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Ron Hill and the first Paralympics

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| 13:15 UK time, Tuesday, 28 August 2012

By 5 live reporter Matt Cole:

Recognition of Stoke Mandeville Hospital's crucial role in the foundation of the Paralympics will be in full focus this evening. The flames lit in the four corners of the UK will come together at the birthplace of the games - the Stoke Mandeville stadium - and be unified into a single Paralympic torch.

What's less well known about the original 1948 games - then known as the International Wheelchair and Amputee Sports (IWAS) World Games - is that patients at Stoke Mandeville were pitted against another care facility, the Royal Star and Garter Home in Richmond Upon Thames, where the father of the games Dr Ludwig Guttman also worked.

Less well known still is that the Royal Star and Garter side won that inaugural contest - an archery competition. The Richmond-based patients also won the rematch just a few weeks later.

Regardless of who won, what is true is that without Dr Ludwig Guttmann there would be no modern Paralympics. Moreover, there'd be many wounded servicemen from WW2 who'd have never survived horrific paralysing injuries.

I met Ron Hill, now 92, but a man who thought he'd be lucky to live three months after shrapnel paralysed him from the chest down on D-Day. He considers himself very lucky to have been taken to Stoke Mandeville Hospital to be treated by Dr Guttmann.

Ron Hill

Ron Hill: "It gave you confidence and the will to live"

All these years on Ron now lives and is cared for at the Royal Star and Garter Home in Richmond where his former doctor once also worked. He explained, "He didn't let you stop using your brain. He had you up in a wheelchair as soon as possible."

Reproduced with kind permission from the Royal Star & Garter Home, Richmond

Part of getting patients up and about was sport. Ron explained: "I played darts and snooker. He came and got you to do exercise too. I was quite a good swimmer before I was injured so he got me doing that. It gave you confidence and the will to live. I'm 92 now and have had all these years I didn't expect to live."

Ron left the care at Stoke Mandeville before those inaugural games in 1948, but in the archive at the Royal Star and Garter they still have a newsletter recounted the first competition.

Written by Peter Twiss of the Royal Armoured Corps it begins, "At Stoke Mandeville Hospital on 27th July, two archery teams were locked in fierce but friendly combat, the aim being the highest score, and the prize the Stoke Mandeville Challenge Shield, presented by Dr. L. Guttmann."

Many reports will be written of the games in the coming weeks but that was the first, and of course it's gold medals everyone chases these days. I wonder where that shield is now?

Matt Cole will reporting on the Paralympics for BBC Radio 5 live throughout the week.


  • Comment number 1.

    I caught a piece of footage from these games on Channel 4 tonight and saw my uncle taking part in the archery! He was injured in the war in 1943 and spent a lot of time in Stoke Mandeville during his rehabilitation. Sadly, he died in an unexplained car crash in 1979, on the 40th anniversary of the outbreak of WWII. But it was fantastic to see him and I'm so proud that he was involved in the start of something so fantastic, particularly as I grew up in South Bucks not far from Stoke Mandeville itself.


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