Philip Barker ©insidethegames

They would be forever known for the exploits of Dutch runner Fanny Blankers-Koen and a first Olympic gold medal for Czech Emil Zatopek.

But, above all, the London Olympics of 1948 helped return the world to sporting normality after the devastating Second World War.

There was no grand announcement of the host city, but discreet soundings had been taken even before the war had come to an end. When the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) Executive Board met in London in the summer of 1945, they decided on a postal ballot. 

The voting paper looked more like a permission slip for a school trip than a decision on the biggest sporting festival in the world.

London was duly chosen. The Organising Committee was chaired by Lord Burghley, an Olympic champion at 400 metre hurdles at Amsterdam 1928. Others involved included Stanley Rous, a future President of FIFA, Sir Arthur Elvin, the boss of Wembley Stadium, and Billy Holt, later to lead the organisation of the 1956 Melbourne Games. 

As they recruited staff, a memo suggested a position for someone who it was felt had "some knowledge" of the athletic scene. His name? Harold Abrahams, 100m champion at the "Chariots of Fire" Paris Games in 1924.

From their offices above the Army and Navy Stores in Victoria, Central London, the Organising Committee begged favours and borrowed for what became known as "Austerity Games".

Although peace had come, the world situation was far from clear. Germany and Japan were not invited. Soviet Russia stayed away and China meant their nationalists. A bitter civil war was unfolding in the giant Asian nation and the problem of two "Chinas" remained unresolved for the next 30 years.

Even the passage of the Olympic flame was dogged by conflict. The organisers decided to undertake a Relay "after careful consideration that it would be of great symbolic value". One newspaper, however, described it as an "antiquarian sham".

A bitter civil war was also raging in Greece at the time and it proved impossible for the designated high priestess to make her way from Athens to Olympia for the flame-lighting ceremony. Instead, a local girl was drafted in and the flame itself was diverted to the nearby port of Katakolo, from where it was taken to Corfu on a Greek ship. HMS Whitesand Bay then transported the flame to the Italian port of Bari and it began its journey across Europe.

It crossed into Switzerland and for the first time visited the Olympic headquarters in Lausanne. Pointedly, the route avoided Germany and eventually arrived at Calais. From there it was taken by HMS Bicester across the English Channel. 

Even that represented a bureaucratic triumph for Relay organiser Commander Bill Collins. Royal Navy chiefs had initially been none too keen to cooperate.

The flame only arrived in Dover the night before the Opening Ceremony. There were huge crowds to greet chief petty officer Herbert "Chiefy" Barnes as he came ashore. The flame promptly went out.

"It was like a spring-loaded firework," said Barnes.

The Olympic Torch is lit at the London 1948 Games ©Getty Images
The Olympic Torch is lit at the London 1948 Games ©Getty Images

Although the Relay continued throughout the night, people came out to watch. An indication, perhaps, of how important the symbolism had become.

In the meantime, the competitors were arriving in Britain. They included a huge contingent which sailed from the United States on SS America.

The men were accommodated in military camps. The main centre was the Royal Air Force base in Uxbridge, approximately half-an-hour from Wembley Stadium. Most of the women were put up in hotels in Knightsbridge.

Petrol rationing was still in force, so those who competed in the canoeing and rowing events held on the river at Henley stayed in the nearby town of High Wycombe.

The official poster was everywhere. It featured a discus thrower in front of the Westminster clock tower which houses Big Ben. The hands of the clock were set to 4pm, the hour at which the Opening Ceremony would begin.

This was held at Wembley on a glorious summer's day. The entry of the Koreans was almost as poignant as that in Pyeongchang this year. Their flag was carried by 1936 marathon champion Sohn Kee-chung. It would have been a moment of immense national pride except that he had been forced to run in the colours of the occupying Japanese.

The entry of the teams was described as a "march" and was very much more formal than today.

"On arrival at their correct position, teams should 'stand at ease,'" official instructions barked.

"They should come to 'attention' only during the National Anthem, the formal Opening of the Games by the King and the taking of the Olympic Oath."

Flags had been provided for every nation, except for the hosts. It fell to Roger Bannister, later to achieve the first four minute mile but then working as a team assistant, to retrieve the situation. He rushed through a crowded Wembley car park to fetch a British flag from an official team vehicle and returned in the nick of time.

The music was directed by Sir Malcolm Sargent, a popular conductor. Some of the instruments went out of tune in the heat and he later described the experience as "like taking a jellyfish for a walk".

The Olympic flame was borne into the stadium by John Mark, an athlete from Cambridge University who later became a doctor. 

He ran a full circuit before lighting what was by modern standards a tiny cauldron at the "tunnel" end.

