Remembering IM William Winter (11-ix-1897 18-xii-1955)

William Winter, British Open Chess Champion, 1934. The verso frontispiece of Chess for Match Players, William Winter, London, Lawrence & Wishart, 1st edition. 1936
William Winter, British Open Chess Champion, 1934. The verso frontispiece of Chess for Match Players, William Winter, London, Lawrence & Wishart, 1st edition. 1936
Author's inscription from Chess for Match Players, William Winter, London, Lawrence & Wishart, 1st edition. 1936
Author’s inscription from Chess for Match Players, William Winter, London, Lawrence & Wishart, 1st edition. 1936

We remember William (Willy) Winter who passed away on Sunday, December 18th, 1955.This is some variation from sources who quote his Date of Birth. All have 11th of September but vary by the year giving either 1898 or 1899. However careful research by John Townsend (Wokingham) gives 1897 and this work is cited by Edward Winter.

His father was William Henderson Winter and his mother Margaret Winter. He was born in Medstead, Hampshire. In the 1911 census their address was recorded as “The Boynes”,  Four Marks, Alton, Hampshire and the family had two servants : a cook and a housemaid. In 1936 Winter lived at The Old Cottage, North Road, Three Bridges, Sussex.

From The Encyclopedia of Chess (Robert Hale 1970&1976), Anne Sunnucks :

“International Master, chess. professional and British Champion in 1935 and 1936, William Winter is one of the most colourful  figures that British chess has produced. A born bohemian, Winter could on many occasions have been mistaken for a tramp, yet he was equally capable of turning up at a dinner or some other official occasion, well-groomed and looking the split image of his famous uncle, Sir James Barrie, and making a speech of such wit and culture that every other speech would seem flat.

Born in Medstead in Hampshire on 11th September 1898, of Scottish parentage. Winter’s mother was the youngest sister of Sir James Barrie, and his father a brilliant scholar who had entered St. Andrew’s University at the age of 16, taken honours in classics and then won a scholarship to Cambridge to read mathematics.

Winter was taught to play.chess by his father, who was a strong player, when he was 12. From the time he was introduced to the game his main aim in life was to become a first-class player, and his previous interest, cricket, had to take a back seat.

When he was 15, he joined the city of London Chess club, one of the leading clubs in the country, and his game-rapidly improved. He went up to Cambridge to read law for a year during-the l9l4-l9l8 war, before he became of age for military service and joined the Honourable Artillery Company. While he was stationed at Leeds he learned that the British champion, F. D. Yates, and the Mexican master, A. G. Conde, were in the habit of playing chess on a Saturday afternoon in a café in Bradford.

Winter started going to this café and made the acquaintance of the two masters, who would occasionally give him a game.

On returning to Cambridge when the war was over, Winter became President of the University Chess Club and also started to take an active interest in politics. He joined the University Socialist Society and the local branch of the Independent Labour Party, and when the Communist Party was formed he became a Communist.

In 1919 Winter became Cambridge University Champion and won a match against R. H. V. Scott, a leading British player, by a score of 4-2, thereby securing for himself an invitation to play in the Victory Congress at Hastings. His lack of experience of master play proved too great a handicap, and he came 11th out of 12.

Edo rating profile for William Winter from
Edo rating profile for William Winter from

On leaving Cambridge after taking his degree in 1919, Winter persuaded his parents to allow him a year in which to play chess before settling down to a career. He hoped that during that year he might be able to prove that he had sufficient talent to become a professional player. This did not prove the case, and Winter had to resign himself to becoming a solicitor.

In 1921 he became articled to a London firm, but after a dispute with his father, which resulted in his allowance being stopped, Winter had to give up his articles and decided to concentrate his energies on politics. He went to live in Bristol and addressed open-air meetings all over the city on behalf of the Communist party, until he was arrested for sedition and sentenced to six months imprisonment. After his release Winter continued his political activities until he was forced to abandon them on medical advice.

Having given up politics, Winter decided to try his luck as a chess professional. This proved to be a success, and within two years he was making a reasonable living teaching the game, playing games for fees at St. George’s Cafe in St. Martin’s Lane in London and writing for The Manchester Guardian and The Daily Worker.

Winter remained a chess professional for the rest of his life, apart from the war years. He wrote two chess best sellers: Chess for Match Players, published in 1936

Chess for Match Players, William Winter, Carroll & Nicholson, 1936
Chess for Match Players, William Winter, Carroll & Nicholson, 1936

and reprinted in 1951, and Kings of Chess;

Kings of Chess, William Winter, Carroll and Nicholson Ltd, 1954
Kings of Chess, William Winter, Carroll and Nicholson Ltd, 1954

and was coauthor with F. D. Yates of Modern Master Play,

Modern Master Play, FD Yates and W. Winter, 1930
Modern Master Play, FD Yates and W. Winter, 1930

and with FD Yates of World Championship Candidates Tournament, 1953.

