Peter remembers the 1948 Olympics

IN CONTRAST to the extensive security precautions for the 2012 Olympic Games, local resident Peter Stevens thought Review readers might like to share his brief experience of the 1948 London Olympics.

One week after leaving his grammar school in Wembley at the end of July, 1948, Peter, like every boy in his class, was called up aged 18 as one of the first peacetime conscripts in British history.

He reported to RAF Padgate in Lancashire on Monday, July 26, and was fortunate to get his uniform on the Thursday so that he could go home on leave for the August Bank Holiday weekend. All National Servicemen had to wear uniform while travelling to and from their camp.

Because of a shortage of men during and just after the war, Wembley Scouts like Peter were used as stewards for a number of events at Wembley Stadium. He couldn’t afford many programmes, but has a couple - one for the 1946 Football Challenge Cup Final, when Derby County beat Charlton Athletic 4–1. The second was the 1947 Rugby League Cup Final between Leeds and Bradford Northern (plus a copy of the Community Singing programme before the game, which included ‘Loch Lomond’).

On the Monday morning Peter put on his Scout uniform, walked to the Stadium, and presented himself for duty. He was not of course on the list of stewards, but was allocated a section and showed customers to their seats. Once the day’s programme started at 11am, he was able to sit on the concrete steps between rows and watch proceedings, while still being available between events to assist people. The day’s programme cost one shilling (5p) and the nine events included the Men’s 800 and 5,000 metres finals, the latter featuring Czech Emil Zatopek winning his first Olympic title, the silver medal.

A second great contrast with today was that, at 3.30pm Dutch housewife Fanny Blankers-Koen won her heat of the Women’s 100 metres semi-finals, returning at 4.45pm to win the final. Try suggesting that timetable to today’s Olympic competitors! The following morning Peter put on his RAF uniform and returned to Padgate, before being posted to RAF Bridgnorth in Shropshire for eight weeks’ square-bashing.