Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Curling at the 1924 Winter Olympics: Part 1 - The GB Curlers

by Bob Cowan

In 1924, eight curlers travelled to Chamonix, France, to represent Great Britain in what was to become the first Olympic Winter Games. This photo was published in the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1924-1925. It is credited to Aug Couttet, Chamonix, and captioned 'British Curlers Marching Past Saluting Base' and is from the opening ceremonies on January 25, 1924. The eight members of the Great British curling team - these days we would call them the GB 'squad' - are those in the foreground. The curlers paraded with brooms 'at a slope', with curling stone handles hung around their necks on tartan ribbon. Colonel Robertson-Aikman is out in front with the seven others behind, in two ranks.

In the many years I've been associated with the sport of curling I've seen the formation of the International Curling Federation (now the World Curling Federation), curling as a demonstration sport at Calgary in the Winter Olympics of 1988, its eventual reinstatement as a full Olympic sport in 1998, Rhona Martin and her GB team's success at Ogden at the Salt Lake City Olympics in 2002, the continuing spread of the sport worldwide since then, not forgetting the development of wheelchair curling and its introduction into the Winter Paralympics. How massive has Olympic curling become! Soon the sport will take centre stage in Sochi, Russia, when the first rounds of the 2014 Olympic competition begin on Monday, February 10. But curling's Olympic story began in Chamonix, back in 1924.

Unfortunately, there's a lot of misinformation 'out there' about the first Olympic curling competition, and the British victory in 1924. I've tried to set out here all the facts about the competition and the competitors, as best as I have been able to uncover. I want to ensure that the four members of the winning team are well remembered. This post is the first of three. The second part is here. And the third, here.

This photo is from the British Olympic Association Official Report of the VIIIth Olympiade, 1924. This report was compiled by F G L Fairlie, who is styled 'Official Compiler to the British Olympic Association', the book being published by that organisation in 1925. I will refer to this book as 'Fairlie's BOA Report' below. The photographer is not named. This report is not available online, but can be consulted in the National Library of Scotland.

The names of the eight members of the GB curling squad, shown in the photograph above, were (L-R) William Brown, Laurence Jackson, Thomas B Murray, William K Jackson, John McLeod, Robin Welsh, Major D G Astley and Colonel T S Robertson-Aikman. The photo was taken on the day of the opening ceremonies, Friday, January 25, 1924.

You can see that round the neck of each of each player are two handles, plus stone bolts and washers!

For the opening celebrations, representatives from participating nations paraded from the town to the skating rink behind the municipal band. The French Under-Secretary of State for Physical Education, Gaston Vidal, proclaimed the Games open. Camille Mandrillon took the Olympic Oath on behalf of the athletes. Mandrillon was a member of the French team in military patrol, a forerunner of biathlon.

The GB curlers had been selected by a specially convened committee of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, in response to an invitation from the organisers, to send a rink of four curlers, with an equal number of reserves, to represent Great Britain. The emphasis is mine, as there has been some confusion on why both Britain and Sweden have eight names, and France has six, in official sources and records. Only these three countries participated in the curling competition, which, in 1924, was contested only by men.

The GB team, which played in two matches, was Willie Jackson (skip), Robin Welsh (3rd), Tom Murray (2nd) and Laurence Jackson (lead), using their informal names. That's the team above, lined up in order, with skip Willie Jackson on the left of the photograph. The photographer is not credited. There is a version of this photo in the Official Report - not Fairlie's BOA Report, referred to above - but that published by the French Olympic Committee, Les Jeux de la VIIIe Olympiade, Paris 1924, Rapport Officiel. I will refer to this publication as the 'French Official Report'. This is online and can be downloaded as a (large) pdf file from here. It's written in French and information and photos about the curling competition occupy just three pages. Both this and Fairlie's BOA report contain extensive information from the Paris games held later in 1924, as well as the Chamonix details.

What the players are wearing in the above photo is what they wore on the ice during the matches. Apparently, ties were de rigueur as were bunnets, and all wore plus fours. Willie and Laurence had white jumpers under their jackets, whereas Tom Murray sported a (presumably) colourful patterned jumper. Jackets had a union flag patch on the left arm. Shoes look to be normal outdoor shoes of the time, presumably with rubber soles.

The four reserves were Colonel John T S Robertson-Aikman (who was named the squad's 'Captain'), John McLeod, William Brown, and Major D G Astley.

Some content in the French Official Report is completely wrong. Laurence Jackson's name does not appear at all. W K Jackson is listed as a 'non-participant', as is an 'R Cousin'. This is probably the representative member for Edinburgh Ice Rink, Robert Cousin, who was on the Council of Management of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in 1924. Although listed as a non-participant, there is no evidence that Cousin was ever a member of the GB squad, or that he ever went to Chamonix. Unfortunately Laurence Jackson's omission has not been recognised by some, notably the website (here) of the Sportscotland Institute of Sport, the organisation which supports our current Olympic hopefuls. This lists the eight names which appear in the French Official Report, ie including Cousin but omitting Laurence Jackson, on the web page which lists all British Olympic Winter Games medallists.

This photo can be found in the gallery of the 1924 Games on the IOC website here. Its legend says '28th January 1924: The British Curling team during the Winter Olympics at Chamonix, France.' It is credited to Topical Press Agency/Getty Images.

If the date is that when the photo is taken, the GB team did not play a match in the Olympic competition that day. Could this be the GB team and the four reserves having a practice game, with seven of the eight in the shot? It certainly looks so. Some of the participants can be easily identified. Colonel Robertson-Aikman is on the left of the photo, and Willie Jackson is second on the left. I believe that watching the two sweepers are (L-R) William Brown, Major Astley (with his face slightly obscured) and John McLeod. Tom Murray and Laurence Jackson are the sweepers. Robin Welsh is not in the picture - presumably he has delivered the stone. Note the Union flag patch on the left sleeve of the sweeper nearest the camera. Note too that the sweepers are using brushes, whereas others in the photo are carrying corn brooms, but all seem to be participating in the play.

You will sometimes hear said that Chamonix was not actually the 'first official Winter Olympics', so let's clarify this before going further. Figure skating had been included in the summer games in London in 1908, and again in Antwerp in 1920, when an ice hockey competition had also been held. In June 1921, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) decided that a winter sports event should be held in 1924, prior to the Paris Olympic Summer Games later in the year. The French National Olympic Committee, during a Winter Sports Federations' Congress in June 1921, chose Chamonix to host this event.

Although the 'Semaine Internationale des Sports d'Hiver' (International Winter Sports Week - which actually went on for eleven days) was not called officially the ‘Olympic Winter Games’ at the time, it was organised under the patronage of the IOC, and included many of the ceremonial aspects of the Olympic Games. Following the success of the event, the IOC decided, during their 1925 Congress in Prague, to hold similar winter events every four years, which would be known as Olympic Winter Games. The Chamonix International Winter Sports Week was then retrospectively recognised as the first Olympic Winter Games. The reason why the Chamonix event was not called officially the first Olympic Winter Games at the time was political. The Scandinavian countries already had their own successful Nordic Games, held usually in Sweden. Representatives from these countries felt that the new 'Olympic Winter Games' would detract from the importance of the Nordic Games. Athletes from Norway, Finland, and Sweden did take part in the 1924 Winter Sports Week, and it has been suggested that the French organisers were able to encourage them to do so, partly by not calling the event, the 'Olympics'. That said, newspaper reports from Chamonix at the time all refer to the 'Olympics' in one way or another. As it turned out, the Olympic Winter Games were to continue, but the Nordic Games did not, being held for the last time in 1926.

