A highly competitive sportsman, who loved winter games in particular, defenceman and later goalie Bethune Minet Patton won fame as a true pioneer of ice hockey in England and Europe, and a founder of its major institutions in Britain and on the continent.
Always known as Peter, his education at the English public schools of Winchester and Wellington gave him the opportunity to skate on winter sports holidays in Switzerland, so when in 1897 the Princes ice rink opened in London’s Knightsbridge, not far from his home, he was among the first through its doors.
Commissioned as a lieutenant in the Somerset Light Infantry when he was 18, the dashing young officer eagerly put together an ice hockey team, named after the rink, and played a form of the game similar to the bandy which was then being practised outdoors on frozen ponds.
When some Canadian expatriates joined in 1902, the Princes men began using a puck instead of a ball, and long, flat-bladed sticks, and changed to a version of hockey which would be recognisable today. They were helped by the dimensions of the rink (210 x 52 feet or 64 x 16 metres), the only rectangular one in Britain, rather than the circular pads which were popular then.
Within the year Peter had persuaded players based in London’s only other rink, Hengler’s – on the site now occupied by the London Palladium – to join Princes in a five-team league, the first in Britain or Europe, which ran from November 1903 to February 1904.
With so few English teams to compete against, on 25 January 1904 Princes crossed the Channel to Lyons, France and defeated the local side 2-0. This marked the first time that Princes’s form of ice hockey had been played on the European continent.
Other rinks began to open, but Princes had a head start and boosted by their officer’s leadership skills they won the English Club Championship nine times before World War One, according to Patton’s own record. More importantly, the IIHF stated in their official yearbook (published in 1978) that the team were ‘undoubtedly Europe’s strongest side in the first decade of the 20th century’.
The lieutenant went on to captain Princes to victory in the first European club tournament in Berlin in October 1908, a role he reprised in January 1910 when the team represented ‘England’ and won gold in the first officially recognised European Championships at Les Avants near Montreux, Switzerland.
He and Princes competed in many European club tournaments on either side of World War One, most notably in Switzerland where they achieved runners-up place in the LIHG’s European Club Championships in St Moritz in 1913 and a gold medal a year later in Chamonix.
The LIHG was the Ligue Internationale de Hockey sur Glace (LIHG), the governing body of the sport in Europe, which later evolved into the world governing International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF). Peter was heavily involved in its formation in 1908 and served as its vice-president three times, in 1910-11, 1913-20 and 1923-24, as well as a brief spell as its president in 1914.
His energy and organisational abilities also led in 1914 to him helping to set up the British Ice Hockey Association (BIHA), the forerunner of Ice Hockey UK, and he served as its president for 20 years.
None of these off-ice activities dimmed his enthusiasm for playing, but by the time the 1924 Winter Olympics came round he was 48 and the Princes rink had closed seven years earlier. His answer was not to quit but instead to drop back from defence to goal, and he travelled to St Moritz, Switzerland as the practice netminder.
Though England’s only rink staging hockey was now in Manchester, GB entered a team in the 1926 European Championships in Davos, Switzerland. This time he played in all seven games as Britain finished fourth.
In the first season of London’s new Golders Green rink, Patton back-stopped England in their 2-2 draw with France on 4 April 1930. Eighteen months later on 13 October 1931, despite now being 55-years-old, he agreed to tend the nets in another big game, this time for London Lions in Paris. It is not known at what point during his team’s 4-0 defeat he might have regretted his decision but he hung up his skates and goalie pads soon afterwards.
Among fans at the new rinks in the early 1930s ‘The Major’ was a legend and he was in demand for various ceremonial duties. He presented the first Patton Cup in 1927 to the winner of the annual Varsity Match between Oxford and Cambridge universities, a contest that had first been played at Princes in 1900.
He presented another trophy named in his honour to London Lions on 17 May 1930 at the Golders Green rink, after they beat Scottish champions Glasgow 2-1 in the very first British Championship play-off final.
The son of a Brigadier-General, Peter was on active duty with the Royal Army Service Corps Special Reserve in France from September 1914 to May 1916 during which he rose to the rank of major. As was the custom, he proudly kept the military title in front of his name for many years after his retirement from the army in 1921.
In October 1936 he added author to his many achievements with Ice Hockey by Major B M Patton, the first book on the game to be published in this country, chronicling the early years of the sport. (The book was reproduced in a special 2020 edition).
The other winter activities he enjoyed were skiing, ice dancing (for which he won many prizes) and bobsleighing. Characteristically, he was one of the founder members in 1923 of the International Bobsleigh and Tobogganing Federation.
Bethune Minet (Peter) Patton was born into a prestigious military family in Kensington, London on 5 March 1876. His father Henry Bethune Patton CB, VD was the Deputy Lieutenant of Shropshire. The names ‘Bethune’ and ‘Patton’ featured prominently in the British military throughout the 19th century. He died at Western Farm, Blackborough, Cullompton, Exeter on 10 April 1939. He was inducted into Britain’s Hall of Fame in 1950 and the IIHF’s Hall of Fame in 2002.