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Hash House Harriers, 2011 Edition

Chapter 1
From Humble Beginnings - A History of the Hash House Harriers

Selangor Club Chambers - Home of the Hash House HarriersThe Hash House Harriers received its humble beginnings in 1938 from a Britisher named Albert Stephen Ignatius Gispert, in what is now Malaysia. Having a fondness for the "paper chase", he gathered together several expatriates to form a group in Kuala Lumpur that would later become a world-wide legacy. The fraternity received its name from the Selangor Club Chambers, which due to it's lackluster food was commonly referred to as the ‘Hash House'. At this writing, there are currently over 1800 hashes, including groups in almost every major city in the world, listed in the World Hash House Harriers Database maintained by Global Trash, the world HHH publisher. Keep in mind when reading the history of hare and hounds, what separates the Hash House Harriers from other harriers groups is as much emphasis on the social camaraderie and non-competitive aspects of the group's activities, as on the sport of hare and hounds itself. Whereas membership in other harrier groups can be traced by its founding members prior to 1938, it is generally accepted that the sport of Hash House Harriers, in contrast to other hare and hounds groups, was defined by this particular club and all other groups of the Hash House Harriers can trace their lineage (directly or in concept) back to the Selangor Club Chambers or the Hash House in 1938.

Hares and Hounds . . .

Rohampton Hounds and HaresHares and Hounds style chases have been around for centuries in one form or another. Of course the original concept was to mimic the original hunting sport during times or in locations where sporting game was sparse or children were mimicking the hunt as practiced by adults. Some ‘gentlemen' substituted men for the game in an effort to add something different to the sport. There are stories of this in colonial America as well as in early England. It was a logical transition, then, to also substitute the hounds as well with runners. Men, not as well endowed with the sense of smell, required a trail of paper to their quarry. This sport was well entrenched long before these sportsmen became known as 'hashers'. The sport was referred to as Hares and Hounds or the ‘Paper Chase'.

It is pretty much a tossup whether children, immolating the hunts of the adults, or adults looking to make a new running sport, developed the sport of hares and hounds first. There is evidence chronicled in the nineteenth century of the hares and hounds being a popular sport amongst English boarding or public schools. One such story was included in the On On Run #2 published by Tim Magic Hughes of Harrier International. It was taken from Tom Brown's School Days by Thomas Hughes published in 1857. It depicted a meet by the Big-Side Hare and Hounds. Students busily tore up old newspapers, copybooks and magazines into small pieces to fill four large canvas bags with the paper scent. Forty or fifty boys gathered for the run and two good runners were chosen as hares who donned the bags and started across the fields laying trail. There would be a turnaround point at a church to discourage shortcutting, as the finish was known. The object, explained at the start, was to make the turnaround and finish at the pub within fifteen minutes of the hares. The hares were given a six-minute head start, then the pack was off. When scent was located, the member of the pack calls "Forward!" instead of the currently traditional "On On!", otherwise the description of the trail is a typical cross-country fare familiar to all harriers – meadow, hedgerow, fence crossings, plowed fields, thorns, brooks, shiggy and hills. Members of the pack worked together finding scent and straining to keep up with the FRB's (Front Running Bastards), as we call them today. The disappointment of the DFL's (Dead Fucking Last's), again a term of today, was depicted as they contemplate short-cutting to the finish and being among the first historical SCB's (Short Cutting Bastards).

Another such story related by Magic is the beginning of the Thames Hare and Hounds which held a "handicap paper hunt" on October 17, 1868. The following excerpt from the Illustrated London News on November 17, 1869 gives a good depiction of the harrier sport in that day. As it is today, although many hashers will refuse admit it, the Hares and Hounds clubs of that day relied on cross interest from several sporting clubs. The Thames Hare and Hounds apparently came from the membership of the Thames Rowing Club who had previously held steeplechases. Harrier clubs were prevalent in cross-country races as their members are in races today. Although the Hash House Harrier branch of Hares and Hounds shuns competition, it nevertheless draws much of its members from the running community, as well as other sports today.

