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Around The World
growth of Alcoholics Anonymous around the world has been
left almost to chance; or as A.A.'s prefer to think of it,
to a Higher Power. By an undeniable grace, the movement
which began with two men in Akron, Ohio, a half-century
ago has leaped across all barriers of geography, language,
religion, and culture to be found in 114 countries in 1985.
A.A. did not spread as a result of a decision by some faceless
executive in a headquarters office. It spread, as it always
does, by one concerned and caring alcoholic, sober in A.A.,
reaching out to help a still-suffering alcoholic.
the following pages will show, in the early days the message
was sometimes carried overseas by a traveling member; at
other times, by a member in the U.S. trying to share his
recovery with a relative abroad. Or the message carrier
may have been a magazine article such as the 1946 Reader's
Digest article that brought calls for help to the young
service office in New York from as far away as South Africa
and New Zealand.
whatever means, in whatever country, usually a lone drunk
got sober with the help of the A.A. program. Then he or
she Twelfth Stepped another prospect. Soon a small group
was formed, then several groups, and then some kind of service
office to receive calls. In non-English speaking countries,
Alcoholics Anonymous typically did not grow very rapidly
until the recovery literature—especially the Big Book—was
translated and published in the native tongue. Gradually
a service structure would come into being: a service board,
a conference, a national service office, an intergroup.
Thus the Fellowship grew in every country from the bottom
up, not from the top down. Just as the story of how any
drunk gets sober is a miracle, so is the story of how A.A.
began in another country. Space does not permit full national
histories, but here are brief accounts of how A.A. spread
to the far corners of the earth.
1943 Alcoholics Anonymous had spread to Australia, where
an A.A. group was formed in Sydney. The same year, an Irish
tavern¬keeper, Conor F., joined A.A. in Philadelphia.
These two happenings led to the beginning of A.A. in Ireland
three years later.
Tom Dunlea, an Irish priest running a Boys' Town Home in
Sydney, had been mightily impressed with the success of
the A.A. group there. In 1946, he returned to Ireland on
holiday, and while in Dublin was interviewed by the Evening
Mail. Not only did Fr. Tom tell about Boys' Town, but (obviously
concerned over the drunkenness he had seen at home) he spoke
at some length on the Sydney A.A. group. At this very time,
Conor F. and his wife had come over to Dublin to visit their
families. Conor had brought along four Big Books "just in
case." And when the report of Fr. Tom's interview appeared,
he at once determined to leave an A.A. group behind him
in Dublin when he returned to the U.S. With his wife's encouragement,
he began visiting doctors, priests and others who might
know of alcoholics.
was met everywhere with denial, rejection and discouragement.
He was assured that there were no alcoholics in Ireland!
As he was nearing the point of conceding defeat, one morning
at breakfast at his hotel he met a lady, Eva Jennings, to
whom he confided his difficulties. She was sympathetic and
advised him to contact a Dr. Norman Moore, head of St. Patrick's
Hospital, who might be interested. And indeed he was. Dr.
Moore had some knowledge of A.A. from a Reader's Digest
article, and he told Conor he had a patient in his hospital
whom he thought was hopeless. "If you can help this man,
I'll believe in A.A. a hundred percent," he said. And he
sent the patient, Richard P. from Co. Down, under escort
to Conor's hotel room.
two men formed an instant bond, and Richard P. was released
from the hospital. They collected four or five other men,
and started meeting in the home of one of them. On November
18, 1946, they held the first Irish public A.A. meeting.
About 45 people attended, of which some 12 joined up. This,
then, was the beginning of the first Alcoholics Anonymous
group in Ireland—and the first in Europe. The group
met at the Country Shop, a restaurant on St. Stephen's Green—where
they continued to meet regularly until the restaurant closed
weeks, the group had dwindled back down to four or five,
who didn't even have money for the rent of the room. As
Conor had left for America, no one knew how to reach out
to other alcoholics, so there was no growth. The first Group
Secretary went back to the bottle, taking the postage money
with him. At this dismal point, Sackville M. joined. Sackville
was to prove one of the most extraordinary, almost legendary,
figures in the history of the Fellowship. A retired British
army officer, he was brilliant, charismatic, completely
dedicated and tireless. He carried on an immense correspondence
with Bill W., with the press, and with A.A.'s all over the
world. At the St.Louis Convention, Bill W. said of Sackville,
"When it comes to helping alcoholics by mail, he is without
doubt the world's champion." He also became editor of The
Road Back, the Irish A.A. magazine, which was circulated
throughout the world.
1947, however, as Sackville took over as the first sober
secretary of the Dublin group, he realized two things: a)
either the Catholic Church in Ireland was made an ally or
A.A. in Ireland was sunk; and b) either A.A. publicized
itself in Dublin or it would "perish of dry rot." So Sackville
attacked both tasks. He sent letters every ten days or so
to the Evening Mail with a point of interest at the start
and always closing with a punch-line that an A.A. meeting
was held every Monday at the Country Shop, to which people
were invited to see what was going on. Gradually attendance
picked up and news of A.A. began to percolate through Dublin.
Two other Dublin papers asked for letters, too! The police
were soon able to direct people to the meetings. A woman
or two joined. Sometimes a doctor or judge would show up
to listen. A.A. was becoming respected, but not yet by the
Catholic Church to which the vast majority of the Irish
population belonged. So Sackville succeeded in getting to
know a Professor of Theology at St.Patrick's College, Maynooth—the
heart of the church in Ireland. This man was editor of the
influential Maynooth College publication, The Furrows, and
became a firm and valued friend of A.A. His first favor
was to run a highly laudatory article about the program
in The Furrows. The effect was that when a parish priest
anywhere in Ireland was dubious about supporting the formation
of an A.A. group in his parish, he could be referred to
the approval given by Maynooth College.
W. visited Ireland in 1950, giving A.A. a further boost
there. He visited groups in Dublin, Belfast, Cork and Limerick,
and everywhere the press was eager to meet him. Afterward,
Bill expressed his astonishment—as have visitors in
the 35 years since—at the genial intermingling of
A.A.'s from Northern and Southern Ireland despite the death
and violence between the two in the streets.
