Friday, April 04, 2014

Olympic gold medal to star at Curling Connections

by Bob Cowan

Arrangements are well in hand for the Curling Connections exhibition in Dumfries Museum, set to open on April 18. The exhibition, featuring many aspects of curling's history, runs in parallel with the World Seniors and World Mixed Doubles championships with their slogan of 'Bringing Curling Home'.

The exhibition will emphasise local Dumfries and Galloway associations with curling over the centuries. A huge variety of items has been brought together for the exhibition which is being co-ordinated by Siobhan Ratchford and her curatorial team at the Dumfries Museum, with much input from local curler and former Scottish Champion Graeme Adam.

Many items to go on show have worldwide significance. For example, the Scottish Curling Trust has loaned an Olympic Gold Medal, one of two owned by the Trust which were awarded to Willie and Laurence Jackson, the skip and lead of the team which represented Great Britain in the first Olympic curling competition in Chamonix in 1924. This will be the first time in recent years that such a medal has been on public display!

The evolution of the curling stone will be well illustrated, and on display will be the Stirling Stone, the best known example of a loofie, the earliest type of curling stone, on loan from the Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum.

These are just two examples. I won't spoil the surprise by describing any other exhibits. Suffice to say that you won't be disappointed!
Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum
Stirling Smith Art Gallery and Museum

My own interest in the history of curling was ignited when I visited a display in the Perth Museum during the 1975 Silver Broom. Hopefully, Curling Connections will similarly enthuse visitors. The exhibition will run for a while after the events at the Ice Bowl are over - until June 15. Don't miss it!

Aside from my memories, I only have two images from that 1975 exhibition. This one has been rescued from a 35mm slide of the advert outside the Perth Museum.

And this is the only 35mm slide I have of the exhibition itself. I wonder if any more images from 1975 have survived anywhere?

The catalogue of the 1975 exhibition survives in this A4 booklet which has a ten page 'Introduction', written by David B Smith, an elegant summary of the sport's history.

Photos from the Bob Cowan archive

Friday, March 21, 2014

Bill Charmatz and the Megeve Silver Broom

By Bob Cowan

Bill Charmatz is a well known American illustrator, who died in 2005. There is a website dedicated to his work and maintained by his daughter, see here. Reading this you will learn that Bill Charmatz was born in New York in 1925. He attended the School of Industrial Arts in Manhattan and served in the US Navy in WW2. During his freelance illustration career he drew for The New York Times, Washington Post, Esquire Magazine, Playboy, Fortune, Life, Time, and Sports Illustrated. He illustrated a weekly column for the last mentioned for over twenty years.

Last year, several Charmatz cartoons came to light during renovations at a Canadian curling club. These drawings appeared to be authentic. But there's nothing that records his involvement with the sport of curling. There's no record that they were ever published, and that's the reason for this post on the Curling History blog today. Can we find out more about them?

'Not hurling you idiot! Curling, curling!' is shown above. 

This is my favourite. An 'Andy Capp' character curling on skis! And it gives a clue to when the illustrator encountered our sport - at the Air Canada Silver Broom World Curling Championship in Megeve, France, in 1971. It is known that Charmatz had an assignment to cover skiing in France. His daughter has confirmed that he was in that country in 1971. Some of the illustrations have an Air Canada Silver Broom sticker attached. Were the cartoons drawn officially for Air Canada, or for the local organising committee? An approach to the airline's archives has not produced any explanation.

Air Canada sponsored the World Men's Curling Championship from 1968 through to 1985 - the 'Silver Broom', as it was always known. The airline contracted out the organisation of the event to an 'executive director' called Doug Maxwell. Doug and his own team worked with local organising committees each year to make sure the competition went ahead successfully, in whichever country it was to be held. 1971 was early in the sponsorship, and what was to become a successful format, involving players, fans and media, was just beginning to take shape. Prior to 1971, the competition had visited Pointe Claire (Quebec, Canada), Perth (Scotland) and Utica (USA). The event continued to grow over the years that followed. At Megeve, the following countries participated: Canada, France, Germany, Norway, Scotland, Sweden, Switzerland and USA. Canada beat Scotland 9-5 in the final, see here.

Doug Maxwell would probably have been able to solve the mystery of the Charmatz drawings, but he died a few years back. There may be others who can remember what linked Bill Charmatz to the Megeve Silver Broom. Can you help? 

