We know the Olympics seem like a long time ago, but we couldn’t resist digging this official souvenir programme from London’s previous Games in 1948 out as our new Image of the Month.
A souvenir from the 1948 “Austerity Games”, found in the papers of the Labour MP, peace campaigner and Olympic athlete, Philip Noel-Baker.
The 1948 Olympics (not unlike the 2012 version) were held at a time of great national hardship, with the country still recovering from the after-effects of the war. Many people in London were still homeless after being bombed out of their homes, the city was full of craters, and rationing would go on for another six years. This did not stop the Games’ organisers putting a determinedly cheerful face on the event, as this souvenir (its colours still remarkably intact after more than sixty years) shows.
Philip Noel-Baker had one of the most varied careers of all the characters whose papers we hold here. An exceptional middle-distance runner, he was President of the Cambridge University Athletic Club from 1910-12, and ran in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics, then captained the British team in the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, winning a silver medal in the 1500 metres, and also served as team captain in the 1924 Games in Paris.
As the son of a Quaker, Noel-Baker was raised as a pacifist; during the First World War, he served in the Friend’s Ambulance Unit, and was three times decorated for bravery, being awarded the Mons Star, Silver Medal for Military Valour (Italy) and the Croce di Guerra. After the war, as well as beginning a distinguished political career in the Labour Party which would last for forty years, Noel-Baker worked tirelessly in the cause of peace and international relations, first at the League of Nations, then the Geneva Disarmament Conference, and later for the United Nations. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1959, and told reporters that he believed war to be a “damnable, filthy thing” which had destroyed civilisation after civilisation.