1957, there were about 1,200 members and the first All Ireland
Convention was held in Dublin. Since then, it has rotated
yearly between the provinces of Connaught, Munster, Ulster
and Leinster. A General Service Conference was organized
in 1968 and held in Dublin. Two years later a General Service
Office was opened in Dublin. These events were followed
with the formation of a General Service Board in 1968. From
then until the present, A.A. in Ireland has enjoyed explosive
growth—not only in size but in vigor and spirit. In
A.A.'s 50th year - and Ireland's 40th—there were over
600 groups the length and breadth of Ireland with members
numbering about 9,000.
Britain: England. Scotland and Wales
for several years a few individuals in England had tried
to achieve sobriety through correspondence with the A.A.
service office in New York, it was a traveling American
member's need to find fellow-alcoholics that led to the
first A.A. meeting in England. The American was Grace 0.,
who had obtained the names from G.S.O. and had written them
in advance, arranging a meeting. Grace also met another
woman member from California on the way over on the boat,
and met a Canadian member by chance in a SOHO restaurant
when she ordered coffee instead of a cocktail. The first
meeting took place, with five people present, in Grace O.'s
room at the Dorchester Hotel on March 31, 1947. Bob B.,
the Canadian, who was elected secretary of the newly-formed
group, wrote New York, "Grace was the spark we needed."
were held thereafter in cinemas, restaurants, coffee shops
and members' homes. The members decided to advertise and
drew up a small ad:
"Alcoholism—A small body of anonymous ex-sufferers
place themselves at the disposal of any requiring help;
the offer is quite gratuitous."
came the shock! Fifteen national newspapers refused to run
the ad, thinking it a fraud! Even when one paper asked how
requests for help would be dealt with, and received an explanation
of the A.A. program, it was unconvinced. Only one newspaper,
the Financial Times, accepted the ad. It brought only two
replies, both from out-of-town.
the autumn of 1948, the First London group was formed with
about a dozen members and began meeting in a room on Cavendish
Square. Soon afterward, they began to produce a monthly
newsletter. Contact had by now been made with several Loners
outside of London, and in December '48, the first group
of about five members commenced in Manchester.
in 1948, John M., a Britisher who had found A.A. while stationed
in Washington, D.C., returned to the town of Mickleton,
Gloucestershire, and held meetings with alcoholics seeking
help. These included Donald from Stow-on-the-Wold, who sobered
up; Tani W. (another returnee from U.S. A.A.); James R.
from Tewkesbury; and Bill S. from Bampton. A group was set
up in Cheltenham in 1951. Bristol organized its first A.A.
group in 1953, with Dr. Jim, Freddie, Bob and Leslie (they
were very anonymous in those days!). The group met first
at the Full Moon pub, next at the Royal Hotel, and then
at Berkeley Square. Notable early members were John M. from
Bath, Teddy T., and Frank H.S. A public meeting, with press
coverage was held in Bristol in 1954. 'By 1957, the first
woman member to stay sober, Daisy N., and Travers C. joined
the Bristol group. A group formed in Bath in 1955.
was the site of the First English Convention in 1956, with
Sackville M. and Richard P. of Ireland as speakers. Hospital
groups and prison groups started in the west of England
at about this time. A second Bristol group was formed in
June 1964; secretary, Travers C., who was by now extremely
active in A.A. affairs at the regional and national level,
including the formation of the Southwest Intergroup (SWIG!)
the same year. Four years later he was the moving force
behind the launching of "Bristol Fashion," a monthly unofficial
journal for A.A.'s published by the Bristol Akron group.
He was inspired by, and was assisted by, Sackville M., Travers'
sponsor and famous editor of "The Road Back." "Bristol Fashion"
has been enthusiastically received throughout the world
was the site of the first European Convention of A.A. ever
attempted, September 22-25, 1971, with an attendance of
about 500. Among the highlights were a reception by the
Lord Mayor, the presence of Apostolic Delegate to Great
Britain as an honored speaker, and a nondenominational memorial
service for Bill W. at the Bristol Cathedral, at which Bob
H., from G.S.O./New York gave a moving address. (As a result
of the Apostolic Delegate's participation, Sackville and
Travers were invited to Rome in January for a private audience
as A.A. members with Pope Paul.) Although not billed again
as a "European Convention," a "Reunion in Bristol," a weekend
get-together, has been held annually 1972-74 and 1981-present.
March 1974, the Newcomers group was formed separately, an
offshoot from the Bristol Akron group. Always an active
and spirited group, it became a cause celebre in 1976 when
it withdrew from the U.K. service structure because of disagreement
with an action by the General Service Office that no member
could hold group offIce or a service position if he was
employed in the field of alcoholism. The group invoked their
"right of appeal" under the Fifth Concept, but was denied
by the General Service Board. So the Newcomers group continued
on an autonomous basis without being listed in the U.K.
directory. Ten years later, the General Service Conference
for Great Britain revoked the restrictive and objectionable
A.A. had taken root in Scotland. An alcoholic from Glasgow
wrote New York in 1946 and found sobriety as a Loner. The
following year, a gentleman farmer from Campbelltown with
a history of drinking traveled to the U.S. to attend a Christian
Association Conference, hoping to find a solution to his
problem. At the Conference, he met a woman who introduced
him to A.A. Deeply impressed, he quit drinking. On returning
to Scotland, he began to devote almost all his time to carrying
the message, visiting hospitals, prisons and wherever he
could find drunks. A few of those he contacted started small
meetings in their homes in Glasgow and Edinburgh.
knowing little about the Fellowship, they had many difficulties.
Early in 1949, they had a visit from an American member
with longer sobriety, and between his experience and the
undaunted enthusiasm of the gentleman farmer, the first
two organized groups were established in May 1949. These
were: Glasgow Central, meeting at St.Enoch's Hotel; and
First Edinburgh, meeting at Mackie's Restaurant on Princes
Street. Groups were then formed at Perth, Ayr, Dundee and
Larbert, Stirlingshire --leading in time to the formation
of the Scottish Intergroup Committee.
