Phnom Penh Hash House Harriers: In the Spotlight - 1938

In the Spotlight - 1938

In the Spotlight – 1938
By Ed "Hazukashii" Howell
14 Mar 2022


Still to this day, no one has found any documentation that specifically defines when the Hash House Harriers ran their first trail in Kuala Lumpur.  Conventional wisdom had placed the date as sometime between September and December 1938.  About six months ago, my friend Colin "Hema" Snow sent me some interesting news from his personal interactions and a letter from Torch Bennett, that outlined his estimation of the founding date to be mid-summer 1939.  Unfortunately, Torch was not on the first run, having taken leave in late November of 1938 and not returning to Kuala Lumpur until late July 1939.  Torch also made it clear that "G" had not yet arrived in Kuala Lumpur as of the date of his departure.  Although verbal recollections by other early hashers had generally pointed towards a start date of late 1938, Torch was adamant that he was right. 


While reviewing more documents on the matter, another letter has shed more light on the situation.  First, a little background.  When Tim "Magic" Hughes was researching the history of the HHH back in the 1980s, he contacted many old hashers to get their story, and in 1987 came in contact with Frank Woodward.  Frank was one of the few early hashers before the war, and is identified on the "List of Office Bearers" of Mother Hash, as a Joint Master in both 1948 and 1949.  He would continue on, working and hashing in KL until his departure in 1953.  Magic had recently published his "Harrier International World Hash Handbook 86/87" and started mailing out periodical HHH News on a subscription basis under the title "Harrier International."   As an introduction, Magic sent Frank copies of his work and asked for some of his recollections on his time with the HHH in KL.   


Frank Woodward replied in a letter, stating . . . "I left Guernsey . . . in January 1939 and arrived in Kuala Lumpur about mid-February, 1939.  I had been booked into the Selangor Club Chambers by my boss.  At my first breakfast, I was invited to join the Hash House Harriers and as I had been a cross-country runner at school, I was delighted to accept."  Frank makes the most specific statement on record, for the actual founding date with "I took part in the sixth or seventh run of the club since it was founded."   Having run his first trail in February 1939, that would narrow down the date of the first run to sometime in December 1938, or possibly the first week of January 1939.  Since there were a couple significant holidays in that timeframe, mid to early December 1938 is the most likely date of the first hash trail.  It could not be sooner, as Torch had departed KL in late November 1938, and "G" was not there yet and the HHH had not started.


There was at least one account of the earlier Kuala Lumper Harriers (that ran in the city from the early 1920s to the mid-1930s) in the Malay Mail (newspaper) in 1932.  The oldest actual Hash House Harriers document we currently have, to the best of my knowledge, that specifies an actual event date is the notice for the upcoming 100th Run, which occurred on Friday 15 Aug 1941, just 17 weeks before hashing was suspended due to the onset of WWII. 


Frank's letter also includes other insights into the early days of the HHH.  He goes on to say . . .


          "In those good old days, most of us Hash House members had Malay car drivers . . . and the procedure on the weekly run days was for the two 'hares' to go in a car with their haversacks full of torn-up paper and the boot of their car loaded up with a large galvanized tin bath packed with ice, bottled beer and ginger beer, to a pre-arranged starting point and then set off to lay the paper trails.  The beer and ginger beer were provided by the 'hares' each week at their own expense.  The club never had any funds as such and administration was minimal." 


Frank continued to explain that prior to the war, that trails were generally A to B, and that once the pack had assembled and set off running, the hare's driver would lead all the other cars to the finish point.  He also states "After numerous false trails had been investigated the 'hounds' eventually arrived at the finish point where the 'hares' would have already started on the beer and ginger beer. Shandies were found to be much more refreshing than beer by itself."  Which, to me, is another indictment on the false narrative some hashers believe, that hashing has always been about excessive alcohol.


Another revelation was that after the rebirth starting in 1946, trails were much more commonly A to A.  Frank stated "After the war not many members of the H.H.H had car drivers, especially the newcomers who had come to Malaya for the first time . . . starting and finishing points of the runs [were] at the same place; otherwise the routine was exactly as before."

In closing, Frank finished with "I am so glad to hear that the Hash House Harriers clubs are spreading round the world, a fact of which I was quite unaware until very recently."  Both Frank's and Torch's letters are recollections of events that took place more than 40 years prior, so we have to take them at face value.  Just like Frank states, new information continues to be presented to us on the history of the HHH, and more research will continue to expand our knowledge of the origins of this fascinating sport.  More research will need to be done on Frank, but as of the time of his letter (circa 1987), he listed himself as a non-running member of the Tamar Valley H3, in Devonshire, UK.

On on!