In 1919, a prelude to the 1920 Olympic Games took place on the outskirts of Paris. These were the 1919 Inter-Allied Games and they had their origins in 1910 in the Philippine Islands. In that year, Elwood S. Brown was sent to the Philippines as the Physical Director of the American YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association). His charge was to build up sporting activities among the American civilian population and eventually the Filipino natives. Brown was successful and was also instrumental in helping convince the Filipinos to compete in the first Far Eastern Games in 1919. Through Brown’s efforts, sports became much more popular in the Far East.
In April 1918, Elwood Brown requested war service and was shipped to France as one of the YMCA athletic directors. As the war neared an end, Brown sought a way to bring the soldiers of the many nations “together in order that they might know each other face to face and thus lay the foundations for those enduring friendships which can come only from personal contact and which, in this case, were of such fundamental importance to the future welfare of the world.”
In October 1918, Elwood Brown sent a letter to Colonel Bruce Palmer, the First Section of the General Staff, G.H.Q., A.E.F., whose subject was “Proposed Athletic Program for Demobilization Period.” Brown made four suggestions in his letter, as follows:
- Great mass games and play for every possible man – “Athletics for everybody.”
- Official A.E.F. championships in a wide variety of competitive sports including military events, beginning with elimination regimental contests, ranging upwards through the divisions, possibly the army corps, and culminating in great finals in Paris.
- Physical pageants and demonstrations to be held in many centers demonstrating to our allied friends America’s best in sport, her great play spirit and incidentally her finest in physical manhood.
- Interallied athletic contests – open only to soldiers of the Allied Armies – a great set of military Olympic Games.
And thus was born the Inter-Allied Games. They were truly considered a military Olympic Games. The only requirement for entry was that all competitors had to have been an officer or an enlisted man in one of the Allied military forces. The entry asked, “Were you a soldier in the Great War?” The eligibility rules noted that “Each nation participating may enter any officer, non-commissioned officer or private soldier, who has at any time between 4 August 1914 and 11 November 1918 been a member of the military forces of that nation.”
The invitation to nations was sent on 9 January 1919 by General John J. Pershing, the Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces (AEF). The letter read as follows:
AMERICAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCES
Office of the Commander In Chief
January 10, 1919
The officers and men of the American Expeditionary Forces, being keenly appreciative of the splendid relations which exist among those who have borne arms in a great, common cause, and which, in the present instance, have so happily developed into such deep feelings of mutual respect and admiration, are most anxious to preserve and strengthen this relationship in every way possible.
Now that active military operations have ceased, they believe that nothing could be more conducive to this end than to gather in friendly competition on the field of sport, representatives of the Armies of each of the nations which have so long been associated together in the stern struggle for right.
Accordingly, they have decided to organize an Inter-Allied Athletic Meeting, to be held in the Colombes Stadium, Paris, during the month of May or June, 1919, in which the officers and men of all of these Armies shall be eligible to take part.
As Commander-in-Chief of the American Expeditionary Forces, I have the honor, therefore, to invite, through you as their Commander-in-Chief, the officers and men of the armies of France to participate in these contests and to express the earnest hope that many of them may do so, so that the ties of the much cherished spirit of comradeship which have spring from the gallant joint effort of our forces on the battlefield may thus be even more closely cemented.
JOHN J. PERSHING
Twenty-nine Allied nations were invited to compete in Paris. The invited nations were:
Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Cuba, Czechoslovakia, France, Great Britain, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Hedjaz, Honduras, Italy, Japan, Liberia, Montenegro, Nicaragua, Newfoundland, New Zealand, Panama, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Siam, and South Africa.
Hedjaz was a Kingdom on the Arabian Peninsula that later became a part of Saudi Arabia.
Of these, eventually eighteen nations competed at the Inter-Allied Games.
Australia, Belgium, British Army of the Rhine, Canada, Czechoslovakia, France, Great Britain, Greece, Guatemala, Hedjaz, Italy, Newfoundland, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Serbia, and United States.
A Games Committee was formed, which consisted of five members:
Col. Wait S. Johnson, G.S., Lt. Col. D. M. Goodrich, G.S., Lt. Col. T. C. Lonergan, G.S., Mr. Elwood S. Brown, YMCA, Mr. W. A. Reynolds, YMCA
The Games Committee planned the following program:
Baseball, Basketball, Boxing, Equestrian Competition, Fencing, Football (Association/Soccer), Football, Rugby, Football, American, Golf – individual and team, Rowing, Shooting, Swimming, Tennis, Track & Field Athletics, Tug-of-War, Water Polo, Wrestling – Catch-as-Catch Can, and Wrestling – Greco-Roman,
Eventually, not all of the scheduled events were held. Notably, there was no American football competition. A few events were also added to the above program.
The Inter-Allied Games took place at the Pershing Stadium, which was situated near Paris. It was on the eastern edge of the Bois de Vincennes on the ancient highway between Vincennes and Joinville-le-Pont. Originally the Games were to have been held in the Colombes Stadium in Paris, where the 1924 Olympic Games would take place. But the Colombes Stadium was felt to favor the American athletes unfairly and it was not used as the main venue. Instead, it was decided to build a new stadium, which became the Pershing Stadium. Incredibly the construction began only on 11 April 1919 and was completed within 60 days. The stadium seated 25,000 spectators.