Winter never reached the very highest ranks as a player, although he won the British Championship twice and represented his country in four Chess Olympiads: Hamburg in 1930, Prague in 1931, Folkestone in 1933 and Warsaw in 1935. In the Great Britain v. U.S.S.R. radio match in 1946 he defeated Bronstein in the first round and then characteristically went out and celebrated his victory in such a way that his defeat in the return round was inevitable.

William Winter (11-IX-1898, 18-XII-1955)
William Winter (11-IX-1898, 18-XII-1955)

Although he achieved no great successes in international tournaments, in individual games he beat many of the world’s leading players, including Nimzowitsch and Vidmar, and had draws against Capablanca and Botvinnik among others.

William Winter (11-IX-1898, 18-XII-1955)
William Winter (11-IX-1898, 18-XII-1955)
William Winter (11-IX-1898, 18-XII-1955)
William Winter (11-IX-1898, 18-XII-1955)

He died of tuberculosis in London in December 1955, after refusing to go into a sanatorium.”

In Kings, Commoners and Knaves, (Russell Enterprises, 1999), page 393 Winter quotes Winter (!) from Chess Masterpieces (Marshall) as follows :

I consider [Winter v Vidmar, London, 1927] to be my best game partly on account of the eminence of my opponent and partly because of the importance of the occasion on which it was played, and also because on three occasions in which the situation was extremely complicated. I was fortunate enough to discover the only continuation which not only was necessary to secure victory, but to actually save the game

Here is that game :

From The Anglo-Soviet Radio Chess Match by Klein and Winter :

The Anglo-Soviet Radio Chess Match, E. Klein and W. Winter (1947, Pitman)
The Anglo-Soviet Radio Chess Match, E. Klein and W. Winter (1947, Pitman)

“W. Winter was born in 1899 in Hampshire. A Cambridge graduate in Law, he devoted himself eventually entirely to chess and is the only Englishman who, despite all vicissitudes, has faithfully remained a professional. After winning the Cambridge University Championship in 1921 he competed in a number of international tournaments. His outstanding performance was in the tournament in Scarborough 1928, which he won. He won the British Championship in 1935 and 1936, and has represented his country on four occasions in international team tournaments. In Hamburg, 1930, he was undefeated.

Scene at London. From left to right - Seated : Fairhurst, List and Winter in play. Standing König and Sir George Thomas
Scene at London. From left to right – Seated : Fairhurst, List and Winter in play. Standing König and Sir George Thomas

His literary activities include Chess for Match Players and The Alekhine-Capablanca World Title Match, 1927. He edits the chess column in the Soviet Weekly.

Games Played In the World's Championship Match between Jose Paul Capablanca and Alexander Alekhine, FD Yates and W, Winter, 1928, Printing Craft Limited
Games Played In the World’s Championship Match between Jose Paul Capablanca and Alexander Alekhine, FD Yates and W, Winter, 1928, Printing Craft Limited

His chess record is erratic and does not reflect his true ability. He is capable of some of the finest chess, but often plays too impulsively. His greatest strength lies in King’s side attacks. which he handles with skill and accomplishment.”

William Winter (11-IX-1898, 18-XII-1955)
William Winter (11-IX-1898, 18-XII-1955)

From the Preface of The World Chess Championship : 1951 by Lionel Sharples Penrose we have :

“Mr. Winter’s chess career has been a long one and he occupies an extremely high position among British players. He has been British Champion twice, in 1935 and 1936. Among other notable successes was his first place in the Scarborough International Tournament in 1928. He defeated Nimzovich in the London Tournament in 1927. Against the present world championship contenders he has a very fine score, a draw against Botvinnik at Nottingham in 1936 and a win and a loss against Bronstein in the Radio Match, Great Britain v U.S.S.R. in 1946. Mr. Winter is a specialist in writing about the art of chess, and players throughout the country owe a great deal to his deep and logical expositions.”

Games Played in the World's Championship Match between Alexander Alekhin (Holder of the Title) and E D Bogoljubow (Challenger), Printing Craft Limited, 1930, FD Yates and W. Winter
Games Played in the World’s Championship Match between Alexander Alekhin (Holder of the Title) and E D Bogoljubow (Challenger), Printing Craft Limited, 1930, FD Yates and W. Winter

From The Encyclopedia of Chess (BT Batsford, 1977) Edited by Harry Golombek :

International Master and twice British Champion (1935 and 1936), Winter was an excellent illustration of Réti’s thesis that players tend to be opposite over the board to their character in real life. Over the board he was classical, scientific and sober; away from the board he was revolutionary, moved by his emotions (he contrived to be both a fervent Communist and a staunch patriot), and more often than not, drunk.

His university career, where he read law, coincided with the First World War and, after a brief interruption for military service he returned to Cambridge where in 1919 he became university champion and defeated R. H. V. Scott (a strong player who won the British Championship in 1920) in a match by 4-2. On the strength of this he was invited to play in the Hastings Victory tournament of 1919 where, however, he did badly, coming 11th out of 12.

