Interpretations: The Herbert Alward Story

The son of Robert and Leonie Alward, Herbert Andrew 'Bob' Alward was born October 20, 1916 in Budapest, Hungary. Though he was the grandson of a Welsh master mariner, Herbert didn't have a typical upbringing in the British Isles. Instead, he and his older siblings William and Bessie grew up in Vienna, Austria, where their father worked as the Continental representative of a British business firm. Herbert and his siblings attended an öffentliche Schuler (state school) and in their spare time, William took up ice hockey and Bessie and Herbert figure skated at the Wiener Eislaufverein. A 1951 feature in "Skating World" magazine recalled, "His first ambition was to be an ice hockey player, and, later, a speed skater. Parental disapproval, after he had suffered numerous injuries, made him give up both these aspirations, and he followed his sister's example and took up figure skating."

Herbert's beginnings in the figure skating world weren't exactly impressive. In his first club competition in the junior men's class at the age of twelve, he placed dead last. Two years later, he landed a Lutz jump and moved up to second in the same event behind future Olympic medallist Erik Pausin. In February of 1932, he finally won the Wiener Eislaufverein's junior men's title, defeating Dominik Schönberger, Karl Zeilinger and Josef Weichselberger. Under the watchful eye of coach Pepi Weiß-Pfändler, he began earning the reputation of a skater with great promise.

In 1935 at the age of eighteen, Herbert won an international event in Zürich as well as a junior competition held in conjunction with the World Championships in Budapest, besting Béla Barcza-Rotter, Kristóf Kállay and three others. His victory at the latter event was considered somewhat controversial at the time, as the three Swiss judges on the panel placed him first and the two Austrians had him third in the figures, but he unanimously won the free skating. The British press hailed him as "a dark horse" for a medal at the 1936 Winter Olympic Games in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, but he withdrew his entry prior to the event for unknown reasons. That year at the World Championships in Paris, he placed a disappointing ninth.

Henry Graham Sharp, Freddy Mésot, Freddie Tomlins, Felix Kaspar, Elemér Terták, Markus Nikkanen, Herbert Alward, Emil Ratzenhofer and Jean Henrion at the 1937 World Championships in Vienna.  Photo courtesy Julia C. Schulze.

In January of 1937, Herbert finished second at an international competition in St. Moritz held in conjunction with the European Speed Skating Championships. He went on to place in the top five at both the European and World Championships, establishing himself as a bona fide medal contender at the senior level. The following season, he achieved just that, winning the bronze medal at events. At the European Championships, the German judge actually tied him with the winner, Felix Kaspar, in free skating. His medal win at the World Championships that season was by the narrowest of margins, ironically on the strength of his school figures as he was known as a better free skater. In 1939, he finished second at the 'Ostmark' Championships but opted to represent Great Britain, the country of his parents' birth, at the World Championships in Budapest. When Germany annexed Austria, he was invited to a meeting with Hans von Tschammer und Osten, whom the Nazi's had appointed as Reichssportführer. He was promised full training facilities and support if he would skate for Germany, but he declined.

In the spring of 1939, Brits living in Austria were advised to flee the country. Wisely, the entire Alward family hightailed across the English Channel immediately following the 1939 World Championships. The fact that Herbert's older brother William was by then working as a courier with a travel agency may have helped secure their safe passage. Herbert and his sister Bessie took up residence in a semi-detached home on Birchwood Avenue in Wallington, Surrey. Census records note that she was an artist; he a student and German interpreter.

During World War II, Herbert enlisted as a Flight Lieutenant with the Royal Air Force. He spent close to a year in the North African and Mediterranean Theater of Operations, working with the 381 Wireless Unit in Tunisia and Italy, which intercepted and decoded German and Italian messages. A feature in "Skating World" magazine recalled that he "ended his service career at BAFO Air Headquarters, Buckeberg, where his linguistic ability brought him the uneasy job of Officer [in charge of] German civilian labour." He was twice being mentioned in dispatches, and was awarded the M.B.E. for his service. 

Less than a year after the War ended, he married Marion Schreiber. Soon came a son, Peter. Early in the War, Marion worked as Wilfrid Israel's secretary at Bloomsbury House, typing hundreds of letters to the Home Office advocating for 'enemy aliens' in England. Wilfrid Israel was a wealthy Jewish philanthropist who played an important role in Kindertransport, a pre-War rescue effort which saved the lives of thousands of Jewish children. Later Marion acted as as a interpreter for the Allied forces. Through her war work, Marion first became acquainted with Howard Bass, the well-known British sportswriter who penned several books on figure skating. The Alward's and Bass developed a friendship that lasted after the War.

In the post-War years, Herbert became an NSA Gold Medallist and turned professional, appearing in
Tom Arnold's British touring production "Ice Follies" with Olive Robinson, Armand Perren and Raymonde du Bief, the production "Féerie De La Glace" in Belgium and as the leading man in "Ice Rhapsody" at the S.S. Brighton alongside Cecilia Colledge. In 1949 and 1950, he won the World and British Open Professional Championships

Herbert went to serve as the senior instructor and stage director for some of Tom Arnold's ice pantomimes at the S.S. Brighton and taught at the Empire Pool, Wembley and Queen's Ice Rink. The school he operated at Brighton in the fifties, in particular, was quite revolutionary for the time in England as it had a ballet teacher on staff and focused more on improving a skater who already had sound technique's presentation through a series of graded classes.

When the S.S. Brighton rink was demolished in the sixties, Herbert retired from coaching and got involved in the wine trade. He passed away in Walton-on-Thames on November 17, 1994 at the age of seventy-eight. Skating historian Dennis L. Bird, who was once Herbert's student, recalled, "He had learned his skating in the famous 'Vienna school' and was firmly convinced that skating should be an artistic and not merely an athletic pursuit." 

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