To get a flavor of the hares and hounds of that day, read the following quote, also found by Magic, from Cassell's Book of Sports and Pastimes, published in 1883.

    " This game is more generally known as ‘Hare and Hounds', but the name of ‘Paper Hunt' is equally descriptive of the game as it is really played. Clubs, calling themselves Harriers, are established in the neighbourhood of most large towns, and are recognised as athletic clubs, and as such permitted to enter for the sports of Athletic Club Meetings.

    "Any member of players can form themselves into a team, and each time a run is decided upon, one of the players is selected to play the part of the Hare. It is not well, for the sake of the hounds, that the Hare should be the fleetest of foot, but should be selected mainly for his staying powers and for his knowledge of the surrounding country, in order that the pains and penalties visited upon trespassers may be avoided by Hare and hounds alike.

    "'Law', being a certain number of minutes start (usually ten), is given the Hare, who provided with a large bag of cut paper (technically called ‘scent') runs off, occasionally scattering scent as he proceeds. The hounds should be led by the quickest runner of the party, and he is generally known as the Master of the Harriers. The Whipper-in who brings up the rear, carries a small flag, and should be a lad of tact and management, able to cheer up the weak ones and control the refractory. The Master carries a horn, and runs on as well as he can from the scent, he announces the fact to the pack by blowing three blasts on the horn. The pack immediately halts, Whipper-in plants his flag at the last scent, and the hounds circle round the flag, each from his halting place. Scent is thus soon recovered, the Master is informed, and with another sound of the horn all are at once in file, the flag is again waved aloft by the man in the rear, and all proceed again with their "Yoicks" and their "Tally-hoes" resounding merrily. So on, for the whole run, the game continues until either the Hare is run to ground and caught, or until his pursuers, baffled and pumped out, exhausted, give up the chase for the day, allowing the Hare all the glories of being hunted again on the next outing.

    "Some authorities give it that the hounds must make no short cuts, but are bound strictly to follow the scent; this is a law difficult to enforce, and is hardly fair to the pack, for although all help in finding a lost scent, yet otherwise, the pack, as a whole, is no stronger, in the matter of fleetness, than it weakest or slowest member.

    "The game needs practice before it is wise to attempt very long runs; trained Harriers, however, after a season's work look upon a run of anything less than twenty miles as a rather poor affair. They, like the genuine Fox-hunter they hope some day to become, enjoy a right good burst across country, and then take the train home."

Several harriers groups sprang up in the later part of the nineteenth century. With the advent of other sports, hare and hounds did not have the popularity of its earlier years and later became more of a fringe sport, however it was kept alive, especially as it moved later to the colonies.

The earliest colonial running hunt experience was depicted in at least one Hollywood movie, where in American colonial days men were used as quarry while the English chased them on horseback with hounds in pursuit. Of course this depiction is one of cruelty, but nevertheless indicates that there was an earlier time when men were substituted in the hunt.

According to Magic's research, there were hares and hounds groups in Malaysia as far back as 1927, when the Kuala Lumpur Harriers was founded. It is possible there were earlier hounds and hares events. This original K.L. group was a mixed club which went until at least 1932, when there was this piece in the Malay Mail:

    "Thirty-six turned out on Sunday for the concluding run of the season of the Kuala Lumpur Harriers. Starting from Pudu Ulu railway station, Messrs. Simpson and M. B. Hutchinson laid a trail towards Pudu Hill with a series of cleverly thought out false scents.

    "Rain, which came soon after the start, helped the hares considerably by washing away the trail. In the latter stages of the run, the pack was disorganised because of this, and the return from the slopes of Pudu Hill presented a series of problems in hunting the trail."

There is evidence of a harriers group at the Kinta Valley tinfield in Ipoh and of an earlier Selangor Harriers from the same gentlemen's club which later spawned the Hash House Harriers. Magic relates another group, "In Singapore, Royal Navy personnel based there with their families, regularly organised a very early form of ‘hashing'. They used to engage in ‘lunatic paper-chases' which used to astonish the local residents as they ended up in ‘alcoholic binges' every week. Chittagong HHH (Bagladesh) Master's mother recalls with pain: ‘I remember my mother dragging me around these paper-chases, much against my will, at the age of seven.' That was in 1929."

