Hitler’s effect on International Ping Pong, 1938

Ping Pong – what a great name for a sport. Although I should properly be calling it Table Tennis, as I’ve recently (and unexpectedly) ended up wading deep through Table Tennis England’s online archives.

Now, this isn’t a sport I know anything about. In fact, there’s only one sport I do know anything about (if you don’t count maypole dancing, and why would you?), and that’s tennis of the non-table variety.

But I’m a sucker for a mystery to solve – and I’ve been pretty successful of late as well (just call me Scooby Doo). Look at this! Today’s puzzle came in the shape of this little medal, tucked inside the box of my Grandad’s wartime memorabilia.

Engraved on the back is R.B.S.C. Lord Cup Runner Up 1937. And that’s all the information I have. I love having a starting point for some history-surfing, though, so I was off to investigate. I thought it wouldn’t be too difficult to find out about whatever the Lord Cup was, and what R.B.S.C. stood for, but it took quite a lot of searching to find anything.

The only place that currently has those initials is the Royal Bangkok Sports Club, and as it was founded before 1937, I thought I was onto something. That is, until I actually thought about it for a second. I realised that Grandad wasn’t a jet setter, he lived in Lancashire, and this was 1937 – so pre-war and any wartime related travelling hadn’t yet happened. Not that he was in Asia anyway, as far as I know.

But “Sports Club” is probably right for the last two initials, as it sounds like a sporty kind of thing. More searching on “Lord Cup” was rather hampered by the fact that it’s so similar to “Lord’s” and therefore lots of cricket stuff comes up. I’d assumed that the medal was something to do with cricket anyway, just because of the name, even though there was no reason to think so.

Eventually, I found one tiny reference, buried in the aforementioned Table Tennis England site. It turns out that they have an absolute joy of an archive – all their monthly magazines from 1935 to 2000 are beautifully scanned and available to view (although it looks like it was out on hold from 1939-1947 for war time reasons. I guess there wasn’t much table tennis going on during those years.)

Here they are, and very lovely they are too, especially from a design point of view, seeing how aesthetics changed over the years – TTE Archive

In issue 23, from April 1938, there’s a little nugget of information in a piece about events in North East Lancashire. All it says is:

“…while the closing rounds of The Lord Cup are arousing widespread interest.”

Table Tennis, April 1938

Table Tennis, April 1938

No issue of 1937 mentions The Lord Cup, however – I read them all, and now I feel quite au fait with the personalities and issues of 1930s table tennis. But it’s the right name, and the right place (Ribblesdale and Burnley Sports Club? Rawtenstall and Blackburn Sports Club?) and, importantly, it’s ever so slightly more plausible than my Grandad flying off to Thailand to take part in a tournament. Only slightly though – Mum says he never mentioned table tennis ever, and he wasn’t a sporty man. So, it’s all still a bit of a mystery.

Never mind. It’s a little bit of information, at least, and that makes the medal more interesting to me. BUT! Brilliantly, I also discovered that the England Table Tennis Association magazine was an unlikely arena for satire. Issue 24, May 1938, is rather in a huff with Mr Hitler. The recent Anschluss, the official joining of Germany and Austria, had an extra bonus – Germany could now claim that the women’s world table tennis champion, the Austrian Trudi Pritzi, was, in fact, officially German. Was this cricket? No, it bloody well was not! (In a number of ways.)

They jokingly suggest that England should follow suit, here:

“Perhaps the E.T.T.A. Selection committee should look around and select a promising country. We could get a few world champions. Say, Hungary. Or, perhaps, take over U.S.A. After all, that was once British territory.”

They are not happy at all that the correct procedure was not followed – surely the obvious next step after notifying the League of Nations about the forthcoming Anschluss was to make sure the tennis table situation was all agreed happily? And, more seriously, I presume that the last paragraph references Jewish Austrian players:

“The matter has not been regulated with proper courtesy to the International Federation. No doubt at all that, as in the case last year of Northern Ireland and the Irish Free State, the Federation will willingly recognise the desire of two associations for joint representation, when application is made.

Meantime the high-handed attitude is a slight on the I.T.T.F. (International Table Tennis Federation). Even in the matter of the Anschluss of the two states. The German Government notified the League of Nations of what had taken place. In taking over the Austrian T.T.A., however, as far as we know the German T.T.A. has not yet thought it necessary to inform anyone.

When it does the question will probably be raised of the position under Article 2 of many Austrian table tennis players who are well known and are popular in this country and who were expelled from their association within a few hours of its annexation.”

Table Tennis, May 1938

Table Tennis, May 1938

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