How His Playing Contemporaries Remember Sir George19 December, 2017
With the passing away of Sir George Thomas, J.J. McCarry, Scottish international, 1930-1947, J. E. Underhill, winner of 10 Canadian Championship, I.C. Maconachie, Irish international, 1924-1938 and Mrs. H.S. Uber, English international, 1926-1951, winner of 13 All England titles express their remembrance of the man they felt meant so much to the game.
From J.J. McCarry, Scottish international, 1930-1947, and now Vice President of the International Badminton Federation
I was privileged to have played a singles against Sir George in the late I920s, and to have watched with delight his performances against more talented opposition on many occasions. As befitted a man who was also a world master in chess, his badminton was full of variations and brilliancies. Finesse, deception, precision of placing, delicacy of touch, power when it was required, plus an easy fluency of movement and of stroke production made it possible for him to excel in all three branches of the game. A facile ability to permute and combine all these qualities in a positive method of play - the dreary war of attrition in singles was not for him - made for spectating at its best and, perhaps more important, for badminton education at the highest level.
Between 1907, when he played and won three events at the first Scottish Open in Aberdeen, and 1928, when he was still winning Open events in Glasgow and Paisley, Sir George did much to promote and foster the game in Scotland. His usual procedure was to come to Scotland on a Thursday, play simultaneous chess matches on that evening against about 20 opponents, and then compete in the badminton tournaments on Friday and Saturday. In 1926, I saw him win 19 of his simultaneous chess matches - there was one draw - on Thursday evening, and then watched him win three events in the Scottish Open badminton championships at West Princes Street Drill Hall, Glasgow, on Saturday evening. His third win in mixed doubles with the incomparable Mrs. R. C.Tragett, brought together two of the greatest stylists the game has known and still lives vividly in my otherwise not too trustworthy memory. His influence and impact on badminton in Scotland, as in the world in general, is incalculable.
The man himself? Intellectual, kindly, humble, the firm but benign chairman at meetings, and meticulously correct as befitted what he was - a gentleman in the original meaning of the word. I remember trying to impress a Jewish chess playing friend - the man who secured the draw in the simultaneous chess match mentioned earlier - by saying that I had been talking to Sir George on the previous evening. He asked what Sir George was doing in Glasgow - was he upon business? I replied, "No. He was up playing badminton?" "Who's Badminton?" was the immediate response.
When I told this to Sir George he was greatly amused, but he did remember the man's name. Some years later Sir George wrote and requested me to ask the man's permission to print the story in a book which he contemplated writing. In my opinion, this little story exemplifies the courtesy this great gentleman showed to all with whom he came in contact, and is an index to the character of the premier name in Badminton - Sir George Thomas.
From J. E. Underhill, winner of 10 Canadian Championship titles between 1925 and 1947
Your letter of 28th August was my first advice that Sir George Thomas had died. Alas, all good men are taken to their rest! His contribution to badminton was indeed beyond compare and he must have felt a great satisfaction at the worldwide growth of badminton which he was instrumental in accomplishing and able to witness before his decease.
I well remember the two visits to Canada made by Sir George and his team members which gave a great impetus to Canadian badminton. The first tour in 1925 awakened Canadians to the potential of the game and by the time of the second tour in 1930 good badminton halls had been built in nearly all of our major cities, and our standard of play so improved that we gave quite a good account of ourselves in the exhibition matches played against our English visitors. I had the delightful experience of playing with Jack Muir against Sir George and R. M. White. In this match I felt I learned a little of Sir George's wonderful personality, because the match was a cliff-hanger and we exchanged comments from time to time.
I consider it was a great privilege to have known Sir George who was such a distinguished player and gentleman, the one who did more than any other individual to promote the game of badminton.
From I.C. Maconachie, Irish international, 1924-1938, and All-England mixed doubles champion, 1937
Nobody did more than Sir George Thomas to raise the image of badminton from the Saturday afternoon tea party to the world-wide skillful game which it is today.
After the first world war when the game started to make headway in Great Britain, he travelled thousands of miles demonstrating the art and the skills of the game. As a result of his efforts many new clubs were started, more tournaments were organized and competitive play in the form of leagues and county matches were soon in full swing. Any tournament in which Sir George entered was "made". It was one of the great pleasures of the game in those days to play against him, and even more so to play with him, because he frequently partnered young and promising players just to give them experience of the first class game.
Sir George was a great all-round player in his own right. His All-England record of four singles, nine doubles and eight mixed doubles championships is outstanding by any standard. He was, of course, a chess master and his badminton game was fashioned along chess lines. He was accurate, thoughtful and an extremely deceptive player, backing up his tactics with immaculate stroke play. It was probably his ability to play a really good deceptive shot when it was most needed that put him above his contemporaries. His opponents were kept in a state of uncertainty because he could despatch the shuttle with a last minute flick of the wrist to an entirely different part of the court which at first looked obvious. As one would expect, he was a good and graceful mover on the court.