When you take this into account, you realize that the Malaysian harrier tradition that combined an equal amount of drinking and hare and hounds sport into one club indeed gained its foundation earlier than the reported founding of the Hash House Harriers. Remember, what separates the Hash House Harriers from other harriers groups is as much emphasis on the social camaraderie and non-competitive aspects of the group activities, as on the sport of hare and hounds itself. Thus, the earlier Malaysian harrier groups are indeed the direct ancestors to the sport we know as hashing today.

In evidence of this, Magic reports several early hash-style groups through interviews with one of the first Joint Masters of the Hash House Harriers, Frederick Horse Thompson. Horse relates joining a harriers group in Jahore Bahru which held runs from 1932 to 1935. Another was started in Malacca in 1933 or 1934, then he participated in a harriers group in Taiping. In 1934 or 1935, there was a Spinggit Harriers located at Pringgit Hill in Malacca. Reportedly, G, who later founded the Hash House Harriers, often ran with them.

The Forming of the Hash House Harriers . . .

Much of what we know about the founder and founding of the Hash House Harriers comes from his family and friends as given in detail in Magic's works. The following is a paraphrase of Magic's work. Born Alberto Stephano Ignatius Gispert in Greenwich, London, England, he was the youngest of seven children. His parents were Spanish and had immigrated to London prior to his birth, making him an Englishman. He went by the first two names and family name only, in accordance with the Anglican tradition, however his friends called him ‘G'. When he became an accountant in 1928, he sought employment overseas and was sent to Singapore, then a state of what is now Malaysia. He signed a four-year contract with Evatt & Co. (later a member firm of Price Waterhouse). Former Senior partner Tom Aiken, in his booket Evatt & Co - The First 50 Years, states, "Gispert was one of a splendid bunch of follow-up young men. All seemed set for the future. Our practice was expanding and we were better placed than the other local professional firms to take advantage of the opportunities open to us."

In 1934, Gispert was sent to meet Ronald Torch Bennett (nicknamed for his red hair and who later became an early member of the Hash House Harriers) when he arrived as a new member of the firm. They quickly became good friends. Torch was transferred to Kuala Lumpur in 1936 and Gispert was transfered as branch manager in Malacca in 1937.

In that year, which G was on U.K. home leave, his son Simon was born to his bride-to-be Eve. It seems that Eve was not quite divorced yet from her former husband, costing him a fine of 200 pounds sterling. Some hashers to date find this bit of tabloid quality behavior on his part appropriate for the irreverent nature of subsequent membership of the Hash House Harriers.

Gispert found the Springgit Harriers in Malacca and ran with them. The group was mixed, composed mostly of men, with a few women. G introduced Torch to these hare and hounds paper chases early in 1938. Gispert was transferred later in the year as manager of the Kuala Lumpur office. He missed the harriers runs. He had heard about the early aborted Kuala Lumpur Harriers from Cecil Lee and thought that they should revive it. Torch gave support for the idea, as did Frederick Tommy Thomson (later nicknamed Horse). Later in 1938 on a Friday evening, he finally persuaded his friends to go out and run his inaugural paper trail. Charter members included: Frederick Thomson, Cecil H. Lee, Eric Galvin, M.C.Hay, Arthur Westrop, Morris Edgar, John Barrett, Harry Doig and a few others. Torch missed the first run, having been on his first leave at the time. By his estimate, it was held in late 1938, probably in September. As for the exact date, there are a number of conflicting opinions. Magic quotes one of the older members of the hash, John Duncan, as saying, "The first run was quite probably early in 1938. No proper records were kept of the early runs." Early 1938 or later, it was off!