1953, a Loner in Dumfries, Scotland, wanted to establish
a group there. At his request, a number of English members
from Midland and Manchester decided to hold a meeting in
the town. Invitations went out to Scottish groups in the
form of a mock challenge, saying the English were once more
invading Scotland, and asking the Scots to rally to the
old border war cry, "Bluebonnets over the Border!" As a
result, an amazing weekend of sharing took place and has
been repeated annually until the present time as "The Bluebonnets
Gathering". It was the forerunner of all other English and
Scottish Conventions. Perhaps the best known ambassador
for the Bluebonnet Gatherings and for Scottish A.A. was
Jack McG. from Glasgow. A former vaudeville hoofer, small,
dapper and bursting with enthusiasm, Jack McG. visited the
U.S. annually and attended A.A. conventions and get ¬togethers
wherever he could find them. He was particularly proud to
have spoken, replete in his kilts, on the "A.A. Around the
World" meeting during the 40th Anniversary International
Convention in Denver.
first known meeting of a group in Wales took place April
13, 1951, in a room in Cathedral Road, Cardiff. Four alcoholics
from South Wales and one from Ireland attended. The group
did not last, but a new Cardiff group formed in '60, closely
followed by a group in Caerlon. By '54, there was a nucleus
of a group in North Wales meeting in members' homes in Corwen,
Berngor and Llanduduo.
and Lois W. visited groups in England and Scotland in the
summer of 1950, speaking at several meetings. At a specially
convened meeting of group representatives, Bill presented
1,500 copies of the Big Book as a gift from the Alcoholic
Foundation, the sale of which was to assist in the growth
and development of A.A. in Great Britain. This triggered
a succession of salutary moves. To manage the distribution
of the books and the resulting income, a separate Pre-Foundation
committee was formed, consisting of five of the very early
members. By 1952, this committee was expanded to include
well established members from England, Scotland and Ireland.
The following year the committee was incorporated as the
Publishing Company. To provide necessary services to the
growing Fellowship, a Group Representatives' Committee was
formed March 16, 1951, with broad responsibilities. Within
this body, a Central Committee of five members was given
specific responsibility for upholding the Traditions, the
functioning of the London Service Office and liaison between
groups in Britain and the Alcoholic Foundation in New York.
The London Service Office opened at 11 Redcliffe Gardens,
London, in February 1952 (having previously operated out
of the office of one of the early members at the London
rate of growth that followed was: 1954, 45 groups in England;
late '50's, 100 groups in England and Wales, 30 in Scotland;
'64, 250 groups; '68, 300 groups. As the number of groups
multiplied, the first Intergroup formed in 1957 in Northwest
England and a District Intergroup was established in Glasgow.
Great Britain Intergroups are an integral part of the General
Service Structure and the General Service Conference, a
system which has encouraged a wide base of support from
the groups and has served A.A. well. Great Britain's first
General Service Conference was held in October 1966. A national
A.A. magazine in the general format of the Grapevine, called
Share, began publication in October 1972.
1985, there were 2,000 groups in Great Britain with a total
estimated membership of 27,000.
simultaneously with the beginnings in Ireland and England,
events were taking place that would lead to the establishment
of Alcoholics Anonymous in Norway. The story --which Bill
W. called "a classic"—started in a coffee shop in
Greenwich, Connecticut, owned by a quiet Norwegian, George
F., and his devoted wife, Alice. He had found sobriety in
the Greenwich group and his shop had become a popular rendezvous
for them. George, long out of touch with his family during
his active drinking, was now inspired to write them about
soon received an anguished reply, telling him of the awful
plight of his brother, a typesetter on an Oslo newspaper,
who was about to lose his job and perhaps his life to the
bottle. What could be done? George took counsel with his
wife and they decided to sell their coffee shop and buy
two round trip tickets to Oslo. Hurrying from the airport
to the family house outside Oslo, they found the brother
desperately sick, as had been reported --but he also obstinately
told and retold his story. He translated the Twelve Steps
and a small pamphlet he had brought along. It was no use;
Brother would have none of it. George and his wife, running
out of money and sick at heart, prepared to return to America.
Suddenly, the impossible happened. The brother called out,
"Wait, tell me more about those anonymous alcoholics. Explain
again their Twelve Steps to me." He sobered up in time to
see George F. and his wife to the airport.
soon as he was able to return to work, he started running
modest ads daily in his own newspaper. The first response
was from the wife of an Oslo florist, asking for help for
her drunken husband. The brother shared with this prospect
in the most simple and honest way how he had been helped
through the Twelve Steps, and the man became member #2.
Thus the first A.A. group in Norway was started in late
1947. Among those who followed was a patient of Dr. Gordon
Johnson, Oslo's leading psychiatrist. A deeply religious
man, the doctor at once saw the implications of A.A.'s Twelve
Steps and immediately threw his weight behind the little
group. (Back in Greenwich, George F., the quiet Norwegian,
somehow managed to start another coffee shop. Four years
later, he suffered a heart attack and died—but not
before he had seen A.A. in Norway grow to several hundred
members. His wife, Alice, survived into the '80's, when
she was honored at a huge anniversary gathering for her
own role in spreading A.A. abroad.)
almost the same time, in late '47, an A.A. group sprang
up in Bergen. An alcoholic there who had tried everything
to stay sober met a seaman at a health resort. The seaman,
Hans H. a Scandinavian-American, had obtained some A.A.
literature in New York, which he turned over to the Bergen
man. The latter immediately wrote to New York himself, and
was put in touch with a Norwegian-American group in Brooklyn.
With their help by mail, a group was started in Bergen which
grew into more than a dozen groups by 1955.
Oslo group held its first open meeting (i.e., public meeting)
in 1948, with 30 alcoholics present. The press gave liberal
support. Development in outlying areas began in earnest
in '49 and growth was phenomenal. When Bill and Lois W.
visited Norway in '50 they were met at the airport by a
crowd of about 50. Three years later, it was reported that
there were 83 groups in Norway with a membership of more
than 1,125. At that time a Central Administration for A.A.