William Winter (11-ix-1897, 18-xii-1955)
William Winter (11-ix-1897, 18-xii-1955)

After an interval during which he fervently pursued a political career to such an extent as to incur a six-months prison sentence for sedition (Winter always denied the sedition and said that the charge was trumped-up one), he took up the career of chess professional. The life suited him since it enabled him to lead the kind of Bohemian existence that pleased his artistic temperament. It should be mentioned that he was a nephew of Sir James Barrie and would have fitted in well on one of his uncle’s plays.

As a player he was eminently sound and, being an apostle of Tarrasch, a fine clear strategist. But he was lacking in tactical ability and his poor health and his way of life interfered with his consistency and impaired his stamina. But he had a number of fine victories over great players (Bronstein, Nimzowitsch and Vidmar for example).

IM William Winter (11-ix-1898, 18-xii-1955)
IM William Winter (11-ix-1897, 18-xii-1955)

He played in four Olympiads: Hamburg 1930 (scoring 76.7% on 4th board), Prague 1931 (58.8% on 4th board), Folkestone 1933 (59.1% on 3rd board) and Warsaw 1935 (41.7% on 1st board). He was selected to play at Stockholm in 1937 but, having “lost” his passport three times. he was refused a fresh one by the authorities.

His best international individual results were =6th at London 1927, and =5th at Lodz 1935.

His career as a chess journalist (he wrote for the Manchester Guardian following FD Yates and the Daily Worker) was somewhat impeded and spoilt by his Bohemian ways, be he wrote some excellent works on chess : Chess for Match Players, London, 1936″

Winter was a popular subject for his Swiss namesake, Edward Winter and there are several mentions in his excellent books.

In Chess Facts and Fables (McFarland, 2006) we have Chess Note 2819, page 71 which shows a photograph (from CHESS, November 1935) taken in Poland of Winter and Max Krauser, Heavyweight wrestling Champion of Europe. Quite what the occasion we are not told.

Here is an excellent article (as you’d expect) from Edward Winter

Apart from all of the contributions above possibly the most comprehensive comes from FM Steve Giddins writing in three parts in British Chess Magazine, during 2006 and 2007 :

Since our article was published we were contacted by Steve Giddins who informed us that he owned the copyright to the articles rather than BCM and that he did not wish us to make them available via this article.

In the “Mid-October” issue of CHESS for 1962, (Volume 27, Number 418)  we had the following announcement:


Edited by David Hooper, will be serialised in CHESS commencing with our next number. Nephew of Sir James Barrie, twice British Chess Champion, a lifelong Communist and freethinker, imprisoned for his political views, “Willie Winter”, with his Bohemian way of life, was undoubtedly the most colourful figure in British Chess for many decades irrespective of whether you agree with his views (most readers may not!), you will find him a delightful writer whose gifted pen draws you engrossed from page to Page.

In the November issue of CHESS for 1962, (Volume 28, Number 419, pp.1-2)  we had Part I:

A first Instalment

Most people when I tell them that I am a Professional chess player look on me as if I were some kind of fabulous monster. I don’t know why this should be so. Golf professionals, billiards professionals, and lawn tennis professionals are taken for granted, and surely chess players have far more need of professional assistance than the devotees of any of these pursuits. The work of the professional at every form of game or sport largely consists of teaching, and the complexities of chess are such that no player can hope to achieve even a modicum of success without the skilled guidance which only a. professional can give. I am glad to see that this is becoming widely recognised and far more aspirants are availing themselves of the services of the ‘pro’ than was the case when I first took on the job. There is of course much more to our work than teaching. I shall have plenty to say about the varied scope of our activities later on. Now I want to tell something about myself.

A Hampshire-reared Scot

I was born at the back-end of last century at Medstead, a small village in the heart of Hampshire. Both my parents were Scots, my father being quite a distinguished scholar. Entering the University of St. Andrews at the early age of 16 he took honours in classics, and then finding himself rather at a loose end he took to the study of mathematics, won a scholarship to Clare College Cambridge and became a Wrangler. Probably he could have gained a Fellowship, but he had a passion for country life and took advantage of a small legacy to buy the house at Medstead and eke out his income by taking private pupils. I may say that he made a great success of this. He was a superb teacher, especially of rather backward boys, and was responsible for squeezing more moronic creatures past the entrance exams at both Oxford and Cambridge than one could have believed possible.

I must also mention that he was a very good amateur chess player. At one time he took lessons from the English professional master H. E. Bird, and possessed a number of his books. However, when he settled at Medstead lack of opponents compelled him to give up the practice of the game.