The name was chosen from the Selangor Club Chambers nickname, Hash House, where much of the discussion concerning creating the hash developed, thus dubbed the Hash House Harriers. G originally took on duties as the On- Sec, convincing Cecil H. Lee and Frederick "Horse" Thompson to become the first Joint Masters. The first runs averaged a dozen participants, although attendance could sometimes be counted on one hand. (Take heart you would-be founders out there, as this is a normal beginning.)

Hash trails were laid by two hares. They used 4 inch square paper cuttings from the Malay Mail supplied by Eric Gavin. Checks were simply a loss of scent (the paper would run out). "Check!" would be called and runners would then go in all directions in search of more scent (which we now refer to as ‘hash', or the paper cuttings of that day). On sighting hash, "On!" or "On here! (Oh, boy)" would be heard ("On On!" today). False trails were introduced to confuse the pack of hounds. They allowed the slow runners to catch up with the leaders (termed FRB's today). There were no markings for checks, arrows, ON IN's, etc., all of these would come as the sport developed in later years.

Magic includes an informative quote from Frank Woodward on those early days:

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

    "Then the ‘hares' set off, their driver waited until the ‘hounds' arrived in their cars and, when all had started, the ‘hares' driver led the other Malay drivers in their cars to the finishing point of the run, of which he had previously been informed by the ‘hares'. After numerous false trails had been investigated the ‘hounds' eventually arrived at the finishing point where the ‘hares' would have already started on the beer and ginger beer. Shandies were found to be more refreshing than beer itself.

    "The trails ran through rubber plantations, tin tailings and rough country, very rarely on roads."

When Torch returned from home leave, the hash was well developed and he took over duties as On Sec from G. He also became the first formal Hash Cash, opening a bank account and producing a balance sheet. The group flourished and they celebrated their 100th run on Friday, 15 August 1941. At that time, the Joint Masters were M.C. Hay and Torch Bennett. M.C. Hay and E.A. Ross hared the event and the circular announcing this run read:

    "From information received we understand that the run will not be too long (perhaps), there will be no rivers to swim (maybe), we will not have to cope with any precipices (possibly), but it should be obvious by now that there is a catch somewhere, hounds are advised to keep an eye open for scenic views.

    "Now those hounds who remember the last time ;this advice was given will know what to expect, (if they survived), to the rest - poor innocents - we can only say ‘BEWARE'"

Doesn't this sound somewhat like a contemporary hare to you? Hare lies and threats come from a long tradition indeed!

This relatively peaceful endeavor was cut short with the advent of the Japanese invasion, of which several hashers distinguished themselves. Captain Gispert, who had been a captain in the reserves, was field promoted to the active rank of captain in the war and died in the Battle of Singapore. Torch Bennett reestablished the hash on Mondays after the war. He found a bank balance and also successfully sought war reparations for 24 enamel mugs, an old galvanized tin bath and two old bags.

Today, hashes around the world remember G with an Annual Gispert Memorial Hash on or near the anniversary of the day he died, February 11th, 1942. In a regimental history quoted by Magic written by Brigadier I. Stewart: "About 0400 hrs (11 Feb) a considerable force of Japanese from track junction 751150 moved up the track for 200 yards to within ten yards of Battalion H. Q. and halted. They surprised and silently caught Captain Gispert, the mortar officer, and three men and killed them." Cecil Lee later states, "So perished a gallant, kindly, happy soul whose memory the years do not efface. He would be pleased, and I think amused, to know how the HHH have persisted and spread."

From 1948 to 1960, there was virtually a state of war with communist insurgents in the Malay peninsula. In fact, the ran in areas considered off limits and illegal, thus they had a bad reputation with authorities (where have modern hashers heard that before?) It is important to note that the hash ran in this environment and came very close to it at one point. Although reported in the newspaper of that day, Magic quotes what is considered a better report of the Cheras Incident from a writing by John O'Rourke in 1980, then GM of Singapore HHH:

    "With the advent of the Emergency in 1948, the Hash was automtically in bad official odour, as their activities were generally illegal in terms of the curfew imposed on most of the areas surrounding Kuala Lumpur, and in the years 1948-51 they maintained a precarious existence at best.

