran again for the Midlands vs the UAU (Universities Athletic Union) in early 1942.

During this difficult wartime period there were no county, area or national cross country championships staged and so Jack would have to wait to see how he fared on the bigger stage.

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Portrait Of The Athlete As A Young Man

Rewards and respect came through commanding performances in League races. In 1943 Jack was able to reward the local support from family and friends by helping Tipton Harriers win a road relay, staged by the club, from the Limerick Inn in Lower Gornal, for the benefit of the British Red Cross, teaming up with Joe Timmins, Joe Carter and one of the Pardoe’s.

June 1943 sees Jack, aged 19, called up. He was with the REME (Royal Electrical & Mechanical Engineers) primarily based in Scotland.

Though details of his military career are not fully known we do know from his family that he worked as a driver and later a PT Instructor getting new recruits fit for action. He did briefly see service in France sometime after the D Day landings in 1944. He was at one time a Corporal but later promoted to the rank of Sargeant.

The Army, along with the other services, were very supportive of athletics and their athletes. His running continued and he lodged good performances in events around his Scottish base.

From Stirling and Motherwell to the famous Ibrox Stadium in Glasgow Jack continued winning ways and proved to be a popular athlete among his Scottish friends north of the border. Jack joined in with Maryhill Harriers, based in Glasgow, whilst stationed in Scotland.

In 1944 he was invited to compete in a mile race at Ibrox, Glasgow, where he was to take on Doug Wilson one of the Great Britain’s best milers. He placed 2nd but acquitted himself with dignity.

As well as covering many miles in training and racing Jack continued to turn out for the Harriers back in the Midlands where he builds up an impressive list of racing performances and prizes.

Also, in this year (1944) he wins, what we believe to be, his first senior Staffordshire title, over a mile at the Brierley Hill Civil Defence Sports. In a programme for a meeting at Erdington in September of the same year he was noted as being “the promising new star”.

1945 saw another major change in this twenty two year olds life. He married Vera Richards, on 17th December 1945. He had met Vera, a Tipton girl whilst working at Palethorpes, where Vera also worked.

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Jack, 2nd from right, with fellow Tipton Harriers

At this time a favourite event at local meetings for athletes and spectators alike was a two mile team race where a number of runners from each club could race, normally four to run, three to score, and their positions, when added up, would derive a score. The club with the lowest score would be winners. Crowds of many thousands would attend these meetings and cheer on their local athletic heroes. Tipton had a formidable number of runners available and registered wins around the area. Jack often teamed up with his close friend Joe Timmins, Joe Carter, George Law and Joe Southall. These were his workmates, training partners and rivals!

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Jack In Action, (Venue Unknown)

After the war was over, in September 1945, and a degree of normality returned to the annual cycle of athletic competitions Jack raced regularly.

In March 1946 Jack was to make a big breakthrough. In the National XC Championships held at Leamington Jack was placed 8th overall behind Jack Holden. As well as gaining a bronze medal with Tipton Harriers this was to earn Jack a place in the England team for the International XC Championships.

Ironically the International Championship that year was staged in Ayr, Scotland, on the local Racecourse. Here Jack faced the cream of the cross country exponents from France, Belgium, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. England were 3rd and Jack was the final scorer (6th) in 32nd place. Tipton were proud to have two of the English team and, with Taff Hier, one the Welsh team.

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English Rose – Jack’s 1946 International XC Vest

On the track or “flat” as it was known then, Jack moved up distance and was third in the MCAAA 6 Miles Championship behind Jack Holden at Smethwick during April 1946. This earned him another notable achievement. The two Jacks were in a photograph on the cover of the June 1946 edition of Athletics, the forerunner of Athletics Weekly.

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Athletics – June 1946

His exploits were now taking him to places of athletic renown such as the White City Stadium, in London where he ran and won an invitation mile open to services athletes.

His trade at this stage, at the age of 23, was that of a motor mechanic.

In June 1946, at Hamden Park, Glasgow, Jack won the Scottish 1 Mile title in 4m 29.4s. In 2010 when Jack was interviewed around the time of the Club’s Centenary, he regarded this as the best prize/trophy he had won. To balance this, he recalls his worst were a set of three coffee tables again won in Scotland.