Do you have memories of the 1971 Silver Broom? Did one of the Air Canada flight attendants who worked the event have an accident at Megeve, prompting the cartoon above? Are there still competitors from the 1971 competition reading this, or their families who travelled to support them? Perhaps members of the local organising committee, or national curling organisations, or the media, may be able to help?

Please do get in touch.

There's an interesting video about Bill Charmatz's life and work, in two parts, here and here.

Sonja Laurin has kindly allowed me to put up these Bill Charmatz images.

POSTSCRIPT added April 8, 2014.
The mystery has been solved. Information has come from Margaret Hare, the sister-in-law of the late Pat Hare, a member of the Morrisburg Curling Club where the cartoons were found.  

“Patricia Hare worked in the Public Affairs Department of Air Canada for 38 years. She joined Air Canada in 1947 when it was called Trans Canada Airlines. During her career, Pat became the Coordinator for Special Projects. She enjoyed curling and was thrilled when Air Canada became the sponsor of the Silver Broom from 1968 to 1985. Her position with Air Canada allowed her to travel and attend many of the Silver Broom Tournaments. As a result, she was able to acquire the drawings by Bill Charmatz. When Pat retired she moved from Montreal, where she belonged to the Wentworth Curling Club, to Iroquois and spent many happy times at the Morrisburg Curling Club. She participated in many bonspiels and volunteered for many activities within her community such as the Club's coordinator for the Scott Tournament of Hearts in 1990”.

So it was Pat Hare, in her role with Air Canada, who is the link between the Charmatz drawings and Morrisburg Curling Club.


Monday, February 24, 2014

Inspector of the Ice

On the wall of Tibbermore Church near Perth is a monument to James Ritchie, who died in 1840. 

This monument is built into the west wall of the north wing of Tibbermore Church, a few miles to the west of Perth. On top of a sarcophagus are two curling stones, tramps, and a broom. John Ritchie, a local farmer, was a keen curler! His ornate headstone seems to be unique in depicting the sport of curling.

The monument also has a carving of Ritchie's prize winning bull.

Tibbermore Kirk is no longer is use, and has been in the care of the Scottish Redundant Churches Trust since 2001, see here.

See this video for views of the church and graveyard.

These are single-soled stones, with scalloped decoration above the striking band. There's a broom kowe behind. And on the right are a pair of tramps, also known as crampits, which were attached to the feet in the manner of crampons, to give secure footing, but which did much damage to the ice. David Smith discussed these in this post.

I photographed James Ritchie's memorial back in 2007, see here. Being on an outside wall, it is open to the weather. A large yew tree does give the carvings some protection, and someone is paying attention to the condition of the monument. In 2007, there was signs of damage to the rearmost of the two stones, and a crack could be seen in the scalloped decoration. This had undergone some restoration in the intervening years.

Who was James Ritchie? We know he farmed at Cairney (also spelled Cairnie on old maps), which is well to the south west of Tibbermore on the other side of the main road from Auchterarder to Perth.

The Annuals of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club (as the Royal Club was called in its early years) provide some more information. Ritchie belonged to the Cairney Curling Club which was one of twenty-eight clubs which provided returns to be printed in the first Annual, that for 1839. Here it is listed as the 'Carnie Club', with only five members' names, and no indication of who the office bearers were. The entry was more comprehensive the following year, and the spelling of the club name had changed!


This is the club's entry in the Annual of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club for 1840. Twenty-three members are named. Rather than listing the office bearers as 'President' and 'Vice President', the Cairney Club has a 'Captain', 'Skipper, and 'Lieutenant'. I rather like the fact that the club had its own chaplain and its own doctor! I wonder what was involved in the position of 'Regulator of the Rink'.
James Ritchie was the 'Inspector of the Ice'.

The practice of designating the duties of office-bearers and members in this way was considered to be 'unnecessary' by the Annual editors, and this was pointed out in a 'Notice to Local Clubs' printed in the 1840 Annual on page 22. 

As the 'Inspector of the Ice' it is likely that Ritchie's job was to monitor the ice of the local pond, and indicate when conditions were suitable for curling to take place. And that raises the question of where the members of the Cairney club did play. It is relevant to point out here that the earliest Constitution of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club, in the General Regulations section, says (3d), 'That Local Clubs to be admissible shall consist of at least eight members, have a designation, and stated sheet of ice for their operations, and be governed by office-bearers under a code of regulations'. (My emphasis) The requirement for affiliated clubs to have their own curling ice to play on remained in the Royal Club regulations until 1936, by which time most clubs were playing indoors. The Historical Curling Places website shows clubs' local ponds, as well as other venues where there is evidence that the sport was played.

