Black Country Bugle
Reign of queen of chess ended in V1 bombing
80th Birthday on March 15, 1945.
Originally from Bohemia, Frantisek Menchik had moved to near Moscow. Here he met and married an English Governess, Olga Illingworth. Their first child, Vera, was born in 1906, with a second daughter, also called Olga, born the following year. Vera was taught the game by her father from the age of nine. At 15, she was competing in her School Chess Tournament.
Following the Russian Revolution, and the split of her parents’ marriage, Frantisek returned to Czechoslovakia.
Olga and the two daughters returned to her mother’s home at St Leonards on the English south coast. Eventually, Vera joined the Hastings Chess Club in 1923, and was soon taking on their best players. Hastings was already a venue for the annual tournament, which attracted the greatest players in the world. Vera was determined to be a match for these male players.
In 1927, Vera entered the first of seven Women’s World Championships. Held on alternate years at different locations around the world, she won the title on each occasion, an astonishing feat losing only one game in all seven WWCS. By 1939, she had married, becoming Mrs Stevenson. Rufus Stevenson was a much older player, with the London Chess Club. This year, she could represent England rather than Czechoslovakia. By this time, younger sister Olga had also become a women’s player of note.
Rufus had died in 1942, and Vera was helping Baruch Wood with material for the monthly Chess magazine.
Just two weeks after D-day, in June 1944, the family home in South London was totally destroyed in a V1 attack. Vera, Olga and their mother were all killed.
The chess world mourned the tragic loss of the greatest female chess player, lost at the age of only 38.
Following the sad news, the Kipping Chess Club paid tribute in their 1944 Year Book: “Miss Menchik was not merely the best woman chess-player the game has produced; she was so far ahead of the rest as to be in a class apart – the only woman who has won (and won beyond cavil) a place in the ranks of the masters...
“She was indeed, queen of the chess fraternity and possessed that royal graciousness so befitting a player of world renown.”
Vera Menchik was inducted into the World Chess Hall of Fame in 2011.