The Inter-Allied Games began on 22 June 1919, with an Opening Ceremony in the Stadium. They were formally opened by Monsieur Leygues, the French Minister of the Navy. The Games lasted for exactly two weeks, ending on 6 July 1919. While most of the events took place in the Pershing Stadium, there were other venues used as well.
Swimming took place in the St. James Lake in the Bois de Boulogne in Paris. The equestrian competition was held at Chennevières. The fencing was conducted at the École d’Éscrime in Joinville. Rugby football took place at Colombes Field in Paris. The golf matches were held on the La Boulie Course on the outskirts of Paris. Tennis competition occurred at the Racing Club de Paris and Stade Français de Paris. Shooting was conducted far removed from Paris, at the d’Auvours range near Le Mans.
The 1919 Inter-Allied Games ended on Sunday, 6 July. Two events were held that day – a baseball game between the United States and Canada, and the light-heavyweight boxing final. The baseball game was ended prematurely, with the United States leading 12-1. Canada agreed to stop the game to allow the Closing Ceremony to take place in the Pershing Stadium. General Pershing presided and received all the champions in the Tribune d’Honneur, awarding them their prizes. The Ceremony ended with the formal lowering the flags of the Allied Nations.
The champions of the 1919 Inter-Allied Games were as follows:
|Bantamweight||Pvt. Albert Evans||AUS|
|Featherweight||Louis De Ponthieu||FRA|
|Welterweight||Sgt. Joe Attwood||CAN|
|Light-Heavyweight||Sgt. Ermino Spalla||ITA|
|Military Riding – Individual||Maj. Joseph De Soras||FRA|
|Military Riding – Team||France|
|Show Jumping – Individual||Maj. Ruggero Ubertalli||ITA|
|Show Jumping – Pairs||Maj. Giacomo Antonelli/Capt. Alessandro Alvisi||ITA|
|Foil Individual||Lt. Nedo Nadi||ITA|
|Épée Individual||Sgt. E. Henri Laurent||FRA|
|Sabre Individual||NCO Vincent Gillens||BEL|
|Golf Individual||Arnaud Massy||FRA|
|Single Sculls||Sgt. Clarence d’Arcy Hadfield||NZL|
|Military Rifle Individual||1st Sgt. Stanley Smith||USA|
|Military Rifle Team||USA|
|Pistol Shooting Individual||Master Sgt. Michael Kelley||USA|
|Pistol Shooting Team||USA|
|100 metre freestyle||2nd Lt. Norman Ross||USA|
|400 metre freestyle||2nd Lt. Norman Ross||USA|
|800 metre freestyle||2nd Lt. Norman Ross||USA|
|1500 metre freestyle||2nd Lt. Norman Ross||USA|
|100 metre backstroke||2nd Lt. Norman Ross||USA|
|200 metre breaststroke||H. Sommer||FRA|
|4 x 200 metre freestyle relay||AUS|
|Tennis Singles||Lt. André Gobert||FRA|
|Tennis Doubles||Capt. Pat O'Hara-Wood/Bombdr. Randolph Lycett||AUS|
|Track & Field Athletics|
|100 metres||2nd Lt. Charles Paddock||USA|
|200 metres||2nd Lt. Charles Paddock||USA|
|400 metres||1st Lt. Earl Eby||USA|
|800 metres||Sgt. Daniel Mason||NZL|
|1500 metres||2nd Lt. Clyde Stout||USA|
|Modified Marathon||Pvt. Jean Vermeulen||FRA|
|110 metre hurdles||1st Lt. Robert Simpson||USA|
|200 metre hurdles||1st Lt. Robert Simpson||USA|
|4 x 200 metre relay||USA|
|4 x 400 metre relay||USA|
|High Jump||Lt. Clint Larson||USA|
|Pole Vault||2nd Lt. Florin Floyd||USA|
|Long Jump||Pvt. Sol Butler||USA|
|Standing Long Jump||2nd Lt. William Taylor||USA|
|Triple Jump||1st Lt. Herbert Prem||USA|
|Shot Put||2nd Lt. Edward Caughey||USA|
|Discus Throw||Sgt. Charles Higgins||USA|
|Javelin Throw||2nd Lt. George Bronder||USA|
|Pentathlon||Cpl. Robert LeGendre||USA|
|Cross-Country Individual||Pvt. Jean Vermeulen||FRA|
|Hand-Grenade Throwing||Chaplain Fred Thompson||USA|
|800 metre relay Armies of Occupation||FRA|
|Long Jump Armies of Occupation||Capt. John Madden||USA|
|Wrestling – Catch-as-Catch Can|
|Heavyweight||Chevalier ….. Salvator||FRA|
|Wrestling – Greco-Roman|
|Lightweight||Cpl. Joseph Beranek||TCH|
|Welterweight||Pvt. Karel Halik||TCH|
|Middleweight||Pvt. Louis Van Antwerpen||BEL|
|Light-Heavyweight||Sgt. Maj. Frant Kopriva||SRB|
|Heavyweight||Mstr. Gunner François Bechard||FRA|
This post was modified from an Appendix to my book on the 1920 Olympic Games: The 1920 Olympic Games: Results for All Competitors in All Events, with Commentary. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2001.