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Hans Soova

The YTTA annually present the L. E. Forrest Memorial Award to a person who has rendered outstanding service to
the game of table tennis in Yorkshire. The Award is normally presented at the Presentation Dinner but unfortunately
this years recipient was away on holiday. On Sunday 28th June the YTTA Chairman and General Secretary,
Richard and Brenda Hudson, made the journey to Bingley to make the surprise presentation to Hans Soova BEM
for his services for over 50 years coaching many thousands of children in Yorkshire.
The attached photographs show Richard Hudson making the presentation and Hans showing his delight in front
of the players who were attending his session. Also attached is an article from ITTF on the occasion of his being
awarded the British Empire Medal in 2013.

Approaching half a century of coaching, 48 years to be precise with 24 players during his long and distinguished career progressing to represent England; Hans Soova has been recognised for his remarkable contribution to the sport of table tennis.

He is to receive the British Empire Medal later this year is September.

Awarded to subjects of the United Kingdom for outstanding civil or military service, the British Empire Medal (BEM) was established in 1922 and was presented on an annual basis until 1992.

It was re-instated in June 2012 for the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II.

Retirement Not an Options
Furthermore, it would seem there are no signs of Hans Soova, who celebrates his 79th birthday on Monday 22nd July and is currently recovering from pancreatic cancer, retiring!

“I coach five or six times a week”, reflected Hans Soova. “I’m feeling well and I cannot thank the doctors enough for treating me; also I am so grateful to the people who have supported and encouraged me over the years and made it possible for me to receive the award.”

Highly Respected
It an award for a most humble man, a man who has the respect of all, a man of whom I have never heard an adverse comment and a man with a story that is not only unique in table tennis. It is unique in sport and in life.

The story of Hans Soova is one of the most remarkable human stories; if it wasn't true, you wouldn't believe it.

Father Deported to Siberia
In 1940 the Baltic States were annexed by Josef Stalin, the following year Eduard Soova, the father of Hans, was one of thousands of young men deported by the Russian Red Army to Siberia.

Mother, Hedwig, had two young sons to look after, Hans whose real name is Heiki and Arne.

Hans was seven years old; Arne was born four months after father departed.

Air Raids
In order to feed her family mother worked in the match factory, which was controlled by the Red Army but in late 1941 the Germans invaded Estonia. The country was bombed by both Russian and the German air forces.
Hans only went to school when the air raids permitted; however, mother had a good command of German (her mother spoke German) and she found work in the German Officers Mess in Tallin.

Tide of War
In 1944 the tide of war had turned against Germany, the Russian Red Army had reached the eastern Estonian border.

The belief was that all local people would be deported, especially anyone who had worked for the Germans.

Father Reported Missing
Information had been received by the Soova family that father had been shot outside Stalingrad and was missing. Mother and her two boys decided to leave Estonia; they caught the last ship out of Tallin bound for Germany.

It was to prove a wise decision; over 200,000 Estonians were deported to the Gulag Labour Camps in Russia.

Introduced to Table Tennis
Mother and her two sons were taken to a refugee camp in Germany.

It was there Hans Soova was introduced to table tennis.

“I received my first table tennis lesson on a gravel based drive at the home of a German builder, the table was made from rough boards", said Hans Soova. "If you touched it, you were often faced with having to dig out splinters from your body!"

In one of the camps, there was a table tennis table in the sports hut but there was a problem, there was no net! They had to improvise.

Nothing was to prevent Hans Soova playing table tennis and Christmas was special.

Eagerly awaited was the arrival of Red Cross parcels from Great Britain. The presents were very welcome but it was the crates that carried the presents that interested Hans Soova. He made his first table tennis bat from one of the wooden crates!

Feeling of Guilt
Also, he made full use of the decorations that adorned the Christmas tree.

"I feel terribly guilty about what I did and I still do when I think back to those days", said Hans Soova. "I noticed that the tree one Christmas was dressed with coloured baubles so when Christmas was over I took several of them, any that were damaged I repaired with sticky tape and we had table tennis balls!"

Journey’s End
The family was moved from camp to camp and eventually arrived in the northern English city of Bradford; mother remarried and with the cessation of hostilities, a new life started.

Hans Soova worked in the textile industry, he joined the local works table tennis team and became one of the best players in the area; he married a local girl, Christine, eventually joined the YMCA (the Young Men's Christian Association) and in 1967 started coaching.

Coaching Started
"Coaching started quite accidentally", explained Hans Soova. "The local coach emigrated, they offered me the job and I've been coaching ever since!"

The years rolled by and no-one could possibly have foreseen the events that were to unfold.

Estonian Visitor
In 1990, Anna, a young lady from Tallin in Estonia, visited England and stayed with a family in Oakworth near Keighley, a town not many miles from Bradford.

She stayed near to where Hans and his mother, Hedwig, lived; Anna and Hedwig met, exchanged stories about Tallin and Hedwig naturally mentioned the names of her sons, Hans and Arne;

Returned Home
Anna duly returned to Estonia, went to the Register Office in Tallin and mentioned the names Heiki and Arne; the conversation was overheard by Mrs Tiiu Thorn who worked in the office and thought she recognised the names of the two boys.