The International Olympic Committee's Olympic Study Centre has an extensive archive collection. There is an overview of what these archives contain about the early Olympic Winter Games online here. The following information is from this source. The Chamonix Winter Games were held from January 25 to February 5, 1924, and attracted 258 participants (247 men and 11 women) representing 16 different countries. The programme consisted of six different sports (16 separate events): skating (figure and speed skating), skiing (cross-country skiing, nordic combined, ski jumping), military patrol (a forerunner of the modern biathlon), ice hockey, curling and bobsleigh. The host city Chamonix had to construct an ice rink, a ski jump, a bobsleigh run and a curling rink.

Details of all the GB participants at the Chamonix Games can be found in Fairlie's BOA Report. Great Britain competed in ladies' figure skating, men's figure skating, pairs figure skating, ice hockey, and bobsleigh, as well as curling.

Roger Frison-Roche was the Secretary of the Chamonix Winter Sports Committee. Fifty years later his reminiscences about the event were recorded in a transcript of a speech which you can read here. It is fascinating to learn of the problems which the organisers encountered. First of all there was a huge snowfall. Then, with everything ready a week before the event, a thaw set in, and the main ice rink was 'transformed into a lake'! The majority of the competitors at Chamonix were skaters and they were unable to train. The curling rink was the first ice area to be 'reconstructed' and was used by figure skaters, speed skaters and hockey players before the main ice surface was ready. This limited the time available for the curlers to practise.

This plan of the main ice arena shows the adjacent curling rink, marked out to show it large enough for four sheets. The original hope had been for a curling competition much larger than that involving just the three countries which took part, and a four-sheet rink would have allowed easily for an eight-country competition. The image is extracted from the French Official Report.

This photo, also extracted from the French Official Report, is captioned, 'Le Rink du Stade Olympique du Mont Blanc pendant le tournoi'. (The Rink of the Mont Blanc Olympic Stadium during the tournament.) Fairlie's BOA Report says, "Two rinks, side by side, could be accommodated, but only one was used." This photo seems to contradict this as it certainly shows two sheets in use. Indeed, a number of photos in the French Official Report do seem to show curling activity taking place over more than one sheet. A photo in the Spaarnestad collection in the Netherlands National Archives (here) clearly shows two rinks in play, and is captioned 'Winter Olympics Chamonix 1924. View of the Curling field'. It is dated January 27, the day before the first official match, so may show practice sessions underway.

The first official match of the curling competition was held on Monday, January 28, 1924, at 10:00. Sweden beat France, 18-10. GB's Colonel Robertson-Aikman was the umpire.

At 10.00 the following day, Tuesday, January 29, 1924, Great Britain played Sweden and won 38-7. France's Henri Cournollet was the umpire.

This photo, extracted from the French Official Report, apparently shows the GB v Sweden game. It is captioned, 'The decisive match between Sweden and Britain'. The result of this match - the GB team's first - was only 'decisive' in the sense that Sweden did not win it, and so did not win the tournament outright, as they had already won their first game. GB still had a game to play, against France. The photographer of this photo and the one above is not credited. That's Laurence Jackson in the white jumper just behind Tom Murray in the patterned top, both looking at what is happening in the head. The Swedish skip is sweeping, or about to sweep, with a corn broom, his body just obscuring a figure that is almost certainly Robin Welsh. But what are the three figures on the right doing? Are they spectators, actually standing on the ice beside the players? 

On Wednesday, January 30, 1924, at 10:00, GB played France, winning 46-4. Sweden's Erik Severin officiated.

This photo is from the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1924-1925. It is credited to The Times and captioned 'Great Britain v France'. It does have a 'posed' feel to it but it is of sufficient quality to be able to identify some of the participants. Willie Jackson (second from left) is gesturing with his brush, with Robin Welsh and Lawrence Jackson on his left. Tom Murray, on the right in his signature jersey, seems to be explaining something to three of the French team. He appears to have some paper in his hand. As second player on the team, it may have been his job to record the score. The curler on the left of the photo must be another of the French players. Behind him, in the background, and again standing on the ice beside the playing area, that looks like Colonel Robertson-Aikman. And in the middle background that could well be Major Astley and John McLeod watching the action.

Games were of eighteen ends and one has to assume that the full eighteen were played, given the size of the scores. Back in 1924, there was no offering the handshakes early to concede.

This is how the results are recorded in the French Official Report. Two points were awarded for a win, and one point was to be awarded for a draw. So, after the single round robin, GB had four points and were the gold medallists, Sweden two points and were silver medallists, and France none, and were the bronze medallists.

Although several websites, including Wikipedia (here), suggest that there was a 'silver medal playoff' to decide the medallists. This is best considered as an urban legend, with no basis in truth. I'll return to this topic later.

Here is the front of one of the gold medals which were awarded at Chamonix. It shows a winter sports athlete, with open arms. He is holding a pair of skates and a pair of skis. The background shows the Alps with Mont Blanc. The tender for the design had been won by engraver Raoul Benard. 2,000 copies were made in the workshops of the Paris mint.

The French inscription on the reverse can be translated as, "Chamonix Mont-Blanc Winter Sports, 25 January - 5 February 1924, organised by the French Olympic Committee under the high patronage of the International Olympic Committee on the occasion of the celebration of the VIII Olympiad." Note that the Olympic Rings do not appear in the design.

In 1924, there were no podium presentations. The awards were made at the closing ceremony, according to Fairlie's BOA Report. However, in the Royal Club Annual for 1924-25 there is a report entitled 'World's Curling Champions. British Team's Success at Olympic Games'. This says, "When it became known that Great Britain had won the World's Curling Championship, the Union Jack was run to the top of the mast, and while competitors and spectators stood to attention with heads uncovered, the military band played 'God Save The King'."

There's a pic of the gold, silver and bronze medals together online here, although I note that the silver medal shown is described as a replica!

Medal winners also received a diploma. This photo is a generic image taken from the French Official Report. The real thing is in colour. The diplomas won by Willie Jackson and Laurence Jackson were framed and now belong to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club's Charitable Trust. Willie Jackson's is illustrated on page 97 of The Joy of Curling: A Celebration by Ed Lukovich, Eigil Ramsfjell and Bud Somerville, this book published in 1990.

What of the medals won by the GB curlers? Robin Welsh's medal is known to be safely in the care of his grandson. The two won by Willie Jackson and Lawrence Jackson were purchased in 2008 by the Royal Club's Charitable Trust, see here. Has Tom Murray's medal survived? I don't know. [Added later. Yes it has! Derek Whitehouse has pointed me in the direction of an article which appeared in a local paper, the Lanark Gazette of Thursday, March 7, 2002, which has a photo of Tom Murray's grandson with the medal. And I can now confirm, as of November, 2013, that the medal is safely in the care of his great granddaughters.]

Did the four reserves also receive medals? I wish to suggest that the reserves did not get medals, as they did not play in either game. Until quite recently it was not policy to award medals to alternates at international curling events, unless they had taken to the ice for at least part of a game. I have found two other pieces of information which support the view that only the four members of the Jackson team got medals. Robin Welsh, son of the Robin Welsh who played in Chamonix, writes in his book Beginner's Guide to Curling, published in 1969, "The British Curling deputation at the Games, led by Colonel Robertson-Aikman, were as proud of the medals and diplomas won as the four Scots who had won them." The final sentence of the report in the 1924-24 Annual says, "The British players received gold medals and diplomas, which they very highly prize." Again, it's my emphasis in both cases. These two bits of evidence suggest to me that only the four curlers who played in the two matches were presented with gold medals. Should gold medals and diplomas belonging to Robertson-Aikman, Astley, McLeod or Brown ever turn up, then my assumption will be proved wrong!

