The Championships, commonly known simply as Wimbledon, is the oldest tennis tournament in the world (1877) and is regarded by many as the most prestigious.
During World War II, the borough of Wimbledon was home to a machine gun factory, a spark plug factory and several anti-aircraft batteries.
“The courts were left alone,” says Evans, referring to Wimbledon’s manicured grass tennis courts. “No one grew anything on the courts, but the carparks were turned into miniature farmland.” (Roos, 2021).
The Wimbledon Tennis Championships takes place over two weeks in late June and early July, starting on the last Monday in June and culminating with the Ladies’ and Gentlemen’s Singles Finals, scheduled for the Saturday and Sunday at the end of the second week.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 Wimbledon was cancelled, the first cancellation of the tournament since World War II.
The Role of Major Walter Clopton Wingfield
In 1876, lawn tennis, a game devised by Major Walter Clopton Wingfield a year or so earlier as an outdoor version of ‘real tennis’ and originally given the name Sphairistikè, was added to the activities of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club (AELTC, or All England Club).
Major Walter Clopton Wingfield MVO (16 October 1833 to 18 April 1912) was a Welsh inventor and a British Army officer who was one of the pioneers of lawn tennis. Inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame in 1997 as the founder of modern lawn tennis.
In 1851, Wingdfield entered the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, on the second attempt through the influence of his great uncle who was a colonel. He was commissioned a Cornet in the 1st Dragoon Guards and served in India. In 1858 Wingfield became a captain and in 1860 he took part in the campaign in China and was present at the capture of Peking. He returned to England in 1861 and retired from the Dragoon Guards a year later.
During the decade he was based at his family estate, Rhysnant, Four Crosses, in Montgomeryshire, Wales, before moving into London in 1867. He was a Justice of the Peace (JP) for the county and served in the Montgomeryshire Yeomanry, joining as Lieutenant in 1864, appointed adjutant of the regiment in 1868, and promoted Major in 1874.
In 1870 he was appointed to the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms, giving him some employment at the courts of Queen Victoria and her son Edward VII. He was invested by King Edward VII as a Member (fourth class) of the Royal Victorian Order (MVO) on 11 August 1902. He retired from the Corps in 1909.
Voluntary or Mandatory?
Service personnel, who work in a voluntary capacity, are loaned by the Ministry of Defence (MOD) to the AELTC for the two-week period of the Championships.
All Service personnel who volunteer for the role of a Service Steward must use their individual leave allowance for the duration of the Championships.
In 2022, the coordinating officer received 1,000 applications for just 465 roles, with successful applicants being a mixture of Regulars and Reservists, men and women, and from across the Services.
A Defence Instruction and Notice (DIN) is produced each year and applications submitted by March of the year of play (i.e. March 2023 for June/July 2023). No officers can apply, only non-commissioned (NCO) personnel.
The annually released DIN is sponsored by the Commanding Officer Joint Service Administration Unit (London) (CO JSAU(L)).
What is the Role of a Service Steward?
- Helping the public get to their seats;
- Ensuring the welfare and safety of the crowd and players;
- Keeping members of the audience well hydrated;
- Ensuring mobile phones are switched off during play.
Where Do They Work?
Service Stewards can be found on Centre and No.1 Court, and the various gangways.
Although personnel are loaned by the MOD, the cost is borne entirely by the AELTC.
The AELTC pay Service Stewards a daily rate for both accommodation and food allowance for each day of the Championships.
In addition, Service Stewards receive an allowance equivalent to the cost of one second-class return rail ticket from their parent unit to Wimbledon.
History of the MOD/Wimbledon Relationship
During the World War II, the venues at Wimbledon were used for civilian and military defence purposes and were used to host the United States Forces tennis championships. The Centre Court at Wimbledon was damaged by a bomb in October 1940 and, when the Championships resumed in 1946, Service personnel were used to help guide spectators around the bomb damage to their seats and to provide support to the stewards.
Since 1946, the Armed Forces have maintained this working relationship with the Championships, providing 300-500 volunteers every year to support the running of the event.
Having initially come about as a result of enemy bomb damage, the enduring relationship between the Armed Forces and the Championships has flourished in the decades since. Today they are a visible and familiar part of the competition’s history and tradition.