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Sports journalist who sent reports by carrier pigeon dies aged 94

Jack HammillA veteran sports reporter who sent match reports by carrier pigeon and also guarded Winston Churchill during the Second World War has died aged 94.

Tributes have been paid to Jack Hammill, pictured left, who was known across the country as ‘Hammill of Rochdale’ and was reputed to have never written a word down during football matches he spent more than 60 years covering.

Born in Rochdale in 1920, his career began covering Rochdale AFC’s reserve team under the pen-name ‘Watchman’.

During the war he served in the Intelligence Corps four years, which led to him being part of a detail guarding Churchill on one occasion.

At the cessation of hostilities he returned to his hometown, where he set up as a freelancer covering sport for the regional and national press.

Former Rochdale Observer sports editor Les Barlow said: “Jack was amazing both as a person and a journalist – he never wrote anything down during the match and yet he still turned out fantastic sports reports.

“Years ago, they auctioned off quite a few of his paintings to raise money for Rochdale AFC and someone came down late after they’d sold the last one off.

“Jack just got his paints out, put his easel up and within two minutes he’d done a painting for him. He was like that, always willing to help others.”

Stuart Ainsworth, retail manager at Rochdale AFC, added: “Jack must have been one of the earliest reporters to cover Rochdale and he used to send match reports back by pigeon in the days before the internet.

“He had a lot of friends here and he was very dedicated to the club – in fact, quite a few of his paintings are still in our board-room.”

“One of his stories involved him being in his garden where he could smell burning – when he went around the side of his house he found his bin was a lump of smouldering metal as he’d forgotten he’d tapped his pipe out in it earlier that day.”

The talented water-colour artist, who sold many paintings for charity, finally retired from reporting in 2007.

He also wrote a novel, The Road That Adam Took, with the proceeds of its sale going to the town’s Springhill Hospice.

Jack’s wife Margaret died in 1998 and he is survived by three daughters, Anne, Jane and Rachel, nine grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

His funeral will be held on Wednesday 1 April at Rochdale Crematorium from 11.50am.

4 comments

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  • March 30, 2015 at 12:41 pm
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    RIP to another great loss. Just aside on the pigeon theme, I once worked for an editor who one morning had one of his pigeon’s ‘posted’ back to him in a box which sat under his desk for the rest day. I don’t think it was used to ferry stories though – more of a personal hobby.

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  • March 31, 2015 at 10:19 am
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    What a character! I love the comment from Stuart Ainsworth: “Jack…used to send match reports back by pigeon in the days before the internet.” It’s as though the telephone never existed.

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  • March 31, 2015 at 12:04 pm
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    In over 20 years covering Darlington FC it was always a pleasure to visit Rochdale, have a chat with Jack and admire his paintings which hung on the walls at the ground. It’s hard to believe he must have been 70 when I first met him. Sadly the decline of Darlo was somewhat more rapid than Jack’s decline, so my trips to Dale came to an abrupt end. But I fondly remember him and pass on my thoughts to his family.

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  • April 17, 2015 at 3:18 pm
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    I was at the Rochdale Observer from 1979-82. Jack, who was a great friend to all the trainees, could find a story anywhere. A senior detective told him that he’d never arrested a pipe smoker or an angler and The Sunday People bought it. He once looked through a council meeting agenda and, seeing nothing to excite him, persuaded a councillor to use the longest word in the English language, floccinaucinihilipilification, during a dull debate. Again, one of the nationals took the bait.

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