1952: The Stoke Mandeville Games go truly international

Finally, five years after they began Dr Guttmann’s dearest wish for the Games came true when a team of four athletes, a physiotherapist and a nursing sister arrived at Stoke Mandeville from the Doorn Military Rehabilitation Centre, Aardenburg in the Netherlands and the Games became truly international. This was greatly aided by the assistance of the World Veterans’ Federation (WVF) who arranged and paid for the visit through their rehabilitation programme.  Mr Kurt Jannson, director of the WVF rehabilitation programme announced at the Games that the WVF intended to make it possible for more teams from other countries to attend the Games the following year, which would help ‘make the idea of Olympic Games for the disabled a “practical reality1”’ However, unlike previous years there was only a very small increase in the overall number of competitors from 121 the previous year to 130 this year2. The Games took place on Saturday 26th July 1952. In keeping with his vision Dr Guttmann, in his opening speech, was quick to point out that the Olympic Games were in progress in Helsinki and that he hoped that ‘one day the paraplegic games would be as international and as widely known in its own sphere as the Olympics3’.

International Nations Represented: The Netherlands

British Organisations and Institutions

Chaseley Home, Eastbourne, Sussex

Duchess of Gloucester House, Isleworth, Middlesex

Spinal Injuries Unit, GeneralHospital, Hexham, Northumberland

Lyme Green Settlement, Macclesfield, Cheshire

National Spinal Injuries Unit, Stoke Mandeville

Stoke Mandeville ‘Old Boys’ living at home

Stoke Mandeville ‘Old Boys’ living at Kytes Settlement, Watford

Stoke Mandeville ‘Old Girls’ living at home

National Spinal Injuries Unit, Stoke Mandeville (Ladies’ Team)

No. 3 PolishHospital, Penley, Denbighshire

Spinal Injuries Unit, PromenadeHospital, Southport, Lancashire

Star and Garter Home, Richmond, Surrey

With regard to sports table tennis was upgraded from demonstration sport the previous year to a full medal sport this year. Once again there was a club swinging demonstration.

Sports:            Archery           Javelin           Netball      Snooker           Table Tennis

Demonstration:          Club Swinging

Prize Winners

Archery (Columbia Round4,5)

With the addition of Les Johnson, who had moved to Chaseley from Stoke Mandeville, to the skill of Bill Pye, twice individual champion in the previous three years, Chaseley proved far too strong even for the team champions of the previous two years Penley. In fact standards had risen to such an extent that the Star and Garter team, that had never finished outside the top two since the event began, could only finish fifth with 1511 points3.

1. Chaseley                                          1791pts

(W. Pye, L. Johnson, F. Hillier, C. Lindsell)

2. Penley                                             1699pts

(S. Nowak, W. Ruszke, P. Czajkowski, W. Rykaczewski)

Clearly wishing to make the team from the Netherlands feel welcome and to mark the participation of the first truly international participants there was a prize for the best score by an overseas team and individual, even though the Dutch were the only team entered.

Highest Overseas Team

Netherlands                                         1008pts

(Arie Prins, Gerard van Opdorp, Marius Hoogendoorn, Fritz van Ommen)

Highest Overseas Individual: Gerard M. van Opdorp (Netherlands)         349pts

Although Bill Pye may finally have helped his Chaseley team get their hands upon the team trophy for the first time he was not so lucky with the individual award, which this year went to Stanislaus Nowak from Penley.

Highest Individual Score:       Stanislaus Nowak (Penley)                      498pts

Highest Stoke Mandeville Individual:            R. Fawcett                         470pts

Winning Ladies Team

1. Stoke Mandeville                            1147pts

(Robin Imray, Rose Heath, P. Harris, Irene Chilton)

Highest Individual Ladies Score:  Robin Imray (Stoke Mandeville)        355pts

Best Gold of the Day:

Men:                E. Oakey  (Star & Garter)

Women:          I. Chilton (Stoke Mandeville)

Javelin Throw

In order to allow fairer competition the javelin throwing was split into two groups in this year. Class A was for cervical lesions, who have a higher level of disability and class B was for thoracic lesions, which are lower down the sine and so these athletes have a greater level of strength and control in their trunk allowing them to throw the javelin further. As well as helping Chaseley to take the archery team title for the first time, Les Johnson also helped Chaseley to the Class B team title in the javelin, throwing a new individual record distance in the process.