Sir James Barrie

My mother also had claims to distinction, though perhaps rather vicariously. She was the youngest and the favourite sister of the great J. M. Barrie who seemed to tower over my boyhood like some colossal ogre. A benevolent ogre it is true, who produced handsome presents and provided the wherewithal for holidays which would otherwise have been quite beyond our reach, but I never felt quite sure when he might not start: “fee, fi, fo, fum!” My mother’s desperate anxiety to please him in every thing was responsible for this attitude of mind: “What will Jamie think? What will Jamie say?” Actually he was quite harmless and, I imagine, did not think very much about us. We were far removed from the aristocratic circle which was already taking him to its bosom in Town.

Gifted parents

My mother was by no means without talents of her own. ‘She was a pianist of considerable skill and had a singing voice of such quality that my uncle toyed with the idea of having her trained for the concert stage. Her poor health (she was always
delicate) held up the idea and it was finally abandoned on her marriage and retirement into the country. She had her baby grand piano and practised Scottish folk songs in the drawing room, but Medstead was not I fear, capable of providing an appreciative audience. Unfortunately she was the complete opposite of my father in that she took not the slightest interest in the country avocations which were his joy.

Our fowls he regarded as nasty creatures who scratched up her flower beds, and an encounter with a gobbling turkeycock was sufficient to send her into hysterics. Looking back, I think she was happy enough when I was young and she could give her time to looking after me. When I became older and no longer had need of her care then she became unutterably bored and frustrated, and at odds with life in general. Unfortunately she took refuge in a sort of religious mysticism which undoubtedly affected her otherwise excellent brain.

There were four persons in her Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Ghost, and God Sir James Barrie – who often became so inextricably mixed that it was difficult to know of which she was speaking. All this was of course a great grief to my father who was a Christian in the sense that it never occurred to him to be anything else but thought that religion was a thing to be trotted out only on Sundays.

He was however always kind, and it was only at the end of his life that he told me how much he had to put up with. A little I saw for myself, and at times it made me vaguely unhappy, but I soon forgot it in the abundant pleasures that were mine. “The Boynes,” as our house was called. was an ideal place in which to bring up a boy. It was a low white stone building standing in its own grounds and surrounded by a red brick wall.

The garden, apart from a drive to the front door and a croquet lawn had been allowed to run wild and it was ideal for such sports as Indians and Cowboys, Bushrangers or hide-and-seek. It possessed a marvellous collection of beeches, both the ordinary green and the cooper varieties, and in the spring and late autumn it was a sight to be hold. There was also a kitchen garden where we grew all our own vegetables but this was tucked discreetly away at the back of the house.

Inebriate family ghost

The house was all on the one floor, the only stairs being those leading to the cellar. It was built round a long passage lit in the day-time by a skylight, with three rooms opening off each side. This passage ran from the entrance hall to the door opening on the servants quarters, the aforesaid cellar, and some store rooms.

Around this rather curious architecture there hung a tale. The house was built in the Regency days by a gentleman by the
name of Ivy, who after his evenings- potations was quite incapable of negotiating any stair. He lived alone apart from a man servant who, not unnaturally soon began to find existence somewhat wearisome.

Accordingly he developed the habit of slipping out to the village inn after he had ensconced his master with his nightly quota of bottles. Unfortunately one night Mr. Ivy felt more thirsty even than usual, and after finishing his last bottle rang for the servant to bring more. Receiving no reply to repeated jangling’s he decided to deal with the matter personally but he had overestimated his capacity, and when the butler returned he found his master dead with a broken neck at the foot of the cellar stairs. Filled with he hanged himself on a large hook in the back passage, and his ghost is still supposed to haunt the house.

The haunting takes the form of a butler carrying e tray, who at ten o’clock in the evening emerges from the service door, walks halfway down the main passage and then vanishes. I never saw this apparition myself, not to my knowledge did my parents, but the older. villagers always made an excuse to leave the house before the fateful hour of l0 p.m, and one housemaid gave notice because. she said ‘Something frit her’. She could not, or would not, be more explicit.

In the December issue of CHESS for 1962, (Volume 28, Number 420-1, pp.28-33)  we had Part II:

On the whole I had a very happy boyhood. Lessons I found fairly easy and I was able to pass such exams as were necessary without undue swotting. I did not share my father’s aptitude for mathematics and won little or no distinction in this field, but in my favourite subjects, history and classics, I was, I believe I can say without boasting, pretty good.

Chess and Mathematics

By the way it is a great mistake to assume that chess and mathematics have anything in common. Intuition and imagination are the qualities that mark the great chess player, and the fact that Capablanca and some other leading masters were also good mathematicians is purely coincidental. Alekhine was a complete dud at the science.

Like all small boys I think I was a bit of a horror, and I can remember being guilty of one or two unpleasant pranks. One of these, to my subsequent regret was played on my father. I have mentioned that he was a Sunday Christian and this was sufficient to give him the post of Vicar’s Warden, probably because he was the only man in the village capable of reading the lessons without mispronouncing the names of the Hebrew Kings and Prophets. After he had finished a lesson it was his custom to mark carefully the place in the big Bible at which to start on the following Sunday. Noticing this, I and another boy went into the church when all was quiet and altered the position of the marker, so that, instead of the description of the Mosaic law set for the day, my father found himself reading the sprightly adventures of Lot and his daughters. It was well for me that he never discovered the culprit.

