Australian Geographic - - Wild Australia -

open to men who had served in the re­cent war or who were still in uni­form. The games’ track-and-f ield pro­gram was held be­tween 22 June and 6 July 1919 in a pur­pose-built sta­dium near the Bois de Vin­cennes on the out­skirts of Paris. Hold­ing 25,000 spec­ta­tors and named for United States Army com­man­der Gen­eral John Per­sh­ing, the sta­dium was a gift from the Amer­i­cans to the peo­ple of France.

Fear­ful that strik­ing French con­struc­tion work­ers would jeop­ar­dise the games’ am­bi­tious start­ing date, and con­se­quently rob the com­pe­ti­tion of star ath­letes as the troops pro­gres­sively de­parted Eu­rope, Amer­i­can army en­gi­neers pushed the strik­ers aside and com­pleted Stade Per­sh­ing in just over three months.

With the “con­crete hardly hav­ing time to set”, the In­ter-Al­lied Games be­gan. For the grand open­ing pa­rade of 1500 ath­letes, the sta­dium was “packed to its ut­most ca­pac­ity and an­other 20,000 peo­ple could not get in”, ac­cord­ing to Sol­diers and Sports­men, the off icial ac­count of the AIF’s sport­ing ef­forts.

Aus­tralian suc­cesses were “not many”, Sol­diers and Sports­men ad­mit­ted, “but they be­came the most pop­u­lar group of the com­pet­ing na­tions”. When the Aus­tralians ap­peared at the open­ing “clad in their blue and gold, there was a great cry of ‘Les Aus­traliens! Vive les Aus­traliens!”’ The greet­ing for the Aus­tralians was said to be “sec­ond only to that ac­corded to the ath­letes of France”.

Although they were late­com­ers to the war, by the sum­mer of 1918 the USA had com­mit­ted about 2 mil­lion men to the conf lict. They there­fore still had a mas­sive pool of po­ten­tial ath­letic tal­ent in Eu­rope from which to choose. Their ranks in­cluded the likes of swim­ming world-record holder and fu­ture Olympic cham­pion, Nor­man Ross.

As might be ex­pected the Amer­i­cans went on to dom­i­nate the games, but not with­out some dis­quiet as to the fair­ness of the com­pe­ti­tion. For in­stance, they brought over wrestling cham­pion Paul Prehn to com­pete. At the time Prehn was a hand-to-hand com­bat in­struc­tor in Texas pre­par­ing sol­diers for the Bor­der War with Mex­ico.

One Aus­tralian ob­server wrote to Syd­ney sports pa­per The Ref­eree com­plain­ing that, de­spite the re­quire­ment that com­peti­tors be ser­vice­men from the re­cent conf lict, the USA “im­ported many of her win­ners...who were not bat­tle-worn he­roes of the Great War”. In the writer’s view, this took “all credit away from the Yanks”.

So, as the gravedig­gers pressed on with their har­row­ing task, and the ath­letes turned bat­tlef ield ag­gres­sion to con­struc­tive sport­ing ri­valry, an un­cer­tain world awaited them all.

Although Aus­tralia had lain far dis­tant from the fight­ing, its so­ci­ety was ut­terly changed by the pre­vi­ous four years of mad­ness.

Some would qui­etly swap an army uni­form for a civil­ian suit, re­lieved and thank­ful for a sec­ond chance at a nor­mal life. But for thou­sands of phys­i­cally and men­tally bro­ken men, their war and that of their fam­i­lies had only just be­gun.

The sil­ver gilt medal pre­sented to Lieu­tenant F.A. House from Tas­ma­nia, num­ber two oars­man in the win­ning eight at Hen­ley. Each crew­man’s name was in­scribed on the medal, and the re­verse was en­graved with THE KINGS CUP WON BY AUS­TRALIAN I.F. N°1 CREW.

The pro­gram from the Royal Hen­ley Peace Re­gatta, held 2–5 July 1919. Crews from Aus­tralia, France, Canada, NZ, the USA, and Ox­ford and Cam­bridge uni­ver­si­ties com­peted.

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