Becoming part of the Olympics

Photo:The Stoke Mandeville Games in the 1960s

The Stoke Mandeville Games in the 1960s

photo S Haynes

Through the 1950s Stoke Mandeville had been hosting the annual National Wheelchair Games in June followed by the International World Wheelchair Games in July.  Then in Rome 1960 the International Games were held for the first time in the Olympics venue immediately after the Olympic Games. These games were the first  to be held somewhere other than Stoke Mandeville.  They are now seen as the first “Paralympic Games” although at the time the term was not used; in fact they were still called the International Stoke Mandeville Games.  So from 1960 on the annual International Games were held at Stoke Mandeville except in the Olympic year when the Games would now took place in the same city or at least country as that of the Olympic host, but in practice this did not always happen.

The National Games

The Stoke Mandeville National Games was the annual calendar event for   all  the disabled sports clubs attached to hospitals from around the country and participants would come from all over the UK to participate and, if they did well, to then go on to take part in the International or Paralympic Games that followed.

Photo:The closing ceremony at the Stoke Mandeville International Games, 1962

The closing ceremony at the Stoke Mandeville International Games, 1962

photo, NSIC

Photo: Illustrative image for the '1960s' page

"The first time I went to Stoke Mandeville was possibly a little underwhelming. I turned up at the hospital and we were expected to stay in the wards... You were so close to the person in the next bed you could almost pick their leg up and move it by mistake for your own." Caz Walton

Caz Walton first went to Stoke Mandeville to compete at the National Games there in the early 1960s. Watch her describing how she first got into competitive sport here

Jean Stone traveled to Stoke Mandeville as the occupational therapist with the Scottish team

"Stoke Mandeville Hospital in 1960 was an eye-opener. I was horrified by the accommodation and the shabby huts. For myself and the physios who were looking after the team what the games mostly seemed to mean was endlessly having to go round to the main hospital, get hold of a trolley, load it up with the food for the meal, then push it back, by which time it was probably cold. Then you had to wash up everyone’s dishes and there was no hot water in the hut! And we had to do that three times a day. As I say, it all seemed very basic compared with the Thistle...When the games were on it was quite extraordinary the way that everyone was packed in. There were beds everywhere; I remember one lot even ended up in beds put all around the old hydrotherapy pool. Other teams got sent further out to places like the Rivets’ sports hall which would be filled up with beds.  I remember one year I spent the entire time of the games sleeping on Charlie Atkinson’s office floor in the hospital along with Norma Newton."  

The Rome games, 1960


Photo:The British team flying out, 1960s

The British team flying out, 1960s

photo IWAS

Photo: Illustrative image for the '1960s' page

"Getting to Rome in 1960! First of all we were put on a coach to go to the airport; we all had to be carried on and our wheelchairs folded and loaded. Then at Heathrow the same thing was done in reverse. It took hours! Then to get us onto the plane they had to use a fork lift with four of us at a time in our chairs on a platform being lifted up onto the plane. Then we had to be lifted into our seats and our chairs folded and put as baggage. At the other end it all took hours more; if you were the last off the plane you were sitting waiting for two hours. But back then that was part of your life; and you just had to accept it." Margaret Maughan, athlete

Photo: Illustrative image for the '1960s' page

Lady Susan Masham won three gold medals at Rome and describes her memories of the games, including losing one of her medals, here

Photo:Britain's first 'Paralympic'  gold medal, won by Margaret Maughan for archery at Rome in 1960.

Britain's first 'Paralympic' gold medal, won by Margaret Maughan for archery at Rome in 1960.

photo Margaret Maughan

Margaret Maughan won Britain's first medal at the Rome games in archery and she describes what that felt like here

The Tokyo games, 1964

Photo:Javelin at the Tokyo games, 1964

Javelin at the Tokyo games, 1964

film still: Wheelpower

The Japanese were keen to host a Games following the 1964 Tokyo Olympics after they had seen the success of the Rome Games and created a positive working relationship with Stoke Mandeville.  This positive experience was not repeated in 1968 when the Olympic Games were held in Mexico City but financial constraints and issues of accessibility prevented them hosting the Stoke Mandeville Games.  Instead Tel Aviv stepped into the breach and hosted.