Loved cricket

Up to my introduction to chess my principal interest in life was cricket, my enthusiasm for which was fully shared by my father. He taught me the rudiments of batsmanship and bowled to me on the lawn, to the annoyance of my mother who objected to the green being cut up. Unfortunately I never made much of a show as a batsman, though later in life I developed quite a useful leg-break. Once or twice a year he took me to see the County team play at Portsmouth or Southampton. There were giants-in the Hampshire side in those days: C. B. Fry, Philip Mead the prettiest of all left-handed batsmen – but oh! so slow, those great-hearted bowlers Newman and Kennedy, and the gigantic Brown, the most versatile of all-rounders.

Occasionally too I was taken to London, either to Lords or the Oval, if there was a specially attractive match at either place. Those-were of course red letter days in my life, though two of them, I remember, ended disappointingly. An attempt to see M. A. Noble’s all conquering Australian team play the M.C.C. failed because our arrival at Lords coincided with that of a thunderstorm, and the only sight we had of an Australian was Warwick Armstrong smoking his pipe on the visitor’s balcony.

This was my first visit to Lords, and I gazed with awe at the sacred turf, waterlogged though it was, of which I had read so much. On another occasion we went to the Oval to see the famous hitter G. L. Jessop, who was playing for Gloucestershire against Surrey. This time the weather was kindly but my hero was not, for he was caught at silly mid-on off the second ball he received. By way of consolation I remember we watched a century by Dipper, an admirable batsman, but, alas! no Jessop.

The love of cricket’ was shared by my famous uncle and indeed, in my adolescent days, it was the only subject on which I could talk to him. At one time he ran his own team, the ‘Allahakbarries‘, and wrote many amusing accounts of their performances, mostly, I fear, apocryphal. I once played for one of his teams and, though I failed with the bat, I redeemed my character by two tumbling catches at short leg, one of which sent back a Cambridge Blue.

E. V. Lucas

Another cricket enthusiast whom I met when on a visit to my uncle was E. V. Lucas, for whose ethereal style of writing I had developed a boyhood passion. I was all agog to meet him, and great was my disappointment when, instead of the Shelley-like figure I had expected, there appeared a large fat man whose only subject of conversation appeared to be the dinners he had recently eaten. Then somebody mentioned cricket, and the whole atmosphere changed. Lucas became absolutely lyrical in his account of a Woolley innings he had just seen, and he and I were soon in deep discussion on the relative merits of the batsmen Jack Hobbs and
Victor Trumper. and similar fascinating themes.

Besides cricket my principal hobby was exploring the countryside on foot or on my bicycle. Hampshire was a beautiful county in those days, quite unspoilt, and containing varied and attractive scenery. The trees of Selborne Hangar have to be seen to be believed and, in its own placid way the valley of the Itchen just outside Winchester is one of the loveliest things in England. There were few parts of the county within a radius of twenty miles or so that remained unexplored by me.

Introduction into chess

All these delights, however, had to take a back seat, after my first introduction to chess. This occurred when I was twelve years old, and its manner was curious. I have mentioned that my father was quite a considerable player in his younger days, but had to give up the game when he came to Medstead because of lack of opposition. It so happened that we acquired a new clergyman who challenged my father to a game of chess, and to his surprise and disgust beat him with, I remember, a variation of the Allgaier gambit.

This was just not good enough. My father had played at Simpson’s with some of the best in the land and considered himself in a far different class from any country parson! So out came the dusty board and men, down came the long disused books, and a turning point in my life had arrived. For about an hour I watched him, fascinated, then tentatively asked “What is that?” it’s chess” he replied. “Will you teach me?” At first he was reluctant as he thought I was too young, but I was so persistent that at last he agreed to show me the moves. The whole idea of the game fascinated me and from that moment I was determined that, whatever else I did, I would become a first class chess player.

My father at first restricted my lessons to an hour a day, after supper. But we had an intelligent housemaid whom I taught to play, and of course I browsed in his books when he was not using them. Most of them were the work of his old chess tutor H. E. Bird, whose influence, especially in the Sicilian Defence, can still be detected in my play.

When I was able to face my father over the board in an actual game he at first gave me the odds of the queen, but this badge of inferiority was soon reduced to rook, then to knight, until finally we played level. He disapproved of the odds of pawn and move, and pawn and two, on the grounds that they made regular openings impossible, an opinion which I heartily endorse. It was a great day for me when I first beat him on level terms, and a still greater when the parson, invited to ‘The Boynes’ for tea, not only succumbed to my father – that had now become quite a regular occurrence- but also fell an easy victim to my carefully prepared Sicilian Defence.

