'Britain was bankrupt after the war and Olympic volunteers certainly didn’t have uniforms in those days.' Memories of London 'austerity games' of 1948
18:52 GMT, 2 August 2012
This year, London has become the only place on Earth to have hosted the modern Olympics three times.
Forty years on from the capital's first Games in 1908, and twelve years after the infamous Berlin Olympics of 1936, London held the first Games since the Second World War.
With the harsh economic climate and post-war rationing still in place, the event quickly became known as the 'austerity games'. Just as in 2012, hundreds of volunteers had to be drafted in to help things run smoothly.
The austerity Games: Athletes in the 1948 Olympic Games in London, such as Fanny Blankers-Koen of Holland and Maureen Gardner of Great Britain pictured here in the 100m hurdles final, were housed in existing accommodation rather than an Olympic village
No venues were built and competing athletes had to be housed in existing accommodation, often army barracks around the city. Despite having to bring their own towels, the British team won an impressive 23 medals.
Sixty-four years on, many Daily Mail readers still have memories of an Olympic Games a world away from the extravagance of this Summer. Here, some of them share their experiences.
Keith Parkinson was a schoolboy volunteer at the 1948 Olympics
Now, as a pensioner, he is working in the 2012 Paralympics
Keith Parkinson was a schoolboy volunteer at the 1948 Olympics and, now a pensioner, he will be working at the 2012 Paralympics.
At the end of August, retired engineer Keith, 78, from Romford, Essex, will be wearing his Olympic Games Maker’s uniform – as volunteers are now known – in Greenwich Park, home of the Paralympic equestrian events and the Modern Pentathlon.
It’s a far cry from 1948, when aged 15, his mother Hilda learned the Olympics were looking for volunteers.
Keith remembers: “Britain was bankrupt after the war and Olympic volunteers certainly didn’t have uniforms in those days. I was given the job of looking after the Swedish field sports team, who were billeted in Army barracks in Richmond Park, which became the village for male athletes.
“I’d accompany them from the barracks to Wembley Stadium when they competed. There were no air-conditioned team buses and special Games car lanes in those days.
Golden ticket: 78 year old Keith holds his original pass for the 1948 Olympics which he was given when he was put in charge of the Swedish field sports team who were billeted in the Army barracks in Richmond
“The athletes sat on wooden benches in the back of a canvas-topped Commer Army truck, driven by a girl from the ATS – Auxiliary Territorial Service.
“One night I took the athletes to the cinema in Kingston and it rained heavily on the way back to camp and I was soaked, so the Swedes lent me a tracksuit to go home in while my clothes dried out.
“On the way into the camp the next morning some children waiting outside the gate thought I was an athlete and asked for my autograph. I didn’t know what to do so I just trotted into the barracks like I was on a training run!
“We still had rationing in those days and each athlete was given a ration book so they could buy things they needed. At the end of the Games the Swedes who’d become my friends by now, gave me all their ration books.
“I took them home to my mum and she had enough clothing coupons to buy bed sheets, which she hadn’t been able to buy in the war.
“One of the huts in the camp had been turned into a milk bar and ice cream parlour and one of my fondest memories is eating ice cream sundaes, which I’d never had before.
“I’m honoured to be volunteering again in 2012 and I hope I will have as many happy memories as I do of 1948.”
Proud moment: A young Roy Churchman leads Jamaica's Olympians during the Opening Ceremony
Boy Scout Roy Churchman was chosen to lead the Jamaican team into Wembley Stadium during the Opening Ceremony, held on the hottest day for 40 years when the temperature reached 91degrees Fahrenheit.
Organisers selected scouts of a certain height and who had the smartest uniforms, including the traditional hat. The scouts ironed flat the brims of their hats using a tin mug filled with hot water.
Roy, now 80 and retired from British Rail, remembers: “My mother was there and had no idea I’d been picked. It was an incredible surprise for her.
“The heat that day was intense, particularly inside the stadium, and most of the scouts were unused to standing out in the open in the full glare of the sun. Thank goodness for the old-fashioned wide brim scout hats, now long gone.
“We were lined up, someone thrust a name plate in our hands and, before we knew it, we were whisked off to join the relevant team and parade around the arena. There was no pre-warning of what we would be doing and certainly no rehearsal. This may have been the shoestring Olympics but it was super experience.”
After leading the Jamaican team around the track, he found himself standing 20 yards in front of the Royal Box.
Roy, from Charmouth, Dorset, adds: “I was only a few feet from the track-side dais where the British Captain and 100yard hurdler Donald Finlay was standing. After taking the Olympic Oath, he stepped down.
