1940s: An overview of the decade
The earliest recorded wheelchair games
The earliest recorded wheelchair games in the UK took place as part of the sports day or “Gymkhana” for staff and patients held at the Royal Star and Garter home in Richmond, Surrey in 1923. Paraplegic ex-servicemen participated in an obstacle Zig Zag race on tricycle chairs and also competed at bowls. However, it was at Stoke Mandeville that the first established wheelchair games began.
Dr Guttmann establishes the Spinal Injuries Unit at Stoke Mandeville
In 1943, Dr. Ludwig Guttmann was asked by the Government to establish a Spinal Injuries Unit at the Ministry of Pensions Hospital at Stoke Mandeville in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire. The Unit was intended to treat soldiers and civilians injured during World War II. As part of his treatment for the injured veterans, Guttmann promoted different methods of rehabilitation, including sport. The first sport was a hybrid form of wheelchair polo and hockey, first played informally on the ward against the physiotherapists and then developed into a proper team game.
The very first games
On 29th July 1948, Guttmann organised an archery demonstration to coincide with the opening ceremony of the London Olympic Games. For this demonstration, sixteen patients (fourteen men and two women) from Stoke Mandeville and the Star and Garter Home for Injured War Veterans at Richmond in Surrey (where a special paraplegic ward had been established in conjunction with Guttmann) competed against each other for a Challenge Shield. Following the success of the event, Guttmann decided to make an annual spectacle of the ‘Grand Festival of Paraplegic Sport’ which soon became the Stoke Mandeville Games. Successive Games added more teams and more sports; in 1949 six teams competed and ‘wheelchair netball’ (later wheelchair basketball) was introduced.
Guttmann’s creation of the Stoke Mandeville Games in 1948 was the moment that the Paralympic movement was born.