Stoke Mandeville Games 1953: Swimming makes its first splash

The Games of this year were held over the evening of Friday 7th and the whole of Saturday 8th August. A specially designed flag for the Games was flown for the very first time1. This first version of the flag had six white stars – one for each of the nations represented at the Games. In future years, every time a new nation was represented another star would be added to the flag. The flag was displayed above a sign that displayed the message the Games were meant to get across to the rest of society. In his message contained in the programme for the Games Dr Guttmann reinforced the Olympic link once more stating ‘Like the Olympic Games, which were started by a small group of people who believed in sport as a great medium for furthering true sportsmanship and understanding amongst human beings, our Stoke Mandeville Games will, we believe, unite paralysed men and women of different nations to take their rightful place in the field of sport2’.

International Nations Represented (Number of Competitors)

Canada (7)       Finland (3)      France (2)        Israel (3)         Netherlands (10)

Dr Guttmann apparently invited eight nations to take part in these Games. Of the eight only Austria, Belgium and the United States failed to attend3. Of those that did attend many were assisted financially by the World Veteran’s Foundation.

British Organisations and Institutions

This year saw the participation of the first spinal injuries unit based outside of England – the Rookwood Centre in Cardiff, Wales, which had opened its doors in late 1952.

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

Ministry of Health Spinal Injuries Unit, Rookwood, Cardiff

Known Individual International Patients

In addition to the teams visiting from overseas there were a small number of known individual international patients resident at various units and centres who participated in the Games. However, reports on this are a little confusing. Paraplegia News, an American publication, states ‘a South African and two Australians were also in the Paralympics4’, but a local newspaper really confuses things when it states (in the same article) ‘a South African and two Australians were also in the Paralympics’ and then further down ‘although Australia and South Africa were not represented by an official team one of his (Dr Guttmann’s) patients was there who was also an Australian and there were two others who were South Africans5’.

Tom Butler (Australia)

Emanual Kanakakis (Greece)

Un-named individual(s) (South Africa) (Neville Cohen?)

Sports:      Archery      Javelin      Netball      Snooker      Swimming      Table Tennis

The official opening of the new swimming pool at the hospital by Mrs Dorothy Jean Walley, Chairperson of the Royal Bucks and Associated Hospitals Management Committee, on the Saturday allowed for the addition of yet another new sport to the competitive programme – swimming. The pool had been constructed by the Ministries of Pensions and Works, to a design of Dr Guttmann. It measured 42 feet in length, was four and a half feet deep and held fifty thousand gallons of water that were changed every ninety minutes6.

Demonstrations:        Club Swinging            Dartchery

Another sport, that was demonstrated on the Friday evening2, was archery-darts or dartchery as its name was shortened to7. This game began at the Chaseley home in Eastbourne, where a team of wheelchair archers would take on teams of non-disabled darts players from pubs and clubs in the area. The non-disabled darts players would play their normal game throwing at the normal board. The wheelchair archers would use a bow and arrow shooting at a board exactly three times the normal size at a distance of thirty feet. Out of seven matches played in October and November 1952 the Chaseley team won five and only lost one match. The only difficulty they had was finding a venue with enough space8.

Prize Winners


For the first time since the Games began five years earlier Stoke Mandeville managed to win the team prize. Also for the very first time an archer from Stoke Mandeville got the highest individual score with John Coward getting 524 points.

1. Stoke Mandeville    1945pts         

(L. Vick, J. Coward, R. Robinson, R. Fawcett)

2. Penley                          1811pts         

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

Best ‘Old Boys’ Team Score

1. ‘Old Boys’ North    1518pts         (W. Green, R. Todd, J. Irvine, S. Brett)

Highest Individual Score:       John Coward (Stoke Mandeville)     524pts

Highest Individual Score by an Old Boy or Girl:

J. Irvine (‘Old Boys’ North) 467pts

Highest Individual Score by an Overseas Visitor:

G. van Opdorp (Netherlands) 346pts

Highest Individual Ladies Score: Audrey Bailey 415pts

Highest Individual Stoke Mandeville Score:  John Coward    524pts

Highest Individual Duchess of Gloucester House Score: R. Martin     520pts

Best Gold of the Day:                        W.A. Poulter


Despite being only a demonstration sport in this year the winners of the demonstration event held on the Friday evening are recorded as being from the Duchess of Gloucester House.

