Swimming – “Swimming during Wartime (1939-45)”
In 1914, hostilities had begun with scenes of jubilation in the streets and it was almost as if people were rejoicing at the prospect of war.
However, the gap between its popular acclaim and the realities of trench warfare were unbridgeable. Throughout World War I, there was a daily average of 1,500 British casualties and it was inappropriate to promote sport in a time of such National Emergency and consequently, like most National Governing bodies, the S.A.S.A. called a halt to proceedings.
By 1939, official attitude towards sport had changed substantially and 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 and in Glasgow, most had to suspend activities because the Corporation Baths were temporarily turned into Air Raid Patrol Posts and First Aid Dressing Stations.
At first, even those with access to pools had problems, because no Black-Out arrangements were made but eventually fittings were erected and activities recommenced and 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 and in 1944:
“For their gala next Wednesday, in aid of the British Red Cross Society Prisoners of War Fund, the Portobello Club has arranged an outstanding programme. Nancy Riach, Scotland’s wonder girl, who has just added two more British records to her laurels, will give a display of Speed Strokes and Training Methods. Perhaps the titbit of the evening will be the Challenge Race over 440 yards between Peter Heatly, Portobello, and Ian McDonald, Motherwell. Later in the programme Peter will give a display of Diving. Peter is recognised as Scotland’s premier diver and his double somersault from the low springboard must be seen to be believed.”
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 and although, initially, it held few meetings, 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 and in 1943, fourteen “Virtual National Championships” were held and host clubs included Springburn, Shotts Welfare, Motherwell, Motherwell L.M.S., Hamilton and Airdrie Schools.
As a result of the success, the Championships were repeated in 1944 and 1945. Raising enough money to meet its commitments was an on-going problem during the War as income from Affiliation Fees and Gala Permits had dried up and by 1945 the Association’s funds were depleted.
The District Associations were asked for money, but they had the same problems and their responses were disappointing. Requests to Life Members for donations and to Districts to sponsor Galas to augment the Association’s funds were more successful. When the Emergency Committee was wound up at the end of 1945, it had enough money to finance a full domestic Championship programme, but even so austerity and hardship persisted for the rest of the 1940s.