Stoke Mandeville 1949: The Paraplegic ‘Olympic Games’ of the Future.

I’ve noticed an increasing number of search terms that lead to views of my blog at regarding results from Stoke Mandeville Games between 1948 and 1959 so I’ve decided to post the results and descriptions of these Games here over the coming weeks.

Dr Guttmann’s ‘Grand Festival of Paraplegic Sport’, as the second incarnation of the Games were described in The Cord1, were held on Wednesday, 27th July 1949. Building upon much hard work done by Dr Guttmann, his staff and the impact of various stoke Mandeville patients moving to other spinal units around the country and taking their new found enthusiasm for sport with them the number of teams entered rose to seven2. These were as follows:

Stoke Mandeville

Stoke Mandeville Ladies

Stoke Mandeville Old Boys living at home

Chaseley Home, Eastbourne, Sussex

Lyme Green Settlement, Macclesfield, Cheshire

No. 3 Polish Hospital, Penley, Denbighshire

Star and Garter Home, Richmond, Surrey

A grand total of thirty seven individuals took part in these Games3 and with the exception of the archers from the Polish Hospital at Penley every competitor had, at some time, been a patient of Dr Guttmann4.  With the possible exception of the Polish competitors from Penley, who it is currently impossible to know whether they were British residents, these Games saw the participation of the first identifiable ‘international’ patient – Emanuel Kanakakis, competing for Chaseley, but actually a Greek citizen5,6. In addition to a repeat of the previous year’s archery competition ‘net-ball’ was added to the programme for these Games. This was a kind of hybrid of netball and basketball played in wheelchairs and using netball posts for goals. A total of six teams entered the archery competition7 and three teams were entered for the net-ball competition2 as follows:

Archery                                                                                   Net-ball

Stoke Mandeville                                                                  Stoke Mandeville

Stoke Mandeville Ladies                                                    Lyme Green

Stoke Mandeville Old Boys living at home                Chaseley

Chaseley

Star and Garter

Penley.

The day began at 9.30am with a speech of welcome and encouragement from Dr Guttmann, followed by an explanation of the rules from Miss Bell, who was in charge of the physiotherapists at Stoke Mandeville8 and Quartermaster Sergeant Instructor Thomas Hill, better known as ‘Q’, who was seconded to the Spinal Centre from the army. His job was to improve the physical condition of patients who could still walk in order that they could be returned to their army units9. Once the explanations were over competition in both the archery and the net-ball commenced with the 50 yard and 40 yard distances of a Columbia round being shot in the archery and each of the net-ball teams playing each other to decide who would play-off in the final after lunch. Competition in the archery commenced at around 10am with the Star and Garter team going into lunch with a small lead. Once again the archery was officiated by Frank Bilson, Champion Archer of England. The results of the mornings net-ball matches, which were all refereed by Charlie Atkinson, a physiotherapist who went on to play a major part in the development of sport for the disabled10, were as follows:

Lyme Green beat Stoke Mandeville (6-3)

Stoke Mandeville beat Chaseley (4-0)

Lyme Green beat Chaseley11

Lyme Green and Stoke Mandeville, therefore, progressed to that afternoon’s final and in front of an appreciative crowd Lyme Green went on to beat Stoke Mandeville 4-2 in a game lasting thirty minutes. The winning Lyme Green Squad consisted of Ginger Swindlehurst, Arthur Smith, Sam Laing, Jimmy Hooker, Jim Chadwick, Owen Leonard and Ronnie Brooks12. It should be pointed out that Stoke Mandeville were the only side to field a woman in their team, 21 year old Margaret Webb, who apparently put in a fine performance ‘among nine burly men’4. Under her married name of Margaret Harriman she went on to compete for Rhodesia and then South Africa, winning medals in for different sports.

In the afternoon the final round of the archery over 30 yards also took place and despite some fine individual shooting by Bill Pye of Chaseley, who had apparently recently recovered from a serious illness, it was not enough to prevent the Star and Garter team, lead by Peter Twiss with 390 points, from retaining the title they had captured the previous year. The team consisted of Peter Twiss, Henry Tomlinson, Dennis Goodman and Robert Head5.