Photo: Illustrative image for the '1960s' page

"In the very early days of Paralympic sport, because there was so little finance... we had to do a number of different sports. If you didn't do more than one you just weren't selected." Caz Walton, athlete

Caz Walton describes going to Tokyo, where she won gold medals for swimming and Britain's first-ever gold in track events, here

Photo: Illustrative image for the '1960s' page

Lady Susan Masham recalls here experiences at the Tokyo games - and the difficulties she experienced in getting Japanese authorities to believe that a disabled person could also be married - here

Intercontinental air travel

"Long distance air travel for people in wheel chairs was still in its infancy... It was the 1962 Commonwealth Games at Perth in Western Australia that was the British team’s first experience of long-haul flights for wheel-chair athletes. We stopped off on the way at Bahrain, Colombo and Singapore. It really was pretty primitive; going along the aisle with a bucket to empty the catheter bags; and there was Guttmann walking down the plane encouraging people to keep moving their limbs to avoid them swelling.  Two of the athletes ended  up having to be put up in the overhead baggage racks so they could lie flat; one had a broken leg while the other was so swollen that we had to get him flat to relieve the pressure in his legs.

"It hadn’t got much better by the time we went to the Tokyo Olympics in 1964. On the way there we stopped over at Anchorage Alaska and then we were transferred onto two KLM flights which we shared with the Dutch and Israeli teams. Lots of the athletes were drinking, it was quite common then, and we were going over the North Pole when we hit a massive air pocket and the plane suddenly dropped hundreds of feet. One of the nurses, Jimmy Brennan was going round with a bucket to empty the catheter bags just as this happened and I remember there was one poor man who ended up with the contents of the bucket  all over him; he was dripping yellow; and he said, “I don’t know if that’s urine or whisky running down me!” Jean Stone, Occupational Therapist

Photo:The Hong Kong team being loaded onto a coach, 1960s

The Hong Kong team being loaded onto a coach, 1960s

photo Terry Willett

"I remember the coaches in the 1960s at Jamaica and Tel Aviv. They had the seats stripped out and you entered them along a ramp. Once you were in you were lined up, four chairs abreast, with a bloody great bar like a scaffolding pole pushed across in front of each row for you to hang on to when the coach was cornering or braking; it was like a cross between a cattle truck and a fairground ride – a bit amateurish, but it worked." Terry Willett, athlete

Photo:The Israeli team at the Tokyo International Games in 1964

The Israeli team at the Tokyo International Games in 1964

photo Wheelpower

"I remember Tokyo in 1964; the day before the ceremony the British team were all taken out onto the grass and Guttmann was addressing us all. He said our prime reasons for being here was as ambassadors for Great Britain and as pioneers of wheelchair sport. I think this was particularly important in Tokyo, because at the time the Japanese had this reputation for hiding all their disabled people away in remote homes on the tops of mountains, out of sight, out of mind. Whereas they saw us, the GB team, going out shopping,  dining in restaurants and having friends who were in their feet. I think we did make a difference. Between 1964 at Tokyo and 1968 at Israel the Japanese built up a really good table tennis team and developed a purpose-built community for housing and training their Paralympic athletes." Sally Haynes, athlete

Photo:Margaret Maughan; gold medal for archery, Jamaica, 1966

Margaret Maughan; gold medal for archery, Jamaica, 1966

photo Margaret Maughan

"All the physios would be assigned as hostesses  to one of the international teams and frequently would go to  meet  the team at the airport  or at Harwich docks and bring them back. At the end of the games each team would have a party. I remember the American team always had chicken which was positively exotic back then, expensive and unobtainable." Brom, physio


Margaret Maughan, Susan Masham and Caz Walton

Margaret was part of the British Olympic team for 20 years starting with the Rome games in 1960 where she won gold for archery and continuing up until the Arnhem in 1980. 

Lady Susan won medals in Rome and Tokyo in swimming and table tennis.

Caz competed at games from Tokyo in 1964 through to Seoul in 1988 winning medals for swimming, athletics, table tennis and fencing.

Read their full interviews below.

This page was added on 18/03/2011.

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