The unveiling of Sir Ludwig Guttmann’s Statue – a personal reminiscence


A truly impressive occasion for all that attended

Sir Ludwig Guttmann Honoured with Statue – a personal reminiscence

On Sunday 24th June at Stoke Mandeville Stadium, I attended the unveiling of Sir Ludwig Guttmann’s statue, commissioned by the Poppa Guttmann Trust to stand in the grounds of the National Spinal Injuries Unit at Stoke Mandeville.

It was a truly impressive occasion for us all to experience, both emotionally and in recognition of the range of work Sir Ludwig had founded as a pioneering Doctor involved in the treatment of spinal cord injured after World War II.  At that time, with short life expectancy of the spinal cord injured, it was a revolutionary stance to put forward that sport could be a medium for rehabilitation.

However, it was not just his work at the National Spinal Injuries Centre (NSIC) that brought the attention of the world to treatment and rehabilitation of spinal cord patients, but he also initiated as the sporting link to rehabilitation, the development of Sporting Festivals and the establishment of an International Stoke Mandeville Games Committee (now IWAS and universally described now as one of the IOSDs in the paralympic movement).  In the years after this step, there was also the formation of a specific National Disability Sport Organisation for GB to replace the work previously having been done by NSIC staff and also the development of  a fully accessible Sport Centre (now known as Stoke Mandeville Stadium).  Initially, athletes from around the world were housed in various places either at the Hospital, Rivets, and Schools, but with the addition of a purpose built village, Stoke Mandeville Stadium was fully fit to welcome the world of athletes with a disability for training and competitive opportunity in a wide range of sporting activity at both national and international levels.

The triumvirate of the main bodies remain at Stoke Mandeville, individually and successfully governing their own operations and it is a tribute to Sir Ludwig’s vision that this remains so and the world still benefits from each of their distinctly different services.  

It is with great respect that team members from those early days, with their common experiences remember their opportunities at Stoke Mandeville both on the lawns of the Hospital and later when the Stadium and then the Village were finished.  It was an exercise that transported experience and a desire to emulate Stoke Mandeville to many different countries and this would be key to the development of an international movement now known as the Paralympic movement.  It was essential to the on-going development that the message was taken back, initially through the experiences of Drs and physiotherapists coming to the National Spinal Injuries Centre (NSIC) and Sir Ludwig’s travel as an expert to speak in court cases and at Conferences.  Later, of course, the athletes and the sport experts built upon this and made of use of a channel of their own to promote the on-going development and standards in the sporting world.  It was relatively easy through the medium of International Games for Sir Ludwig’s message to attract a wide audience.  He was essentially a great motivator, articulate in his vision and devoted to providing opportunities for self-determination of the individual.

I have to say, for myself, the opportunity of this invitation to attend the unveiling of the Statue opened the door to a plethora of shared reminiscences and encounters and the chance to see people that I had not seen for many years.  It was really marvellous, for example, to meet Philip Lewis MBE once again and the wonderful Ted Inge, he of the twinkly eyes and steely determination to bring wheelchair table tennis to the forefront at Stoke Mandeville as well as many others, too numerous to recount (for fear of missing one out!), but all of whom contributed and continue to contribute to this wonderful family of “Stoke Mandeville”.

I thought too of the legacy that “Poppa” left to the world in the formation of ISMGF (International Stoke Mandeville Games Federation), later ISMWSF and now IWAS, especially as we are celebrating our 60th anniversary this year.  Formed in 1952 as a result of the Stoke Mandeville Games going international, the ISMGF took the International Games to Rome in 1960 and these are now retrospectively described as the first Paralympic Games. With 60 years of good service to all nations in the paralympic movement and continuing provision of World Senior and Junior Games for physically disabled athletes as part of their career pathway to Paralympic Games IWAS would also like to thank our Founder, Sir Ludwig Guttmann for his drive, tenacity and vision to bring the world’s awareness of achievement of the individual through having established not only a world-renowned National Spinal Injuries Centre, but also the international paralympic movement and Games.

For me personally this occasion evoked my own memories and I do feel part of all 3 organisations at Stoke Mandeville.  I started in 1979 as a volunteer and part of Sir Jimmy Savile’s public relations and fundraising team to raise £10 million pounds to build a new and purpose-built NSIC, and moved on to also volunteer at National and International Games at the Stoke Mandeville Stadium and as national team sport volunteer and working with various countries in respect to Conferences on Disability Sport.  Eventually and in 1993, and to keep my volunteer ethic alive, I undertook the task of Secretary General to ISMWSF, whilst also becoming the first paid Executive Director to the Federation.  Whilst I only knew Sir Ludwig from afar and in his later years, I did have a very close working relationship with my predecessor in the role of Secretary General to ISMGF/ISMWSF, who was also a very generous contributor to the movement and often recounted many of her experiences with Poppa, the nations and the team at Stoke so that I felt that I knew the movement from its very beginnings and Sir Ludwig better than I actually did!  Certainly, if it is anything to go by, Joan’s volunteer and work ethic was incredible and I am sure she would admit that this was learnt from Sir Ludwig himself.

Sir Ludwig Guttmann left the best legacy an individual could have ever achieved, and it is to his great credit, and perhaps somewhat overdue, that this statue was sculpted by “Jacko” and unveiled by his son and daughter, Dr Dennis Guttmann and Eva Loeffler OBE to stand at Stoke Mandeville National Spinal Unit in perpetuity.

It was a fitting end to the formalities when Aggreko presented a bronze bust of Sir Ludwig Guttmann  to Sir Philip Craven, MBE and President of the International Paralympic Committee to be displayed at all future Paralympic Games, starting with of course London 2012 and the full circle of Sir Ludwig Guttmann’s prophecy. In his acceptance speech, Sir Philip praised and encouraged the links between rehabilitation and sport, recognising that this is fundamentally a door to enter the paralympic movement.