A month later, in Aldershot, Jack won his second national title, that of the Army. He again won the mile in 4m 21.4s. In the same month of July Jack won his second Staffordshire 1 Mile title at the Courtaulds Sports, Wolverhampton.

On this same afternoon his onetime hero, clubmate and now friend Jack Holden was winning the Midland Counties Marathon Championship.

He continued to spend his time in Scotland and the Midlands. It was not all running and racing, Jack helped out the club at the 1946 Sedgley Combined Show & Sports at Dormston Playing Field acting as marksman and so seeing another side to his sport. We also have a note that he acted as Press Secretary for the club for a short period.

As 1946 came to a close Jack was ranked 10th in the country for the 1 Mile and 7th for 6 Miles.

During early 1947 Jack suffered with appendicitis and so his racing and training were curtailed and he missed a lot of the early part of the year and the cross country championships. By May he was again racing.

In July a number from the club visited Dublin for the Civil Services Harriers Sports where Jack won the two miles team race. He was joined on this trip by Fred Tonks, another Tipton Harrier of pedigree, who became a lifelong friend.

At Tividale in July Jack won the Staffordshire 3 Miles title. The year progressed with him picking up speed and selections for Midland teams around the country on the track. As autumn came to a close, he was regaining some consistent sort of form placing highly in League and representative matches over cross country.

In January 1948, now aged 24, Jack won his first Staffordshire XC title, at West Bromwich, with a narrow in over Colin Kemball of Wolverhampton. This performance gained him selection for the Staffordshire team in the CAU/Inter Counties XC Championships at Horsham. He placed 2nd in the race for the Staffordshire team.

In the National XC championships that same year, at Graves Park, Sheffield, Jack was 7th gaining him selection again for England in the International Championships in Reading.

In a brief club report carried in Athletic Review (April 1948) Jack was said to be getting over a “bout of poisoning”.

In Reading at the International held in early April Jack was 30th, England’s fifth scorer and gained a bronze medal with the England team.

Tipton & Jack headed back to Ireland in July 48 where they met with better success. Jack winning both the one and two mile events.

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Jack, 3rd from Left, Modest As Ever

In October 48 the club headed north to compete in the enjoyable and famous Manchester To Blackpool Road Relay. Jack was on the last leg and up against his friend and rival from Birchfield Bobby Reid. It was a close tussle after Jack had closed down on Bobby he was unfortunately impeded by the crowd as the race came to a climax which resulted in the contest evaporating and Birchfield getting the win.

1949 saw Jack compete regularly and help Tipton win many team races. He gained Staffordshire selection over the country and placed 22nd in the CAU event at Worsley, Manchester.

It was close to home that we saw the best of Jack, winning races in the Birmingham & District Invitation Cross Country League and helping the club and his mates. In the Midland XC at Great Barr he was denied the win by the thickness of a vest when Carrick of Small Heath got the verdict in fast finish.

He won the 1949 Staffordshire 1 Mile title on “home turf” when the Staffordshire Championships were all settled in one meeting, staged at Palethorpes’ Sports Ground in Tipton.

Jack was 26 in September 1949 and probably now in his prime as an athlete. He set a two miles personal best in July at the famous Waddilove meeting, staged by Birchfield Harriers, at Perry Barr in Birmingham. He ended the season ranked 2nd in the country for two miles with 9m 15.4s.

Respected as an athlete and a man the 1949/50 season saw Jack captain the club in its obligations and this was also a job he did for some of the Midland teams he was involved with.

From November 1949 through to the early part of 1950 Jack was not running or racing until a return to the Tipton road relay squad in March for events at Harborne, Leicester & Wolverhampton.

In June 1950 Jack won another pair of Staffordshire track titles, his first was over 880 Yards. He backed this up with another Staffordshire 1 Mile title at the same Wolverhampton meeting.

Proof that he was in good form was to come in July at the BSA Sports Meeting held in Small Heath, Birmingham, where he recorded 9m 05.2s for two miles just 1.8s outside the English record.

This performance was to rank Jack 1st in both the British & European rankings over 2 Miles in 1950.

