Saturday, December 03, 2011

Broadmoor Chess - The Atonement of GW

This series of posts is now following the story of chess in Broadmoor as documented by the Broadmoor Chronicle, the in-house magazine produced by the patients, who were themselves identified only by initials. The subject of this episode is GW, who we now know was Günther, Günter, Gunter, Ginter, or even Peter, Wiora from Poland.

The story starts in 1957, when he had already been in England for just over ten years. He was 34 years old, and an art student, living in a basement flat with his common law wife Shirley Allen (she was known as Mrs Wiora). He was by all accounts extremely jealous, accusing Shirley of unfaithfulness and worse.

In the morning of 4th May 1957 Mrs Dally, the neighbour across the way, is woken by screams. In the corridor she finds Shirley bleeding from a head wound crying “Help me, Peter’s gone mad.” Mrs Dally takes her in for safety and rushes back out to raise the alarm. Peter appears, brandishing a Samurai sword. He slashes Mrs Dally as she makes for the stairs to rouse a neighbour and call the police.

Back downstairs again Mrs Dally now finds the door to her own flat open, and inside she finds Shirley stabbed to death. The sword is nearby. The door to the Wioras’ flat is locked; the police arrive, and smelling gas break it down to find Peter lying on the bed, bleeding from wrist wounds.

At the Old Bailey Wiora pleads diminished responsibility, and on 25th July 1957 is sentenced to twelve years. He is later transferred to Broadmoor, where he is to spend many more years inside than that.

GW must have had the chess in him already, before these dreadful events, because the Chronicle gives a pretty reasonable club-level game of his from a mere two years later, December 1959, although he lost it to FJC (see it in this episode). Then in 1961 he wins one, loses one, against FC in a Block 5 v Block 2 match on Christmas afternoon, and around the same time he beat KW to win the Block 5 championship “after a classic and extended tussle in which three games were drawn and the other two won by GW”, as the Chronicle reported.

He contributed to the Chronicle’s chess column on and off through 1963 and 1964, and he showed himself to be a well-read student of the game, giving games by Tal and Fischer, using a test exercise from Euwe (in German) in one article, and acknowledging Baruch H Wood’s Chess Notes in yet another.

GW was a stalwart for the Broadmoor Chess Club playing against visiting teams, working his way up eventually to the top boards. We featured a game of his from 1972 in the last episode in which he lost in the match against the visitors from Richmond Chess Club. It was in this match that he revealed his name: Gunter Wiora (though, as we've indicated, the spelling of the forename appears to be variable).

The content of the Broadmoor Chronicle was mixed and, within the constraints of its production schedule, topical. Articles were anonymous or signed-off with initials only, and were also subject to the approval of Dr McGrath, the chief officer of the hospital. All the more credit to Dr McGrath then, when in 1972 he let through an article from the young bloods of the “Revolutionary Action Committee for Broadmoor” setting out their Manifesto.

Yes, comrades, that’s the Manifesto of the RACB, in which “victims of the fascist violence in the prison system consistently apply the theory of Marxism-Leninism,” and here are their demands:
  • impartial review of fitness for discharge of any prisoner who requests it
  • freedom of political thought, speech and action
  • an immediate political enquiry into Broadmoor
  • immediate end to medical drug abuse and ECT
  • immediate end to prevalent brutality in Broadmoor.
In April some patients (aka “prisoners” according to the RACB) took direct action and staged a roof-top demonstration, bringing the Chronicle (and Broadmoor itself, of course) some probably unexpected, and certainly - from Dr McGrath's perspective - unwanted, publicity:

From the Glasgow Herald, 3 April 1972.

GW entered the fray and joined the debate in the Chronicle espousing a more social-democratic approach. He was an advocate of gradualism having, by now, nigh on fifteen years experience of the ways things worked in Broadmoor. He agreed with the RACB’s aims, but argued that “goals must be achieved by democratic and non-violent means”.