Other memorabilia from the event is shown in a Curling History Blog post about Willie Jackson, here. This contains images of Jackson's official identity card, and a competitor's badge which probably belonged to Robin Welsh. 

The GB curling team had been selected by a committee of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club. After the Games, the process came in for criticism at the Royal Club AGM in 1924, held on Wednesday, July 23, in the Station Hotel, Perth. Member William Henderson, from Lawton, complained that regular club members had had 'no proper opportunity to take part'. It was explained to the meeting that the Royal Club 'were left in the position of having to decide within two or three days whether to send a team and whom to send'. But there had been time to appoint a selection committee. In the Chair during these discussions at the AGM was John McLeod, who had been one of the reserves in Chamonix. He concluded, "We sent out our premier team, and they justified their being sent." McLeod also stated that when the selection of a team was being made, they had been told that seven or eight countries were going to be represented in the curling competition, including the USA and Canada.

Sir Robert Lockhart (representative of the Raith and Abbotshall Club), who had been a member of the selection committee, explained further, "I wish to say we took the very greatest care and did everything in our power to secure and elect the best representative curlers to represent Great Britain in France on the first occasion on which there had been an Olympic contest in curling." 

More about the selection process can be found in the correspondence columns of The Courier, Thursday, August 21, 1924, in response to continued criticisms in that paper by William Henderson. Sir Robert Lockhart wrote, "We were asked to send one rink of four players and four reserves. After carefully considering the situation from every point of view, the Committee came to the conclusion that, while it was probable that the ice would be keen, it was possible, as the matches would be played on open ice, that there would be a good deal of sweeping to do, and that it was therefore necessary to send a comparatively young and athletic team."

Also at the AGM, a member asked if the Royal Club had defrayed the expenses of the GB team. It was explained that none of the cost of sending the team to Chamonix had come from Royal Club funds. Part of the costs came from the British Olympic Association, and part from the curlers themselves.

This is a studio photo of the GB team. L-R: Willie Jackson (skip), Tom Murray (2nd), Laurence Jackson (lead) and Robin Welsh (3rd). It is from the Annual for 1924-1925. It is credited to C H Banu. I have not found any photo showing the teams being presented with their medals and diplomas. Such a photo may never have been taken.

What more can be said about these GB team members, the first curling Olympic curling gold medallists? Firstly, all four were Scottish. The skip's full name was William Kilgour Jackson - he was known as 'Willie' Jackson. He was born March 14, 1871, in Lamington, South Lanarkshire, and so would have been 52 years old at Chamonix. He was head of the family business, which he established in 1900, farming and dealing in cattle and sheep from a base in Symington. Willie Jackson was the outstanding Scottish curler of the first half of the twentieth century. He was a top performing skip with the Scottish team which played against the visiting Canadians in 1921. He was a Vice-president of the Royal Club in the 1922-23 season and again in 1931-32. Then in 1933-34 he served as the Club's President. He died in Symington in January 1955. His obituary, in the Royal Club's Annual for 1955-56, said, "He was indeed a master of the game, whether in direction or in performance," and, "Willie Jackson was a most lovable personality, always willing to help with encouragement and advice and always ready to have a crack about his favourite game."

It's 'jackets off' in this photo of Willie Jackson skipping at Chamonix. Exactly when this was taken and who the photographer was is unclear. It has been used to accompany text in an article about the history of curling on the World Curling Federation's website here.

Robin Welsh was born in October 20, 1869, in Edinburgh and died October 21, 1934, in a nursing home in that city, aged 65. He was the son of a farmer at Liberton and educated at George Watson's. He played club rugby for the Watsonian club and represented Scotland in the three internationals held in 1895. He also represented Scotland at tennis in 1914. In 1920 Welsh entered Edinburgh City Council and was soon elected a magistrate. He was one of Scotland's outstanding curlers and as skip he won the Linlithgow Trophy, the Swan Trophy, the Rink Medal, and the World's Championship, which was played in Edinburgh. Welsh, who threw third stones at Chamonix, was 54 years old then. He became Vice-president of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in 1924-25, the season following the Chamonix Games. He was a director of the Edinburgh Ice Rink Ltd, and secretary of the Edinburgh Ice Rink Curling and Skating Club. An extensive obituary, written by A Gordon Mitchell, can be found in the Annual for 1934-35. Welsh's son, also named Robin who was just fifteen when his father died, was to become secretary of the Royal Club and the International Curling Federation, and edited the Scottish Curler magazine from 1954 to 1998.

Thomas Blackwood Murray was born October 3, 1877, in Biggar, South Lanarkshire. He was second player at Chamonix when he was 46 years of age. He died June 3, 1944, aged 66. Tom Murray came from a farming background and began curling at his local Biggar Curling Club at the end of the nineteenth century. He was one of the most prominent Scottish curlers of the first half of the twentieth century. He was a member of the teams which toured Canada in 1911-12, and again in 1922-23. He played with Willie Jackson in many competitions. Murray is better known these days by his initials 'T B', as the T B Murray Trophy, which he presented to encourage junior curling at the Haymarket Rink, is the trophy that is presented to the winners of the Scottish Junior Men's Championship. He served as President of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in 1936-37. His obituary can be found in the Royal Club Annual for 1944-45 which notes that he was a gifted after dinner speaker. He is described as 'silver-tongued' Tom Murray.

Laurence Jackson was the skip's son. He was born September 16, 1900 in Carnwath, South Lanarkshire. He was the youngest member of the British squad, by some way. He was 23 when playing at Chamonix. He had considerable curling experience though, and had played with his father and Tom Murray in the Strathcona Cup matches against the Canadians in 1921. There is just a hint out there that perhaps he was not the first choice for selection, as he is not in the last of eight names that appears in the French Official Report. Which is odd. However, there is no doubt that he did play as lead on the GB team in both championship matches. After Chamonix he went on to have a long curling career, continuing to play in his father's rink as third with his brother Elliot and Johnnie Plenderleith as lead, and when Willie Jackson retired he skipped his own rinks post WW2 to many important victories. He died on July 27, 1984, aged 83, in Biggar. His obituary can be found in the September 1984 issue of the Scottish Curler, where he is described as 'the best shotmaker in Scottish curling in the immediate pre-war period'. He was President of the Edinburgh Ice Rink Curling Club in 1950-51.

Had the GB team played together before Chamonix 1924? Perhaps not, although the four would have known each other well. Tom Murray had been Willie Jackson's third player in many competitions, and when Edinburgh Ice Rink Ltd, the holding company that owned and operated Haymarket Ice Rink, decided to put up a trophy in 1922 for annual competition, grandly named the 'World's Curling Championship', the first winning names to be engraved on the trophy included those of Willie Jackson and Tom Murray. Jackson, father and son, with Tom Murray, had played in four test matches for the Strathcona Cup during the Canadians' visit in 1921, winning three of these matches. That was the same record as Robin Welsh who also skipped in four test matches. Willie Jackson skipped one of the teams in the Royal Club's Tour to Canada and the USA in January and February 1923, the season before Chamonix, and was also the Vice-captain. Tom Murray was his third player. All the details of this Tour are in a book The Scottish Curlers in Canada and the USA: A Record of their Tour in 1922-23, by Major M H Marshall who was the honorary secretary of the tour team. The records show that Jackson and Murray were the 'outstanding players on the visiting team', winning 43 and drawing two of 61 games.