“A pregnant pause followed and suddenly an official came scurrying down through the ranks. He dashed to a small door in the back of dais and made a call on an old-fashioned army telephone.
“I heard him say ‘Is that you, Sir Malcolm You’ve missed your cue’. Sir Malcolm Sergeant promptly roused the massed bands and choir into the Olympic Hymn. I was one of the very few people who heard that.”
Competitor: Esme Gibb was the youngest British athlete at the 1948 London Olympic Games – she competed in the diving at the age of 15
At 15 years and nine months, diver Esme Harris was the youngest competitor in the 1948 British Olympic.
The pretty teenager from Oxford, excelled at diving from the three-metre springboard and came 13th in the women’s competition at the Empire Pool in Wembley.
Now a grandmother of 79, she says: “I can remember being so nervous that I bit my nails until the bled. When I first got to the pool and saw the Americans – who went on to win gold – I thought to myself what am I doing here They were that good.
“But I was so lucky to be there and we had lots of laughs and funny experiences.
“At the opening ceremony the British team were last to go into the stadium and we had to wait outside for three hours in the boiling hot sun, we were sweating in our blazers and stockings.
“The stadium backed on to some factories and workers kept coming out and bringing us food and drink.”
Esme may not have won a medal at the Games but her home city gave her a five-year pass to her local swimming pool in Cowley in recognition of her achievement.
She added: “I kept on training but just missed out on selection for the 1952 British team for Helsinki by one point.”
A proud moment: Ann's father, dressed in the black waistcoat, poses with two colleges by the Olympic torch that they built. Ann as a three year old girl is pictured in the background wearing a white dress
Three proud builders pose in front of the Olympic flame at Wembley Stadium, as a little girl in a white dress plays in the background.
Ann White, now 67, from South Ruislip, west London, says: “I’m the little girl in the white dress. I was three and a half when the photo was taken.
“My father, Bartholomew Maher, worked as a builder in the stadium, he’s on the right, wearing the black waistcoat.
“He and his workmates helped build the concrete cauldron and he was one of the team that kept the Olympic flame alight. He used to joke that they had to stoke the flame.”
The Olympic flame was actually powered by butane gas, which was in such short supply after the war that the gas was turned down at night and only a pilot light burned to save fuel. The moulded concrete cauldron is still on display at Wembley stadium.
One of the team: Bill Macreavie was captain of the gymnastics team who were secretly trained by a German prisoner of war, Herman Bantz. Bill became a gymnastics coach after the games
Carpenter Bill Macreavie, then aged 30, was captain of the Great Britain gymnastics team at the 1948 London Olympics.
His daughter Val Locke, now 66, says: “He didn’t get paid while he was at the Olympics and had to pay all his expenses which caused problems because my sister, June, needed new school shoes but had to make do so Dad could afford the train fare from Leeds to London for the Games.”
Val, a grandmother from Abingdon, Oxfordshire, adds: “The team were billeted in an old army barracks in Uxbridge and had to train outdoors. Dad split his hand in training and was unable to compete, which was a bitter disappointment.
“The weather in the second week of the Olympics was very wet and the gymnastics competition moved indoors to the Empress Hall, which is now Earls Court.
“My mum couldn’t afford to go to the Games but managed to see some of it on news reels at the local cinema, including the Opening Ceremony where you could clearly see dad in the Great Britain team.”
The British gymnastics team were secretly trained by a prisoner of war, Herman Bantz, the only German to attend the 1948 Olympics. Bantz competed for Germany at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki.
Bill Macreavie became a gymnastics coach and died in 1974, aged 56.
Felt like royalty: Jane Belding attending the opening ceremony of the games, and saw the Royal party in their box at Wembley Stadium.
Jane Belding from Taunton, Devon, literally felt like royalty when her father took her to the Opening Ceremony at Wembley Stadium.
She remembers: “I was 15 at the time. We drove to Wembley and there weren’t many cars around then so we parked very close to the stadium.
“As we walked towards the entrance – most people had already arrived – I was aware of a tall, elegant figure by the side of me. I pulled at my father’s arm, we both slowed down our walking.
“I can honestly say I arrived along with Queen Mary! There was nobody else with her, no lady-in-waiting or bodyguard. How times have changed.”
Queen Mary took her place in royal box with her granddaughter, Princess Elizabeth, and her son King George VI, who officially opened the Games.