At the close of competition all the athletes and guests were provided with tea in the Sister’s Dining Room. Amongst the guests were Alderman J. Holland (Mayor of Aylesbury) and his wife, Sir Francis Prideaux (Director General of the Ministry of Pensions), Miss EE Warr (Matron, Royal Bucks Hospital), the Right Honourable AH Marquand (Minister of Pensions) and Miss M. Cox (Deputy Secretary of the Ministry of Pensions). It was Miss Cox who went on to present the prizes of Cups and medals to each of the winners, the medals themselves having been designed and made by the patients attending the precision engineering class at the hospital, some of whom, such as Betty Green, had taken part in the days sports activities2. The final results of the archery were as follows:

Overall Result:           

1. Star and Garter       1208 pts

2. Chaseley                    1167 pts

3. Stoke Mandeville    1089 pts

Highest Individual Score:                   Bill Pye (Chaseley)                 404 pts

Most Golds:                                               Bill Pye (Chaseley)                 19

Greatest number of hits:                     Bill Pye (Chaseley)                  68

Highest Ladies Score:                           J. Bunty Noon                           213 pts

Greatest number of hits (Ladies):       Betty Green                            55

At the end of the day Dr Guttmann gave a speech in which he made the now famous claim that the Stoke Mandeville Games would one day become recognised as the paraplegic’s equivalent of the Olympic Games2,4,13. This certainly showed remarkable foresight given that he himself admits that, despite the widely accepted success of the day, the statement was met with very little shared optimism from those gathered in the audience14. However the Minister for Pensions, the Right Honourable HA Marquand did state ‘this is really Dr Guttmann’s day. The splendid performance of these paraplegic patients this afternoon is testimony to his work in the treatment and rehabilitation of paralysed ex-servicemen’12

1. The Cord, 1949, Stoke Mandeville Calling, Vol. 2(4); p34-35.

2. The Cord, 1949, Stoke Mandeville Calling, Vol. 3(1); p22-25.

3. The Cord, 1950, Festival of Sport, 1950 Stoke Mandeville Hospital, Vol. 3(4); p.19-25.

4. Bucks Advertiser and Aylesbury News, 1949, “Olympic Games” Of Disabled Men is Born at Stoke, Friday, July 29th, p15.

5. The Cord, 1949, Report from Chaseley, Vol. 2(3); p. 16-18.

6. The Cord, 1949, Report from Chaseley, Vol. 3(1); p. 12-13.

7. Star and Gater Magazine, 1949, Archery at Stoke Mandeville: Success of Star and Garter Team, Oct; p9.

8. Scruton, J., 1998, Stoke Mandeville: Road to the Paralympics, Peterhouse Press; Aylesbury (p67)

9. Goodman, S., 1986, Spirit of Stoke Mandeville: the story of Sir Ludwig Guttmann, Collins: London (p. 142-143)

10. Goodman, S., 1986, Spirit of Stoke Mandeville: the story of Sir Ludwig Guttmann, Collins: London (p. 128-129)

11. No score is recorded for this game, but an unnamed author from Chaseley wrote that the team suffered a ‘heavy defeat from Lyme Green’ in The Cord, 1949, Report from Chaseley, Vol. 3(1); p12-13.

12. The Cord, 1949, News from Lyme Green, Vol. 3(1); p29.

13. Guttmann, L., Looking Back on a Decade in The Cord, 1954, Vol. 6(4); p9-23.

14. Bucks Herald, 1949, Wheelchair Sportsmen, Friday, July 29th, p5.

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3 responses to “Stoke Mandeville 1949: The Paraplegic ‘Olympic Games’ of the Future.

  1. Ah, me again. Just seen this post after leaving my . My uncle would probably have been in the Stoke Mandeville Old Boys living at home as he was injured in 43 or 44.

  2. What a lovely suprise to find some information on my great grandfather “Q” Thomas Owen Sidney Hill, what an inspiring man.Everyday without fail he would make the journey from abercorn crescent in South Harrow to Stoke Mandeville in Aylesbury to assist and train the patients in archery.My grandmother Mary was very proud of her father and from the one photo she had i could see he was a man of substance.

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