The farms of Cairnie and Upper Cairnie are in Forteviot Parish. The curlers of the area, including James Ritchie, must have been well organised in the early years of the nineteenth century. According to the list of clubs in old Annuals, the Cairney Club itself was formed in 1832. Where did they play? Did they have a pond on Cairnie farmland which they called their own in 1838 when they decided to join the Grand Caledonian Club? The OS 6 inch map, Perthshire, Sheet CIX, 1st edition, surveyed in 1859 and published in 1866, shows a possible place, what seems to be a mill pond, just to the south west of Cairney Cottage. But there is no hard evidence to indicate that curling was ever played there. Present day 'curling pond hunters' have work to do!

James Richie did not live long enough to see how the Cairney Club would fare as a member of the Grand/Royal Caledonian Curling Club. It prospered, and its members are listed in the Annuals of the Royal Club until 1884-85 when the Cairney Club became the Cairney and Dupplin Curling Club. The Cairney and Dupplin CC remained a member of the Royal Club until 1934, its resignation being announced at the Annual Meeting that year.

Bob Cowan

Images © Bob Cowan, excepting that of the Cairney membership in 1840 which is from the Annual of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club of that year. 

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

The Mystery Woman on the Olympic Curling Rink in 1924

Ninety years ago, on January 25, 1924, the Great Britain team paraded through Chamonix on the first day of the the 'Semaine Internationale des Sports d'Hiver', the event that would retrospectively become the first Olympic Winter Games. That's the GB delegation in the photo above with athletes who would compete in ladies' and men's figure skating, pairs figure skating, ice hockey, bobsleigh, and curling. You can see the curlers, with corn brooms on their shoulders, in the rear of the group. There are eight of them - the Willie Jackson team, and four reserves.

I'd like to be able to identify the flagbearer.  The British Olympic Association's Official Report of the VIIIth Olympiad, compiled by F G L Fairlie, does not say, but from other photographs in that publication it would seem that two of the bobsleigh team are leading Team GB. I think that is Lieutenant W G Horton with the banner, and Lieutenant A D Crabbe with the flag, but confirmation is required.

Although the event was not called the ‘Olympic Winter Games’ at the time, it was organised under the patronage of the International Olympic Committee, and included many of the ceremonial aspects of the Olympic Games. In the parade on January 25, the teams were headed for the main ice arena, the Stade du Mont Blanc, where Camille Mandrillon took the Olympic Oath on behalf of the athletes, see here.

As I write this I'm looking forward to watching the Opening Ceremonies of the Games in Sochi. I imagine these will be quite different than ninety years ago! Read more about the first opening ceremony here, and watch a short video of the parade here. Spot the GB curlers walking past!

I have previously written in detail about the1924 curling competition, see here, this being won by a British team, four Scots - Willie Jackson (skip), Robin Welsh (3rd), Tom Murray (2nd) and Laurence Jackson (lead). The curling rink was to the side of the of the main arena, see below.

Just what did the curling rink look like? I have included shots of the action in previous posts, but these don't give a good impression of the rink and the surroundings. I recently acquired an original photograph from the time. This is a similar photo to that in the Spaarnestad collection in the Netherlands National Archives (here) which is dated January 27, the day before the first official match.

The photograph shows two games being played on 'La piste de curling'. It is possible to identify some of the players on the ice. I'm fairly sure that on the far sheet that's the GB team in action, with Laurence Jackson and Tom Murray ready to sweep a stone that has been played by their skip. They are playing against some of the Swedish curlers.

I do not believe that this was one of the medal matches. If the date of the photo in the Netherlands National Archives is correct, I thought it must be a practice session. The first official match of the curling competition was held on the morning of Monday, January 28, 1924. Sweden beat France, 18-10. The following day, Tuesday, January 29, 1924, Great Britain played Sweden and won 38-7. On Wednesday, January 30, 1924, GB played France, winning 46-4. And that was the competition over.

I speculated before, see here, that there could have been friendly games, after the main matches. Now there is evidence that the curling rink was put to good use before the main games took place.

