THE Olympic Torch that was carried through Basingstoke 64 years ago has returned to the town.
In 1948, 21-year-old Basingstoke athlete Bill Plester was chosen to carry the Olympic Torch through Basingstoke on its way to Torquay from Wembley Stadium.
Now, the important piece of the town’s sporting history is back in the borough, having been flown all the way from New Zealand.
To mark the return of the Olympic Games to the UK, Mr Plester’s son Steve offered to loan the 1948 torch to The Willis Museum for the duration of the London Games.
Made of aluminium and weighing slightly less than 1kg, the torch was one of 1,500 made for the 1948 relay, used to transport the flame across the Continent from Greece to London, before continuing its journey to Torquay for the sailing events.
Mr Plester, who lived in Merton Road, South View, died three years ago. He was allowed to keep the torch after carrying it two miles through Basingstoke.
He emigrated to New Zealand with his wife Margaret in the early 1950s, taking the torch with him, and it is now a treasured family heirloom.
Steve Plester told The Gazette: “The whole Plester clan is delighted that dad’s torch will be on display in Basingstoke during the 2012 Games. I hope it brings back some memories for some people, and creates new ones for the younger generation.”
Ruth Kerr, community engagement and learning officer for Hampshire County Council’s arts and museum services, said: “With the torch relay coming through Basingstoke, it really is priceless to have it here.”
The torch is in a special case in the museum, which is in Market Place. It arrived in time for the opening of a new exhibition at the museum called ‘Inspire! Hampshire’s Stories of the Olympic Games’.
Included in the display is an article loaned by The Gazette, published in The Hants and Berkshire Gazette on August 6, 1948, about the torch relay coming through the town.
Upstairs, there is a collage of promises and pledges from Basingstoke schoolchildren, made into the shape of an Olympic Torch. Pupils from Queen Mary’s College and five primary schools worked with Basingstoke artist Ayat Alhaji to create the piece, which is made up of 1,200 individual squares of paper.
Mrs Alhaji said: “The students looked at values such as equality and respect, and used these to make promises or pledges.”
The exhibition also includes interactive activities for visitors, along with footage from the Berlin Olympics.