Queen honours Great Yarmouth bowls stalwart Derek Webster

Derek Webster has been awarded a British Empire Medal in the New Years Honours list. Derek Webster has been awarded a British Empire Medal in the New Years Honours list.

Friday, January 3, 2014
6:30 AM

When it first dropped through his letterbox, he feared it was an income tax bill.

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Picture of action from the quarter finals of the mens pairs at the Great Yarmouth Festival of Bowls. L-R Event organiser Derek Webster(partnering Bob Thacker) and David Camp(partnering Gary Todhunter).
Photo: Angela Sharpe
Copy: 
For: EDP Sport
EDP pics © 2005
(01603) 772434Picture of action from the quarter finals of the mens pairs at the Great Yarmouth Festival of Bowls. L-R Event organiser Derek Webster(partnering Bob Thacker) and David Camp(partnering Gary Todhunter). Photo: Angela Sharpe Copy: For: EDP Sport EDP pics © 2005 (01603) 772434

But bowls stalwart Derek Webster shed a tear when it dawned on him that decades of hard work had been recognised.

For the letter told the 79-year-old, who has been Great Yarmouth Festival of Bowls tournament manager for 20 years, of his inclusion in the Queen’s New Year’s Honours list.

The grandfather will receive the British Empire Medal (BEM) for his services to bowls and to local charities - for which he has helped raise more than £50,000 over the years.

Mr Webster, of Lichfield Road, Great Yarmouth, used to run the Royal Aquarium newsagent in North Drive, opposite Britannia Bowling Greens.

Derek Webster has been awarded a British Empire Medal in the New Years Honours list.Derek Webster has been awarded a British Empire Medal in the New Years Honours list.

He was talked into trying the sport by competitors who would pop in to buy newspapers and cigarettes, and his wife Irene said things “snowballed”.

An invitation to a Buckingham Palace garden party accompanies his honour, and Mr Webster said the news is still sinking in.

“It’s just unbelievable,” he beamed. “When the letter arrived I thought ‘oh no, it’s an income tax bill!’ - but then when it dawned on me I shed a little tear as you just don’t think it’s going to happen.

“It’s a big award for something you enjoy doing, and all I can do is thank everybody who’s supported me in getting it.

“It’s not just for me; it’s for the many people who have helped me to get it.”

Mr Webster was born and bred in Yarmouth, and recalled being “bombed out” of the Rows four times in the Second World War.

“I was actually running up the Row when a bomb dropped on Kay’s supermarket on the corner of Nottingham Way,” he said. “My mother was screaming ‘where are you’!

“I used to go and sweep up for the sweet factory and they gave me a jar of broken sweets in return - I think I was more concerned with that.”

He was refused national service as he had lost the sight in his right eye in a childhood accident.

Mr Webster worked in a string of seafront newsagents from the age of 14, and his love affair with bowls began when he was running the Royal Aquarium newsagent opposite the bowling greens.

He was talked into sponsoring the tournament in 1974, tried his hand at playing and was hooked.

After 40 years running newsagents he and Mrs Webster, 69, took on the Rumbold Arms pub in Southtown Road.

The pub had its own bowling green - a benefit Mr Webster said helped his decision.

And when the pair switched jobs again to run the fish and chip shop in Barkers Road, he found he had more time and became involved in managing the bowls tournament.

“It’s an all year round job,” he explained. “In winter time you’re trying to drum up entries, and you’re always looking for sponsors.

“But I’m pleased with the way things have gone.”

Next year will be his 21st as tournament manager, and he has no intention of standing down.

The annual tournament - which runs for four weeks starting on August Bank Holiday weekend - began in 1945, and Mr Webster is proud of it.

“That still is quite hard work, but I enjoy doing it,” he said. “And I shall always do it while I enjoy it and while they want me to!”

The tournament attracts more than 1,800 participants in mens, ladies and mixed teams and Mr Webster has competed before.

As a player he said he has won the Yarmouth club pairs twice.

But he has never triumphed in the tournament, making the last 16 of the men’s singles one year and the final of the mixed triples.

“It’s just an absolutely brilliant game,” he smiled. “It’s the friendship - there’s just something different about it and I’m so pleased I was able to put something back into the game.”

He has struggled to keep the news secret since hearing the news on November 21, and joked: “Now when I come down the bowls you will have to say Sir!”

He said there are too many people to thank individually, but hailed all involved in the tournament and in raising money for charity each year.

Mrs Webster recalled the moment her husband learned of his inclusion in the New Year’s Honours list.

“It’s the first time I’ve seen him cry since our last grandson was born,” she said. “He said he couldn’t believe it.

“First of all we thought it was a wind up as we have the sort of friends who would do that.

“It wasn’t until we phoned our granddaughter that we knew, as she had known about it for some time.”

The couple have a daughter, Annette, 50, grandchildren Hannah, 23, and Nicholas, 20, and said they see them often as they live locally in Potter Heigham.

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