The West’s Past – Swimming during Wartime (1939-45)

Extracted from “100 Years of Scottish Swimming” – Peter Bilsborough (1988)

During the 1914-18 War, it was inappropriate to promote sport in a time of such national emergency and consequently, like most nation governing bodies, the S.A.S.A. called a halt to proceedings.
By 1939 official attitude towards sport had changed substantially.
Both the Government and local authorities encouraged sport as long as it did not interfere with the war effort. It offered enjoyment at an otherwise depressing time.
However, the pressures on sport were considerable and swimming was no exception.
Most baths were closed, galas were cancelled, travelling around the country was extremely difficult and clubs lost a lot of members because most healthy men were drafted into the armed forces.
Nevertheless, both the clubs and the S.A.S.A. adapted themselves to the peculiar conditions of wartime.
Clubs coped as best they could.
In Glasgow, most had to suspend activities because the Corporation Baths were temporarily turned into A.R.P. Posts and First Aid Dressing Stations.
At first, even those with access to pools had problems because no black-out arrangements were made. Eventually fittings were erected and activities recommenced. Clubs arranged a variety of swimming and water polo contests and invited swimmers from neighbouring clubs and troops stationed locally to join in.
They also organised special galas to raise money for wartime charities.

The pick of Scotland’s young swimmers such as Peter Heatly (Portobello), Nancy Riach (Motherwell), Margaret Bolton (Motherwell) and Ian Macdonald (Motherwell) were invited by clubs from all over Scotland to charity galas to give demonstrations, race against each other and make attempts on Scottish records.
By 1945 Nancy Riach held a total of 28 British and Scottish records and Peter Heatly had set new Scottish freestyle figures at 400, 500, 880 and 1000 yards.
In October 1939 the S.A.S.A. appointed an Emergency Committee to carry on its wartime business. Initially, it held few meetings but it was not too long before it started to assert itself. National Senior Championships were abandoned in 1940 for the duration of the War as most men had departed for the armed forces, but in 1943 the Emergency Committee offered clubs the opportunity to stage Virtual Wartime Scottish Championships for senior ladies and junior ladies and men. It also asked District Associations to, wherever possible, arrange similar championships at District level.There was a good response. In 1943, 14 Virtual National Championships were held. The host clubs were Springburn, Shotts Welfare, Motherwell, Motherwell L.M.S., Hamilton and Airdrie Schools.
The Championships were repeated in 1944 and 1945.

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