Cissie was the first Dundonian ever to win an Olympic medal. Possibly the least acknowledged too! There was no celebratory razmataz at the Olympics in 1928, no podiums, no flag-waving .

She was born in or near Dudhope Street and after school worked  as a bakery assistant. But sport ran in the family’s veins; her father played football for Dundee FC and cricket for Forfarshire , and her sister Margaret was a Scottish swimming champion. Cissie was a member of the Belmont Swimming Club. She worked hard, and by the time she was fifteen she had won a silver medal in the Scottish time tests in Dundee, becoming Scottish junior champion with a time of 71 seconds in the 220yards freestyle. By age sixteen she had broken six Scottish records; she went to Blackpool in June 1928 for the Olympic trials, and did so well that she was selected for the team. 

It was hard work. Cissie had no coach, no sponsor. She simply swam up and down, up and down at the local baths. Coming up to time for the Amsterdam Olympics she swam 30 lengths twice a day. Then one day the baths manager took her aside and “told me off for using my season ticket twice a day; I was cheating the rate-payers! he said, and I had to pay for extra tickets after that.”

In Amsterdam Cissie hurt her arm just two days before her swim, but she carried on and came second against the American girl Martha Norelius.  She made it to the final and just missed the bronze medal but won a silver in the team 4x100m relay. Then she got dressed and returned to the hotel. Back in Dundee she just got off the train and walked home for an ordinary tea. Finally, two months later, she was presented with her medal at a gala at the Dundee baths.

Another Dundonian, Jimmy Wilson, won two silver medals, but he had emigrated and was swimming for Canada.

In September she established a new British ½ mile record which stood for ten years. This time there was a big crowd to cheer her on. Next came the 1930 Empire Games in Canada. The Scottish team of 13 had hardly any money but were generously helped by their hosts. The crew of the liner Andania on which they travelled also helped –they made a swimming pool from an enormous tarpaulin stretched over the hold in which, runner Dunky Wright remembered, “the bonnie lassies … wiggled like tadpoles in a bowl”. Cissie won two bronze medals, in the 440yards free style and the 4x100yards relay.

Before setting off for Canada Cissie and another Belmont Club swimmer, William Hunt, agreed to marry – a secret. Cissie smuggled her wedding dress into an extra suitcase, and no one knew until the couple sent telegrams to their parents back home.

After that Cissie retired from competitive swimming with six records under her belt, and moved to Glasgow where Willie worked as a journalist. She did stage a come-back in 1934 but nothing much came of it. In 1990 the pair travelled to Canada again, to see the little church where they had married in 1930. Then Cissie settled in Troon, staying active until she died in 2008, age 96.

With thanks to the DT Group Nostalgia Head, Graeme Strachan, for the feature in the Dundee Courier’s Craigie Column 2/8/21.