Buenos Aires Olympiad 1939

A missed opportunity for Scottish chess players.

Much excitement was raised by the plans for the eighth Olympiad, the first to be held outside Europe. It was expected that there would be a record number of teams entering, mainly because South and Central American countries would find it easier to participate, but also because the Argentine authorities were offering to pay the travel and living expenses for five team members and one lady palyer for the Women's World Championship event, which was to run concurrently.

Scottish team
The Scottish Chess Association announced the team as G. Page (Captain), J.M. Aitken, W.M. Inverarity, W. Winter and one other. The inclusion of William Winter, British champion in 1935 and 1936, was interesting. A nephew of Sir James Barrie, he was deemed eligible because he had Scottish parentage. He had apparently also fallen foul of the chess authorities in England, perhaps because of his political tendencies. Winter showed his devotion to the cause by participating in the 1939 Scottish championship, held at Easter in Aberdeen. Fairhurst, the strongest player in the country at that time, had already indicated that he would not be available for the Olympiad as he had to devote time to his profession.

Problems and delays
The Buenos Aires was due to commence July 20, and it was arranged for a ship to carry all the European teams from Antwerp, departing on June 15. Meanwhile, Page and Inverarity withdrew from the team, as they could no longer spare the necessary time.

Do you have a spare three months?
Efforts were made to find replacements, including an attempt to recruit the young Hugh Gemmell (aged 20),
a member of Polytechnic CC in Glasgow who had shown promise. The attached letter, dated 9 May 1939 (Monday), seeks an answer from Gemmell by the Friday. Considering that he would have to spend about three months away from home, he was not given much time to consider his options!

[The signature on the letter would seem to be that
of A. Whyte. The name is shown in the Scottish Chess Association Year-Book 1940-46, with the address Bryson & Co., 69 Buchanan Street, Glasgow C.2.

Aird Thomson, also mentioned in the letter defeated Gemmell 2-1 in the final for the Polytechnic club championship for 1939, and he would later win the Scottish championship in 1951.]

The S.C.A was clearly struggling to make up the numbers for the team, and when the Argentine Chess Federation soon after announced a postponement of the
dates for the Olympiad, Scotland withdrew its entry.

Hugh Gemmell was born 21 April 1919 and died 6 January 2006. He went to Shropshire just after WWII to take over his uncle's medical practice at Westbury, just outside Shrewsbury. He became a leading member of the Shropshire County Team and had long spells as team captain and president of the Shropshire Chess Association.  He won the Shropshire Championship in 1958, 1966 and 1967. He was also three times champion of the county of Shropshire.

Thanks to David Everington of the Shropshire Chess Association and Shrewsbury Chess Club, and a friend of Hugh Gemmell, for information and images associated with this story.

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