1948  London Summer Olympics

1948 Summer Olympics - Olympic Torch relay

1948 Summer Olympics torch relay



The 1948 Summer Olympics torch relay was run from 17 July until 29 July 1948, prior to the 1948 Summer Olympics, held in London, United Kingdom. The relay was nicknamed the "relay of peace". It was only the second occasion that a torch relay was held for the Olympics; the first was at the 1936 Summer Olympics.

There were three types of torches designed for use on the relay: a standard solid fuel powered torch made of aluminium, a special butane gas torch used on board HMS Whitesand Bay, and a final torch used to enter Empire Stadium that was made of stainless steel and powered by a magnesium candle.

The route itself was initially designed to be a direct one from Olympia to Wembley, taking in Italy, Switzerland and France. Belgium and Luxembourg were added to the route after those countries requested it. It was expected that the Greek part of the relay would be 750 kilometres (470 mi), but was reduced to 35 kilometres (22 mi) due to concerns over security. After the 12-day journey, the torch arrived at the Empire Stadium only thirty seconds later than expected.

Host city London, United Kingdom
Countries visited Greece, Italy, Switzerland, France, Luxembourg, Belgium, England
Distance 3,160 km
Torch bearers 1,688
Start date 17 July 1948
End date 29 July 1948
Torch designer Ralph Lavers


Despite hosting the 1908 Summer Olympics, the 1948 Games was the first London-based games to have a torch relay after it was introduced at the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin. Former British athlete David Cecil, 6th Marquess of Exeter, and the rest of the organising committee for the 1948 Games agreed to continue the tradition begun by the previous games, and run a torch relay for a second time.

Relay elements


Each of the torches contained a solid fuel tablet made of hexamine and 6% naphthalene (following torch running tests in May 1947) that fuelled the flame itself. The solid fuel increased the distance each runner could run to 2 miles (3.2 km) over flat terrain, decreasing the number of torches needed to be produced, which in turn reduced the cost of the relay. There were eight tablets loaded into each torch, with the bottom tablets pushed up by the use of a spring. The design increased the burning time of each torch up to around fifteen minutes, an increase from the four-minute torches of the 1936 Olympics. The torch itself was designed by Ralph Lavers, with the brief that it should be "inexpensive and easy to make, of pleasing appearance and a good example of British craftmanship". The torches were made from aluminium, with a long shaft holding a cup that contained the burner. "With thanks to the bearer" was written on the cup of the torch itself, along with the Olympic rings. The torches for the Greek leg of the relay were shipped to the Mediterranean aboard HMS Liverpool, along with a purpose built torch for the leg aboard a Royal Navy vessel from Corfu to Italy.

A differently designed torch was used for the final leg. It was made of stainless steel and was fueled by magnesium in order to ensure that the flame showed up properly during the opening ceremony. It was also designed by Ralph Lavers, with the frame for the torch created by EMI, and the magnesium candle supplied by Wessex Aircraft Engineering. Neither the suppliers nor designer charged a fee for the final torch.

Planned torch route

  *   As planned

Greece 750 kilometres* 300 324
HMS Whitesand Bay 415 kilometres
Italy 1,072 kilometres 500 540
Switzerland 261 kilometres 135 144
France (i) 521 kilometres 270 300
Luxembourg 108 kilometres 38 42
Belgium 287 kilometres 108 120
France (ii) 126 kilometres
HMS Bicester 35 kilometres
England (Dover - Wembley) 255 kilometres 73 80
England (Wembley - Torquay) 330 kilometres 107 120
Total 3,160 kilometres (1,960 mi) 1531 1688
Source: The Official Report of the Organising Committee for the XIV Olympiad

The Olympic torch relay route for the 1948 Summer Oly

HMS Whitesand Bay, which carried the torch from Corfu to Bari, Italy


Torch route

While the general negotiation with other countries and the specific route were handled by the Organising Committee for the Games, the detailed organisation was delegated to a subgroup led by F.W. Collins. Due to cost implications, the extensive route conducted by the 1936 Games was ruled out. Instead, the simplest route from Olympia to London was to be used, going by sea to Italy and then run through Switzerland and France. The route was modified only when Luxembourg and Belgium both requested that the torch travel their territories. A longer Greek route was planned, but reduced from an expected 750 kilometres (470 mi) down to 35 kilometres (22 mi) due to concerns over instability in the country and a lack of security.