Later in August, in the aftermath of this upheaval, there was an open letter from the Editor of the Chronicle to Dr McGrath asking if there was any "factual basis for fearing that articles [in the Chronicle] may reflect adversely on [patients] clinically”. To which Dr McGrath forthrightly replied “There is no factual basis”. In the same issue there was a comprehensive guide to accessing Mental Health Tribunals, the conventional path to securing release (as I think I'm right in saying). Perhaps the winds of change were stirring in the corridors of Broadmoor.....

On to 1974 and, with the heady days of matches against outside clubs having only one more year to run, Gunter appeared in the pages of the Chronicle again – in a new role. He made an appeal for support for the Arbours Association, whose modern day website says is “an internationally renowned registered charity with 40 years experience providing psychotherapeutic support for individuals with serious emotional problems.”

The following year, in June 1975, Gunter wrote long critique of an article by a certain Robin Knight in the US News and World in which Knight took a poke at Britain and its way of doing things. Here is a short extract in which GW firstly reveals a little about his past - he may have spent his late teens/early twenties in war-torn mainland Europe - and then even more about his present:
I arrived in this country, as a young man, in 1946 and, in the last two decades at least, I have been a deeply interested observer of the British scene, of life and customs in this country…Since my admission to Broadmoor especially, I have been able and fortunate in increasing very considerably my circle of friends…
About a year ago 30 patients in Gloucester House, and a few patients in other houses formed, with the kind permission of the Physician-Superintendent, a charitable organisation called Helpmate, with the aim of helping those outside who perhaps are in greater need than we are…We have saved £108 from wages, plus £15 from the sale of articles. Two charitable institutions and one needy individual (a sick child) have profited from our effort.
The following month a further Helpmate (note the chess reference) report identified the two institutions as the Harts Leap Cheshire home in Canterbury, and the National Society for Autistic Children. Then: in October Helpmate reported that some patients were making jewelry for sale; in November that a representative of the NSAC had visited; and finally in December that the Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins had written to commend their efforts (as did Maggie Thatcher, then Opposition Leader, and even Norman Tebbit, which was nice, I suppose).

Gunter Wiora had a review of a book, evidently read in German, in the same issue of the Chronicle which, perhaps with a little irony, he titled Quo Vadis? Homo Sapiens. There’s another mention of him again in November 1977, still doing good work with Helpmate, but that’s maybe the last reference to Gunter, that I noticed anyway. By then he would have been about 54 years old, and would have been in Broadmoor for around twenty years.

Of course, these edited highlights of chesser Gunter Wiora’s life in Broadmoor may not tell the whole story, or give a full picture, of his illness, but on the above evidence he was clearly a cultured and compassionate man, with an interest in outside affairs, and a lack of bitterness towards a country that considered it necessary to curtail his liberty for so long.

Warning. There now follows a Thought for the Day.
(Further warning. Don't expect anything profound.)

Unfortunately GW's “moment of madness” in 1957 cut short one life, wrecked his own, and got him banged up in Broadmoor for twenty years or more; and he may still be there after fifty. One imagines (from the vantage point of relative freedom) that in his circumstances life would have little sense of purpose (Quo Vadis? indeed), and it says something about the human spirit that Gunter, and his fellow patients in Broadmoor high security hospital, organised to “help those in greater need”. Perhaps he also felt it was some kind of exculpation. Anyway, it seems to me (although this may be a fanciful notion) that it would be good if chess had served a higher purpose by helping him as a patient, even in a small way, to discipline his disordered mind.

The account of the events of 1957 comes from here (where they use "Ginter" and "Peter") but I have not tried to corroborate what it says otherwise. There are almost certainly other newspaper reports of the 1972 protest, but the Glasgow Herald archive is on-line and free.

Asylum Index.


Richard James said...

Ken Norman tells me he did a couple of coaching sessions at Broadmoor when he was between jobs in about 1992 and might possibly have met Guenther Wiora there. So at that time, at any rate, there was still chess contact with the outside world. Do we know who else has done coaching there? Maybe it's still going on. If not, when did it stop?

Martin S. said...

Thanks Richard.

It would be nice to bring the story of chess in Broadmoor to a more contemporary conclusion.