The Games were opened by King George VI, the official patron. He did so in full naval uniform. The announcement was greeted by a fanfare from trumpeters of the Household Cavalry. A 21-gun salute boomed from cannons placed just beneath Wembley's twin towers.

A few days after the Games began, representatives of each team made their way to Buckingham Palace to meet the King.

The Royal Family returned the compliment by watching some of the events. Permission had been given for the cycling road race to take place in Windsor Great Park. The race was started by Prince Philip.

There was no synthetic track for the athletics, only cinders. These were laid at the 11th hour because the owners of the stadium were determined that the lucrative greyhound races held there should not be disrupted more than absolutely necessary.

When the rain came, conditions became ever-more testing. The great Czech runner Zatopek won gold in the 10,000m but lost out to Belgian Gaston Reiff in a mud-spattered 5,000m.

Micheline Ostermayer of France won both discus and shot put titles and finished third in the high jump, but even her performance was upstaged by the great Dutch athlete Blankers-Koen, better known to all as "Fanny".

Aged 30, she had been robbed of her prime by the war years. That she was written off by some pundits only served as motivation, as she completed the sprint double and won additional golds in the 80m hurdles and 4x100m relay.

She was inevitably dubbed the "Flying Dutchwoman". When she returned home, thousands turned out for her victory parade in an open top carriage.

Close to the stadium was the Empire Pool, now known as the SSE Arena. The swimming and diving events took place there.

Among the swimmers was Monique Berlioux, later to become director of the IOC.

When the aquatic events were complete, the pool was converted to house a boxing ring.

Football action at Crystal Palace during London 1948 ©Getty Images
Football action at Crystal Palace during London 1948 ©Getty Images

Most of the competitions took place in, close to or around London. The furthest of the satellite venues was Torbay in the south-west of England where the sailing regatta was staged. 

They even had their own flame, brought by an additional Relay from Wembley. Among those to sail was Durward Knowles of The Bahamas who later became their first Olympic champion and continued to sail at elite level into his seventies.

The equestrian competitors headed to Aldershot. The Tweseldown race course was used for the cross-country and also hosted modern pentathlon.

One sport had already started before the flame was lit. The preliminary football matches took place on club grounds including the modest homes of amateur teams such as Dulwich Hamlet and Ilford, as well as larger grounds such as Highbury, White Hart Lane and Craven Cottage. 

Great Britain were in the capable hands of Matt Busby, manager of Manchester United's FA Cup winning team in 1948. The squad was drawn from the amateur ranks and included Denis Kelleher, an Irishman who played his football for Barnet and had escaped from a prison camp during the war.

The hosts reached the semi-finals and the powerful Swedes beat Yugoslavia in the final at Wembley to win gold.

They were electrified by Gunnar Gren, Gunnar Nordahl and Nils Liedholm. The trio were destined to make their fortunes in Italy where they were known as "Gre-No-Li".

The tournament marked the end of an era. From 1952, until eligibility rules were changed in the 1980s, it would be dominated by Eastern European nations.

The other major team tournament featured the newly independent India and a proud nation rejoiced when they continued a winning streak in hockey which dated back to 1928.

The Victoria and Albert Museum was also an unlikely venue for the Games. Organisers there were the last to award medals for artistic competition.

A special concert was staged at the Royal Albert Hall in honour of the Olympic Movement.

At Wembley, there was an exhibition of lacrosse. A team from Rensselaer Polytechnic in New York even paid their own expenses.

In those days, the Games closed with team show jumping in the stadium, and this was won by Mexico.

Television rights for the Games now command billions, but in 1948, the BBC were asked to pay the princely sum of 1,000 guineas. 

Fanny Blankers-Koen was a major star of the London 1948 Olympics ©Getty Images
Fanny Blankers-Koen was a major star of the London 1948 Olympics ©Getty Images

For the first time, the official film was to be in colour. "The Glory of Sport", a title borrowed from the wording of the Olympic Oath, was produced by Castleton Knight for the Rank organisation. 

The cameramen had a uniform of their own and were dressed in white jackets with red berets, leading to descriptions of them as "one of the smartest turnouts ever worn by cameramen". Incredibly, the film was premiered little more than a fortnight after the Games themselves had come to an end.

The ceremonial Olympic flag was received by the Lord Mayor of London. In those days, the city which had just staged the Games kept it for the next four years.

The words of Lord Burghley were displayed on the scoreboard.

"The Olympic spirit which has tarried here awhile, sets forth once more. May it prosper throughout the world, safe in the keeping of all those who have felt its noble impulse in this great festival of sport," it read.

The 1948 Games were short on many things but one thing they did not lack was the true Olympic spirit.