    "The turn around came with the famous incident at Cheras. (Monday Spetember 10, 1951) This has been widely misreported, in places as prestigious as The Times, but what actually happened was this. Somewhere on the right hand side of Cheras Road, going south, only just beyond the last Padu Road shop (i.e. somewhere where the JKR workshops are now) in an area that was then robber and belukar the pack were following trail in the rain at dusk, when they cam across a number of men sleeping on the ground wrapped in ground sheets. The pack scattered, and one ran to Cheras Police Station to raise the alarm; the army (men of the Suffolk Regiment) did not follow the paper trail, as reported in The Times, but more correctly surrounded the area with a series of ambushes and in the morning bagged two bandits trying to break out. One of these was found to have a substantial price on his head, and as Government servants were not allowed to participate in such rewards, the non-Government employees among the Hash divided the bounty between them. (The Harriers led by Andrew Tarry subsequently held a party to celebrate at the Harper Gilgillan mess in Ampang Road.)"

Another interesting anecdote from that time was quoted from Dennis Bloodworth's book, The Eye of the Dragon:

    "‘We settled into our ambush positions in the jungle', the major told me, wiping the beer from his bristle, ‘automatic weapons trained on the path, and waited for the Communists to come. Suddenly we heard quick light steps up the track and - ', he paused, banging his pewter tankard down on his knee with restrained violence - ‘hang it if fifteen chaps in vests and running shorts from the local harriers club didn't come trotting past as if they were on [London's] Hampstead Heath."

It was some time before the international phenomena we are familiar with today began spreading around the world. The second Hash House Harriers chapter was formed in 1947 by Captain Gus Mackie in Bordighera, Italy (near Milan). Gus learned of hashing from his brother Rupert, and both ran with the Mother Hash in its early days. The Bordighera hash was popular amongst British ex-servicemen throughout the fifties but died in the early ‘60's. The hash was reborn in 12 December 1984 and is now quite alive and well as the Royal Milan and Bordighera HHH. (I sang to midnight at the '94 Swiss Nash Hash with some of its members, singing around the piano. Jolly bunch! And yes, they are emphatic about being the second Hash House Harriers! Stray Dog) Despite arguments from Magic and others more close to the Singapore HHH that the Singapore hash receive the second place honors, I tend to agree with the Bordighera group. Since the Mother Hash has set the precedence of shutting down for a few years (the war) and claiming the original date and since the Bordighera group was reestablished with Gus Mackie's widow as honorary GM, I tend to agree that they deserve to keep the honor of being the second Hash House Harriers group. But hey, each hash has their points!

It wasn't until 1962 that the next group was formed in Singapore (that we know of anyway). Ian Cumming, formerly of the original hash, founded the Singapore HHH on 19 February 1962. Again, due to the arguments above, this makes them officially the third Hash House Harriers group, regardless of their statements to the contrary. A number of other hashes followed on the Malay peninsula and in Indonesia. Bill Panton has devoted a great deal of effort in establishing a family tree for the hash and his efforts are well worth a look, so I will not repeat them.

The first efforts at establishing hashes was slowly followed by others until by the Mother Hash's 1500th postwar run in 1973, there were thirty-five known hashes around the world. This figure climbed into the hundreds by the eighties and there are as of 2007 over 1800 active hashes. The number is based on those listed in the Global Trash Hash Roster and are simply the ones who have come forward to provide information, have answered the mail or have had their information provided by interhashers or national/regional On-Sex (plural for On-Sec - secretary). Occasionally, there is a hash that finds out, usually by the accident of running into other hashers, that they, indeed, aren't the only one in the world. Their founders were not up on global hashing or failed to pass on that knowledge to their pack.

Wherever you go, the hash is there. If not, you can start one and the Global Trash Hash Bible is a good hash reference available to assist you in that effort. As GT editor, I have been contacted on numerous occasions to help inexperienced hashers and even virgins in gaining the information and guidance on how to start a group in their own area. In my moves and travels in the early days of my hashing, if I wanted to hash, I had to start one. Now, thankfully, they are everywhere!

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