(i.e., a General Service Board) was created, consisting
of five A.A. 's and two nonalcoholics, Dr. Gordon Johnson
and Andreas Stoylen, an attorney. The groups had also established
a Landssekretariat (i.e., an Intergroup).
Norway A.A. was to suffer from disunity, leading to stagnation
and decline from the late '50's through the '60's and '70's,
due to a cleavage or schism which developed. From the beginning,
Norway A.A. had been involved with clinics, public periodicals,
acceptance of outside support from The Alcoholic Beverage
Commission, permanent salaried secretaries, etc. The Central
Administration tried to lead A.A. groups to follow the Twelve
Traditions with emphasis on anonymity and self-support.
Many of the groups attempted faithfully to follow this course
and function as A.A. did in the U.S. However, there was
another faction, led by the Oslo Intergroup (which was itself
also a government-sponsored Antabuse clinic), which maintained
that A.A. in Norway is different from A.A. in the U.S. and
that the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions are not applicable.
Membership in these groups included doctors, social workers
and other alcoholism professionals. They solicited outside
grants, sought publicity, and expressed A.A.'s opinion on
public issues. (This same kind of cleavage occurred in other
Scandinavian countries where A.A.-type movements were government
supported.) In 1955, both factions held their own national
the last decade, many groups in Norway have "rejoined the
fold," and Traditional A.A. is gaining ground with 75 groups
in 1985 having 550 members. Norway was one of the first
countries to translate and publish the Big Book in its own
tongue. About half of the first edition was sold before
sales slacked off drastically. In 1985, work was underway
on an improved translation and the publication of a second
is another country where the persistence and growth of Alcoholics
Anonymous is all the more remarkable in the face of schisms,
vacillation over the Traditions and other assorted obstacles.
A.A. observers and visitors have attributed many of the
difficulties to the combination of the alcoholic's "self-will
run riot" with the famous Dutch stubbornness, resulting
in a resistance to direction and a determination to do things
their own way.
W., at the St.Louis Convention, recalled visiting Holland
with Lois on their 1950 European trip. "We remember Henk
Krauweel," he said, "a social worker and nonalcoholic [who]
was engaged by the city of Amsterdam to see what he could
do for the drunks there. He had been able to do very little
until one day he ran across A.A.'s Twelve Steps. Translating
them into Dutch, he handed them to some of his charges.
To his astonishment, several tough cases went dry." The
time of this occurrence was the summer of 1948, and Henk
had obtained the Twelve Steps by writing the General Service
Office in New York. One of the "tough cases" was John V.
and the other was Carel A. They began Holland's first A.A.
group in 1949, meeting in Henk Krauweel's clinic. (When
G.S.O. manager Bob P. visited Amsterdam in 1978, the original
group was still meeting there.)
F., a Dutch-American A.A. member living in Long Island,
New York (and later a Director of AA. World Services) visited
Holland periodically from 1953 to the mid-1960's and reported
to Bill W. at the latter's request. He noted that in '53
A.A. had spread, with groups in Amsterdam, Rotterdam and
The Hague. Although a good translation of the Twelve Steps
had been made, a younger faction was violently opposed to
mention of God and a Higher Power in the Steps and elsewhere
in the program, and used their own translation substituting
"Life" and "Nature." Antabuse was "eaten like candy," with
a jar of the tablets on the speaker's table at A.A. meetings.
Using Antabuse was virtually a requirement for membership
in A.A. A.A. in Holland has had an attitude toward the Traditions
that can best be described as casual, especially in the
areas of anonymity and self-support.
membership suffered from the stratified society that existed
in the rest of Holland, with sharp religious differences.
Priests and ministers alike viewed the phrase "God, as we
understood Him" as sheer heresy. Doctors and psychiatrists
scorned the program as a bizarre American concoction. Finally,
from the earliest time and continuing into the present,
there is an unusually heavy stigma attached to alcoholism
in Holland. Far from being accepted as a disease, it is
regarded as a moral weakness.
spite of all these obstacles, A.A. continued to grow in
numbers in Holland. In 1955, a General Service Board was
organized. Three years later, a Tenth Anniversary Convention
was held in The Hague, with several hundred A .A.'s and
their families in attendance. A highlight of the meeting
was an address by Bill W. Adrian F. reported in '63 that
relations with the press, radio and TV were excellent. The
Ministry of Justice continued to permit A.A.'s to carry
the message into jails and prisons, and the Ministry of
Health permitted them to do the same in general and mental
HERE ON RECENT HOLLAND HISTORY, INCLUDING CURRENT TRANSLATION
OF BIG BOOK, ETC.).
In 1985, Holland had 120 groups with a membership of
is really two countries, divided by language - i.e., French
and Flemish - and therefore divided in culture, social structure
and politics as well, along the language lines. So Belgium
really has two A.A.'s: French-speaking and Flemish-speaking.
The A.A. literature exists in both languages, and there
are two G.S.O.'s. This situation perhaps slowed the progress
of Belgian A.A. in the early years—and it certainly
caused some confusion at G.S.O./New York. But it has not
detracted from the vigorous, serious and dedicated brand
of A.A. that has grown up there.
L. - who was French-speaking - is credited with starting
Alcoholics Anonymous in Belgium. In Brussels, in 1953, he
contacted the Belgian Anti-Alcoholism Committee, a government
body which, in turn, depended on the Red Cross as the contact
point for alcoholics. Mr. DeBoe, chairman of the committee,
was very interested in what Jean told him of A.A. (we don't
know where Jean learned of it), began to attend the meetings
and immediately tried to merge A.A. into his committee,
using the A.A. name in the press to try to get alcoholics
to contact the Red Cross. Obviously this led to many difficulties
until A.A. broke away and became independent. Jean L. was
a tireless worker in carrying the message and he also was
instrumental in forming the first organized Board in Brussels.
Unfortunately, all this was too much for his alcoholic ego,
and he slipped.
