Friday 28 July 2023

Opening Wembley’s Olympic Games, 75 years ago today – 29th July 1948

 Guest post by local historian Philip Grant



1. Local club athletes escorting the Olympic Torch through Wembley Park. (Source: Brent Archives)

Today marks the 75th anniversary of the opening ceremony of the 1948 Summer Olympic Games, which was held at Wembley Stadium, so I thought you might like to get a flavour of that day. The lighting of the Olympic flame was actually the climax of the ceremony, so I will start at the beginning.


2.     Opening Ceremony programme. (Source: Brent Archives)


The ceremony began at 2.30pm, and all the tickets had been sold, so people began arriving for the event well before it started. Most came along the recently opened Olympic Way.


3.     Crowds heading to the stadium for the Opening Ceremony, 29 July 1948. (Source: Brent Archives)


The ceremony got underway with the teams from the 59 nations taking part in the Games entering the stadium. Greece, as the originator of the ancient games, led the way, followed by the others in alphabetical order, with Great Britain, as the hosts, bringing up the rear.


4.     The Czechoslovakian team parading round the athletics track, followed by Denmark.
(Screenshot from a colour film of the 1948 Olympic Games)


Each team was led by a Boy Scout from a Wembley troop, carrying a banner with the nation’s name. Other local scouts were sitting on the grass beside the track, ready to play their part later in the afternoon. 


5.     The teams assembled in the centre of the stadium. (Screenshot from a colour film)


As the teams reached the back straight, they were guided into position, so that they formed columns behind their name and flag. All 59 national flags were also flying from flagpoles around the top of the stadium, as they would throughout the Games. It was a hot and sunny afternoon, and the temperature in the centre of the stadium was around 35ºc. The first casualty of the Games was the scout holding the banner for Bermuda, who feinted and had to be helped by local St John’s Ambulance Brigade first aiders. Another scout was brought in to take his place.


6.     King George VI declares the Games open. (Image from the internet)


At 4pm, King George VI, who had taken the salute from the Royal Box as the teams paraded past, declared the fourteenth Olympiad of the modern era open. The Boy Scouts around the track then released 7.000 pigeons from wicker baskets The pigeons, symbolising peace, circled the stadium several times to get their bearings, then flew away to their home roosts.


7.     Some of the pigeons flying above the stadium. (Screenshot from a colour film)


Anticipation was now rising, as the Olympic torch relay, which had begun at Mount Olympus in Greece 12 days earlier, was nearing the stadium. The torch had arrived at Dover the previous evening, and runners had carried it through the night, along a route designed for it to arrive at the stadium at 4.07pm!


 8.     Map of the torch relay route, from a 28 July newspaper. (Source: Brent Archives)


Large crowds of local people, and a 21-gun salute (which helped to scare the pigeons away from the stadium!), had greeted the Olympic torch as it was carried up Olympic Way. The relay torch (later given to the Mayor of Wembley, and now in Brent Museum) was used to light the ceremonial torch which took the flame into the stadium.


9.     The Olympic torch relay on its final leg up Olympic Way. (Image from the internet)


A Cambridge University athlete, John Mark, had the honour of carrying the torch into the stadium. After a steady run around the track, with the 80,000 crowd and several thousand competitors watching him, he ran up a short ramp and lit the Olympic flame.


10.  John Mark lighting the Olympic flame at Wembley. (Image from the internet)


A massed choir sang the Olympic hymn, and then the flag-bearers from the 59 competing nations gathered round a rostrum, from which Donald Finlay, the Great Britain team captain, took the Olympic oath. On behalf of all the competitors, he swore to take part in the Games ‘in the true spirit of sportsmanship, for the glory of sport and the honour of our teams.


11.    Donald Finlay taking the Olympic oath at the Opening Ceremony. (Image from the internet)


The Opening Ceremony concluded, and the stadium was made ready for the start of the athletics events the following day. 


