The 1939 European Figure Skating Championships

Several of the women's competitors in London in 1939 including Megan Taylor, Britta Rahlen, Emmy Puzinger, Martha Musílek, Gladys Jagger, Eva Nyklova and Daphne Walker. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Victrolas in England blared "The Washing On The Siegfried Line" and Norwegians laid claim to over one million square miles of land in the Antarctic for whaling. Famous Irish poet William Butler Yeats passed away less than two weeks after the first of the Irish Republican Army's S-Plan bombings in London. Bias-cut silk tulle gowns were all the rage and a popular luncheon dish was Grilled Cod Steak with Parsley Butter, served with a cup of Horlick's Malted Milk. 



In early 1939, around eight months before World War II began with the German invasion of Poland, the world's best figure skaters convened in three different European cities to battle for supremacy in the European Figure Skating Championships. The women's event was held first, on January 23 and 24, 1939 at Empress Hall, Earl's Court in London, England. The men's event was held next, from January 27 to 29 in Davos, Switzerland. Finally, the pairs took to the ice on February 4 in Zakopane, Poland.

Megan Taylor (top) and Cecilia Colledge (bottom) at the 1939 European Championships

Less than a year before food began to be rationed in England, nine thousand Londoners paid three pounds apiece for tickets to see the women's competition. Manchester's Megan Taylor decisively beat the two time and reigning European Champion Cecilia Colledge four judges to one in the school figures. Cecilia's only first place ordinal came from British judge Ian Home Bowhill. Three judges had Daphne Walker third, with the German judge placing Hanne Niernberger third and the Czechoslovakian judge lending his support to Eva Nyklova.

Megan Taylor, Cecilia Colledge and Daphne Walker

Garbed in white satin, Cecilia Colledge rebounded with an exceptional free skate. Though the German judge tied her and Taylor, three other judges (including the British judge) had her in first place. The Swedish judge placed Walker, who no other judge had first or second, ahead of the rest. A journalist from the "Neues Wiener Tagblatt" raved that Colledge's free skate was "a joyous experience" and that Walker's free skate rivaled that of Taylor's, who appeared to succumb somewhat to nerves.



After the free skating marks were tallied with those from the figures, it was determined that Colledge narrowly defeated Taylor for the title, 1845.5 points to 1837.4. Walker took the bronze, making it the first (and to date) only time in history that a trio of British women swept the podium at the European Championships... in their home country, no less!

Freddie Tomlins in Davos. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

British skaters again dominated in Davos, when Henry Graham Sharp took a unanimous lead in the men's school figures, ahead of Horst Faber, Freddie Tomlins, Hans Gerschwiler and Edi Rada. In an effort to boost 'his own' skater, the German judge placed Faber second and Tomlins fifth in the figures. The same judge later gave Tomlins lower marks than others at the World Championships as well.

Henry Graham Sharp in Davos. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.
A journalist from the "Neues Wiener Tagblatt" remarked that Sharp "skates incredibly precise school figures that are first class... of an almost machine like quality" and the "fight was almost hopeless" for Faber and Rada in the final phase of the competition. In a close contest, Sharp defeated Tomlins three judges to two in the free skate, with the British judge lending his support to Sharp. Faber claimed the bronze behind the two Britons, some ten ordinal placings ahead of Rada and Gerschwiler. It was the first and only time that British men took the first two spots at the European Championships. Felix Kaspar, the defending Champion, did not compete.

Horst Faber, Henry Graham Sharp and Freddie Tomlins celebrating their medal wins in Davos with an adult beverage. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

With no British teams entered, more history was made in Zakopane when a trio of teams representing Germany swept the podium. Although teams from East and West Germany would later sweep the podium at the 1961 European Championships in West Berlin, the Zakopane event marked the only time in history that three teams representing a 'unified' Germany swept the podium at the European Championships... and they did so under the Nazi swastika flag.

The pairs medallists at the 1939 European Championships. Photo courtesy National Archives of Poland.

Maxi Herber and Ernst Baier took top honours, decisively beating their former Austrian rivals turned German teammates Ilse and Erik Pausin. Inge Koch and Günther Noack rounded out the top three. The six remaining teams, representing Nazi Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania and Yugoslavia, were some distance back from the medal winners.

Horst Faber, Cecilia Colledge and Nazi official Thomas Kozich in Vienna. Photo courtesy Bildarchiv Austria.

Following the competition, many of the world's best headed to Vienna, Austria to skate exhibitions at the Wiener Eislaufverein. Several of the skaters were honoured at the Viennese town hall by NSDAP politician turned Sturmabteilung (SA) leader Thomas Kozich. Less than a year later, the course of the world's history had been changed forever. The European Championships wouldn't be held again for eight years and none of the champions in 1939 returned to defend their titles in Davos in 1947.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating and archives hundreds of compelling features and interviews in a searchable format for readers worldwide. Though there never has been nor will there be a charge for access to these resources, you taking the time to 'like' on the blog's Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/SkateGuard would be so very much appreciated. Already 'liking'? Consider sharing this feature for others via social media. It would make all the difference in the blog reaching a wider audience. Have a question or comment regarding anything you have read here or have a suggestion for a topic related to figure skating history you would like to see covered? I'd love to hear from you! Learn the many ways you can reach out at http://skateguard1.blogspot.ca/p/contact.html.