olympic games 1948/ london / janette heffernan

olympic games 1948 /14th olympiad
empire stadium/ wembley

Janette Heffernan


The best part of being in the right place at the right time was for the 1948 Olympic Games. Henry Thorpe, my grandfather and my father , Hughie Miller worked at Wembley Stadium and both were involved with The XIV th Olympiad. These were the first Games held after the Second World War and was not the extravaganza that takes place today. Very simply staged and Germany was not invited. I wonder why!

I was taken to the Opening Ceremony. I was five. I still have the tickets and official programme. 10/6 for Opening and Closing ceremonies and I also attended one or two sessions when it rained. Mummy and I sat just behind King George VI in the covered grandstand and I must be in the pictures that appear above. I was sitting behind the King to his right.It was the first time I had seen a king in person or rather a King's back. In fact I am not sure that I knew what a' King' was. He did not look like a King more like a sailor. He stood to take the salutes.

The athletes just marched on and stood in columns behind the name of their country on the grass center. It was a sunny day and Grandpa Miller was sitting in the end-uncovered stands right at the top. I can still pick him out in the newspaper photo’s of the day. I was possibly the youngest person in the arena and I was so proud to see my Daddy walking around the track with his camera as Sir Arthur Elvin had insisted he take photos. I still have one or two. Daddy got to wear a special badge that today is known as a pin, There were virtually no souvenirs of the event for sale at the stadium so 1948 pins are scarce these days.

I remember it all vividly but the feature that made the major impression on me was when the balloons were let off ,thousands of them, all white had never seen so many, followed by the pigeons.

The pigeons were spectacular. Thousands of birds it seemed to me were released and made a circle of the stadium before flying home. It was the best release ever and to this day it still sends goose bumps up my spine because it is usually the clip shown by TV companies when an example of the 1948 Games is needed. I did not make it up! Pigeons still feature in The Opening ceremonies but not live ones as a few pigeons got burnt in Seoul!

I discovered in 1948 it is better to watch the Games on TV. You see much more on TV. and you do not get wet. It was very wet in July 1948 and the track turned to mud. Athletics was very difficult to follow as so much goes on at the same time and the TV commentators are so much better as I found out what I had been watching when I returned home and watched it on TV

I was also taken to several other events. All in wrestling, weight lifting and boxing at the Empire Pool. Not a success for Mummy and I. We hated it and only stayed for half an hour. The place was empty.

The pool was also empty for some of the swimming. It was not popular and nobody went, not even the press. One morning my father was sent by Sir Arthur Elvin to take photos of a Gold Medal ceremony otherwise the poor medal winners would have had no official!al record.

My father was also in charge of seeing that the Olympic flame did not go out or if it did to get it lighted again with little fuss. Seems hard to imagine now but power cuts were a regular feature of life in 1947/48. Daddy had a few sleepless nights! I know he told the staff to get out the cigarette lighters if anything occurred and keep quiet but I don't think it did! 'Be prepared' was Pop's motto.

My grandfather Henry Thorpe was a truly remarkable man, Self made and self educated he was the son of a Manchester wagoner and rose to be the Governor of the Ceylon Railways, a massive social leap at any time. He was a railway clerk at 14 but went to night school and eventually became the first graduate of The London School of Economics. From there he took the Civil Service Exams where he finished fourth in his year and the rest was history. After serving in Ceylon he became the Chief Accountant for The British Empire Exhibition of 1923/24 and after failing to buy Wembley Stadium for £10,000 stayed on as Chief accountant to Sir Arthur Elvin who did. He died at his beloved stadium in 1952 while watching the Cup Final. A fitting end to an exceptional life.

Pop never took me to a Cup Final, I was a girl, I had to stand outside and wave to Princess Elizabeth as she arrived but he insisted I went to the Olympic Games and I now know why.

Picasa Photo Gallery


Picasa is Google's new photo sharing plug in and is a wonderful application and it is free . Be sure to click on 'Slide show' to get the full effect and also 'view map' where you can see where the photo's were taken. If you are lucky enough to have an Apple Mac you can down load a batch of photos to the web in one click. Brilliant. Takes seconds, It would take me all week to do this in Flash. Now all it needs is a sound track. Thank you Google.



janette heffernan


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