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Bermudians were there at the birth of the Games

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The 18 Bermudians who are participating in this year's Commonwealth Games in Scotland are carrying on a tradition that spans more than eight decades.

The Commonwealth Games are particularly dear to local author Sandra Taylor Rouja as the second games ever held were pivotal to the history of her family.

In 1934, her aunt, Lillian Taylor was set to be among the first women to compete in the precursor to the Commonwealth Games, the Empire Games, when her hopes were rudely dashed.

In 1934 it wasn't considered proper for a female to travel alone with a group of brawny young men — and she didn't have a chaperone.

“She was all set to go, and had had her swim uniform made up and everything,” said Mrs Rouja. “She was devastated. It was the disappointment of her life.”

The 1934 Empire Games were the second ever held. One Bermudian, David Belvin, took part in the first games in 1930, which were held in Hamilton, Canada. Four years later, participants included the water polo team of the St George's Athletic Club, and a handful of runners.

The club refused to pay for Lillian and a chaperone to attend the games, when they could send two male competitors instead.

Lillian's three brothers, Roy, 23, Eric, 21 and Leslie 27, did have the chance to compete and left that July, without Lillian “While our team is competing in the Commonwealth Games this summer, I want people to remember that Bermuda has been a keen competitor, almost from the beginning,” said Mrs Rouja.

Over the years she has kept memorabilia from the event, which was quite momentous for her family. Roy sent letters home, and she has various tickets and photographs. She would like to hear from other people with information about the 1934 Empire Games, held at White City Stadium in London, England.

In one of the letters sent home, Roy wrote: “This hotel has all the Canadian girl swimmers. Lillian would stand a good chance against them.”

While there, the Bermuda team had the opportunity to meet Edward, Prince of Wales, and tour St James' Palace. They also played water polo against the best team in Britain before 3,000 spectators. Territt Mowbray shone as he took several firsts in various swimming events. The Bermuda team also won several swimming relay events. Sadly, Bermuda did not win any medals overall.

“It must have been pretty exciting for three boys from Bermuda,” said Mrs Rouja. “They grew up in St George's. They were all swimmers. I guess they just loved it. In St George's you had the Olympic swimming pool and water polo was a big sport at the time. I can remember watching them when I was a child. They had these little caps that came over their ears and they really smacked that ball around. It was very exciting to watch.

Back at home, some felt Bermuda might have been better had the team not been handicapped by bigotry. Bermuda would only allow white athletes to represent the Island despite the fact that athletes of all races from different countries were competing.

The Games were originally planned for South Africa, but there was such an outcry over how athletes of colour would be treated there, that they were moved to London. This was seen as a major victory by civil rights activists of the day.

The Bermuda Recorder wrote of the event: “Despite the fact that the Bermuda representatives did their best, it was evident that they found the competition too stern and were unable to ‘get going'.” The writer hoped that next time Bermuda would send its best regardless of “race, creed or colour”.

Lillian later worked in the Bank of Butterfield in St George's and taught swimming for many years. During the Second World War Roy's swimming prowess led him to become part of a special operations force that blew up enemy ships in enemy ports. He is mentioned in the 1950s film The Cockleshell Heroes.

Other members of the 1934 Empire Games included John (Frank) Peniston, Edward (Teddy) Moss, Stanley Gascoigne, Charles Moss, Richard E Freisenbruch, Dudley Spurling, Territt (Terry) and Louis Mowbray, Ronald Williams, Reggie Tucker, William Gleeson and Lloyd Clifford.

“If other people have information, I would love to have it,” said Mrs Rouja.

To contact Mrs Rouja e-mail Sandrarouja@mac.com

Early days: Some of the swimmers and water polo players who were part of the Bermuda team at the 1934 Empire Games in London. On the front row, from left, are Louis Mowbray, Roy Taylor and Leslie Taylor. On the back row, from left (unknown man), Willie Gleason, Dudley Spurling, Lloyd Clifford (team captain) and Edward (Teddy) Moss
Opportunity missed: An undated picture of Bermudian swimmer Lillian Taylor, as a youngster. She missed out on the chance to compete in the second Empire Games, held in London in 1934, because there was no chaperone to accompany her
Postmark: A letter bearing a commemorative stamp from the second Empire Games, a precursor to the Commonwealth Games, held in London, in 1934.
In the beginning: The running track at the first Empire Games, held in Hamilton, Ontario, in 1930. David Belvin was the only Bermudian to compete at the inaugural event
<p>Island’s first medal came in 1966</p>

Bermuda made its debut in the 1930 British Empire Games and has only missed four editions since.

Its first medal success came in Kingston, Jamaica in 1966 when John Morbey won a silver medal in the men’s long jump. The first gold was achieved at the Auckland 1990 Commonwealth Games, when Clarence Saunders won the men’s high jump.

In the first games, David Belvin placed fifth in the 100-yard dash.

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Published July 29, 2014 at 9:00 am (Updated July 28, 2014 at 9:35 pm)

Bermudians were there at the birth of the Games

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