As the Olympics are currently taking place in Rio, it is time for me to dig out the family photograph that was always produced whenever the subject of the Olympics came up when I was young. The photograph shows my Great Grandmother, Muriel Wardley (nee Collett), in a dark jacket and knee length skirt standing with her bicycle alongside three other girls with their cycles. Mum and Grandma would proudly explain how Great Grandma had competed in the Women’s Cycling at the Bombay Olympics in the 1940s but had lost to a fourteen-year-old Belgian girl. When I started looking into the story, about twenty years ago, I soon realised that the Olympics were never in Bombay in the 1930s or ’40s and I assumed it must have been some small event and my Grandma must have been a little confused.
A couple of years ago I had some time to spare before a meeting at the British Library, so I decided to kill time looking for family references in The Times of India newspaper online. I am glad I did as I found two newspaper articles that helped to shed a little more light on the story. The first article I found was in the 20 January 1942 edition on page 7. It states that Muriel was selected to represent Bombay in the ‘Indian Olympic Games’ at Lahore the following month. The ‘Indian Olympic Games’ are now called the ‘National Games of India’ and still take place every four years.
The second article I found was a little confusing and I still need to investigate it further. In the 26 January 1942 edition on page 8 it says Muriel won the 1,500-metre cycling race at the ‘Bombay Junior Olympics’ but was disqualified for alleged cutting of the track line! Muriel was 40 years old, so why would she be taking part in the Junior Olympics? I think the photograph might have been taken at this event as the other three girls in the photograph do look younger than Muriel. Grandma also insisted the photograph was taken in Bombay.
Unfortunately, I ran out of time and didn’t get to look at the February editions of the newspaper for the results of the Indian Olympic Games at Lahore. I will hopefully get around to it one day!