M. was invited to take Jean's place on the Board. He declined,
wary of Jean's experience and also uncomfortable because
the Board seemed not accountable to the A.A. members, but
went off on its own, holding open meetings with religious
speakers, etc. So, by 1955 there were three French-speaking
groups in Belgium: the one run by the Board; the Brussels
group very ably led by Helene C.; and the Brabo group in
Antwerp. The first cooperative effort among the groups was
a newsletter, "Allo a l'Eau," created by Helene. Further
cooperation came in 1959 with a move to start a French-speaking
intergroup, which finally came into being in August 1964
serving groups from Brussels, Anvers, Liege, Malmedy, Antwerp
and St. Vith. Further structuring took place in 1967 with
the formation of regional committees or intergroups and
a French-speaking G.S.O.; and soon afterward, a Board of
Flemish-speaking alcoholics sought help through the Red
Cross in Brussels in the mid-'50's, and finding only French-speaking
A.A. in that city, they attempted to form a Flemish-speaking
group, which fell apart. In other parts of Belgium where
Flemish was predominant, groups formed, however. And by
1960 the Flemish-speaking groups formed a service structure
roughly patterned after that of the U.S., with a Service
Board, a Conference and a Flemish-speaking G.S.O. The Big
Book and several A.A. pamphlets were translated into Flemish.
Also, a monthly magazine was begun, called "De Boi."
French-speaking A.A.'s in Belgium at first relied on French-language
literature from Montreal. However, finding the French-Canadian
translation different from their own, they eventually published
themselves. Joseph Kessel's articles about Alcoholics Anonymous
in France Soir in 1960 (see below) brought many inquiries.
Belgium, both French-speaking and Flemish-speaking, had
162 groups in 1985, with 3,240 members.
had an English-speaking group from 1950 until the present
time, antedating French-speaking A.A. by about a decade.
The English-speaking meeting at the American Church on the
Quai d'Orsay was a familiar goal for thousands of American
A.A. tourists and visitors. It owes its start to Jim F.,
a young American in Paris, who placed an ad in the European
Herald Tribune on May 7, 1948. He received a response from
Jeff K., a Swiss-American living in Paris. Also that summer,
he was contacted by two tourists who had obtained his name
from the G.S.O. in New York: Bob M., a newspaperman from
Miami; and the famous Marty M., the first woman to stay
sober in A.A. Other tourists came and went, and finally,
on April 21, 1950, six persons met in a room off the lobby
of the Hotel Bedford, France's first organized A.A. group.
Present were: Jim F.; Jeff K.; George L., an American Air
Force Sergeant; Martin H., from Miami; Albert M. from Massachusetts;
and Bill S. from Los Angeles. At the very first meeting,
one of those present wondered if it "wouldn't be all right
to drink wine with his meals, this being France and all."
W., after his visit with Lois to Paris in June, 1950, commented
on this problem of convincing the proverbial 50 million
Frenchmen that wine was really alcohol and therefore had
to be avoided by alcoholics. The visit was an inspiration
for the handful of newcomers in Paris.
F. returned home in 1952, but by then the group was strongly
enough rooted to keep going. Jim reminisced later about
the mistakes and problems of those first two years. After
the first meeting, the group met in his hotel room, which
he felt was a mistake; it should have been a more "neutral"
place. Yet it was hard to find a "dry" meeting place in
Paris! Also, the early meetings were extremely informal,
lacking any format or ritual like other A.A. meetings. There
was a problem running an ad. A new advertising manager at
the Herald Tribune refused it because of the touchy political
atmosphere at the time. And no collection was taken, since
there were really no expenses—which deprived members
from feeling involved.
English-speaking group had French-speaking visitors occasionally,
but the latter never successfully got together to form a
group. A French psychiatrist at St.Anne's Hospital, Pierre
Bensonsan, took a trip to the U.S. in '55 and learned of
A.A. Returning to Paris, he enlisted the help of A.A. members
there to bring the program to his alcoholic patients. Upon
their release, some of these patients started meeting together,
but they had no literature in French and little knowledge
of the A.A. principles and soon scattered.
was not until 1960 that the major breakthrough came for
A.A. in France. Joseph Kessel, a French journalist, came
to the U.S. to study this A.A. phenomenon in depth—with
the close cooperation of G.S.O. Upon his return, he wrote
a series of articles on Alcoholics Anonymous which were
published in the French newspaper France-Soir and then published
as a book which was so extraordinarily successful it was
translated in many other languages. Joseph Kessell did for
A.A. in France—and other European countries as well—what
Jack Alexander did in America.
H., secretary of the English-speaking group at the time,
had come into A.A. in 1937 and was an old friend of Bill
W. Nick remembers that a few days after the first Kessel
article appeared in July, a bundle of some 30 letters was
delivered by France-Soft to his apartment—all in French,
of course. And Nick's French was inadequate to answer them.
What to do? At this point, Nick remembered that before Fred
S., a member of the group, had departed for summer vacation,
he had suggested that some kind of overtime arrangement
might be possible with his French secretary, Odette Gerth.
So Nick contacted her at once, and, though she was not an
alcoholic, Odette went to work and began a collaboration
that lasted through the summer as the inquiries poured in—and
for several years thereafter. At first, Nick dictated the
replies, but later Odette was able to answer the letters
herself - just as Ruth Hock had done at the first A.A. service
office in New York.
supply of the Big Book and several pamphlets in the French
language had been obtained from Quebec, which helped enormously.
Inquiries from outside Paris were referred to existing French-speaking
groups in Belgium or Switzerland when possible. In Paris,
the first French group formed in the latter part of July.
They met at one end of the same room in the American Church
where the English-speaking group met. They were aided by
"Mac" MCD. whose French was fluent enough to carry the message.
The first few French prospects disappeared after a few meetings,
but slowly a solid group formed. An old A.A. friend of Nick's,
Fuller P., appeared on the scene at this time, intending
to spend the winter in Paris. He spoke fluent French and
knew the A.A. program thoroughly. By the time he departed
a year later, the French group was so firmly grounded in
the Twelve Steps, the Twelve Traditions, and the other A.A.
basics that they were ready to grow.
