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A swim for freedom

One of the great attributes of competitive swimming is the level of determination and stamina that it requires. These are qualities that are very evident in the life of Eastbourne, Sussex and Olympian swimmer Vera Tanner.

Vera was born in November 1906 in Eastbourne and swam for Eastbourne Swimming Club.

Some of Vera Tanner’s Trophies

At the age of 13, Vera was already a Sussex champion, something she held every year between 1919 and 1928 – between the ages 13 to 22. She also held both Southern Counties Champion and National Champion in the  Freestyle and Backstroke during this period.

In 1924, aged 18, Vera was selected to represent Great Britain at the Paris Olympics, (the same Olympics featured in the film “Chariots of Fire”) swimming in the 4 x 100m freestyle relay where the team took silver.

The following year Vera assisted the American swimmer Gertrude Ederle in her first cross-channel attempt, swimming with Miss Ederle for over three hours. Although this attempt was unsuccessful Miss Ederle made history in 1926 by becoming the first woman to swim the channel.

Vera was no stranger to open water swimming, winning national open water events and finishing 2nd in the Women’s National Long Distance Swim held on the river Thames in 1925 and 1926 in a time of 76 minutes.

Vera Tanner with the 1924 GB team.

In 1928 Vera was selected for the GB team to go to the Amsterdam Olympics where she again won a silver medal in the 4 x 100m freestyle relay.

Following on from her success at two Olympiads Vera became a well known national sportswoman, often invited to put on displays of swimming at large swimming competitions around the country. In 1929 the silver winning Relay Team was invited by the South African Swimming Association to tour South Africa where after several weeks away and numerous competitions the team was only beaten once.

Members of the British Team on tour in South Africa including Eastbourne’s Vera Tanner (second right).

During the 1930s Vera became a teacher and by the outbreak of WWII was living in Hong Kong working for the Government Education Department.

In December 1941 Vera’s stamina and determination was again tested when Hong Kong fell to the advance of the Imperial Japanese Army. Vera was by then a nurse in the Auxiliary Nursing Service and was incarcerated at the Stanley Internment Camp.

For the next four years Vera suffered the deprivations of limited food and medical supplies, but during summer months she assisted with lifesaving when internees were permitted to swim in the sea.

The liberation of Hong Kong came on 30th August 1945 when the British Fleet sailed into Hong Kong harbour, preceded by minesweepers.

Vera Tanner (1906 – 1971)

This was the day when Vera’s swimming abilities and determination were bought to full effect. According to a report in the Dundee Evening Telegraph of 12 November 1946 Vera, then aged 40, swam nearly two miles from Hong Kong out to an Australian minesweeper to direct the rescuers to the internment camp. This swim to freedom after 4 years of captivity reportedly took less than 30 minutes and was rewarded with a hearty meal.

After WWII Vera returned to Sussex marrying Brigadier Ned Curran and raising a family of two children and continuing a teaching career at Farnborough Convent School. Vera died in Alfriston East Sussex aged 64 in February 1971.

Other Sussex history pages:

History of swimming in Sussex – in the beginning

The first clubs

New era for swimming pools and fans

Championships through the years