Ethics of postal chess

Once my father had come back to chess his enthusiasm never waned. He played until the day of his death, and the chessboard was on the table by his bedside when I saw him for the last time. As soon as he found he was really recovering his zest for the game he started to play by correspondence,
and l, of course, helped him in his analysis. I could never quite understand my father’s attitude to these games. In my early days such assistance as I could give was of negligible value, but he continued to analyse with me when I was an acknowledged master, and on one occasion got Salo Flohr, accepted
challenger for the world championship, to work out a winning combination for him. He had no hesitation in showing or even publishing games won with such assistance as his own. Yet in all other respects he was the most rigorously conscientious man I have met.

Cosmopolitan Chess

At fourteen I was taken several times to the Vienna Café in New Oxford Street, the most cosmopolitan chess resort I have ever seen. Representatives of every nation congregated there, and one could hear the word ‘check’ in a dozen different languages.

Vienna Café, 24–28 Oxford Street, London, Adolphe Augustus Boucher (1868–1937), Bedford Lemere and Company -, Created: 29 April 1897
Vienna Café, 24–28 Oxford Street, London, Adolphe Augustus Boucher (1868–1937), Bedford Lemere and Company –, Created: 29 April 1897

Germans and Austrians predominated as was only natural since, at the time of which I am speaking, these were the leading chess-playing countries of the world. Everyone was most kind to me, which may have been the reason why, later on, I was quite unable to accept the view that all the inhabitants of Germany and Austria ate babies for breakfast.

My real chess career began when I joined the City of London Chess Club at the age of fifteen. This was, and had been for many years, the leading club in the country, and everybody who had any kind of chess aspiration was a member. The club met in Grocers Hall Court, off Poultry, and was ruled with a rod of iron by its secretary J. Walter Russell. He was a real despot who would brook no kind of opposition, but there is no doubt that he did a tremendous amount of good work for the club. Later on his jingoistic attitude made him my bitter enemy, but in those early days he did everything to encourage me, and presented me with the bound volumes of the rare City of London Chess Magazine autographed by him-self.

The City of London Chess Magazine
The City of London Chess Magazine

The players at the City were rigorously divided into five classes, each holding its own winter tournament. The winner of this, and the winner only, passed into the class above. After a test game against G. Wilkes, a strong class II player with whom I just managed to draw, I was placed in class III, Russell rightly thinking it would be discouraging for me to meet too strong opponents at my first attempt. I won every, game in this class in
my first year, but failed in the second class or Mocatta Cup as it was called.

I enjoyed these trips to London. I stayed with my uncle but saw little of him as I was out in the morning before he was up and was usually in bed before he came in at night. He lived in Adelphi Terrace, in an enormous top floor flat supposed, and I believe rightly, to possess the best view in London. Certainly on a clear day it was possible to look right over the built-up area of South London to the Surrey Hills in the distance. I loved to sit, at my bedroom window and gaze out-over the Thames and the multitudinous lights beyond it, wondering what was to become my destiny when I too became a Londoner, as I had every intention of doing. One or two of my dreams, such as that I would become British Champion, materialised, but on the whole they bore little relation to the reality in store.

First class status attained

At the second attempt I won the Mocatta Cup quite easily, and became an acknowledged first class player, for the City of London set the standard for the rest of England. Then the war came, and with its advent I will close the last really happy chapter of this book.

To say that the war knocked the bottom of my life would of course be true, but that was an experience that I shared with the bulk of my fellow countrymen. I don’t suppose there was anyone in Great Britain whose life not changed by the war. In a few cases for the better – if one considers getting rich quick out of war profits a change for the better – but in the majority for the worse.

Where I differed from my associates was that I could not understand what was going on around me, Most of them took it in their stride, “It was a nuisance, but those damned Germans wanted taking down a peg or two, and it was up to us to do it. Anyway it wouldn’t last six months and then we would get back to normal. I just could not feel like that. It was not that I did not know what the war was about – on the contrary I felt that I knew it all too well’ I had studied history and elementary economic geography and knew that the mineral wealth of Alsace-Lorraine, filched from France in the Franco-Prussian war had made Germany the greatest industrial power in Europe. I also knew that the best markets were in the hands of others, principally of England and that German opportunities for capital expansion were thus circumscribed I knew that British industrialists were naturally anxious to keep these advantages in their own possession, and that their French colleagues were equally anxious to recover their lost provinces without which France was condemned to the status of a second-rate power. I knew, too, Russia’s craving for an outlet to the sea via the Dardanelles, now
under the of Germany’s close friend Turkey. Here then was a situation in which big business in all the major European countries might hope to benefit from victory in a war but what possible concern could it be of ordinary folk like me and my father or those who worked in field, mine or factory?

