Auckland 1950 - 70 Years On

February 4, 2020

Seventy years ago today the IV Commonwealth Games (then known as the British Empire Games) opened at Eden Park in Auckland, New Zealand. After a 12 year gap since the previous edition in 1938, mainly due to World War II, the Games were back with more countries and athletes taking part than ever before.

Twelve nations sent athletes to the Games with all 12 winning at least one medal. The Games in Auckland saw a number of firsts with the introduction of air travel (for some) and chaperones for female competitors. Fencing and Weightlifting made their Games debuts and Water Polo featured in the Aquatics programme for the first and only time. The Scottish team was small but highly successful with more than half the athletes who competed returning with medals. Unusually, the General Team Manager was also a competitor as Col. Usher was selected to fence Epee and Sabre alongside his managerial duties. Clearly multi-talented he also had 18 caps for the Scottish Rugby team.


Auckland 1950 at a Glance

Nations Athletes Sports Scottish Team Scottish Medals
12 590 9 18 (14 Men & 4 Women) 10

Getting There – A 37 Day Voyage

Seventeen of the Scottish team left Southampton on 16 December 1949, aboard the Shaw and Savill liner, Tamaroa, in which the English team also sailed. It was to be a 37 day voyage over Christmas and New Year with celebrations for the start of 1950 held at Panama. On the Pacific side of the Canal, this also marked the beginning of a new time zone which the Scots played to their advantage, persuading the English to agree to a midnight curfew and, by bringing the New Year in before putting the clock back for the new timezone, enjoyed an extra hour of celebration.

For 21 days following the New Year, until they made landfall at Auckland, the passengers saw nothing but the sea. Heading into the Pacific, the ceremony of ‘Crossing the Line’ broke the monotony and, with the length of the voyage, training had to be done on board. The installation of a small swimming pool, punchbags for the boxers and wrestling practice on deck among the activities pursued. A swimming gala was held with events for both swimmers and those from other sports, with Scotland narrowly beating England in a Mixed Medley Relay between the swimming teams.

There was also a fancy dress ball with costumes constructed from bath towels and other materials found on board. Hammer thrower Duncan Clark and English shot putter Harold Moody won a prize as angels of temperance and sobriety while diver Peter Heatly went as Julius Ceasar. The seafarers docked in Auckland on 21 January 1950, two weeks ahead of the start of the Games.

However, for the first time, the aeroplane made an entrance into Scottish travel plans. Alan Paterson (High Jump) and Andrew Forbes (3 & 6 miles) could not make the ship, for good reasons. The two Victoria Park athletes flew out from Prestwick on 23rd January – two days after the main party had docked at Auckland. Air travel seems to have agreed with them, as both won silver medals. The fliers were the forerunners of future travel, so that Auckland became the last of the great sea voyages.

After the Games, the Scottish, English, Welsh and Canadian contingents were taken on a tour of New Zealand, lasting three weeks, staying in private homes. The Scots reached Southampton again on April 8 having been away for 113 days.

Village Life

These Games were particularly noteworthy for the first Games Village.  Ardmore, 23 miles out, had been an Air Force camp and later a Teachers’ Training College.  With areas strictly segregated by gender, the women had individual cubicles, the men doubled up. The Village was too far away from the sporting venues, but it achieved its purpose of bringing competitors together and has remained a feature of the Games ever since.

Ten Medals From Eighteen Athletes

It was a successful Games for the Scots. Despite a small team of 18 athletes across seven of the nine sports, they won 10 medals (5 gold, 3 silver and 2 bronze). Duncan Clark won the Hammer in a new Games record of 49.94m, Scotland’s first ever gold medal in a field event while Henry Gilliland and Hugh Riley made it two Boxing gold medals from three boxers.

Peter Heatly was Scotland’s top athlete of the Games with a gold and a silver in the Diving events. He took gold in the 10m Platform event and a silver in the 3m Springboard. This was the first of three Commonwealth Games at which Peter won medals, eventually ending his career with a total of five. Helen Orr Gordon (known as Elenor) was Scotland’s top female athlete with gold in the 220yds Breaststroke in a new Commonwealth Games record, followed by a bronze alongside Margaret Girvan and Elizabeth Turner in the 3x110yds Medley Relay. Just 16, she is Scotland’s youngest ever gold medallist and went on to win a further two golds at Vancouver 1954.

Also in the pool there was bronze for Albert Kinnear in the 110yds Backstroke while the air travellers mentioned before, Andrew Forbes and Alan Paterson, won Six Miles and High Jump silver respectively.

Scotland’s Auckland 1950 Medallists

Helen Gordon Gold Aquatics Women’s 220 yards Breaststroke
Peter Heatly Gold Aquatics Diving Men’s 10 metre Platform
Duncan Clark Gold Athletics Men’s Hammer
Henry Gilliland Gold Boxing Men’s Featherweight
Hugh Riley Gold Boxing Men’s Flyweight
Peter Heatly Silver Aquatics Diving Men’s 3 metre Springboard
Andrew Forbes Silver Athletics Men’s Six Miles
Alan Paterson Silver Athletics Men’s High Jump
Albert Kinnear Bronze Aquatics Men’s 110 yards Backstroke
Margaret Girvan, Helen Gordon, Elizabeth Turner Bronze Aquatics Women’s 330 yard Medley Relay


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