The torch lighting ceremony took place on 17 July 1948 in Olympia, Greece. As with the 1936 Summer Olympic relay, the torch relay was begun by focusing the sun's rays onto kindling using a parabolic reflector, which then lit the first torch. The kindling was conducted by a Girl Guide leader from Pyrgos, Elis. She was only chosen the previous evening due to the unsettled state of the country; the Athenian girl who was trained for the ceremony was unable to travel to Olympia. In a symbolic gesture, the first runner, Corporal Dimitrelis of the Greek Army, laid down his arms and removed his military uniform before taking his torch in hand. The kindling material for the first torch was handed over as a gift from the Chairman of the Greek Olympic Committee to Collins, for Princess Elizabeth. It was then run to the Greek coast at Katakolo, where at 7 pm it boarded the Greek destroyer Hastings bound for the island of Corfu. It stayed overnight in the city of Corfu, and boarded HMS Whitesand Bay at 1:30 pm the following day where the flame was switched to a specially equipped butane gas torch in order to ensure that there was a 48-hour lifespan available for the flame, despite the crossing only being expected to take 22 hours.

 The ship dropped the torch off in Bari at 12:30 pm on 19 July.[8] It was run north through several Italian cities before crossing the Simplon Pass into Brig, Switzerland on 23 July. From there it was run west until leaving the country at Perly-Certoux, and entering France at Saint-Julien-en-Genevois. The route then detours from the direct route to take in Luxembourg and into Belgium before re-entering France at Lille on 28 July, finally departing the country at Calais. HMS Bicester carried the torch across the English Channel to Dover, arriving at 8:25 pm on 28 July. It travelled through several towns in the South East of England until it arrived at Wembley, where it arrived only thirty seconds late after the entire journey. That delay may have only been in the final few hundred yards of the relay down Olympic Way outside of Empire Stadium as the pressure of the crowds on the torch carrier and their escorts reduced the pace to walking speed. Special celebrations were held at each border crossing, and at Pierre de Coubertin's tomb in Lausanne, Switzerland
HMS Bicester, which carried the torch across the English Channel to Dover
  It was agreed for a secondary Olympic Flame to be lit in Torquay during the games, and a secondary torch relay was conducted to take the flame from Wembley south to the coast to Torquay. The arrangements were the same as from Dover to Wembley but in reverse
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  Torch Relay 1948

In September, 1946, the Organising Committee decided that the lighting of the Sacred Fire should be carried out by a Torch kindled in the traditional manner at Olympia, in Greece, and carried by relays of runners across Europe to London. It was soon discovered that to repeat the arrangements of 1936 would be so costly as to be quite out of the question. It was therefore necessary so to organise the relay that while capturing the imagination of the public and the spirit of the Olympic torch, the cost would not be prohibitive.

For the XI Olympiad, the torch holder was made of stainless steel and the burner element was a magnesium candle. As this had a burning time often minutes at maximum, to ensure ample time at each take-over point, the runners covered only about one kilometre each, running for some three to four minutes. A longer burning time was decided on, to enable each runner to cover two miles (three kilometres) on the flat and thus reduce the number of torches. The Fuel Research Station of the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research was asked to design a suitable container and to recommend a fuel. A metal canister, containing a solid fuel which was already in commercial manufacture and reasonably cheap, met requirements. The holder for the fuel container had to be inexpensive and easy to make but, at the same time, it had to be of pleasing appearance and a good example of British craftsmanship. This latter requirement was particularly necessary as the torches would be on view to the people of many countries during the Relay and afterwards would become mementoes for the runners who would carry them from Olympia to Wembley.

 The Fuel Research Station started their experiments early in 1947 and in May of that year the first running trials were held. As a result of these trials it was decided to use hexamine in tablet form as the fuel, housed in a perforated canister. In order to make luminous the flame from the hexamine, 6% naphthalene was incorporated in the tablets. It had been agreed that the minimum burning time of each torch should be 15 minutes. As this requirement seemed to be the governing factor, the arrangement of air holes in the fuel canister was made so that, even in a strong wind, the fuel would last for that time.

1948 olympic games torch

Normal Torch


Special Torch


To ensure economy of production, the size of tablets had to be similar to those in commercial production, but these were not large enough to ensure the required burning time if all in the fuel pack were lit on ignition. Eight tablets were therefore placed on a central rod, the bottom three being carried in a cup in the holder; as the top tablets burnt away, these were gradually fed up by a spring.

To keep the fuel, which readily absorbed moisture, dry under all weather conditions it had to be kept in an airtight pack which would burn completely, leaving no residue to choke the air holes in the canister. A thin nitro-cellulose casing to hold the eight tablets was specially made for the purpose.

When the final prototype torch and holder in sheet metal had been made and tested by the Fuel Research Station, Mr. Ralph Lavers, A.R.I.B.A., accepted an invitation to design an aluminium holder without altering the basic principles of the prototype torch and to supervise manufacture so that all torches would reach the agreed standard. The torch, to be carried by the final runner in the Stadium, had a magnesium flame in order that it would be sufficiently bright to be seen across the Stadium, even in the brightest sunlight. To carry the magnesium candle, a stainless steel holder was required. This also was designed by Mr. Lavers and made by E.M.I. Factories, Ltd. The candle, which was designed to burn for ten minutes, was supplied by Wessex Aircraft Engineering Co., Ltd. All the work on the final torch and torch holder was done without charge.