War madness

I was soon to know. Foreign Minister Grey announced that England was entering the war to protect the neutrality of poor little Belgium, which the wicked Germans had violated. This struck me as absolute poppycock, unworthy of credence by a child of ten, but England lapped it up with a fervour that nothing short of madness. Young men left their peaceful country avocations to rush into Khaki to have a go at these Germans before they caved in.

Even my kind gentle father, who could not bear to kill a mouse, suddenly became imbued with a lust for slaughter of people he had never seen, and who could not possibly have done him any harm. As for me I was prepared to think as badly as they liked of the German Kaiser and his entourage, but I
could not regard our own hypocritical rulers in much better light. Still less could I be of England’s association with that barbarous tyrant, the Czar of all the Russias, whose brutalities had been the subject of much comment in the English press until he became our noble ally. As for the Germans themselves, the ordinary people I mean, I could not think they differed in any marked degree from the French, the Russians, or ourselves. I completely discounted the tales of atrocities, with which my father used to regale us at breakfast, out of the columns of the Daily Mail.

To Cambridge

As may be imagined my life at ‘The Boynes’ it that time was by no means a happy one. If I gave the slightest expression to my views everyone obviously thought that I was mad, and indeed there were times when I came to doubt my own sanity. I felt nothing but relief therefore when the time came for me to take up residence at Clare College, Cambridge, whence my father had graduated some twenty years before. Cambridge was a strange place in those war years.
The bulk of the undergraduates were already in the forces, but there was still a number in uniform training for commissions in the O.T.C. Pressure was put upon me to join these, but I firmly refused. For the most part they looked nasty pieces of work. There was of course the usual sprinkling of Indians and other Orientals, with some of whom I became very friendly. Today I can remember only two: an Egyptian named Talaat, an extreme nationalist who told me that I was the only Englishman in Cambridge whose throat he did not want to cut; and a charming Burmese, whose only fault was that his name was Moo Kow, which caused me some embarrassment when I had to introduce him in company.

Besides the budding officers and the Orientals there was another small group, serious-looking young men who included in their number most of the best scholars of the university. These were the anti-militarists, the ‘conchies’ waiting for the time when they would be dragged before a tribunal of local
tradesmen who could grant them total exemption (very rare), offer them non-combatant service, or reject the appeal absolutely, which meant in effect, “Join the Army or go to gaol.” Many who were given the choice of non-combatant service – preferred this last alternative. Towards -this group I naturally gravitated, and had the satisfaction of discovering that if I were mad, some very clever people including several Dons were mad also.

Another thing I found was that nearly all those anti-militarists were also Socialists, so I too became a Socialist. I am afraid that in those days I had a very hazy idea of what the term implied, but I knew that it stood for the workers and, surely, if anyone could stop this senseless slaughter it was the working classes. They, at any rate, had everything to lose and nothing to gain from continued bloodshed. I knew that the International Conference of World Socialist Parties, meeting shortly before the outbreak of war had pledged themselves solemnly, that in the event of hostilities breaking out they would proclaim a general strike in all belligerent countries.

Faith declining

When the event actually happened, however, the party leaders, with a few exceptions, forgot all about the strike and scurried to join their national governments, where they denounced the enemy just as vociferously as their Conservative colleagues. In spite of this I still pinned my faith to the Socialist movement. Even in those days I realised that Socialism is greater than its leaders. Although on the whole I got on well with my new friends I soon found there was a number of differences between us. Most of them were absolute pacifists, that is to say they objected to violence or killing in any circumstance whatever, whereas my point of view was that I wanted to choose whom I would kill, and understand why I was to do it. Nor could I claim any religious objections to war.

Since August l9l4 my faith, such as it was, had been steadily declining, and Cambridge had finally destroyed it. We were compelled to go to chapel
twice a week, as well as once on Sunday, and the continual prayers for victory for the British Army, which could only mean mass slaughter of Germans, struck me as disgusting hypocrisy in those who professed to follow the Prince of Peace, especially as their colleagues across the sea were imploring just the same thing – with colours reversed as it were. I had little use for a god who allowed himself to be harnessed like a mule to the national cannon.

No desire to be killed

I had a year of Cambridge before I became of military age, and during that time I had to face up to the first real dilemma of my life. Should I register myself as a conscientious objector on purely political grounds, or should I allow myself to be conscripted into the military machine as, of course, was the wish of my parents? At the time it was a terrible choice. All my own instincts were in favour of the first course, even though it might mean remaining in gaol as long as the war lasted. When I tentatively broached the subject to my mother it was received with a storm of emotion which quite broke my resolution. With tears streaming down her face she clasped my knees and- swore that she would rather see me dead than branded as a coward, and I really believed she would, too. I hastily told her that if she felt so strongly I would give in to her wishes, and all was peace again.

At the same time I made a private resolution that once I got into the Army I would apply every ounce-of ability I possessed, use every feint or subterfuge however unscrupulous, to avoid being put in a position where I had to kill or be killed. I had the strongest objection to taking the life of any potential Lasker or Tarrasch, and an equally strong one to their taking mine.

