‘Under the present circumstances’: Glasgow University Athletic Club in Wartime

by Catriona Donaldson

GUAC Council, 1943-4 (UGC114/1/5)

GUAC Council, 1943-4 (UGC114/1/5)

As my second article for archive services I decided to look into the running of the Glasgow University Athletic Club (GUAC) during the years it was affected by the First and Second World Wars. Surprisingly, it was actually more difficult to acquire information on this theme than I had first imagined, perhaps because the alternate running of the club during these years simply became commonplace. Nevertheless I discovered some interesting facts, very telling of the more everyday impacts of attending university during the war years. Although there was no where near the level of devastation as in London and the South, Scotland still experienced the full brunt of the war and the running of the GUAC was not immune to the pressures of the home front.

Naturally there were the more obvious issues of running a sports team or club at this time, such as the lack of players due to conscription. A closer look into the subject reveals even more logistical challenges for the organisers of the club.
There is less information regarding the club during the First World War when activities were reduced significantly and postwar the club only had four active sections: Rugby, Queen Margaret Hockey, Tennis and Cricket (note 1). Re-appropriation of funds was also presumably a problem as a boost to the Club’s economics came from sub-letting the pitches to local schools. Between 1917 and 1918 two and half unused acres of the ground were even ‘put profitably under cultivation’ at the suggestion of the club (2).

Garscadden sports pavilion, shortly before completion in 1936 (UGC202/3/16)

Garscadden sports pavilion, shortly before completion in 1936 (UGC202/3/16)

The records for Club activities during the Second World War are more extensive as there was not the same almost-complete shutdown that had occurred in the previous war. It didn’t take long for the war to make an impact however, as the GUAC Council minutes from the 26 September 1939 state, the War Department had already taken over the Garscadden grounds, leaving only Westerlands available for games (3). It was decided that they would make room for two rugby pitches, two hockey pitches and one for football there.
Westerlands proved to be somewhat of an organisational problem during the war; in the November 1939 minutes the Secretary notes that the RAF Balloon Barrage had taken over part of the and were also using part of the pavilion. As a result of the efforts of University Principal Hector Hetherington the RAF were relocated by the new year, not before serious damage was done to the hockey pitch however.
Correspondence from the GUAC archive records further disruption, much to the consternation of groundsman Thomas Bingham, when trucks delivering ammunition to shelters at the sports grounds appear to have run into a number of obstacles and torn up the grass (4).

Westerlands sports pavilion, 1920s (UGC202/3/16)

Westerlands sports pavilion, 1920s (UGC202/3/16)

Relations between GUAC and the military agencies were not always so troubled however and in 1944 the use of Westerlands (again!) was offered to the servicemen at the American Red Cross in Glasgow to hold a Fourth of July picnic. Thomas Bingham was assured no damage would be done to the grounds but that he should ‘place the sheep in a distant corner for the evening’ (5).

One interesting fact gleaned from the GUAC council minutes was that students from Kings College London were evacuated from the capital and brought to Glasgow to complete their studies. GUAC welcomed the students as full members and appointed representatives to the council. Two KCL students were awarded Blues awards in 1940 (6).

Rationing also proved to be as much of a problem to the Athletics Club as it was to the rest of the nation, provisions being made for advance purchase of equipment and requests for extra soap. An issue seen from early council meetings and continuing throughout the war is the catering of match teas as sugar was a particularly evasive ingredient. However, the Principal again swiftly stepped in to ensure that The Ministry of Food saw to ‘the sugar question’ (7).  Meat also became an issue during the planning of the annual Dinner Dance, and in 1941 it was suggested that ‘a Supper Dance be held instead, but this did not meet with much support’ (8). Evidently not even global warfare can dampen the spirit of tradition and frivolity of the Glasgow University sports teams!

GU Hockey First Eleven, 1940-1 (DC071/5/8)

GU Hockey First Eleven, 1940-1 (DC071/5/8)

This was a particularly interesting subject to investigate, as, for me, it brought a new dimension of thought both to university sport and such significant historical events as the First and Second World Wars. Also, as ever, there were the gems that made me have a quiet giggle in the silence of the viewing room – the sheep on the playing fields and the comical character of Bingham being particular favourites.
I have greatly enjoyed my placement with Archive Services and it has made me appreciate even more the importance of archives in all contexts, as well as the hard work archives employees put in to make such a wealth of material available on demand.


1. MacKenna, R.O. GUAC story of the First Hundred Years, (DC071/9/1) p. 45; Provisions for Wartime (GUA 53764)
2. MacKenna, R.O. GUAC story of the First Hundred Years, (DC071/9/1) p. 33.
3. GUAC Council Minutes June 1938 – April 1942, (DC071/2/1/5), 26 September 1939.
4. GUAC Correspondence, (DC071/10).
5. GUAC Correspondence, (DC071/10).
6. GUAC Council Minutes June 1938 – April 1942, (DC071/2/1/5), 26 September 1939.
7. GUAC Council Minutes June 1938 – April 1942, (DC071/2/1/5), 24 May 1940.
8. GUAC Council Minutes June 1938 – April 1942, (DC071/2/1/5), 21 January 1941.

Categories: Archive Services, Library

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