1963, active membership in France approached 200 (of these,
15 members had three years' sobriety; 20 had two years;
and another 60, one year.) Three meetings a week were held
in Paris and there were groups in Roubaix , Rouen, Marseilles,
Tourcoing and Bordeaux. A General Service Board was formed
in 1961 and the first General Service Conference was held
in Paris in October 1971. Under direction of the Board,
a General Service Office, with Ann-Catel. B. as manager,
handles A.A. publishing, public information, policy, relations
with other countries and other functions. France reported
to the 1972 World Service Meeting (See Chap. 17) that there
were eight groups in Paris and nine more in the suburbs.
In the provinces, A.A. was organized in only a few towns
(Rouen, Nancy, Strasbourg, etc.) but with 70 Loners in France,
a Loner & Provincial Coordinating Committee was formed
to help groups get started. The Committee thought there
were good possibilities in 22 towns and cities. There were
also three Intergroups—in Paris, the suburbs, and
1985, A.A. was expanding and doing well in France. There
were 271 groups with an estimated membership of about 3,000.
members among the American military occupation forces were
responsible for bringing the program to Germany. In 1953,
an A.A. group meeting at the Army post in Munich went out
looking for drunks among the native Germans to whom they
could carry the message. They found Max, who became A.A.'s
first German member. Max then found Harry, and Harry in
turn found Eugene from Hamburg. Eugene traveled back and
forth from Hamburg to Munich until he got sober. Thus the
first German-speaking group began. By 1958, there were closed
meetings for German alcoholics in Wiesbaden, Heidelberg,
Baden Baden, Worms, Stuttgart and Karlshrue, and enough
meetings in Frankfurt to make an Intergroup office a practical
MUCH MORE DETAILED INFORMATION HERE ON A.A.
IN FRANKFURT, HAMBURG, BREMEN, ETC. WHEN
G.S.B.FORMED, AND WHEN FIRST G.S.CONFERENCE.
ALSO, HISTORY OF ENGLISH-SPEAKING INTERGRP
of the best known A. A. members in Germany, Uli Z., was
from Poland but had found sobriety in Germany in 1973..
Fluent in English as well as German, Uli worked at the Frankfurt
Airport, the hub for international flights, where he was
a contact for traveling A.A.'s. He also traveled frequently
to the U.S. himself and brought back helpful ideas from
G.S.O. He served actively in the Frankfurt Intergroup and
the English-speaking Intergroup for Europe.
G.S.O. manager Bob P. attended the National Convention for
German A.A. in 1978, the magnificent convention center in
Hamburg was crowded with 5,000 members and their families.
In 1985, there were nearly 2,000 groups in Germany.
( to come)
A.A. message reached Finland through a hopeless, broken
alcoholic seaman named Usko. Coming off a binge in late
1948 in faraway Los Altos, California, shaking and foggy,
Usko was taken to an A.A. meeting by a friend. He never
drank again, and as his health returned, he had a burning
desire to practice the Twelfth Step by helping drunks back
in his native Finland. He wrote letters to two or three
of his old drinking buddies, including Veikko K., whom he
knew was in as bad shape from booze as he had been.
to Usko, Veikko had been desperately trying to stop drinking.
Along with several other skid-row drunks, he was meeting
weekly at the home of a husband and wife who worked at the
Helsinki Welfare Office and who were trying to make a dent
in the city's severe alcoholism problem.
men were mostly dry and had declared themselves opposed
to alcohol, but had no program other than their mutual support.
So Usko's letter to Veikko fell on unbelievably fertile
was like an answer to a prayer," says Veikko. "I knew instantly
that I could stay sober." He showed the letter to his friends
and to other Helsinki drunks, and replied enthusiastically
to Tjsko. Since there was no A.A. literature available in
Finnish, Usko continued to write long, long letters from
America, week after week, translating the Steps and Traditions
and passing along what he had seen and learned as he attended
Alcoholics Anonymous. (The letters are still preserved intact
in the Finnish A.A. Archives.) In Finland, where nicknames
are often used to protect members' anonymity, Usko was nicknamed
"Link", for obvious reasons, while Veikko K. came to be
called "Kolumbus" because he was the discoverer of American
grew rapidly in Finland. Soon they needed a national service
office to handle the mail and phone calls and, eventually,
to publish A.A. literature in Finnish. Who better to serve
as its secretary than "Kolumbus"? Veikko K. was to serve
in that capacity for 36 years. Thanks in part to the thorough,
methodical and efficient nature of the Finnish people, A.A.
in Finland is perhaps better organized and more viable than
anywhere else in the world. In 1963, when it was only 15
years old, it had 125 A.A. groups in 42 places, including
16 prison groups and 4 hospital groups. There were 213 weekly
meetings of the regular groups plus 23 institutional meetings.
Membership was 2,000. Uniquely, the Finland G.S.O. keeps
records of individual members: when they attended their
first meeting; whether they stayed; whether they've slipped;
and when they die, did they die sober? Every A.A. book and
pamphlet is published in Finnish. A local version of the
A.A. Grapevine has been published since 1951. A General
Service Board has existed since 1961, but there is no General
Service Conference. Finland has always sent delegates to
the World Service Meetings and has contributed generously
to their support. It played host to the WSM in 1978 (See
Chap. 17). The annual Finnish A.A. Conventions attract thousands.
in jails and prisons has been especially important to Finland
A.A. because the severe laws regarding drunkenness - and
especially drunk driving - result in many alcoholics coming
into A.A. while incarcerated. (Valter L., a prominent A.A.
member, casually recalls that he was jailed 73 times for
public drunkenness and drunk driving before he finally got
the message "inside.")