Murray moved down to be second player in Chamonix to make room in the team for Robin Welsh, also a successful skip against the Canadians in 1921. But Tom Murray was a good skip in his own right. The Annual of 1922-23 has a photo of Tom Murray with his team which had won the Directors Trophy at the Haymarket Rink in 1922. Laurence Jackson was a member of that team.

John McLeod, Bridge of Weir, had been a member of the Scottish team in Canada in 1912-13, and was also a test match skip against Canada, winning two of four matches, in 1921. In the 1919-20 season a Scottish team had visited Sweden, and this was captained by John McLeod. McLeod died in 1937 and his obituary in the 1937-38 Annual notes he 'was one of the most skilful curlers in Scotland'. John McLeod was the Royal Club's Vice-president in the 1923-24 season in which the Chamonix games took place. There's much more about McLeod later in this story!

William Brown stands the tallest of the curlers in the group photo, shown above, from Fairlie's BOA Report. That photo misrepresents Brown's actual height, as the group were standing on an uneven surface. He was not a giant, as the photo appears to show! There's another photo of Brown in the Royal Club Annual for 1927-28, which shows that in the 1926-27 season he had been a member of Willie Jackson's rink, at lead, in at least two competitions. Prior to the 1924 Games, he had been a member of both Symington CC (of which Jackson was President) and Biggar CC (of which Murray was President). Brown then was well known to the GB team, and perhaps was selected as a reserve because of his abilities to play front end should the need arise. Unfortunately, Pierre Richard in his book Curling... Ou Le Jeu De Galets: Son histoire au Quebec (1807-1980), published in 2007, makes the incorrect assumption that GB's William Brown is the same person who was a member of the Royal Montreal CC and skipped the Quebec side in 1932 when curling was a demonstration event at Lake Placid. They are two different curlers. Indeed, the Canadian William Brown, who was originally from Sanquhar, is recorded in Major M H Marshall's book as playing against some of the tourists at the Thistle Club in Montreal during the 1922-23 tour.

Colonel T S Robertson-Aikman was the the senior member of the GB Squad. He had been a Royal Club Vice-president in 1895-96, and would be elected as the Club's President in the season which followed the Chamonix Games. He had captained the Scottish team which had visited Canada in 1912-13, had been Scottish team captain when the Canadians came to Scotland in 1921, and was persuaded to be captain again when the Scots toured Canada and the USA in 1922-23. On that tour, Robertson-Aikman skipped one of the teams, the 'Captain's Rink', so he was an accomplished player. His team had, at second, Major D G Astley! So these two reserves of the GB squad knew each other well. The latter played 58 games in total as a second player during the Canadian tour. This was his second time as a member of a Tour team. When he was Captain D G Astley, he had been the 'reserve member' on the 1912-13 tour.

I have emphasized the 'tour connections' here. Any curler who has experienced the intensity and stamina required (both on and off the ice) in these international forays to Canada and the USA, or to Sweden, will realise that a few days in France would have been coped with easily! One could say that the GB squad was 'battle-hardened'!

In 1924 Robertson-Aikman and Astley were both members of Hamilton CC, the club of which the former was President for many years. Astley though is only mentioned in that club's listings in the Royal Club Annuals of 1922-23, 1923-24 and 1924-25 as an 'occasional member' (as opposed to a 'regular member') and his name disappears from the records completely in the season following the Chamonix Games. He was not a player with a championship winning record as some of the others, but he was an experienced player, as his tour record shows. He would have been 55 years of age in Chamonix.

Astley was English! He was born in Norfolk, and lived near Norwich, far from any curling club in England at the time. He seems to have learned his curling as a member of the St Moritz CC in Switzerland. He is listed as a member of that club, as Captain D G Astley, from 1909 to 1912, and again in 1914. I haven't discovered why there is a connection with the Hamilton CC, but I suspect this may have just have been because of his friendship with Colonel Robertson-Aikman. He would have had to have been a member of a curling club affiliated to the Royal Club to have been able to tour Canada in 1922-23, and indeed to play in Chamonix. I set out to find out more about him. Astley's home in 1923 was Little Plumstead Hall, Norwich, which later became a hospital.

Astley seems to have been a keen sailor, racing a Broads One Design called Dotterel and a Yare and Bure One Design called Painted Lady on the Norfolk Broads in the 1920s. He was Chairman of the Red Poll Cattle Society for many years. But he was more than just a Norfolk farmer, see here!

Delaval Graham L'Estrange Astley was born on December 7, 1868. His birth is registered in Aylsham Parish in Norfolk. He died at home at Wroxham Cottage on May 17, 1951, at age 82. He gained the rank of Lieutenant in the service of the Welsh Regiment and the rank of Major in the service of the North Somerset Yeomanry. He was to hold the office of Deputy Lieutenant of Norfolk. He was invested as a Companion, Order of the Bath, in 1941.

Why have I sought out information about Major Astley? These days his name has become the most well known of the GB squad, more so than the Jacksons, Murray and Welsh. Just put the name into any search engine to see why he has achieved notoriety! You will find that he is recorded as having played for both the GB team and for Sweden, and so is unique in Olympic history as having won both gold and silver medals for different countries at the same competition. I will return to all this later, as it's simply not true!

There is one further image which I'd like to include here. It's rather fun! It's an artist's colour sketch showing the GB curlers in action, and reminds me that though we tend to think of Chamonix 1924 in just black and white, from the photographs of the time, the real situation would have been much more colourful! It appears on a Tanzanian stamp, issued in 1997, one of a set of sports' stamps issued by that country in the run up to the 1998 Olympic Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, when curling was to be included in the programme as a full medal sport.

Over the years, many countries have issued stamps commemorating various Olympic sports, even though the country may have no direct connection with the sport, as in this case. This stamp comes from my own thematic stamp collection of 'the sport of curling'. I wondered if the artist had used an actual image as his template. I'm sure this is indeed the case, and I've found the image. Compare the image on the stamp with the photo of the GB squad practising (shown above), remove a couple of figures from the group around the stone being swept, and one has the composition from which the artist who painted the stamp image has used as a starting point!

I like the interpretation of the colourful argyle pattern hose the two sweepers are wearing with their plus-fours. However the information on the right which overprints the image is rather fanciful! It says, "First Olympic Winter Games - 1924 Curling is introduced; England and Scotland play. No winner announced." Now that's a good story!

The story continues in Part 2, below.

The sources of all the images above are as indicated. I will be pleased to receive comments and corrections if I've made mistakes. And thanks to Derek Whitehouse for remembering, and keeping safe, the newspaper article about Tom Murray's medal!

Curling at the 1924 Winter Olympics: Part 2 - The Rest of the Story

by Bob Cowan. As I write this, there are just 100 days to go before the Olympic Winter Games get underway at Sochi, Russia. The GB curling teams have already been named. This post continues the story of the curling competition in 1924 in Chamonix, France, when curling's Olympic story began. Part 1 is here.