12.  The Starter, getting athletes “set” for a heat of the 100 metres on 30 July.
(Screenshot from a colour film)


Wembley’s 1948 Olympic Games” had begun! I wrote a short piece earlier this month about an illustrated talk with that title I was giving. I will be presenting the talk again at a Brent Libraries “coffee morning” event, at Ealing Road Library on Tuesday 3 October, 11am to 12noon. If you are interested, and are free that day, you will be very welcome to come along. Check the Brent Culture Service Eventbrite site nearer the time, to reserve your place.

Philip Grant.



Anonymous said...

This post about the 1948 Summer Olympic Games at Wembley Stadium reflects the problematic nature of sporting events under capitalism. The Olympics, as a symbol of international competition and national pride, often serve as a distraction from the underlying issues of class struggle and exploitation that persist in society.

The post describes the spectacle of the opening ceremony with grandeur, celebrating the participation of various nations. However, from a Marxist standpoint, such events can be seen as tools used by ruling classes to reinforce a sense of national identity and loyalty, diverting attention away from the real struggles faced by the working class.

The images of Boy Scouts leading the teams and carrying banners symbolising nations' names highlight the involvement of youth in promoting nationalism. This was really the indoctrination of young minds as a means to mold future generations into conforming with the capitalist system, perpetuating the existing power structures.

The mention of King George VI declaring the Games open and the release of thousands of pigeons as a symbol of peace serves to uphold the illusion of harmony and stability in a world dominated by capitalist exploitation and imperialism. In reality, true peace and unity can only be achieved through the dismantling of the capitalist system and the monarchy, to establish a socialist society.

Additionally, the use of the Olympic torch relay as a symbol of unity and camaraderie among nations neglects the fact that the Olympic Games was historically used to showcase capitalist interests and promote the idea of competition as a natural and desirable state, rather than addressing the systemic inequalities and exploitation inherent in the capitalist system.

I’ve said it befote but sporting events under capitalism serve as a tool to perpetuate nationalism, distract from class struggles, and reinforce the existing power structures.

These events are not anything to be proud of and represent a stain on Wembley. Nabil Al-Kinani, urbanist and cultural producer needs to add any references to the olympics to the decolonisation of wembley project. Referencing and the socials @decolonising.wembley reported on this blog previously.

Anonymous said...

Are you an AI robot?

Philip Grant said...

I don't think Anonymous (30 July at 19:00) is an AI robot.

I may not agree with much of what he (or she) writes (and I certainly don't agree that the 1948 Olympic Games 'represent a stain on Wembley'), but he/she is welcome to submit comments, just as anyone else is.

Germany and Japan, as the perceived aggressors in the Second World War, were not invited to take part in the 1948 Olympics.

The Soviet Union was invited, but did not send a team. I don't know whether this was because Josef Stalin saw them from the Marxist viewpoint 'as tools used by ruling classes to reinforce a sense of national identity and loyalty, diverting attention away from the real struggles faced by the working class.'

I would happily live in a world of peace and unity, where the majority of people voted democratically for a socialist society, and that was what their elected representatives delivered.

In practice, that has yet to happen, and history has shown us some chastening examples of what can go wrong when leaders claiming to have Marxist principles get into positions of almost absolute power. Stalin and Chairman Mao are names that come to mind.

But getting back to my article above, as long as I am able, and Martin is willing to publish them, I will continue to share local history stories and pictures, if I think that they help to show Wembley's residents (and anyone else who cares to read them) what an interesting place they live in, and can hopefully spread a little enjoyment.

Anonymous said...

So I give a Marxist view and now I’m a bot!

Anonymous said...

Please take my responses on Marxism just as a point of discussion and an alternative perspective on the mainstream narratives. I do enjoy reading your pieces on local history and long may they continue to find an audience.

Philip Grant said...

Thank you, Anonymous (2 August at 19:13).

If you are free on Tuesday 3 October, 11am to 12noon, you will be very welcome at Ealing Road Library, to enjoy my talk.

One of the things it shows is that the ordinary people of Wembley took the opportunity of the 1948 Olympic Games to share friendship and goodwill with visitors from other nations.

Anonymous said...

In a Marxist state you'd probably not be allowed to read anything other than the Marxist narrative so be careful what you wish for 😉