My friends at Cambridge for the most part considered my attitude to be a betrayal of principle, and so perhaps it was, but I had always dearly loved my parents, and I found the alternative course required more strength of character, or callousness, than I possessed. Once I had made up my mind things were not so bad. Cambridge, even in wartime, was a delightful place and I forgot most of my troubles in that best of anodynes, Chess.

The University club had naturally sunk to very small numbers, but those that-were left were very strong. We managed to organise a championship, which I won by half a point from J. Birnberg, a player who made quite a name for himself in London chess circles after the war. I also played in the championship of the town club, and defeated W. H. Gunston, a Don of St. John’s who was reckoned as one of the best players in England. He was much the strongest player I had yet met on even terms, and I was naturally very cock-a-hoop with myself, especially when I heard that he had not lost a game in the town championship for over twenty yeans. I could only tie for the title however, as I made draws with two of the lesser lights whilst Gunston won all his other games. Before the tie could be played off my time of liberty came to an end.

Army life

I am not going to say much about my army life. It was just plain Hell. My regiment was the Honourable Artillery Company, which I joined partly because its headquarters were in London and I hoped to be able to do at any rate some of my training there and partly because my people considered that my fellow soldiers would be of a rather superior type to those I was likely to meet in an ordinary infantry regiment’ I do not know
whether this last supposition was true. The
onlv man whose name I can remember was
J”‘u””qr””aiy tti”a for murder, but on the-
tuttoiu’they were a decent enough lot of
i;ii;;t. l’ cannot’ say the slTe of the
“?nl”.luni ttl.c.ot. cbarse and brutal’ they
;;;;;; t;take a sadistic {gliglt in making
ii”‘iif” * tiserable as possible’ I hated,them
*i.f,'”- il”i.J,nt’ti”h I iould.not possibly feel
iit unv German, and in all my .experience
*itn {ne H.A.c. I encountered only two
;L;;il;t r-*”ula not have been delighted
l”–“tt”.t”. lt is possible that the views I
t’rllJ maae me a difficult soldier’ also t’hat my
liii.l’tli-lii” tty have rendered me unduly
ilili”” – vulgir abuse, but looking back’
;;’i-;;;p;ring”t’hese brutes with the very
i,ril*-“.”itPe’s I served under in World
W;; ii;l il[n”t feel that mv original iudg-
:nr*t I?:..:’l*’;” d E i i^ff.l’ d”le ;l iil;
fi;;;;;;;ttogettrer if it were not that thev
;i;iiJ; cutt”i-n Part in my development as
a chess Player.
– l.-T{aa’nopea I did the first.part of my-
“”ii.liJln ‘iSnJon and, since l. lived. out of
i…iJr.i: “i’ trt” H. t pden Res idential .C I u b’
i-n “t “Uf” to get a good d.eal of chess in the
;;;1;;;-and- on -saturdaY afternoons’ I
Fitit’J F:*,”1″‘J.”‘i T:’ 1 “:l ?” “H,1;
Miss E. Price.
Personaltities of the l9l0’s
Here I had a numbelo{ Fllnes on a Pro-
ressilnit’ut it ,nittl o’ C’ M-utler’ one of the
ffi;’-t’utfi;tt “i the old Simpson’s- Pro’s’
‘fi”‘lrJi’rv* ” a”tightt’t chap with a fund of
li”iittlit about ihess players and others’
ili-ii-n’Jtim to h””” bedn drue’ even if they
wer;’iii.’- tt” could keep an audience
J,i.’rt-t”r’l”J’ with these talei’ wh.ictr. were
;#iftt *”il-r’oui malice’ ln addition he
;;;iitJt rate chess t’eacher’.and I learnt a
gl”, il n;i’::lL tx, T’.’3il: n;fi :i j;’*:
iii’i”.5.i.i-i.i establishing such a basis be-
i”i””-“itlrnirting any tactical adventures’
‘ii*.”.iv -i” is’anothe r name. for th is’
l;?’i;’it tt* tatt’mart of every first class
;i;;;.’it *u Mutler who mv first
illi-i”tietilnto ttre complexities of the
li:s”‘.l” I ;i;; had the oPPortunity.oi
[i’il;i. “!sr T:’ “#’i,’: ffi I .*T T'”J i:
ilii”e’i.”dtn “t”teutt’ scott was prob’

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3 thoughts on “Remembering IM William Winter (11-ix-1897 18-xii-1955)”

  1. The incorrect birth year of 1898 is given several times in the article – twice in the caption to a photo and in the paragraph beginning “Born in Medstead in Hampshire on 11th September 1898…”.

    The date of 11th September 1897 (as concluded by John Townsend) is undoubtedly correct – it agrees with the quarter / year that his birth was registered (the GRO entry includes the correct mother’s maiden name) and also the date given by Winter himself in the 1939 register (I’ve attached a scan of that to his page on the excellent Family Search website).

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