A few days before the Games were due to begin, on January 22, an international 'Curling Congress' was convened at the Hotel Majestic in Chamonix to decide, amongst other things, how the first Olympic curling competition should be run! Those who attended that congress are shown in the photo above, published in the Royal Caledonian Curling Club Annual for 1924-25. In the back row is Fernand Henri Cournollet (France), Armand Isaac-Benedic (France), Paul Rousseau (Comite Olympique Francais), A Maucourt (France), I Magnus (France). In front is W Hewit (Canada), Colonel Robertson-Aikman (Great Britain), Marquis de Solignac (Comite International Olympique), Major D G Astley (Great Britain), P J Mulqueen (Canada).

Robertson-Aikman and Astley were both reserves in the GB squad. Cournollet and Isaac-Benedic were skip and third of the French team. There was no Swedish representative on the committee although the Royal Club Annual does suggest that Robertson-Aikman was carrying a mandate for that country. Nor was there a Swiss representative. I had wondered what Astley could have contributed - but we know he had a number or years competing in St Moritz both before and after WW1, so he had experience of the Swiss curling scene.

Not all the attendees were curlers. The photo above includes two Canadians, even though that country would not be represented in the curling event. I wonder why not. Canadian curlers were certainly invited. Perhaps the reason lies undiscovered to this day in the archives of the Canadian Curling Association, or the Canadian Olympic Association. P J Mulqueen served for many years on both the Canadian Olympic Association and the Amateur Athletic Union of Canada. The 'W Hewit' I think is William Abraham Hewitt, sportswriter and editor of the Toronto Star, and secretary of the Ontario Hockey Association. (Certainly the photo of Hewitt on this page corresponds to the person front left in the group above.) He was in Chamonix as manager of the Canadian ice hockey team (the Toronto Granites) who would play in the ice hockey competition there, and win it. If I have identified Mulqueen and Hewitt correctly, then it can be said that neither of the Canadian representatives at the Congress was a well-kent curling player or administrator. The Congress appointed a Committee which comprised Robertson-Aikman as President, Mulqueen as Vice-president, and Magnus as Secretary, although what function the Committee was to have after January 22 is unclear.

It was this group that decided that games would be of eighteen ends, and that a round robin would be played to decide a winner. The draw was made, by ballot, for matches to begin on Saturday, January 26: On Day 1, Great Britain v Switzerland, France v Sweden; on Day 2, Great Britain v Sweden, France v Switzerland; Day 3, Sweden v Switzerland, Great Britain v France.

However, the Swiss withdrew from the competition, a revised draw was made, and the competition then got underway on Monday, January 28. The French Official Report lists the eight names of the Swiss squad which had been expected to compete. These Swiss curlers were named as H Buchli, J Caprez, Castan, C Genillard, A Rocco, H Roelli, P Wieland, and W Wieland. Again, eight names, so presumably the Swiss had been asked to field a team of four, plus four reserves. It should be possible to expand on the names of these Swiss players, and to learn something about them. But that's for another time. It is unknown why the Swiss did not take part, dropping out at what appears to be the last minute. Perhaps such information may lie in the archives of the Swiss Olympic Association. In 1924 there was no national Swiss Curling Association. There were twenty-five Swiss curling clubs affiliated directly to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club in that year, although many of the members of these clubs were British visitors. Still, in 1924, many Swiss curled, and a national team would have been a strong one.

A photo of the French team appeared in the French Official Report. Actually I was able to obtain in an online auction the photo above, almost identical to that in the French Official Report, but a little better quality, apparently clipped from a magazine of the time. On the left is skip Fernand Henri Jean Cournollet, who was 41 years old during the games. Next to him is Armand Isaac-Benedic who was 48. The two players on the right of the photo are Pierre Canivet (33) and George Andre (47), although I am not sure which is which. On the basis of the ages, I would say that the taller of the two is Andre, and the curler on the right, with the beard, is Canivet. What do you think? Hopefully someone will be able to confirm the identity of all four players in the photo.

Information about the ages of all these players comes from the detailed Olympic statistics on the Sports-Reference website here, certainly the best source for reliable Olympic information on the Web. The French Official Report gives the names of two alternates, Henri Aldebert and Robert Planque, neither of whom participated in either game the French played. The website of the French Olympic Committee lists all six names as bronze medal winners, see here. Mind you this site also states that curling was a 'demonstration sport' in 1924. There were NO demonstration sports in Chamonix, and it is one of the sport's mysteries just why this information came to be accepted, see below.

There was no national French Curling Association in 1924. The Chamonix (Mont Blanc) Curling Club was directly affiliated to the Royal Caledonian Curling Club, instituted in 1923, and its members are listed in the 1924-25 Annual. The club had sixteen men and thirteen women members in that season. Four of the six names above are in that list - Isaac-Benedic and Planque are not. The list of members of the club in September 1924, as listed in the Annual for 1924-25, also includes the name of the French Under-Secretary of State for Physical Education, Gaston Vidal, who had declared the Games open. There is a photo of him on the ice at the Chamonix Games here.

This poor quality photo, found here, shows the French team in action. However, it is captioned as showing action from the France - Switzerland match, illustrating that even information on official Olympic websites may be incorrect. Switzerland did not participate in 1924, as already discussed.

Although the Swedes only played two matches, all eight players in their squad took part, a different team playing in each match. Hakan Sundstrom, who served as secretary of the Swedish Curling Federation for many years, confirms this.

This photo, which appeared in the French Official Report, is of one of the Swedish teams. I believe these players to be (L-R) Karl Erik Wahlberg (49), Carl August Kronlund (58), Carl Axel Pettersson (49), and Johan Petter Ahlen (44). According to the information in the World Curling Federation's Historical Results database here, Kronlund was lead, Wahlberg, second, Pettersson, third, and Ahlen, skip. This is the team that beat France in the first match of the competition. The website of the Swedish Olympic Association has small head and shoulders photographs of all these athletes, here, and although these confirm both Kronlund and Ahlen, I'm less certain that I've identified the other two correctly. Incidentally Kronlund was the oldest curler in the curling competition at Chamonix. In the Royal Club Annual for 1924-25, Ahlen, Pettersson, Kronlund and Wahlberg were all listed as members of the same curling club, Stockholms CC, instituted in 1917.

There is a rather strange photo of Ahlen, Pettersson and Wahlberg to be found in the IOC's website gallery of curling photos from 1924, see here. It is captioned, 'Taking a break from the curling in Chamonix'. The three are sitting at a table in the snow, in what looks like an outdoor cafe/bar, apparently on the Montenvers, being served by a waitress who is pouring drinks. (I assume they would have ascended by the famous rack railway from Chamonix to the bottom of the Mer de Glace, a 'must do' attraction of the area even today.) I thought this was a strange image to find on the IOC website, but it all helps to build up a picture of an event which took place a long time ago!

Hopefully confirmation will come from Sweden on the identities of all those pictured.

Having identified the team that beat the French, by a process of elimination, the team that lost to Great Britain in the second match must have been Carl Wilhelm Petersen (39, skip), Ture Odlund (29, third), Victor Wetterstrom (39, second) and Erik Severin (44, lead). Again all the ages come from the sports-reference website, and this information matches that on the Swedish Olympic site. I have not yet found any photograph of this team together, but the search goes on! The 1924-25 Annual lists Peterson and Wetterstrom as being members of the Stockholms Amatoforenings Curling Section, instituted 1900, and Odlund and Severin as members of the Kronprinsens CC, instituted in 1913.