The evidence came in emails from Lars Ingels, who describes himself as a 'Swedish Olympic amateur historian'. He pointed me towards an article in the April 1999 SOF-bulletinen, the magazine of the Swedish Olympic Historians Association. It is a first hand account written by Ture Odlund, one of the members of the Swedish squad, recounting how they travelled to the games, and details of the medal games. Odlund played third in the team that was to lose the medal game against the Jackson side. I am indebted to Lars for bringing this article to my attention.

When the draw for the curling competition was made, a Swiss team was expected to take part, and the first games were to take place on Saturday, January 26. But the Swiss withdrew. A new draw was made and the competition proper began on the Monday, January 28. That meant that there were two free days between the opening parade and the first medal game. Ture Odlund indicates that in these days the Swedes and the Scots played three 'friendly' games, and the Swedes played a further two games against France! The teams would have got to know each other well before the medal games took place.

I recently obtained this postcard which is titled 'Match de Curling au Stade du Mont Blanc'. I wondered if the photo had been taken around the time of the Olympic curling competition. It was only when I was able to study it with a magnifying glass that I found that it was. The clue is on the snow lying on the roof of the small building in the rear of the view. The depth of the snow, and the way that it has broken off, is identical to that in the photo of 'La piste de Curling', posted above! It must have been taken around the same time, January 27.

I've commented on this photo before, see here. It's from the IOC's archive of photos from 1924 (here). It is captioned thus, 'Chamonix 1924 - During the events. The Swedish team (SWE) and the team of Great Britain (GBR)'. This caption is quite wrong! None of the GB gold medal winning foursome are in the photo. And who is the mystery woman fourth from the left? Three of the British reserves are in the group. William Brown is on the right, next to Colonel Robertson-Aikman. Third from the right is Swedish skip, Johan Petter Ahlen and next to him is John McLeod. The other three of Ahlen's team, Kronlund, Wahlberg, and Pettersson, are on the left of the photo. So, four Swedish players, three GB reserves, and a woman. Who is she?

Looking at the detail of the Chamonix postcard, it's the same group of curlers on the ice that are in the IOC photograph, and on the right of this closeup, there's the mystery woman involved in the game. She's ready to sweep with Willie Bown, and that's Colonel Robertson-Aikman in the head. She's playing here with three Brits, but was she herself British? Or could she have been Swedish?

There's just another puzzle in this photo. The scoreboard at the back seems to read France 4 Britain 39. It doesn't apply to the game being played, but could, perhaps, be a left over from the medal game on the morning of Tuesday, January 29, when GB beat France 46-4, with the last end or two still to be added. If this is indeed the case, then these games are being played after the medal matches have all been completed. And that would make sense.

Can you identify the mystery woman? Here's a closeup from the group photo.

It would not be until 1988 that women curlers stepped on to Olympic ice officially, when curling was a demonstration sport in Calgary. No GB team though. See who played then, here.

There's one other image which I've come across recently.

This is from a French publication, L'Illustration, from February 9, 1924. It is captioned 'Une partie de curling entre equipes anglaise et suedoise'. The insert words, bottom right, can be translated as, "The player has just launched his stone too slow and those in his team sweep the ice in front of the stone to extend its slide." Several players in the cartoon can be easily identified. That's certainly Sweden's skip, Johan Petter Ahlen, calling the shot in the head. But it is two of the British squad (identifiable by their plus-fours) that are doing the sweeping. I would guess that's supposed to be Tom Murray on the right, and either Robin Welsh or John McLeod on the left. I suppose that the illustrator has used artistic license in his composition intended to describe an aspect of the game, but it would be nice to think that the Swedes and the Brits did mix up their teams for a friendly game at some point in Chamonix all these years ago!

Thanks to Lars Ingels for help with this article. The top photo is from a scrapbook now in the care of Tom Murray's great grandaughter. The origins of the other images are as indicated.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The GB Curling Team at the 1924 Olympics: The Story Continues

by Bob Cowan

I recently wrote extensively about the curling competition at Chamonix in 1924, the beginning of the sport's Olympic story, see here. The gold medals were won by a GB team, after a round robin involving just three countries, Britain, Sweden and France. Willie Jackson (skip), Robin Welsh (3rd), Tom Murray (2nd) and Laurence Jackson (lead) won both their games to become champions.