1. P. Meoraa & M. Sheedy (Duchess of Gloucester House)

Javelin Throw

Class A:           S. Nowak & W. Ruszke (Penley)                                   78ft 6in

Class B:           D. Mitchell & M. Knight (Stoke Mandeville)            89ft 8in


For the third year in a row the ‘Red Devils’ from the Lyme Green Settlement met the Duchess of Gloucester House team in the final and for the fifth year in a row Lyme Green returned home with the netball trophy.

1. Lyme Green

(G. Swindlehurst, J. Hooker, G. Newman, F. Smith, J. Chadwick)

2. Duchess of Gloucester House

(G. Todd, J. Thompson, R. Maxwell, M. Farmer, L. Marriott)


1. A.J. Rafferty (Southport)

2. P. Czajkowski (Penley)

Swimming (42 ft)

After the official opening of the pool by Mrs Walley four paraplegics gave the spectators a demonstration of the ease with which paraplegics could swim. They were Jeanne Kohlhoof, a former nurse in India; ‘Jock Brown’, a Scottish coalminer; Joan ‘Bunty’ Noon, injured in an air crash whilst in the WRAF and Tom Mitchell, injured in a tree-felling accident9.


1. Tom Butler (Australia)        14 seconds

2. R. Murrell (Lyme Green)    16 seconds


1. N.H. Nesbet (‘Old  Boy’)    9 seconds

2. I. Elmes (‘Old Boy’)             10 seconds


1. Ben Napoli (Israel)               13 seconds

2. R. Murrell (Lyme Green)    13.5 seconds

Table Tennis

Although not quite as successful as the previous year, Syd Pratt and Syd Taylor still managed to win two of the doubles classes. However, Syd Taylor’s performance in the singles did go one better than the previous year. Not only did he retain his class A title, but also managed to win the class B title playing against less disabled players.


Class A:  S. Taylor (Star & Garter)  

Class B:  S. Taylor (Star & Garter)  

Class C:  M. Fontaine (France)        


Class A: S. Pratt & S. Taylor (Star & Garter)

Class B: S. Pratt & S. Taylor (Star & Garter)

Class C: J. Hooker & G. Swindlehurst (Lyme Green) 

Guests of Honour

The guests of honour this year were Mr Derick Heathcoat-Amory, the Minister of Pensions, Miss Pat Hornsby-Smith, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Health and Brigadier ‘Jackie’ Smythe, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Pensions. At the prize giving ceremony Dr Guttmann read a message from the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill wishing all the competitors present a pleasant day6. This was followed by a speech from the Minster of Pensions in which he stated that ‘there was nothing the Ministry had been associated with that they were prouder of than the development of Stoke Mandeville3’.

Immediately prior to the playing of the national anthem at the close of the Games the Central Band of the RAF played, for the very first time, ‘the Stoke Mandeville March’ composed by Mr Pierre Haas, a paraplegic from Boulogne, in honour of all the paraplegics at Stoke Mandeville3.


1. Bucks Advertiser & Aylesbury News, 1953, All The World There In Wheel-Chairs, Friday 7th August; p. 1.

2. Programme for the Sixth Annual and Second International Inter-Spinal Unit Sports Festival “Stoke Mandeville Games” dated August 8th, 1953. (IWAS Archives)

3. Bucks Advertiser & Aylesbury News, 1953, “Paralympics” of 1953 – Just What The Doctor Ordered! Friday 26th June; p. 10.

4. Paraplegia News, 1953, Stoke Mandeville Paralympics, November; p. 5.

5. Bucks Advertiser & Aylesbury News, 1953, The Spirit of Stoke Mandeville, Friday 14th August; p.10.

6. Bucks Herald, 1953, Paraplegic Games “Starred” Wheelchair Sportsmen, Friday 14th August; p. 7.

7. The Cord, 1953, News of the Spinal World: Sports Preview, Vol. 6(1); p. 9.

8. The Cord, 1952, Archery Darts, Vol. 5(4); p. 29-31.

9. Bucks Advertiser & Aylesbury News, 1953, Swimming – Latest Paralympic Game,   Friday 14th August; p.13.




One response to “Stoke Mandeville Games 1953: Swimming makes its first splash

  1. Just having a look over this page, your knowledge is immense. This page is really informative and interesting. Persoanlly I believe the Paralympics this year was a great success, particularly for me being an Australian. However I can say that my knowledge of past Paralympic data and historical information was very sparce, so this page was truly interesting. I also found the page entitled Paralympic Heroes an interesting read for stories behind the athletes and local events. Cheers

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