1985, Finland counted over 400 A.A. groups with 7,000 members.
first A.A. group in Sweden was apparently formed in February
1947, consisting of two men: W.F., a Swedish alcoholic,
and an anonymous American. In a 1949 letter to G.S.O./NewYork,
W.F. related how it had happened. A manager in a textile
firm, W.F. traveled extensively and drank heavily, ending
up in a state alcoholic ward in 1943. He became a secret
drinker for the next three years, absent from work more
than he was there and becoming sicker all the time. He was
sent to a psychiatrist for six weeks, during which period
he lived in a boarding house. There he became friends with
a preacher, who also tried to help him. Between the two,
W.F. was able to stay sober for a month or two and to return
to his home and his job. Then he went on a real bender.
wife helped him get in touch with an Oxford Group, where
he found real help at last (as had U.S. alcoholics before
him.) The Oxford Groupers told him, "We cannot get anything
from God if we do not give anything ourselves." So he decided
to try to help other alcoholics, and in the process, went
to a club called Saliskapet Lankarna (Friendship Links)
which also sought to help alcoholics. At this point, God
intervened and sent W.F. an American drunk who had been
in A.A. in New York for two years but was now living in.
Sweden, where he had returned to drinking with a vengeance!
Having heard that W.F. was trying to help alcoholics, the
American sought him out.
had an A.A. Big Book and gave it to me," W.F. related in
his letter. "We made a translation of the 12 Steps [into
Swedish] and our society had its Program." That was in February
and his friend probably continued their association both
with the Oxford Group and Lankarna, and thereby sowed the
seed for many of A.A.'s future problems in Sweden. For Lankarna,
a club officially sponsored by the government and funded
in part by them and part by private contributions, was comprised
not only of alcoholics but of temperance workers and other
nonalcoholics. Nevertheless, Lankarna took over some (but
not all) A.A. principles and practices and "borrowed" liberally
from A.A. literature in pamphlets which it published itself.
It therefore had some success in helping alcoholics recover.
But at the same time, it operated comfortable convalescent
facilities, promoted itself aggressively, and ignored most
of A.A.'s traditions—particularly those of anonymity,
self-support, and non¬affiliation. Lankarna was much
better known than A.A. (though not always in a favorable
or uncontroversial way), and for some time A.A. was thoroughly
confused with Lankarna. This not only held back the formation
of a separate, Traditional Alcoholics Anonymous in Sweden,
but the energies of the recovered alcoholics dedicated to
this objective were spent on attempting to oppose or change
Lankarna rather than focusing on their own "primary purpose."
was the situation which Ralph B. found when he began spending
time in Sweden on business in the mid-50's. This was the
same Ralph B. who had joined A.A. in 1946 and was the writer/consultant
to the General Service Board and G.S.O.; who had written
the first General Service Conference reports; and who handled
press relations for the '55, '60 and '65 International Conventions.
Ralph, who had his own international public relations firm,
had as his principal client a multi-national company with
headquarters in Sweden. In order to service this account
effectively, Ralph had learned Swedish and made frequent
trips to Sweden. (Through the recommendations from his principal
client, he was eventually engaged by other Swedish companies,
opened an office in Stockholm as well as New York, and spent
up to half his time in Sweden.) Needing to go to A.A. meetings
while there, he began working with Traditions-minded A.A.'s
to form a "real" A.A. group.
Ralph B. was able to report to the 1963 General Service
Conference for US./Canada (which he attended as an observer)
that a lasting group dedicated to Traditional A.A. had been
in existence for about seven years. Total membership, he
said, stood at about 75 to 100 in Stockholm and perhaps
another 100 throughout the remainder of the country. A Central
Committee was formed in 1962 with representatives from the
various groups, with the objective of serving as a reliable
clearing house of information on Traditional A.A. both within
and outside the Fellowship. "The Committee has already been
effective in acquainting press, clergy and medicine with
basic A.A. principles and practices," he reported, "and
in broadening understanding of the recovery program." That
year (1963) an All-Swedish Conference was held at Hallsberg,
halfway between the principal cities of Stockholm and Gothenberg.
Central Committee proved to be a viable and effective body
for policy making and for service. With the adoption of
"working guidelines" (i.e., "by-laws") in February 1971,
it became to all intents and purposes the combined Service
Board and Conference for A.A. in Sweden. It meets three
times a year, with two representatives (with only a single
vote) from each group. Other Scandinavian countries are
asked to send observers and take part in the A.A. meetings
held in connection with the Committee meeting. The Committee
is also responsible for the small central service office
in Stockholm, which functions as a G.S.O. The office carries
a limited stock of literature in Swedish, Finnish, Norwegian
and English, including the Big Book in Swedish. It publishes
meeting lists and directories as well as an A.A. bulletin.
The office also coordinates the P.I., CPC, and hospital
Big Book was translated into Swedish by Inga-Britt S., who
joined A.A. in California in 1967 before returning to her
native country just in time to become active in all aspects
of service work including a term as delegate to the World
A.A.'s 50th anniversary year, Sweden had 54 groups and 1,800
members. There were also portents that A.A. in Sweden might
be on the threshold of a new era of growth. Due in part
to the dominance of Lankarna, with its comfortable convalescent
homes supported generously by the state, there were no independent,
autonomous treatment centers for alcoholics. But in 1984,
under the auspices of the Swedish version of the National
Council on Alcoholism, a seminar was held bringing together
Swedish professionals in the field of alcoholism with U.S.
professionals, including Dr. Dan Anderson of Hazelden. The
purpose of the meeting was to learn about the so-called
"Minnesota model" for treatment centers, which has strong
A.A. orientation. An effective part of the program was testimony
by invited guests from Iceland which had itself gone through
the same transition. An A.A. member in Sweden who participated
in the seminar as a professional reported privately to G.S.O./New
York that if "Minnesota model" treatment centers were to
be established in Sweden—which looked likely—then
the "graduates" would swell the ranks of A.A. groups in
in Iceland got off to a very slow start, but has exploded
in the last 15 years. Gudrun C., an Icelandic woman married
to an American and an active A.A. member in New York, visited
her home country in 1948 and held a public meeting. As a
result, Icelanders were occasionally sent to the U.S. for
detox and rehabilitation. Two of these in the early '50's
were Jonas G. and Gudni A. When they returned to Iceland
recovered, they were given newspaper publicity in which
A.A. was given much credit—but no group formed.
however, Gudmunder J., a drunk in Reykj avic, stopped drinking
on his own in 1950. When he read Gudni's interview in the
paper, he contacted him. Together, they got in touch with
Jonas C. and on April 15, 1954 (a Good Friday), the first
Icelandic group had its first meeting.
many years thereafter, Iceland had one group whose members
stayed sober but engaged in no public information or contact
with doctors or other professionals and did little Twelfth
Stepping. Moreover, there were few pieces of A.A. literature
in Icelandic. Then, in the early '70's the government began
an active program of sending alcoholics to the U.S. for
rehabilitation—and initial contact with A.A. in America.