I explained how the Jackson team had been selected by a special committee of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. The selectors wanted to send the best possible side to the Olympic event because, at that time, it was thought that North American and Swiss teams would participate, and that the competition would be much larger and the competition much stronger than it eventually turned out to be.

I wondered if the selected GB team had played together before Chamonix 1924. Three of the members certainly had. Willie Jackson with Tom Murray as his third had recorded a number of successes, some with Willie's son Laurence Jackson also in the team. Robin Welsh, a successful skip in his own right, had seemingly been brought into the side just for the Olympic event. The four would have known each other well, but when I wrote about them last November I had no evidence that they had played together before Chamonix. Now I have. They had been successful as a team, on at least one occasion, before they headed to France to take part in the Olympic competition.

Here is the Jackson team in a photo taken in 1922. Left-right: Robin Welsh (3rd), Laurence Jackson (lead), Tom Murray (2nd) and Willie Jackson (skip), with the Ice Palace Shield, the trophy for a competition played at the Manchester Ice Palace which they won in March of that year. The team had travelled from Scotland to Manchester to take part. They beat a local team skipped by Eric Cowper in the final, 14-3.

The Manchester Ice Palace opened in 1910. It was used extensively for skating and ice hockey. During the First World War it became a munitions factory. Between the wars the rink was heavily used. In the 1936-37 season, for example, Manchester Ice Rink (as it was called then) was the only venue in England for indoor curling. The curling day was Thursday, with skating on all other days. In the Second World War, the building became an aircraft repair shop. It closed its doors in the 1960s. The building still stands in Derby Street, Cheetham, Manchester. The full history of curling at Manchester Ice Palace and of the Ice Palace Shield competition remains to be written. 

Here, I would just say that it was in September 1911 that the Ice Palace Company, Manchester, presented 'a handsome challenge shield' for competition by members of the English Province. A Belle Vue rink were the first winners, the team skipped by W Wilson, with F B Buchanan, W Ferguson and J S Anderson. After a hiatus during the war years, the competition became an annual event again, and, as we've seen above, was won by the Willie Jackson team that would go on to play in the first Olympic curling competition two years later. An advert in the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual in 1936 shows that the Ice Palace Shield was still a competition that was open to all curlers. 

What happened to the Shield after the Manchester Rink closed? I learned recently that it has survived and is now the prize for an annual match between the Preston and Glendale curling clubs. It has already been played for this season and was won by the former club.

Here are the winners of this season's match with the 'Ice Palace Shield'. L-R: Drew Gill (lead), Phil Barton (skip), Ted Edmunds (second), and Jim Barton (third), representing Preston CC, who were successful against Glendale.

The photo of the Jackson team comes from a scrapbook kept by Tom Murray, now in the care of his great granddaughter, and reproduced with her permission. The photo of the Preston team is courtesy of Phil Barton. Thanks too to Frank Kershaw and John Kerr for additional information about the history of the Ice Palace Shield.

Monday, January 20, 2014

'Catching the spirit': Olympic curling stamps

by Bob Cowan

Postage stamps with a curling theme have been an interest of mine for many years. Indeed, the passion has extended to collecting other aspects of postal history including first day covers, cachets, cancels, postal stationary, and postcards, all with a curling theme. This post describes a good starting point for a thematic curling collection, commemorative postage stamps issued by the Winter Olympic Games host countries.

Prior to 1988, when curling was a demonstration sport in Calgary, Canada, three stamps with a curling image had been issued from Sharjah, and two from Canada. The 1988 stamp above is the first true Olympic curling stamp, the sport being a demonstration event at the Calgary Games. Since then, each Winter Olympic Games has seen a number of countries issue commemorative stamps. I have no intention of illustrating them all here, only to show those issued by the host country.

Just for clarification, there was no curling stamp back in 1924 when the sport began its Olympic journey in Chamonix, France. However, an image from that event appears on a difficult-to-find Tanzanian stamp commemorating the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. That stamp is featured at the end of a Curling History Blog post about the 1924 Olympic curling competition, here.

To celebrate the 1988 Winter Olympics, Canada Post issued a series of eleven stamps over three years. One showed a map of the venues. Nine featured Olympic sport disciplines, and another featured curling, one of four demonstration sports at these Games.

The designer of the stamps was Pierre-Yves Pelletier, from Montreal. His brief was to produce a design which would promote the sports, not individual athletes or teams. He had to develop a technique that eliminated details, yet kept each sport identifiable. 
 