The 2 Miles was not run that regularly here or in Europe as the mile, 3000m, 3 Miles & 5000m were more commonly staged and raced. Jack’s 2 Miles performance was good enough for 4th fastest time in the world for 1950 behind two Americans (Fred Wilt, ranked 1st; Robert McMillen, 3rd) and a Canadian (Don McEwen, 2nd).

Soon after he went to the White City in London for the 1950 AAA’s Championships but ended up disappointed in the 3 Miles placing 7th. This season he won around 14 events throughout the summer from Sedgley, Dublin, Cheltenham to Huddersfield Jack raced his way through the year.

Jack was living in Tipton now at Park Lane West and still at Palethorpes as a van driver working alongside many of his running friends.

People like Jack Holden; Stan Dean; Fred Tonks were all on the books at the famous sausage factory. They promoted the organisation around the country and also picked up a range of awards in athletic competitions like the Midland Business Houses Championships over road and cross country beating local and national firms such as Accles & Pollock; Lucas’ & Morris Motors.

Throughout 1950 & early 1951 Jack continued to perform for the club in cross country and road relays. Our last known performance for him in this period was in the Midland XC Championships at Stratford On Avon in February 1951 where he placed 9th.

At the AGM of the club held in May mention is made that Jack had “resigned from office”. In July 51 mention is made in club documentation that Jack had been away from the sport due to illness. Clearly things were not right.

In a club bulletin published in January 1952 in Athletics Review mention was made that Jack was being seen around again but was not yet training. In the 1951 Staffordshire XC Championships programme it noted that Jack was back at work.

Indeed, it was not until March 1952 that Jack appeared to be active again within the club both as a runner and helping out with the current crop of youths. The Tipton Herald of 8th March noted:

“It was good to see Jack Corfield attending the race, and the glint of battle was noticed in his eyes as he urged the youths to greater efforts.”

He ran in the Wolverhampton Road Relay recording the 3rd fastest stage of the day. Sadly, from then on, we have no further record of Jack competing or playing a part in the club.

In 2020 his family were able to provide information that, due the ill health arising from a collapsed lung, Jack retired from the sport. The athletic career of Jack Corfield had come to an early and unkind close.

He continued to work with Palethorpes, as a delivery driver, until they closed the Tipton site finally in 1966. Not wanting to move with the firm to Market Drayton in Shropshire he remained living in Tipton with his wife Vera. They had no children themselves but devoted time and loving attention on their nieces and nephews.

He found employment as a delivery driver with Gallagher the tobacco company, delivering cigarettes etc all over the Midlands. There is irony here, in that Jack, unlike some athletes of the era, never ever smoked.

His other interests were mainly sporting and he was a keen follower of Wolverhampton Wanderers. He was a great friend of Bert Williams, the English International Goalkeeper whom he met when a PT Instructor, and they always met on match days when Bert would give Jack a complimentary ticket. Even in later years he kept his interest in Wolves and had a framed picture of Bert Williams in action for England, in his room at Himley Mill Care Home.

Jack was a keen and lifelong supporter of the British Legion and a member of the Tipton Branch. He became a Welfare Officer for the Branch, involving visiting members who were in need and administering aid where required. He retained this interest until his death, and until ill health intervened was a regular at Remembrance Day services and parades.

He was awarded his Army colours much later in life but was gladdened to receive them in 1986 at Bracknell Stadium by Major General John Boyne.

Tipton Jack Corfield Army Colours 0001 Edited

He continued to enjoy watching and reading about his sport over the coming years comforted by the marvellous opportunities it had provided this young lad from Gornal.

When questioned about his training in 2010 it becomes clear just what natural talent he had. He reported training just two/three times a week (depending on race commitments) and covering no more than fifteen miles a week. From this humble base an impressive Staffordshire, Midland and English athlete developed.

During his running career it should be noted, like many, he was working 5½ days a week. He trained with the Harriers on Tuesday & Thursday nights. His favourite sessions were on the track but said, with a competitive glint in his eye, that he also enjoyed the various trials staged by the club in order to select teams for the various events and championships.

In 2013 he was awarded Life Membership of Tipton Harriers which was presented by Ron Bentley who was then President of the club.

Our thoughts go to his family and friends.


There will be a restricted private funeral but when the pandemic restrictions are lifted the family plan to have a memorial service to which members of Tipton Harriers will be invited.