Bats still the way to do it for Hawick’s Heinz at age of 91

Former PoW Heinz Melchert still playing table tennis at 91.
Former PoW Heinz Melchert still playing table tennis at 91.

A former German prisoner who made Hawick his home after the Second World War is hoping to continue his seven-decade love affair with table tennis for another decade.

Heinz Melchert is 91 but still loves to play the game he first took up as a prisoner of war at the old Wilton Camp in Hawick back in the 1940s.

Heinz in action on the ping pong table.

Heinz in action on the ping pong table.

After the war ended in 1945, he decided to settle in the town, working at former High Street grocer Lipton’s.

Later, he became the grocer at the Co-operative store, a post he held until it closed in 1987.

Back in 1956, he had joined a table tennis club at the town’s Victoria Hotel, and when that folded, he continued to host matches in the garage of his home in Leaburn Drive.

Then in 1994, he formed a table tennis group at Hawick Congregational Church Hall, and it’s still going strong today.

The enthusiastic collection of exclusively elderly members meets every Wednesday afternoon.

Now widower Heinz has pledged to play on despite suffering a recent fall which required surgery and affected his balance.

Today he plays “ping pong rather than table tennis”, a much slower and relaxed version of the game, but still gets a kick from having a bat and ball in his hand.

Heinz said: “We are all old people and we play purely for pleasure now, not for competition. I am 91 now, and as you get older your reactions slow down, but table tennis is good for your movement.

“After my fall, I had an operation in Edinburgh, and I have a balance problem, so at the moment I just play ping pong as a bit of fun, not serious table tennis, but I hope to return to normality.”

Some of Heinz’s happiest table tennis memories came at the Victoria Hall in the 1950s.

He recalled: “The owner of the hotel was Andrew Deans, and it wasn’t just a tennis club. We played bridge too. It was a club for gentlemen and ladies, and you had to make an application and go before a committee to get in.

“We played table tennis all order the Borders, in Selkirk, in Hawick, everywhere. It was a really nice gathering.

“When that club closed, we played in a number of places, including the Burns Club and the Evergreen Hall, but they never lasted more than 12 months.”

Heinz, from the Pomeranian area of Germany, was captured by allied forces in the south of France.

And it was while he was in the POW camp, located where the town’s police station is today, that he decided to get a table tennis table made for use by him and his comrades.

After the camp closed, he worked in a sawmill and later as a butler.

Throughout his life since then, table tennis has remained a passion, and it was 22 years ago that he helped launch the group at the town’s congregational church.

Heinz added: “I must say a huge thank-you to the church for their kindness in providing somewhere to play.

“I want to keep playing for as long as I can. It is not easy to keep a club going, and yet we are still here after all these years. I used my own table for many years, but the church gave us two new tables which we play on now.

“It’s still going strong, and I hope it continues for a long time to come. I certainly intend to. Can I keep playing until I’m 100? That’s not in my hands, but, ideally, yes.”