'Wonder Girls' achievement defied belief – and convention
On September 5, 1927, 21-year-old Kathleen Thomas declared that she would attempt to swim across the treacherous Bristol Channel, from Penarth to Weston-super-Mare.
She was a brave woman; this 11-mile stretch of muddy water had, and still has, a fearsome reputation.
Many men had attempted to conquer this passage, with its strong currents and rip tides, and failed.
In fact, when the currents were factored in, the swim was said to be more like 22 miles rather than 11.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Wednesday, May 22 2013
Two years later, in 1929, 16-year-old Edith Parnell declared she would attempt the same perilous crossing.
Both women succeeded, with Kathleen becoming the first recorded person to ever complete the swim.
In fact, her achievement remained in the Guinness Book of Records until the 1990s.
Now, a fellow swimmer, Catherine Jones, has paid tribute to these two extraordinary females, dismissed at the time as "mere women," without the strength or stamina to go the distance.
Catherine's book, The Wonder Girls, tells the story of these pioneering females of the 1920s, women who defied convention.
To quote from Catherine's book: "At 4.15am on September 5, 1927, Kathleen Thomas stood on the beach at Penarth, a small seaside town just outside Cardiff, in a black bathing costume and submarine cap, intent on swimming from South Wales to Somerset."
"The Suffragettes were campaigning for women's rights, but nobody thought a girl could cross to the other side. Many men had tried and failed.
"Crowds lined the beach to watch Kathleen wade into the chilly, grey waters, accompanied by a launch containing representatives from the Welsh Amateur Swimming Association and a rowing boat carrying her uncle Jack, in a bowler hat.
"Seven hours and 20 minutes later, she reached the shores of Somerset. Fortified by beef tea and chocolate, Thomas received a rapturous welcome from the West Country.
"She was the first person, as well as the first woman, to swim the Bristol Channel.
"After the swim, she was taken to a hotel, where she had a warm and cold bath, a half-hour rest in bed, and a good fish lunch before returning to Wales as a celebrity."
Compelling images from newspapers of the time show her exhausted, slumped in a boat.
So few people believed the story (because she was female) that the local newspaper was obliged to print the following clarification. It read: "Miss Kathleen Thomas, the Penarth lady swimmer, whose decision to attempt the Bristol Channel was exclusively reported in yesterday's South Wales Echo, reaffirmed in an interview today that our report was correct in its entirety."
Two years later, Edith Parnell, who took 10 hours, 17 minutes and 10 seconds to make the crossing, became the second person to conquer the channel.
"Miss Parnell had displayed amazing pluck in enduring for over ten hours one of the biggest trials that could be demanded of any athlete – man or woman," says the book.
"When she arrived at the finish line in Penarth, a police constable escorted her through cheering crowds to the tune of See the Conquering Hero Comes.
"At a reception in the Pier Pavilion, the council's chairman told the audience they were especially proud of Miss Parnell, who had displayed 'amazing pluck'."
Edith went on to marry Hugh Cudlipp (Lord Cudlipp) the Fleet Street journalist and editor, but died giving birth in 1935.
To mark the 80th anniversary of the swim, in 2007, plaques were unveiled on Penarth Pier and at Weston-super-Mare.
The Wonder Girls by Catherine Jones is published by Simon & Schuster and costs £14.99.