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Our first Olympiad

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By Dr Edward Harris

‘Bermuda's athletes who will journey to Berlin for the XIth Olympiad should have the wholehearted support of all true lovers of Bermuda' — the Hon Howard Trott, 1936

Last Sunday brought the news of the award of the 2020 Olympic Games to the state of Japan at Tokyo, a few hundred miles from the bubbling disaster site of the tsunami-struck Fukushima generation plant (‘there were scenes of jubilation in Japan…').

The billion-dollar losers were Madrid in Spain and Istanbul in Turkey, the latter would have been the first largely Muslim country to have hosted the sporting extravaganza. According to one source, ‘hosting the 2002 games could yield positive economic effects of over $40.4 billion and create more that 150,000 jobs', such is the hype and hoopla that attends the gatherings of ‘the youth of the world' in modern times.

On the other side of the pole jump, a number of countries have found, to their regret, that the Games have been an economic disaster, with run-on bad effects that seem to possess the slow decay of the atomic half-life of plutonium.

This is the second time that Japan has hosted the Summer Games, the first time being in 1964. An agreed Games in 1940 was cancelled, due to prevailing war conditions, which, after the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, culminated in the first atomic man-made disaster of Olympic proportions, that of the bombing of Hiroshima (“Little Boy” — with its 80,000 dead on day of drop) and Nagasaki (“Fat Man” — with its 90,000 deaths overall).

Like Germany, Japan in the post-war period was galvanised, with much American help, so that both countries are now economic giants, while the ‘special relationship' ally of England was left to pay off major debts to the United States.

The modern Olympics started in 1896 and there have been 21 Winter and 27 Summer Games in 23 countries, with sites being designated by the International Olympic Committee some seven years in advance.

The Summer Games are held every four years, and thus those held in Germany constituted the “11th Olympiad” and they were the first such contest attended by a Bermuda contingent, appropriately in the pool of swimming. Mr Clarence Hill later won the only Olympic prize ever for the island, being a Bronze Medal for boxing at the Summer Games at Montreal in 1976. With up and coming swimmers and yachting elites, perhaps we might have a chance for another medal or two in Japan.

In 1934, an Olympic Association was composed at Bermuda, with a view to the Berlin Games two years later, when war was perhaps only on the minds of a few farseeing folk like the crusty Winston Churchill.

Under the chairmanship of the Hon WJ Howard Trott MCP, athletes were sought to answer the message on Hitler's seven-foot, ten-ton Olympic Bell: “I call the Youth of the World” — well ... not all of them of course).

The Bermuda Team, which would later include Leonard Spence of British Guiana, sailed to Europe in considerable style, aboard the SS Europa, presumably out of New York bound for Bremen.

Built in the late 1920s, Europa made her maiden voyage on 19 March 1930 to New York, winning the Blue Riband for the fastest Atlantic crossing for a passenger liner from her sister ship, SS Bremen, both of the company, Norddeutsche Lloyd.

In May 1945, the United States claimed her as a war prize and renamed as the USS Europa, the ship ferried troops home from Britain, being then transferred in 1946 as war reparations to the French.

Under the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique, the vessel was renamed Liberté, but was scrapped after the launch of the magnificent SS France in 1960.

The latter, by the by, was, until the building of the RMS Queen Mary 2 in 2004, the longest passenger liner ever (not to say the largest, as are the hideous tower blocks that ply present waters).

Upon arrival in “The Fatherland”, the all-male contingent took a train into the hinterland, arriving at the Potsdamer Bahnhof in Berlin and there duly photographed in front of the train station with an immense Bermuda flag, illustrated here.

(The station was destroyed in the ensuing war but was identified from the photograph by my brother-in-law, Holger Steiner of Hamburg, to whom my thanks).

The flag is of interest as it was not the normal Bermuda standard, but that of the Governor, which has the Bermuda Crest in a circle, surrounded by a garland of oak leaves, in the centre of Britain's Union flag.

While one wonders who might now possess that flag, a very small version attached to a frame (perhaps to fly on a car), is in the collections of the National Museum.

Vexillologists have identified the same flag or another one (as the crest has been placed vertically, for such hanging, unlike that in the Potsdamer Bahnof picture), which was published in a rare colour image in a 1937 edition of National Geographic (reproduced here).

Noting that in both photos the Bermuda flag is flying next to that of Japan, it is possible that the Governor's Standard was used as the island would likely have come under Britain as a country entry to the Games.

While no medals were won, the Bermudians acquitted themselves well in their white uniforms and pith helmets and many lifelong friendships were formed.

One of the contestants was John Hinson Young II, late of Sandys Parish, husband to Nelga Spurling and father to Penne and Jay, and his archive of the 1936 Games is now at the National Museum, including the propaganda English version of the large book “Germany”.

Perhaps best known in later years for his expertise at croquet and the creation of the now-lost but exemplary “Lantana Cottage Colony” near Somerset Bridge, John practised his sport by jumping of that crossing and swimming to Hamilton Princess (then working with his teammates) and back, a feat not known in present times, steroids or not.

Perhaps developing on diplomatic skills learned at the Olympics, John Young remained to the last a superior Ambassador for Bermuda, with his impeccable dress and smooth Bermudian speech.

Much missed, his and Nelga's major art collection was donated to the Bermuda National Gallery several years ago.

A reminder of the good years and hotel tourism trade that we have in recent times done our very best to destroy, repopulating the visitor reef with grunts and breams, the pink gates of Lantana yet remain on the main road, if the buildings have been demolished by the present owner, apparently to avoid land tax.

The race is not yet run, so perhaps the new generations of sporting youths might like to be reminded of the Olympic beginnings here, albeit in a Bermuda, like Germany, that discriminated against Jews in hotels and others in other ways.

Edward Cecil Harris, MBE, JP, PHD, FSA is Director of the National Museum at Dockyard. Comments may be made to director@bmm.bm or 704-5480.

The Bermuda flag (right) is shown next to the Japanese flag over a Berlin street during the 1936 Olympics in this photo from a 1937 edition of The National Geographic magazine.
Berlin's Olympic Stadium was built by Adolf Hitler's government and had the capacity to seat 100,000 spectators.
Bermuda's 1936 Olympic team are shown at Government House. From left, Percy Belvin, John Young II, Edmund Cooper, organizer James Murray, manager Whitfield F (Chummy) Hayward, Forster Cooper and coach William Brooks.
John Hinson Young II, aged 20, on board the SS Europa, bound for the 1936 Olympics in Germany; inset, cover of first issue of Bermuda's Olympic magazine in 1936.
The 1936 Bermuda Olympic team are shown in front of a massive Bermuda flag in front of Berlin's grand Potsdamer Bahnhof train station shortly after arriving in the German capital. The flag is of interest as vexillologists will know that it is not the Bermuda standard but the Bermuda Governor's flag, identifiable by the Bermuda Crest in a circle, surrounded by a garland of oak leaves, in the centre of the United Kingdom's Union flag. While one wonders who might now posses that flag, a very small version attached to a frame (perhaps to fly on a car) is in the collections of the National Museum. Vexillologists have identified the same flag, or another one, as the crest has been placed vertically for hanging, which was published in a rare colour image in a 1937 edition of the National Geographic magazine. The Potsdamer Bahnhof was destroyed in the Second World War. It was identified from the photograph by my brother-in-law, Holger Steiner of Hamburg, to whom my thanks.

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Published September 14, 2013 at 9:00 am (Updated September 13, 2013 at 5:53 pm)

Our first Olympiad

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