In safe hands: Traffic policemen Albert Reynolds (right) escorted the Olympic Torch on its journey from Athens
Traffic policemen Albert Reynolds and Tom Creswell were chosen as the motorbike outriders to escort the Olympic torch on the last leg of its 3,160-kilometre journey from Athens to Wembley Stadium.
Local grammar school pupil RS Ellis, 17, carried the flame the last two miles to the stadium for the opening ceremony and was so nervous he .
Albert Reynolds’ widow, Shirley, 91, remembers: “They were selected from the Traffic Patrol HQ at Wembley. My husband was chosen to escort the torch because he was an all-round sportsman, who all sports.
“They were two Met Police officers just performing another duty presented to them. They had no special training for the event or special treatment to calm their nerves as has been reported this time. I wonder what hey would have thought of that.
“They took over from Bucks Police near Uxbridge and escorted the torch bearer through the county of Middlesex into the Wembley Stadium.”
Mrs Reynolds, now living in Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, adds: “I attended the Olympics on two occasions to watch the athletics It was all very low-key and there were plenty of viewing places empty.”
Helping hand: Bill Walker holds a picture of himself and fellow Sea Scouts who were involved in the 1948 Opening Ceremony
Sea Scout Bill Walker was one of hundreds of boys given a wicker basket to look after during the Olympic Opening Ceremony.
Now aged 75, Bill – pictured on the left in this picture of boys from the 3rd Hillingdon Seat Scout Troop – recalls: “When the King declared the games open all the scouts had open to their baskets and release the 20 or so pigeons inside.
“The sky filled with birds, which after the war years, was a real symbol of peace.”
Bill, from Dumfries, adds: “Ten boys from our troop went to the ceremony and our Scout Master said ‘At the moment it will not seem important but in years to come you will look and remember this day for the rest of your lives. How right he was.”
Around 7,000 birds, from pigeon lofts all over Britain, France and Belgium, were released in the stadium.
I was there: Michael Norman was at the 1948 Opening Ceremony, held in Wembley Arena
Capture the moment: 90,000 people attended the opening ceremony, where Michael snapped the moment when 7,000 pigeons were released into the air
Medical student Michael Norman, then aged 24, was among the 90,000 capacity crowd that filled Wembley for the Opening Ceremony.
Amateur photographer Michael, now 88, took along his plate camera and captured the moment 7,000 pigeons were released into the scorching afternoon air.
The retired doctor from Pullborough, West Sussex, remembers: “At the time I lived just a few minutes from the stadium, so on the day of the Opening Ceremony I just wandered across the road to the box office and bought a ticket.”
Free ticket: One of the perks of being a volunteer was a free ticket to the opening ceremony, where Owen took this photo of the action
Owen Walter and his classmate Peter Rogers spent their summer holidays in 1948 working as messengers, cycling around the former barracks in Richmond Park, which were refurbished and used as the male athletes’ village.
At the time Owen was 15 and after years of growing up with rationing the perk he most enjoyed from his job as a volunteer was the fact he could eat as much as he wanted.
He says: “My friend Peter summed it up when he said the best bit of the Olympics was eating steak and chips for the first time in our lives.
“There was huge canteen where all the athletes ate their meals. There were no fridges in those days and I remember all the food was kept in an air raid shelter to keep it cool.”
The other perk for volunteers was a free ticket to the opening ceremony, where Owen took his own photographs.
The 79-year-old retired floor layer from Kingston, Surrey, remembers: “There wasn’t really much going on in the Opening Ceremony but it’s a miracle the country had the money to actually do anything.”
Part of it: Schoolboy, Stewart Jackson did not want to be left out of the action
Now 78, Stewart remembers his school Olympic celebration vividly
Schoolboy Stewart Jackson did not want to be left out of the Olympic action in 1948.
And when teachers at the Royal Masonic School in Bushey, Herts, decided to hold an Olympic Sports event, 14-year-old Stewart leapt into action.
Retired Rolls-Royce worker, Stewart, 78, from Nottingham, recalls: “I set to work putting the Olympic rings on my running vest and I even made a replica of the torch, complete with imitation flames.
“Looking back the picture and comparing it with photos of the real 1948 torch, it looks like the real thing.
“I still remember running around the track with my imitation torch and dreaming of being at the Olympics.
“The Olympics was actually in the school holidays and I never saw any of it live.”
LONDON OLYMPICS, 1908 and 1948 by Janie Hampton, published by Shire Books @ 6.99. Copyright 2011 Janie Hampton. To order a copy for 6.49 call 0843 382 0000