Canada Post issued a souvenir brochure entitled 'Catching the Spirit' which describes how the stamps were made, as well as including all the stamps.

Pierre-Yves Pelletier chose photographs of athletes and modified these using a special screening technique. The six-sided dots of different sizes were overlaid on a 900 square grid over each photo to produce the desired image. The numerical data was read by computer and output to a laser printer.

Each stamp was printed in a variety of colours. In all, 800 different combinations of colours and images were tried out.

The curling stamp was printed on sheets with the alpine skiing stamp, and one often finds these for sale in pairs, or in blocks of four.

Altogether, Canada Post issued 105, 000, 000 stamps commemorating the 1988 Winter Olympic Games.

Curling was again a demonstration sport at the 1992 Winter Games. The competition was held in the village of Pralognan. This French stamp (above) was included in a set of eleven, which are available all together in an attractive mini sheet.

If I have a favourite Olympic curling stamp it is this one, commemorating the 1998 Games in Nagano, when the curling competition, now a full medal sport for men and women, was held at Karuizawa. Five stamps with Olympic sports were issued, and there is a wonderful mini sheet to find with all five of these, five floral stamps and the event mascots.  

Other countries which issued commemorative Olympic stamps or mini sheets with a curling interest for the 1998 Games include Saint Pierre et Miquelon, Gambia, Chad, Togo, Grenada, Niger, as well as Tanzania, mentioned above.

There was no USA stamp, with a curling theme, issued especially for the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, when the curling competition was held in Ogden. There was however a special cancel, above.

And with the success of the Rhona Martin GB team, there was a special hand cancel!

Other countries which issued commemorative Olympic stamps or mini sheets with a curling interest for the 2002 Games include Canada, Sierra Leone, Republic of Guinea, Gambia, and Mozambique.

The Italian postal service issued a curling stamp for the Turin Winter Games in 2006, when the curling competition was held in Pinerolo. This was one of a set with eight other sports. There's a mini sheet with all nine stamps.

Other countries which issued commemorative Olympic stamps or mini sheets with a curling interest for the 2006 Games include Switzerland, Kazakhstan, Sao Tome and Principe, Belgium (a pre-stamped postcard), and Commonweath of Dominica.

There are two Canadian curling stamps to collect from the Games at Vancouver 2010. This one above ...

... and this one, showing one of the mascots for the Paralympic Games, a wheelchair curler!

Other countries which issued commemorative Olympic stamps or mini sheets with a curling interest for the 2010 Games include Guinea-Bissau (3), Mozambique (2), and San Marino.

This Russian curling themed stamp for Sochi 2014 is one of a set of three winter sports.

Other countries which have (so far) issued stamps or mini sheets with a curling interest for the 2014 Games include Canada (featuring Sandra Schmirler), Djibouti (a mini sheet with two stamps, one of which has a pic of Sweden's Anette Norberg), Togo, Chad, and Mozambique.

There is another Olympic curling stamp that should be mentioned. It is a Cambodian mini sheet from 1994, for the Lillehammer, Norway, Winter Olympic Games. Curling was not included in the Olympic programme in 1994, but the topic was nevertheless included in the Cambodian set of sports' stamps. The image used is interesting, given that the curling stones featured do not have handles!

Countries which have produced curling-themed stamps with no particular association with the Olympics include Sharjah, Canada (2), Guyana, Maldives, Austria, Czech Republic and New Zealand. And of course a collection might include both mint and postally used stamps, imperforates, and overprints.

Good collecting!

Have I have missed any? Please let me know if I have. Bob.

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Debunking the story that a GB curler also played for Sweden at the 1924 Winter Olympics

by Bob Cowan

In November I wrote extensively about the curling competition at Chamonix in 1924, the beginning of the sport's Olympic story, see here, here, and here. The gold medals were won by a GB team, four Scots, after a round robin involving just three countries, Britain, Sweden and France. Willie Jackson (skip), Robin Welsh (3rd), Tom Murray (2nd) and Laurence Jackson (lead) won both their games to become champions. The GB 'squad' included four others: Colonel T S Robertson-Aikman, Major D G Astley, John MacLeod and William Brown, who travelled to Chamonix as the team's reserves.

