A passion for History leads to carrying the Olympic Flame

Wolfson Alumna Sue Miller (1987) explains how her passion for History led to becoming an Olympic Torchbearer…

“History has been my passion ever since I first learned to read, and this passion led me to study History at Wolfson. But I never imagined it would lead me to involvement with the 2012 Olympic Games.

To have no knowledge of the past would, for me, be like living in a house without windows. It seems to me that without a broad understanding of what our forebears have experienced and achieved, or failed to achieve, we cannot go confidently into the future.  This creed has driven me to collect, preserve and study as much evidence as possible, both documentary and oral, about the village of Orwell, where I have lived for thirty years, and to encourage an equal enthusiasm among my neighbours. I will always be grateful to Wolfson, and especially to Marie Lovatt, for giving me the opportunity, as a mature student, to learn the historian's trade at Cambridge.

Within the Orwell history society I recently abandoned a long tradition of organising monthly lectures and visits in favour of a more lively programme, involving the setting up of a website - with support from the Heritage Lottery Fund - to which everyone can contribute their research, memories and comments relating to Orwell’s history. Six of our former history society members are currently adding pages on a wide range of topics, from farming and shopping to education and transport.  The website will go live in January 2013 and we hope that contributions will follow, thick and fast, even if only to tell us that we have got it all wrong!  The web address will be: www.orwellshistory.org.uk

My work with the history society and within the village led to my nomination as a Torch Bearer and I must admit that I was sceptical about the degree of attention being devoted to the Relay   in the weeks leading up to the Olympic Games. I felt that the public should be hearing more about the athletes who were about to represent us, their years of training, and details of the sports we would soon be watching on our screens.  However, when the great day came, my scepticism was blown away by the heroism of my fellow Torch Bearers and the enthusiasm of the huge crowds that turned out to support us, despite the rain.

I felt pretty humble alongside the other torchbearers, all of whom had overcome significant challenges to make a positive contribution to their communities. However, at 11am I was on the shuttle bus, preceded by the noisy crew vehicles of the Relay sponsors, as the rain poured down and my moment drew near. Suddenly, a shining cylinder of perforated aluminium, like a giant ice cream cone, was thrust into my hand and I was propelled forward by my Relay Chaperone.  Excited children crowded round me, wanting their photos taken with the torch.  The previous Torchbearer arrived at speed, having completed his 300 metre run, and our torches were placed head to head until mine was ignited.  The Metropolitan Police Escort Team pointed me in the right direction and lined up either side of me, and we were off – far too fast.  Bewildered by the vast, cheering and flag-waving crowds on all sides, I forgot my intention of jogging gently.  I slowed to a walk after 100 metres, doing my best to smile and wave despite a dry mouth and legs that felt like cotton wool.  And then it was all over.  I passed the Olympic flame to Janet, a community volunteer, handed my torch to a police lady “for de-commissioning, to preserve the integrity of the Olympic flame”, and retreated into the shuttle bus.

It was a brief moment of glory and a chance for myself and my village to feel some connection with the 2012 Games, for which I am grateful.  My sincere thanks go to Shirley Lambert who nominated me, and to all the Orwellians who made the forty mile round trip to support me and came back to the village for a cork-popping celebration.  And we still have The Torch!”