It all started in 1964 at Medway Hospital, which had been donated to the local authority by the navy. A strange place to start an archery club, one may think!
For many of the short and long term disabled patients, the hospital physiotherapists used various methods and sports to improve their mobility. In a dungeon-like area beneath one of the wings of the hospital the occupational therapists started archery as one of these. The group of patients called themselves the Archway Bowmen. Among the original group were Len Heale, Brenda Carden, Mick Oliver, Joe Walters, Pauline Mastell, Jenny Cane and Tim East.
The hospital was expanding which meant the band of archers had to give up their dungeon. They wanted to carry on with the archery and moved to Meresborough School. This was a small site and the need to shoot greater distances led them to look further afield.
They found a home at Borstal Cricket Club. At this time Cobham Archers disbanded and joined the ex Archway Bowmen. Having left the ‘archwayed’ dungeon of the hospital they had to find some other name. They called themselves the MSCH Archers – Medway Society of Clubs for the Handicapped, with a view to providing facilities for the disabled.
The next move was to the Civil Service ground in Gillingham (Opposite Elliot’s Social Club which included Elliot’s Archers). As a place to shoot it was fine but the club wanted something more permanent which allowed expansion. They wanted their own piece of land!
Pip Storey and Len Heale negotiated with Gillingham Council for a plot of land on which to provide MSCH sport. The MSCH members needed to raise cash so they could develop what they were eventually provided with. Fund raising went on with the usual method of rattling boxes in the street and one less usual method at Gillingham Football Club. Before a match a wheelchair was parked at each corner, some arrows were shot into bosses and the tins were rattled! The council could find no ground, some backstreet places were considered but the disabled felt someone was just putting them out of sight!
Len Heale noticed an overspill waste ground, filling an ex-sewage pit, between a pear orchard and some tennis courts at the Strand in Gillingham. Len and Pip told the council they could use it for their club. After the council’s mirthful first reaction, they agreed.
Someone scrounged 100 lorry loads of earth and able-bodied helpers and volunteers backfilled the site. One club member worked at the Borstal Institute and arranged for a group of the Borstal boys to level the land. Len and Pip designed their own clubhouse, disabled friendly! They went to Halls of Paddock Wood to have it made. In 1967 the clubhouse was erected at a cost of £12,800. They didn’t have the money but trusted it would be covered somehow. Tim East used to go fishing with Vic Capon and his two brothers, who owned a turfing business. Turfs enough to cover the field were donated and laid by the able-bodied members of the club. The Rotary Club donated a cooker. Tim also persuaded a group of young ladies from Lower Stoke and Allhallows to volunteer their time to paint the interior of the new clubhouse.
The official opening of the new MSCH ‘home’ was 5th October 1968 by Sir Ludwig Guttman (the instigator of the Stoke Mandeville Hospital). Also attending was the vicar of Wigmore. The club still needed £6000 to pay for the clubhouse and the vicar lent it to them. At the opening he spoke with Tim to arrange the repayment. Half of the money was to be a donation and the other half to be paid back at £250 pound a year (no interest!). This was agreed and each year when the repayment was made to the vicar passed it on to some other needy person or group.
The Medway Society of Clubs for the Handicapped centre at the Strand was open. It offered table-tennis (3 teams in the Medway division), archery, fencing, indoor bowls, a social club and a playgroup during the day. Thanks to donations the subs were 50p!
In 1968 the archers went to the Stoke Mandeville Disabled National Games & Olympics and came home with 8 Olympic gold medals. The MSCH uniform was a brown and beige tracksuit with MSCH badge (Brown background, white Invicta horse and MEDWAY S.C.H. written below). The archers didn’t have their own badge but flew a flag of green with a black fingertab, over the clubhouse.
In 1972 a club called Medway Archers lost their ground in Rainham and the MSCH Archery Club was dwindling in size, so MSCH invited the Medway Archers to join them. Dave Owen, an original Medway Archer, was still with us up to 2012 when he unfortunately moved to Hampshire. Medway Archers wanted to keep their name but it was agreed that the badge would change. The blue background with a Thames barge on it was changed to a yellow background with a Medway barge on it. The new Medway Archers was born.
By 1974 numbers were dwindling again. Len Heale was killed in a car crash. Tim East & Brenda Carden were the only original Archway Bowman left.
In 1975 the Civil Service Archery Club disbanded bringing Arthur Arnold to Medway Archers.
In 1983 Elliot Archers’ place was sold. Some of them joined Medway Archers and Brian Smith joined us.
The club has had numerous patrons over the years including Dame Margot Fontaine, Michael Bentine, Frank Bilson and Ted Inge. Michael Bentine made a standing donation to the club up to the time of his death. He attended the club and joined in the Club Champs. When his son was killed in a tragic plane crash he sponsored a trophy in his son’s name. Still, each year at the GNAS AGM, the Gussy Trophy is presented to a disabled archer.
Many of our members have aspired to representing more than just the club. In archery Len Heale & Dave Smith, and in table-tennis Matt Fisher, won golds at the Paraplegic Olympic Games in Israel in 1974. Pauline East and Jeanette Wright have both represented Great Britain. Pauline East was also in the County Squad for 25 years non-stop! Pauline East, Mick Walton and Steve Smith have also been Kent Champions.