That's the squad in the photo above. The team which played and won the championship is seated. L-R: Tom Murray, Willie Jackson, Robin Welsh and Laurence Jackson. The reserves are standing. L-R: William Brown, Colonel Robertson-Aikman, John MacLeod and Major Astley.

Today's post debunks the myth that one of the GB reserves also played for Sweden in the Olympic competition.

The story has come to be accepted as fact, and has been retold online and in print, but is a distraction to the real events of the 1924 curling competition. I show now that the assertion is completely false. No-one from the GB squad played for Sweden in the 1924 Olympic curling competition!

The story originated in a short exchange which occurred at the Royal Club AGM in the Station Hotel, Perth, on July 23, 1924. This reads as follows:

Mr Henderson - Tell us if any of the members of this Olympic Team were members of the Swedish Team as well.
The Chairman - There was one member that I know of - myself.
Mr Henderson - No others?
The Chairman - There was only one member to my recollection, gentlemen, and that was myself.

It was Herald journalist Doug Gillon who first picked up on this exchange, and in his January 2006 article he notes, almost as an aside, "The major (ie Major D G Astley) ended up playing for the Swedes who overcame France in a play-off, finishing runners-up. So the major collected a bona fide Olympic silver, and if the IOC are correct, a gold one as well."

Doug got this completely wrong.

The Chairman mentioned in the exchange above was John McLeod, not Major Astley. There was no 'play-off game' at Chamonix, and that it is unlikely that the four GB reserves received medals. However, McLeod did have connections with Sweden, so perhaps the story that he had played for Sweden had some credence. I speculated in this post what might have happened.

But even then I was not convinced the story was true. It all seemed so unlikely. I decided to go back to square one, and look at all the evidence again. The penny - eventually - dropped, after reading all the discussions of the Royal Club AGM, as recorded in the Annual of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club for 1924-25.

The problem is that the exchange reproduced above, from the verbatim minutes, has been taken out of context.

A member, William Henderson of Lawton, was questioning the meeting Chairman, John McLeod, within a discussion about sending funds to the British Olympic Association. Henderson asks, "Tell us if any of the members of this Olympic Team were members of the Swedish Team as well."

Later in the discussion at the AGM, Henderson says, "It is perfectly obvious, I think, that a great many of the curlers who take part in these games, such as the Olympic Games, the Games in Sweden, and the Games in Canada are selected, in some cases, three or four times." Henderson goes on to say, "A great many of the curlers who take part in these Games are the same individuals time and again."
I believe now that when Henderson asked the question of the Chairman if he had been a member of 'the Swedish Team', he was referring, not to the Swedish team at the Olympics, but to the Royal Club Tour Team that went to Sweden some years previously. It was McLeod's participation on the Swedish tour, ie the 1920 'Swedish Team', that Henderson was asking about. Henderson asked this to back up his argument that ordinary members of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club were not being given an opportunity to represent their country in international events. He was trying to establish that McLeod, who had been one of the squad in Chamonix, had also been on an official tour to Sweden previously, as Jackson, Murray, Astley, and Robertson-Aikman had all been to Canada on previous tours.

"Tell us if any of the members of this Olympic Team were members of the Swedish Team as well" has simply been misunderstood. It does not say, "Tell us if any members of the GB team at the Olympic Games in Chamonix were members of the Swedish team at the Olympic Games." This is what Doug Gillon and I, and others, have assumed was being asked. What Henderson was saying was, "Tell us if any members of the team that went to the Olympics were members of the team which went to Sweden?" And this does perhaps explain why McLeod was somewhat hesitant in replying to the question if any of the others in the GB Olympic squad had been 'members of the Swedish team' which travelled to that country in 1920, as that had been four years before.

It all makes sense now. At least, it does to me! I hope that the interpretation above meets with general approval. My fellow blogger, David Smith, the former Sheriff of Kilmarnock, is convinced.

In summary, there is no evidence at all that one of the GB reserves also played for Sweden in the Olympic curling competition in 1924.

The moral for me is to always take things in context, read what is on the page, not what I think is on the page!

Postscript: William Henderson, who was such a vocal critic of the Royal Club at the 1924 AGM, was elected as Vice-President of the Royal Club in the 1930-31 season, and captained the Royal Club touring team in Canada in 1938.

The photo of the GB curling squad comes from a scrapbook kept by Tom Murray, now in the care of his great granddaughter, and reproduced with her permission.