I have commented elsewhere on the lack of historical data about the start of the women’s athletic scene in Scotland in the 1930’s in the introduction to the Jean Tait profile. The athlete this time is Georgina Ballantine who was a very good runner indeed and her career also sheds light on the pre-war athletics scene in Scotland.
The competitive excellence and sporting success of the women’s section when it was first formed in 1930 took everyone by surprise. The members were all novices to start with but achieved victories that could never have been foreseen. Among these talented women Georgina Ballantine was one of the very best.
Georgie joined the club in season 1933/34. She was a friend of Peggy Ellison and Anne Gilchrist who were already club members. They encouraged her to come along and try cross country running. Originally a hockey player, she wore a gymslip in her first run because it was the only practical costume that she had. The Ladies trained on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays and the basic run was about 15 – 20 minutes. This suited the racing of the time with a National Cross Country Championship of about three miles. In the summer they trained at the Yoker FC Park and ran on the outside track – they were not allowed on the grass! As far as track racing was concerned almost all the cross country women ran the half mile and their medley relay team was very good. They won medals and certificates in almost every race they contested: Georgina was in the team that won the Medley Relay in 1936 and in the team that finished second in 1937. The certificate below is from the Scottish Medley Relay Championship of 1937. The team of Allison Ritchie, Isa Hunter, Georgie Ballantine and Jean Tait were all regulars. There were other girls who could slot in including Mary Martin, Martha Orr and BG Anderson. The year earlier the girls had won with BG Anderson running instead of Georgie.
The Ladies Training was organised by her father, George Ballantine who had been a professional athlete himself. He helped the men as a trainer on occasion but he is best remembered as the Ladies Coach. He usually wore a white dustcoat and because he was working with women he arranged for Mrs Thursby to come along and help out because he felt that it was not appropriate for a man to coach them on his own. Some of the men helped out from time to time – Tom Sinclair and Arthur Shields ran with them when they were out on the roads and the canal bank to start with and in later years Dan McDonald and other were there in that capacity.
Jean and Georgie flank the trophy, Mr Ballantine and Mrs Thursby at either side at the back
Although a good cross country runner, on the track Georgie specialised in the half mile and most races at the time were handicap meetings. She was very quick and reported to be good tactically. On the other hand, on several occasions she had been instructed by her father to ‘just win and no more’ or her handicap would suffer. She generally went along with this but on one occasion she just thought she could win well and ran away from the opposition to win the race by a distance. As she left the track, the handicapper took her by the elbow and said “You’ll no’ do that to me again, lassie.” In addition her Dad gave her a real talking to as well. And she didn’t do it to the handicapper again!
If we go back to the start of her career in the Harriers, the first report that appeared was for the Johnstone Castle Policies Sports where she ran in the 100 yards. “A ‘guid wee yin’ in Georgie Ballantine galloped into second place in the 100 yards for girls Under 16. This is her first success since she won the title of sports champion of the High School. A dinky little clock now gets her up bright and early.” In September 1933 at the Ladies AGM she was elected Assistant Treasurer.
She created an upset in her first club cross country championship race in February 1934 when she defeated reigning champion Jean Tait to take first place. Tom Millar in the ‘Clydebank Press’ was very enthusiastic about the new talent in the club saying: “A sensation was caused in the club championship last Saturday when the champion, Jean Tait, was forced to relinquish it to Georgina Ballantine. Allison Ritchie, a former champion, was third. I have no details as to how the race went but anyone who can beat Jean Tait must be a ‘guid yin’. The Scottish Championships is to be decided a week tomorrow and the first six girls will represent Scotland in the women’s international; we may yet see a Clydebank girl gain a ‘cap’”. A week later she was one place behind Jean in the Scottish Championships but where sixth earned Jean a place in the Scottish team for the international Blackpool, Georgina’s seventh was only good enough for non-travelling first reserve. However it was a very dramatic couple of weeks for a newcomer who could only have been 16 years old at most.
In her first national cross country championship the club team was third at Bishopbriggs. There were not many Ladies Clubs in the country at the time – Dundee Hawkhill Harriers, Bellahouston Harriers, Maryhill Harriers, Shettleston Harriers and Greenock provided the main opposition, but the standard was high with Mildred Storrar of Dundee being the top cross country runner of the time. Her cross country record was a good one – club champion and first reserve for Scotland (in 1935) was an excellent start. The following year she did not run in the club championship and in the National where she was third club runner when the club had four in the first seven. Jean Tait was second, Mary Martin third and Georgie fourth with Betty Anderson seventh. As the ‘Press’ report said her father as coach to the team must have been delighted. The club won the National title three times in three years- 1936, 1937 and 1938. Georgie’s best performance was being second in 1938. Her medal is below.
The extract on the left is from the SWAAA Programme for the Championships of 1967 in Bellahouston Park in Glasgow and lists the winning teams from past years. It also shows the club as winning three times in a row. Georgie told me that the club had won the ‘Daily Record’ Cup for the three years and were allowed to keep the cup. Unfortunately it was stolen from their house before she went to South Africa. She left the country for South Africa after her marriage to Tom Young and returned in the 1990’s. Invited to the club Presentation in 2000, she met up with Jean Tait again and both wore their 1936 Championship winning medals in pendant form for the occasion.
Some Indoor Work. George’s training was never boring and included many routines that are now commonplace but weren’t then.
Subsequently she donated the Georgie Ballantine Young Cup to the club for the Under 17 Ladies Cross Country Champion. Ironically for one previously so fast on her feet she had difficulty getting around and was confined to the house and died in 2006.