Class A (Cervical/High Lesion)

1. Stanislaus Nowak (46ft 2in) & Witold Ruszke (30ft 8in) (Penley)         76 ft 10in

Class B (Thoracic/Low Lesions)

1. L. Johnson (58ft 2.5in*) & C. Lindsell (40ft 7in) (Chaseley)                  98ft 9.5in

* New Individual Record Distance


For the fourth straight year the ‘Red Devils’ of Lyme Green Settlement proved far too strong for the opposition, beating the team from the Duchess of Gloucester House eight – zero in the final. Around six hundred spectators packed the hospital grounds for the Games6 and as the photograph below clearly shows a large proportion of them watched the netball final.

Lyme Green Settlement                       8

(S. Laing, J. Hooker, A. Smith, G. Swindlehurst, G. Newman)

Duchess of Gloucester House              0

(E. Kanakakis, M. Sheedy, W. Sawko, G. Todd, H. Mansfield)


1. J. Greenaway (Chaseley)

2. J. Harbron (Duchess of Gloucester House)

Table Tennis

As with the javelin competition the table tennis competition was also divided into classes in order to allow for fairer competition. However, in this case there were three classes. They were class A for cervical cord lesions (most disabled), class B for high thoracic cord lesions and class C for lower cord lesions (least disabled). In what Dr Guttmann described as ‘the most remarkable thing I have ever seen’ Syd Taylor and Syd Pratt from the Star and Garter Home won all three classes of the table tennis doubles competition. This is despite the fact that both of them suffered from broken necks, paralysed legs and paralysed fingers and hands. The table tennis bat had to be fixed to their hands with bandages1.


Class A (Cervical Lesion):                  Syd Taylor (Star & Garter)

Class B (High Lesion) :                       P. Ballard (Stoke Mandeville)

Class C (Low Lesion):                        V. Pollock (DOG House)


Class A (Cervical Lesion):                  Syd Taylor & Syd Pratt (Star & Garter)

Class B (High Lesion) :                       Syd Taylor & Syd Pratt (Star & Garter)

Class C (Low Lesion):                        Syd Taylor & Syd Pratt (Star & Garter)

Other Prizes

Prize for Youngest Competitor of the Day: Derek Pearce (Stoke Mandeville)15yrs

Guests of Honour

Guests of honour at this year’s Games were Sir George Schuster, Chairman of the Oxford Regional Hospitals Board, who presented the prizes and Mr Derick Heathcoat-Amory, Minister of Pensions, who gave a speech at the closing ceremony. In his speech the Minister stated that ‘doctors may prescribe medicine and treatment, but it is the undefeatable spirit of the patients themselves, which really helps to produce results6. He also paid tribute to the team from the Netherlands and welcomed the idea of teams coming from abroad to compete1.

1. Bucks Advertiser & Aylesbury News, 1952, And Now The Wheel-Chair Olympics, Friday 1st August; p. 12.

2. Guttmann, L., 1952, On the Way to an International Sports Movement for the Paralysed, in The Cord, Vol. 5(3); p. 7-23.

3. Star and Garter Magazine, 1952, Stoke Mandeville Games, October; p. 19-21.

4. Programme of The Fifth Annual and First International Inter-Spinal Unit Sports Festival (“Stoke Mandeville Games”) dated 26th July, 1952 (IWAS Archives)

5. The Columbia round consists of 24 arrows shot at 50, 40 and 30 yards making a total of 72 arrows. Harriman, M., 1967, Bring me my bow, Victor Gollancz Ltd; London, p.165.

6. Bucks Herald, 1952, Paraplegics hold Sports Festival, Friday 1st August; p. 7.



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