Why would the Swedish curlers select a different team in each of their matches? The country had won their first game, against France, so in fielding a different team they were not keeping with a winning lineup. My suggestion is that the Swedish squad had realised that only those who actually played in the competition would get medals, and they wanted to give all eight members the opportunity to earn these. This is only supposition on my part, however.

The myth that GB's Major Astley played for Sweden is discussed in Part 3, here.

There was little about the curling competition at Chamonix reported in the press of the time. However, the British victory did not go unnoticed. The Times covered the GB team's success in its issue of Thursday, January 31, with:

"Olympic Winter Sports
Great Britain Wins Curling
Chamonix, Jan 30
The Olympic Winter Sports were continued here today, when the Curling Contest was won by Great Britain, Sweden was second, and France third. The British team was composed of Colonel R Aikman, Major E G L Astley (sic), R Welsh, W K Jackson, L Jackson, W. Brown, J MacLeod (sic), and T B Murray."

The article continued with reports of the ice hockey competition, the 50 kilometre ski race, and an accident to the French bobsleigh team.

Further afield, it was not the competition result that filled the newspaper columns.

A syndicated report from the Associated Press was picked up by a number of North American newspapers. The clipping above is from the Bridgeport Telegraph, February 1, 1924. I think this has to be taken with a pinch of salt, but if the story has any basis in truth it answers the question of whose stones were used in the competition. It confirms that the curlers brought their own stones to Chamonix! We know that Robertson-Aikman and Astley went out early to Chamonix to take part in the Curling Congress. According to the report in the 1924-25 Annual, the rest of the squad travelled first to London where they left on January 23, to Dover, then across the Channel to Calais, on to Paris, and then across France to Chamonix. Most of the journey would have been by train, of course. Did one of the squad travel directly to Chamonix from Davos? I don't know.

Incidentally, play was likely to have been from the crampet, rather than the hack, and in some photos a crampet can indeed be seen lying flat on the ice. There were no coloured circles back then, nor taped lines. The scoring area, the house, would have been marked simply by a scraped circle, seven foot in radius, not six as it is today. The larger 'house' would have made it easier to score shots and may explain somewhat the very high scores. A tee-ringer would have been used to mark out the circles. Go here to see one of the 2014 GB curling squad using a tee-ringer!

What were the ice conditions like for the 1924 curling competition? Fairlie's BOA Report notes that because of the weather problems there had been very little practice possible for those who were to compete but during the actual event 'the ice was in excellent order'.  This contradicts what was read out by the Royal Club Secretary at the 1924 AGM saying, "The ice was not good, being untrue and not a good quality." But in the report printed in the Annual for 1924-25, it was noted, "Curling practice was then indulged in, and the ice was found to be something similar to that encountered under ordinary conditions in Scotland, though falling far short of the ideal ice provided in Haymarket Ice Rink." 

Fairlie, in his BOA Report, chose to include in the Conclusion of his one page report about the curling competition a short passage, which bears close scrutiny. He writes, "There are some who say that Curling is not a sport which ought to be included in the Winter Sports Section of the Olympic Programme. Whether they are right or wrong is a matter for the authorities. The fact remains that the International Olympic Committee included curling in their Programme and invited countries to participate, and Great Britain entered and won. On this account we desire to very heartily congratulate the team, which consisted of the following members of the Royal Caledonian Curling Club of Scotland, on their splendid victory: W K Jackson, R Welsh, T B Murray, L Jackson."

How do you react on reading this? I find it quite extraordinary that this passage was included in the BOA Official Report! Who were those who didn't want to see curling in the Olympics? Fairlie himself, or other individuals involved with the British Olympic Association? Or is Fairlie expressing (English) public opinion, and quoting those persons ignorant of the sport itself having never played it, and who judge it only by appearance? Such people are out there even now, to judge by comments posted on blogs, forums and on Twitter, but I like to think they are not so numerous as they once were, thanks to the sport's positive exposure at recent Olympic Games. 

Fairlie goes on to say nice things about Colonel Robertson-Aikman, that he had acted as guide and sponsor of the team throughout in a 'very able way'. He concludes, "His courtesy and willingness to fall in with every suggestion made to him and his team was a very great help and assistance to those who had charge of the British Teams in Chamonix, and added much to the smooth running of the competitions."

F G L Fairlie actually competed in the 1924 Winter Games. He was a member of the GB's bobsleigh squad, a member of GB1. This is significant as practice for the bobsleigh was taking place when the curling competition was going on, so I do wonder if he saw any of the actual games. His full name was Francis Gerard Luis Fairlie, born November 1, 1899, and died March 31, 1983. A Londoner, he attended Sandhurst Military College and served in the Scots Guards. The GB1 bobsleigh team had a bad accident when practising. The team were thrown out of the sled and the brakeman, Captain Browning, suffered a broken leg and the others, according to Fairlie himself, 'escaped with a bad shaking'. Browning was obviously unable to compete further and a different lineup for the GB1 bob - William Horton, Archibald Crabbe, Gerard Fairlie, and George Pim - competed in the championship competition, held a couple of days later on February 2-3, after the curling event was complete, finishing in fifth place. The GB2 bob was second and gained silver medals. There is a wonderful video clip of what the bobsleigh run was like online here.

Incidentally, a member of the French curling team, George Andre, not only played in the curling matches, but also was a member of one of that country's bobsleigh teams, as was curling team reserve Henri Aldebert. Andre's bob finished fourth in the competition.

I have been wondering whether there was any camaraderie among the curlers and those participating in other sports. Fairlie does include a photo of all those in 'Team GB' in the BOA Report. It is certainly possible to pick out the curlers. They are in the middle row, the reserves on the left and the actual team on the right. The photo is a little small but those familiar with the other sports may well be able to identify some of the competitors. Fairlie himself is in the back row, second from the right. The photo is credited to Central Press, London.

If there were indeed those who did not want curling to be included in future Olympic programmes, they would have been satisfied that the next Games in St Moritz, Switzerland, did not feature curling at all, nor is there any evidence that its inclusion was ever contemplated. There is no mention in Royal Club Annuals of any invitation to take part. However, such an invitation was issued in 1931, well in advance of the Lake Placid Games. The invitation was put to representative members attending the Royal Club AGM on July 29, in Ayr. The Secretary, Andrew Hamilton, advised that the Royal Club had been asked to 'sponsor teams' to take part in these games. It was noted that it was hoped that teams from GB, Canada, America, Sweden and Switzerland would take part. Hamilton concluded, "The expense of the trip is estimated to cost £80 to £100. Any one desiring to be included in the team will please inform the Secretary of the Royal Club by the end of October." The Chairman added, "That is merely for your information, gentleman," before moving on to other matters. It would seem that the Royal Club had no intention of selecting a team as had been done in 1924. No more about the 1932 Games appeared in Royal Club Annuals. Given that Britain was in the throes of an economic depression in these years, perhaps this is understandable.

Curling at Lake Placid did go ahead as a 'demonstration'. The Official Report of the 1932 Games can be downloaded from here. Only Canada and the USA competed, each country fielding four teams.

You may see reports that say that curling was a demonstration sport in 1936 and 1964. This was not curling but ice stock sport, also known as Bavarian curling or eisstockschiessen.

Over the years that followed, even into the era when modern curling was looking to become an Olympic sport, the success at Chamonix was forgotten, overlooked or misrepresented.

