1940 - THE WAR CLOUDS CLOSE IN AND STOP THE RACE
From the very beginning it was going to be difficult to stage the 1940 race. Yes, life seemed pretty much normal in South Africa at the time. Men were attending camps and the country was preparing itself for a war, but the harsh reality of a war with Hitler’s forces in Europe seemed another world away.
Rightly or wrongly, the organizers decided to go ahead with the race anyway. This was to be the 20th Comrades Marathon and all did seem normal in Africa after all.
Numbers of entries were small, not much different from the lean years of the thirties. How many intended entering that year will never be known, but, on the very eve of the race, Hitler invaded France and the Low Countries, and by Marathon Day the Allied armies were reeling back towards Dunkirk and the English Channel. At this moment the first South African troops were mobilized, and a number of men who intended to run the 1940 race withdrew their entries to join their military units at camps all over the country.
But the show did go on and on a bright moonlit morning in Durban, the Mayor of Durban, Councilor Rupert Ellis Brown, sent the 23 athletes on their way to Pietermaritzburg.
The race was unremarkable from a spectator's point of view, and certainly did not emulate the close finishes that made the period of the 30’s so exiting.
What was remarkable however, was Allen Boyce’s run. He was the outright winner in a time of 6 hrs. 39mins. He ran alone almost the whole way, and was only 6 mins 57 secs outside the record. The second place went to WD Parr who was almost two hours behind the winner. Parr had almost to cover a quarter of the distance of the race when Boyce breasted the tape in Alexander Park. This was just rewards to an athlete who had served his apprenticeship well. Allen Boyce may not go down as one of the Comrades Grates, but he did have the makings of a champion. With seven medals to his name, three-second placings, he was only 4-and-a-half minutes outside the “Down” record. Boyce's win in 1940 still stands in the record books to this day today as the biggest margin over a second placed athlete ever.
The curtain came down on the Comrades Marathon as the world was overtaken by the firestorm events of War. Empty and silent on race day, the Old main Road would have to wait between the years 1941 to 1945. Not much changed on the mighty and ancient hills of Natal during this time. Africa quietly bided her time and waited. In the affairs of man however, many millions had lost their lives. In five short years, the world witnessed unprecedented destruction and cruelty.