Hedwig, Heiki and Arne believed that father, Eduard, had been killed in the Second World War; he had been shot but had survived and in September 1944 had returned to Tallin; not long after mother and the two boys had left the country.

Refugees Perished
Meanwhile, on the same day as mother and her boys had sailed from Estonia, a ship full of Estonian refugees bound for Germany was hit by a mine, everyone perished. Eduard, the father, believed that Hedwig, Heiki and Arne were on that ship, they weren't.

Eduard had remarried and had a son Henri, who later married Liivi.

Henri told his wife about his father's former family. Liivi was a very good friend Mrs Tiiu Thorn and told her about the family who had died in the shipwreck.

Records Checked
Mrs Tiiu Thorn checked the records in the Registry Office and found that Eduard did have two sons by a former marriage.

Knowing the family was happy and not wishing to upset anyone, it took her some time to find the courage to tell Liivi that her husband's brothers could be alive in England!

Henri did not tell his father who was now 83 years old. However, he contacted Anna who remembered an address of another Estonian family in the Bradford area and wrote to Hans. The letter was addressed to “Heiki Soova” but he was sceptical because it had arrived at another person's address.

Collected Letter
Hans Soova was reluctant to collect the letter but urged on by his late wife Christine, he agreed. He replied to the letter and the stories confirmed that he had found his father.

Met After Fifty Years
In 1990, with his wife, Heike was reunited with his father. Eduard was in the front garden waiting, he hugged his long lost son, the whole family stood in a circle around them; there was not a dry eye to be seen.

A neighbour passed by and asked who had died, the father replied: "No-one, we've just met for the first time in fifty years."

After half a century father and son were together again.

Remember the Name
Heiki, but always Hans, will celebrate his 79th birthday in Tallin, Estonia and the family must make sure they get the name right!

It is no longer Heike Soova, it is Heike Soova BEM.


“It is with deep regret that we have to announce the passing of Keith Shepherd, YTTA Life Member. Keith was heavily involved in table tennis in Yorkshire, especially as General Secretary of the Yorkshire Table Tennis Association and also as Mtach Secretary for Leeds Table Tennis, a position he held for 24 years.
Our thoughts are with Keith’s family at this time.
The thoughts of two of Keith’s closest table tennis associates, Cyril Villiers MBE and Bevan Walker, are attached”


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The Halifax and District Table Tennis Association have become pioneers this season
with the introduction of a 5 team ladies league who have been playing regular weekly
matches since September and it is the brain child of founder and keen player Helen

After 27 years in Belgium working by day and playing squash and tennis the rest of the time
Helen arrived back in Halifax in 2011, the place of her birth, to look for new ventures.
One of her first outings was to the Halifax Table Tennis Club where she was immediately
hooked and having played as a youngster with brothers and sisters mostly for fun she soon
found her competitive edge and wanted to improve and win!

Helen was recruited to play in the third division and rose to the challenge since she had played
league squash for many years and was one of the top ten lady players in Belgium. But the
third division is mainly male dominated and she became a little disillusioned.

She was struggling to win any of my games and wondering whether turning out on a winters
night and having no chance of winning was the best use of my time but she was hooked on
the game!

After a conversation with Alan Dickinson regarding a ladies division and with his support, she
got the bit between my teeth and started recruiting for a lady players. Many of her tennis
partners were keen to give it a go and with notices in local supermarkets we soon had enough
ladies to field five teams by September. A ladies league was formed!

The ladies league is through the first half season and it has been very successful. There is a
certain amount of rivalry between the teams, Sapphires, Emeralds, Rubies, Aquamarines and
Amethysts but on the whole they are all friendly and supportive to each other.
One of the most amazing things is the improvement all the players have all made. This is
partly through playing more regularly but it is also due to the commitment Alan Dickinson has
made towards their training. The ladies have had several training sessions to date...the last
being their Christmas training last Saturday when 14 ladies turned up to be coached in a fun,
friendly but informative manner. They consider themselves so lucky to have Alan as their
coach as he understands every one of their foibles and is able to keep them focused on what
they need to do to improve.
Two of the lady players travel from Barnsley to play league games and there are also a couple
of complete beginners.

The aim of the ladies league is to build on this impressive start and possibly increase the
number of teams to seven or eight next season and Helen would like to appeal to all would be
lady table tennis players to come on board. ( it has been proven that Table Tennis keeps the
mind active and stems the onset of dementia!).

Helens other role is as a Social Convenor at Queens Sports Club, Halifax she has now
initiated Table Tennis as a competitive sport at the club and currently they have 20 plus
players on a singles ladder and at least 7 doubles partners on the doubles ladder.
Table Tennis is alive and well and if anyone is interested in playing or would like any further
information please contact Helen Smith on graysmithhc@gmail.com

Helen is seen in the photograph along with Halifax head coach Alan Dickinson
and the rest of the ladies league players at their Christmas coaching session



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