There are many references which describe curling as a demonstration sport at Chamonix. The Joy of Curling: A Celebration by Ed Lukovich, Eigil Ramsfjell and Bud Somerville from 1990 is one! Of course, the contemporary records, such as the French Official Report and Fairlie's BOA Report, had always shown that curling had been a full medal sport at Chamonix. But why was this fact overlooked in the intervening years? How had the 1924 curling competition become known as a demonstration sport? Perhaps the fact that curling had been a demonstration sport in 1932 had simply led people to assume that this had also been the case in 1924.

The book British Olympians: A Hundred Years of Gold Medallists which was published in 1991, is a fantastic reference for those interested in British Olympic athletes. But nowhere is curling even mentioned therein. The book contains a section with a full listing of British Olympic competitors introduced by 'Listed here is every British competitor who has actually taken part in the Olympic Games'. But it does not do this.

I find it extremely unlikely that the book's author, Ian Buchanan, could simply have overlooked the GB curling medallists when researching his book. It is inconceivable to me that Buchanan - a founder member and one time President of the International Society of Olympic Historians formed in 1991 - had not read the French Official Report or Fairlie's BOA Report of the 1924 Games. Indeed, he refers to Fairlie's BOA Report in the text of his book. My conclusion has to be that he deliberately omitted the curlers. I wonder why. He died in 2008, so his reason for not including the sport of curling, nor the names of Willie Jackson, Robin Welsh, Tom Murray and Laurence Jackson in his book, may never be known.

Mind you, the Royal Caledonian Curling Club does not include (as of November 2013) the 1924 Men's Olympic Champions in their list of past international champions on its website. This is an omission which I hope will be rectified soon! (Added later. And it has been, see here!)

Ironically, it was Buchanan's colleague, Ture Widlund, also a founder member of the ISOH, who is credited in the sports-reference website (here) for clarifying curling's status. This says, "Although no such distinction was ever made in 1924, most historians used to list curling as a demonstration sport at the 1924 Olympics. It is unclear why this happened, as the sport is listed among the other events in all contemporary sources, and the IOC never officially designated it as a demonstration sport. Ture Widlund, one of the co-founders and first Vice-President of the International Society of Olympic Historians, discovered this while looking at the 1924 Official Report, noting that there was no distinction in that report between curling and military ski patrol and any of the medal sports. The IOC was contacted about this seeming discrepancy, and just before the 2006 Winter Olympics, the IOC decided to officially declare the 1924 curling and military ski patrol events as Olympic, removing any doubt."

I have not found the original reference to Ture Widland's research, but there's no doubt in my mind that the person who brought the validity of these first gold medals to the notice of the wider public was Herald journalist, Doug Gillon, and GB sports fans are certainly in his debt.

I was Editor of the Scottish Curler magazine in the run up to the 2006 curling competition in Pinerolo. Doug came through on the telephone and I can recall clearly his excitement as he explained that when researching information about the 1924 Games he had discovered that GB had won gold medals then. The evidence was there clearly in contemporary reports, with no mention that curling had been a demonstration sport in 1924. Doug had contacted the International Olympic Committee in Lausanne, and received confirmation that this was the case. His article in the Herald on Monday, January 23, 2006, see here, caused quite a storm, see here and here for example. The IOC then issued a statement confirming that curling had indeed been a medal sport in 1924.

At the risk of being accused of nitpicking, I note that the World Curling Federation's website has an article on the history of curling at the Olympic Games (here). This begins, "Curling made its debut as an Olympic Winter Sport at the first Winter Games at Chamonix in 1924. At this event Great Britain defeated Sweden and France in what was retroactively accepted in 2006 by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and medals were awarded." This is not strictly true. The second sentence is misleading. There was no 'retroactive acceptance' leading to medals being awarded. As we've seen above, medals were awarded back in 1924, and curling was a medal sport at Chamonix. What happened in 2006 was that the IOC confirmed that curling had not been a demonstration sport in 1924, and that all the winners of all the events in 1924 should be considered as Olympic champions.

Robin Welsh, author of Beginner's Guide to Curling, published in 1969, and International Guide to Curling, published in 1985, certainly knew that his father had won Olympic gold. The latter book says of the Winter Games in Chamonix in 1924, '... when curling as included as a medal-winning sport for the first and only time'. Welsh says in his 1969 publication that Chamonix was, 'the only time curling has been included as a participation sport in the Games'. He goes on to say, 'The British Curling deputation at the Games, led by Colonel Robertson-Aikman, were as proud of the medals and diplomas won as the four Scots who had won them'. This again can be taken as evidence that only the four curlers who played in the two matches were presented with Gold medals, and that Robertson-Aikman, Brown, McLeod and Astley did not receive medals.

One can ask why our sport, having survived a somewhat difficult baptism in 1924, did not continue in the Olympic programme in 1928. Could more have been done to ensure that curling was in the forefront of the minds of members of the British Olympic Association, and the International Olympic Committee? I think the answer to this last question is yes.

One of the problems facing the sport of curling in 1924 - at least in the eyes of the British Olympic Association and the International Olympic Committee - was that the sport did not seem to have an organising body to represent its interests worldwide. Of course, this was how the Royal Caledonian Curling Club saw its own role, but it was not the perception of others. The 'Curling Congress', held just before the Chamonix Games began, apparently discussed this in detail. Colonel Robertson-Aikman was convinced that something needed to be done, and at the Royal Club AGM in 1924 he proposed to the meeting that the Royal Club change its name to 'Royal Caledonian Curling Club the International Federation of Curling'. The Annual of 1924-25 devotes more than five pages to the discussion that followed! Despite being the incoming President and a much respected figure in Scottish curling, Robertson-Aikman's motion was defeated. One has to wonder if the change of name, had it been approved, would have made the Royal Club more proactive in promoting curling's image and growing the game over the years that followed. Or even if the change of name would have led to better relations with the British Olympic Association.

At the time of the Royal Club AGM when all these discussions were going on, the Olympic Summer Games in Paris were coming to a close. The members present at the AGM, after much discussion, did vote to send a £50 donation to BOA funds.

I have already mentioned that curling was not included in the 1928 Olympic Winter Games. However, at the Royal Club AGM in Glasgow in August 1927, the Secretary, after prompting from Colonel Robertson-Aikman, told the meeting that he had received a letter from the Chairman of the British Olympic Council 'asking the Royal Caledonian Curling Club to again subscribe to the funds of that body'. (The British Olympic 'Council' was the executive committee of the British Olympic Association.) Discussion followed in which Robertson-Aikman pointed out that there were thirty-five bodies represented in that organisation, including the British Bobsleigh Association, the British Ice Hockey Association, and the National Skating Association. He emphasized, "I wish to bring to the notice of members here that our Club seems to be entirely ignored, and I think some steps ought to be taken about it after what we have done," in reference to having won the first Olympic curling competition in 1924. Mr Jackson (presumably W K Jackson) then said, "We are not in a position, even supposing we were willing, to give fifty guineas to this. We are agreed that as we have been ignored, perhaps we should just ignore them." (My emphasis.) A petty thing to say, perhaps, and it does indicate a lack of willingness of the Royal Club, back in 1927, to fight for a place in the British Olympic Association alongside other sports.

The Winter Games at Chamonix were considered to have been a success. But could the same be said for the curling competition? The result aside, the answer must surely be 'no'. Few countries agreed to take part, and then one team withdrew at the last moment. The games that were played were one-sided. At the Royal Club AGM, one member (perhaps unsurprising we find that this was William Henderson of Lawton) actually called them a 'farce' because of the one-sided results! The curling event had not garnered much media interest, and one member at the AGM actually had to ask where the competition had taken place.