General torch and torch relay information 1948
Description: Inscription: "XIV OLYMPIAD 1948, OLYMPIA TO LONDON, WITH THANKS TO THE BEARER". Cut-out rings over London Olympiad legend at top.
Material Aluminum alloy;
Fuel: Magnesium-based fuel;
Torch measure: Lenght:   47 cm       Weight: 960 gr
Torches total: 1,688
Design by: Ralph Lavers
Date of the torch relay: 17. July - 29. Juli 1948
Duration: 12 days
Numbers of runners: 1,416
Distance total: 3.160 km
Name of the last runner: John Marks
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Organisation of Runners-Route of the Relay

The most direct route from Greece to England was to have been used. This meant a sea passage from Greece to Italy, thence through Switzerland and France, and a sea passage to England. However, two additional countries, Luxembourg and Belgium, asked if the Flame could pass through their territory, and this was agreed. The exact route to be followed was fixed with the Olympic Committees of the countries concerned and the final route decided upon was as follows :

Greece.-Owing to the unsettled state of the country the Flame went direct from Olympia to the coast at Katakolon, thence by Greek warship to the island of Corfu. Adriatic.-The Admiralty willingly gave their co-operation in providing warships to make the sea passages. From Corfu, H.M.S. Whitesand Bay, a frigate of the Mediterranean Fleet, carried the Flame to Bari in Italy. Though this passage was planned to take only 22 hours, H.M.S. Whitesand Bay, had to be ready to carry the Flame for a period of up to 48 hours in case there was a last minute change of route in Greece. It was therefore decided that she should burn a gas Flame, and a special burner for this was made by Spencers (London), Ltd. It was fed with butane gas, the same fuel as was used for the Flame at Wembley and Torquay. The burner, piping and gas cylinders were sent to the Mediterranean by the Admiralty, being shipped in H.M.S. Liverpool in April, 1948, when she also took the torches for Greece. Italy.-Bari, Foggia, Pescara, Ancona, Rimini, Bologna, Parma, Piacenza, Milan, Domodossola, the Simplon Pass. 
Switzerland.-Brig, Martigny, Montreux, Lausanne, Geneva, Perly.
France.-St. Julien en Genevois, Belgarde, Nantua, Lons-le-Saulnier, Poligny, Besancon, Vesoul, Epinal, Nancy, Metz, Thionville, Evrange.
Luxembourg.-Frisange, Esch, Luxembourg City, Ettelbruck, Wiltz.
Belgium.-Bras, Bastogne, Marche, Namur, Brussels, Renaix, Tournai, Hertain.
France.-Lille, Armentieres, St. Omer, Calais.
English Channel.-H.M.S. Bicester, a destroyer of the Nore Command, was detailed to carry the Flame from Calais to Dover.
England.-The route from Dover to Wembley passed through the following towns :- Dover, Canterbury, Charing, Maidstone, Westerham, Redhill, Reigate, Dorking, Guildford, Bagshot, Ascot, Windsor, Slough, and Uxbridge.

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A Torch Relay (England) Committee made the detailed arrangements in England.

The members were:
       Torch Relay Organiser (Chairman).
       One representative from each county through which the Flame would pass, who
          had a close connection with athletics in the county concerned.
      Representatives of the Police.
      Representatives of the Automobile Association and Royal Automobile Club.

The runners were chosen from clubs affiliated to the County Amateur Athletic Associations, one runner from each club being the general rule, with preference given to those clubs through whose area the route passed. Stages in England were as near two miles as possible, change-over points being at places where the runners could shelter in case of bad weather.

The route from Wembley to Torquay was as follows :-Uxbridge, Slough, Maidenhead, Reading, Basingstoke, Andover, Salisbury, Sherborne, Yeovil, Exeter, Newton Abbot.

Final Trials and Distribution of Torches

When the route and the number of stages in each country had been completed, torches were packed and shipped. The entire work of design, experiment, production and distribution was carried out in Great Britain.

Trials were carried out in a gale of wind with heavy rain and also on a day when it was fine with a light breeze. Under the first conditions the trials were satisfactory, the torches burning for the requisite time, and under the second condition the torches burned for over half an hour when carried by a runner. As the last date for shipping the first batch of torches for Greece had by then been reached, no more trials could be carried out and production was completed with the torches as then designed.

A late request for a further 12 torches for Switzerland was met from the spares retained for such purposes and 20 other torches were used for demonstrations, trials and as spares in England. The total number manufactured was thus 1,720.

(Source document:   Official Report 1948,  page 209 - 212)

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