The few singles matches which he played against the late G. S. B. Mack of Ireland. one of his contemporaries, were games for the connoisseur. Both were handsome and highly intelligent players and together they demonstrated the skill and the beauty of badminton, to the highest degree.
Sir George was dignified, but extremely courteous, never austere and greatly admired and respected by all who knew him. It is indeed fit and proper that his name should be perpetuated throughout the badminton world by the competition that bears his name.
From Mrs. H.S. Uber, English international, 1926-1951, winner of 13 All England titles, and donor of the Uber Cup
When I first started to play Badminton Sir George was, perhaps, nearing the end of his best form, but he was still a power to be reckoned with. As a beginner myself I watched him at the All-England, and admired that lovely wristy smash and that fiendishly disguised drop shot. He was a master of every stroke in the game, but outstandingly a master of the art of deception, an art so little studied in these days. During the next two or three years I played against him many times, and although he was then past his best. I can well remember the agonizing business of trying to anticipate where he was going to put the shuttle next, my feet stuttering on the ground in an effort to go in the right direction, so often it would turn out, wrong.
Quite soon Sir George gave up active participation in the game, so, therefore, a lot of my memories and knowledge of him came from my husband who partnered him very successfully in many men's doubles events in England and, notably, Scotland. My most precious 'cup' is a beautiful silver goblet, the Scottish Gentlemen's Doubles Championship. The first engraving on it is "G. A. Thomas and R.G. P. Hunter 1907." The last is "Sir George A. Thomas, Bt., and H. S. Uber 1927," in which year they won the cup outright. In between these dates there are all the famous Badminton names of that era, and few still remembered, but many alas, forgotten.
Sir George won this cup nine times with different partners before it became his own.
Many amusing and interesting stories my husband told me about Sir George: he should know for he used to struggle against him in the world of chess, with very little success, I believe, because at his best Sir George was the Bobby Fischer of Great Britain. Also. we both played Lawn Tennis against him,again with the same lack of success, for Sir George was a very competent Wimbledon player.
One story I have remembered, because I suppose it seemed to me to be amusing from a more modern point of view, was the journey to Hove and back. It seems that Sir George had a very large and impressive vintage car, a Rolls or Daimler I think it was, and when he considered that the distance of the tournament was within the range of a car he used to produce it and ask his partners to accompany him. He also had a chauffeur whose description was similar to that of the car. I never heard of Sir George driving himself.
Now, the Hove tournament at that time, about 1923 onwards to the war, was a very important annual event, and my husband, as his partner in the men's doubles, was invited to go in the car which arrived from London at South Norwood to pick him up at exactly 10.30, having left London at 9.45 a.m. Then, proceeding at a safe pace the 'journey' continued to Crawley, where there was a hotel, which in Sir George's opinion had merit, and where a light luncheon had been previously ordered for 12.45 p.m. About 2 p.m. the journey was resumed, but owing to the possibility of dangerous traffic near Brighton, due care was taken and they would arrive at the First Avenue Hotel, Hove, at about 4.45 p.m. in time for tea, and then on to the hall for the first rounds.
The return journey started at the seemly hour of 11 a.m. on Sunday. Again luncheon at Crawley, but a somewhat heavier one this time, and then travelling would resume about 2.45 p.m. and my husband be returned home by 5 p.m. This went on year after year so long as their partnership lasted, and never varied. I think there were other tournaments that Sir George considered to be within the comfortable range of a car, such as Worthing and St. Albans, but Bournemouth was, I remember, judged to be too far, and so that journey was undertaken by train. Seeing that London to Hove is about 50 miles, and then when one considers the way the modern players flash about the world - I understand it is nothing to fly to the continent and back in a day for a match - perhaps these journeys of Sir George may seem a little ridiculous, but again perhaps, very pleasant.
This was all, of course, just the slower tempo of the times, but there was nothing slow about Sir George himself on the court. His physical agility and amazingly acute anticipation make most modern players look slow, in my opinion. After all, first class players can usually get to the shuttle in time to make their shot, but Sir George so often got there in time to make two shots, the one he pretended he was going to make, and the one he actually did make; that is indeed speed of brain and body.
Sir George was a charming man, but I think quite a shy man. When I was young I was very nervous and consequently I found him difficult to talk with. I expect he found me impossible. But later, when I quite often found myself seated next to him watching matches and at functions etc., I found him a most entertaining companion with a delightful sense of humour.
I feel I was privileged to have known and played with Sir George, and I think that as in the case of Sir Francis Chichester, with his death, this country has lost one of her Great Sportsmen.
-- H.A.E. Scheele, World Badminton, October 1972