That the general public was apathetic towards the Olympic Games movement, particularly in the 1920s, is well discussed in a relatively recent article by Mathew Llewellyn of the State University of California. This is an interesting read, although not specific to the Chamonix Games, and does show how the British enthusiasm for the Olympics is a recent phenomenon. It can be found and downloaded here. This general lack of public enthusiasm - including that of the curling community -  for things Olympic may underplay and explain some of what I've written about above.
It was not until 1966 that an International Curling Federation was formed. This became the World Curling Federation in 1991, and complete independence from the Royal Club occurred in 1994, see here. The recent story of how curling returned as a full Olympic discipline in 1998 at the Nagano Olympic Games is well described in Curling: The History, the Players, the Game by Warren Hansen, published in 1999, and in Canada Curls by Doug Maxwell, published in 2002. It was not an easy passage!

But, as we look forward to the Sochi Olympics and Paralympics, let's not forget that curling's Olympic journey began in Chamonix, 1924, and raise a glass to all those who took part in that competition!

Part 3, about the competition's big mystery, is here.

If anyone can supply any information to make this article more complete, please comment or contact me. If I have made any errors, please point these out.

Curling at the 1924 Olympics: Part 3 - The Astley Myth

by Bob Cowan

This is the third part of the story of curling's debut as an Olympic sport in Chamonix 1924. Part 1 is here, and Part 2 is here.

[Note: There's a more recent update on the Astley story here.]

My reason for setting out to research curling's Olympic story was in part to ensure that the GB team members, Willie Jackson, Robin Welsh, Tom Murray and Laurence Jackson, receive the credit they deserve. However, it has been one of the reserves, Major D G Astley, who has become the most well known name in the GB squad. In this post I will try to unravel the myth that GB's Major D G Astley played for Sweden and thus won both silver and gold medals at the same Olympic event.

I have already mentioned the part that Herald journalist Doug Gillon played in ensuring the validity of the 1924 medals won by the GB curlers. In his 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." But Doug got this completely wrong, I'm afraid to say.

I am guilty of helping disseminate this misinformation. In my Scottish Curler article of February 2006 about Doug's findings, I reprinted his assertions about Major Astley, without checking the facts at source. It's almost ten years later, and I'm only now in the position to set things straight.

Let's examine these two sentences in Doug's story, which have in the intervening years been accepted as 'fact'! I believe that the GB 'reserves' did not receive medals, so Astley would not have been awarded a gold medal or a winners' diploma, although, as I've said, I will be pleased to be proved wrong. And I can find no evidence there was ever a 'play-off' game between Sweden and France, see below.

But my biggest discovery has been that Astley has been wrongly identified as the GB squad member who might have played for Sweden!

How did this suggestion arise? There is an exchange reported in the Annual for 1924-25 from the Royal Club AGM which 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.

What had led William Henderson of Lawton, who was, as we have seen, a critic of the Royal Club's Olympic involvement, to even ask this question? Who was 'The Chairman'? Why did the Chairman appear to be uncertain in remembering if any of the others in the GB squad had been 'members of the Swedish team'? Why would he say, 'to my recollection'?

The whole thing is very peculiar. However, we now can say with certainty that the Chairman of the meeting was John McLeod, NOT Major Astley. It was McLeod, another of the GB 'reserves', who admitted in the exchange above to 'being a member of the Swedish team'. Astley should never have been named in this regard.

This is John McLeod, in a photo which was included in the Royal Club Annual of 1923-24, because he was Vice-president of the Royal Club in the 1923-24 season. Did he really play for Sweden?

McLeod certainly had links to Swedish curling. He had captained the Scottish team that visited that country in 1920. At the AGM of the Royal Club on July 25 in the North British Hotel in Edinburgh, it was McLeod who proposed the motion that the Swedish Curling Union send a team of six curlers to Scotland in the winter of 1923-24. He had been one of those at the railway station to meet the Swedish team when they arrived at Edinburgh in December, 1923. His obituary, in the 1937-38 Annual, notes that he was a member of the Bridge of Weir CC (he was President in the 1908-09 and 1909-10 seasons) as well as 'several clubs in Sweden'. This last phrase sent to trawling through old Royal Club Annuals but I cannot find his name as a member of any of the clubs belonging to the Swedish Curling Union in the ten years after 1924-25, when the Annuals began to list their membership. Perhaps he would not be considered as a 'regular member' of any of these Swedish Clubs, and so not recorded in the returns sent to the Royal Club. Or perhaps his memberships date from before 1924, before the time when the Swedish membership lists were included in the Annuals.

At Chamonix, could McLeod really have played in either of the medal games for Sweden? It is unthinkable that he would play for the Swedish side in their game against his own countrymen. Might he have played against France, the first match to be played in the competition on Monday, January 28? He's not in the photo of that team shown in Part 2. The only reason that I can think of that he might have taken to the ice would have been if there had been an injury to one of the Swedish side during the game, and none of the other Swedish players were available, to substitute. But this is very unlikely, and surely would have been reported at the time.

This photo can be found on the IOC website in the gallery of photos from Chamonix 1924, here. It is captioned thus, "Chamonix 1924 - During the events. The Swedish team and the team of Great Britain (GBR)'. This caption is obviously not correct! None of the GB gold medal winning foursome are in the photo. And who is the mystery woman fourth from the left? Who else can be identified in this photo? Colonel Robertson-Aikman is second from the right, next to him is the Swedish skip, Johan Petter Ahlen. The other three of Ahlen's team look to be the three curlers on the left of the photo, i.e. Kronlund, Wahlberg, and Pettersson. Is that William Brown on the right of the photo? John McLeod is in the centre, on the mystery woman's left. That would make four Swedish players, three GB reserves, and a woman. Major Astley is the other GB reserve, and does not appear in this photo.

But perhaps the existence of this photo gives a clue to the mystery of the Scot who played for Sweden. It has always struck me that as only three matches were played, and the competition was over with still some days in hand before the closing ceremonies, there would have been the opportunity to have additional games. The photo above could have been a 'friendly' game, or an 'unofficial international challenge', or something of the sort. Perhaps John McLeod got an opportunity to turn out for Sweden in one of these unofficial games, after the serious business of the medals had been decided? Could that be why he admitted to being 'a member of the Swedish team'.

I shall be happy to hear alternative suggestions. Or proof!

The World Wide Web a great thing, but the problem is that wrong information can be promulgated just as quickly and extensively as correct information. The Astley story has been disseminated widely, and has come to be accepted as fact even in print, for example in Curling, Etcetera: A Whole Bunch of Stuff about the Roaring Game by Bob Weeks, published in 2008. I struggle to see how such misinformation can be rectified. Yes, Major Astley's reputation can be restored, but the problem remains why John McLeod admitted to having been a member of the Swedish team as well as of the GB squad. Perhaps the answer may well lie in archive material in the hands of Svenska Curlingforbundet, the Swedish Curling Association. For the moment the explanation remains tantalisingly out of reach!

[Note: There's a more recent update on this story here.]

Thanks go to John Brown, Hakan Sundstrom and David Smith for help and encouragement, and I am grateful for assistance from Royal Club staff at Cairnie House and at the National Library of Scotland. If anyone can supply any information to make this article more complete, please comment or contact me. If I have made any errors, please point these out. Thanks. Bob.