These newcomers returned fired up to get A.A. moving and
with revolutionary ideas of reaching out. Finally, in 1976,
the Big Book was published in Icelandic and the truly explosive
then, a service office had been established in Reykjavic
and General Service Board was functioning. This was followed
soon afterward by a General Service Conference. Both at
the group level and in general service, the influx of new
members caused turmoil and conflict with the oldtimers.
(In some large meetings, two years' sobriety was rare.)
But in the end, Iceland has a remarkably strong and sound
Fellowship for such a small country, with 70 groups and
at least 2,500 members in 1985.
was also very slow to get started among the Italians. Like
Paris, Rome had an English-speaking group in the early 1960's,
which has continued until the present. But repeated attempts
to reach the Italians met with failure except for a few
bi-lingual individuals. Then, in the early '70's, a member
of the Italian parliament now known as Carlo #1, a big,
imposing man, was such a bad drunk that he was in danger
of losing his post. He heard of the English-speaking A.A.
group in Rome and began attending meetings—even though
he did not understand English. The message was carried to
him through an interpreter. Carlo absorbed enough of the
program to get sober, stay sober, and carry the message
to other Italian alcoholics. This had to be done verbally,
since there was no literature in Italian.
day in March 1975, a doctor called on Carlo #1 to speak
with a patient in the hospital who had alcoholic neuritis
so severely he was confined to a wheelchair and was feared
near the end. The patient was Roberto C., who was to become
the father of Italian A.A. Roberto—the only son of
the Helen Hayes of Italian theater, film and TV, and her
producer-husband, who were constantly on the road—was
reared by an uncle in a villa in Florence and educated in
private schools. After serving in the war, he became a noted
journalist, living for eight years as a correspondent in
the U.S., where he became completely fluent in English.
He also progressed into raging, desperate alcoholism, which
got him deported back to Italy. There, despite periodic
flashes of success on newspapers and national television,
he continued to sink into sickness and eventual repeated
hospitalization, which left him with a noticeable limp today.
As soon as he was able after meeting Carlo, Roberto began
attending the English-speaking A.A. group. With a consuming
desire to stop drinking and as at home in English as in
Italian, Roberto literally immersed himself in Alcoholics
Anonymous. He read, re - read and absorbed every word of
the Big Book and the other literature. With a deep spiritual
base to his fractured life, he was awed by A.A.'s message
of the need for spiritual change. And he began forthwith
to carry the message to Italian alcoholics.
he had been sober less than two years, Roberto's renowned
but aged mother became ill. Roberto, who had squandered
a sizeable amount of his mother's money during his drinking,
now felt he owed her great amends, so he went with her to
a family villa in the country, where he remained at her
side until she died. During these two years of isolation
and devotion, Roberto says, "What did I have to do, but
translate the Big Book into Italian?" With the help of other
fledgling A.A.'s, Roberto then spearheaded an effort to
publish the Italian Big Book (with financial assistance
from A.A. World Services). He brought the first copy with
him to the International Convention in New Orleans in 1980,
where he presented it to Lois W. In his brief presentation
talk, he announced proudly that Italy then had seven A.A.
his return, he went through his native country like a Johnny
Appleseed, sowing A.A. groups everywhere. In Rome, Carlo
E., a wealthy businessman, joined up and used his own money
to underwrite the translating and publishing of all the
A.A. literature into Italian and the opening of a General
Service Office to augment the intergroup which had already
been established. A General Service Board was formed in
October 1979, and after a great deal of controversy and
several false starts, the first General Service Conference
was held in 1984. By 1985, with appropriate gratitude for
his part in getting Italian A.A. off to a flying start,
Carlo E. was persuaded to halt his personal financial support
and make the groups more reliant on their own contributions.
the autumn of 1985, Italian A.A. held its own convention
to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of A.A.'s founding. About
700 spirited A.A.'s and their families turned up for the
gathering, which was held in the Adriatic resort town of
Rimini, where they heard Bob P., G.S.O. general manager,
with Roberto C. translating the talk. At that time, there
were over 100 A.A. groups in Italy, with new ones forming
almost every day, and membership totaled over 4,000.
latest European country to experience explosive A.A. growth
is Poland. This development has been greeted with particular
joy not only for the sake of the Polish alcoholics themselves,
but also because of Poland's symbolic significance as the
first country behind the Iron Curtain to embrace Alcoholics
Anonymous. When the small Polish delegation to the 50th
Anniversary International Convention in Montreal marched
onto the field on Friday night—the first time the
Polish flag had ever been at an International Convention
flag ceremony—they were greeted with a prolonged and
1957, a Polish physician named Zbigniew Wierzbicki traveled
to the U.S. to learn more about treating alcoholics in his
care. He was impressed with the success of Alcoholics Anonymous;
and, once back home, he started his country's first A.A.
group, in the city of Poznan. Because Dr. Wierzbicki was
a nonalcoholic, he was unable to share with the Polish alcoholics,
so the first group remained under the strong influence of
the medical profession and ultimately ceased to exist. Not
until the '70's did another two or three groups slowly form
the late '70's, the spread of A.A. into various parts of
the country led to a stirring toward coordination and exchange
of information and experiences. The first national meeting
of A.A. took place in April 1980 in Poznan. Continued growth
and the appearance of groups in the regions produced a Temporary
National A.A. Service in 1982 - a working body to promote
the integration of A.A. throughout the country. The TNS
charged the Poznan Intergroup with the organization of a
National A.A. Congress to meet in 1984.
First Congress was a landmark event. In the planning stage,
the existence of 16 groups was known. The day before it
began, it turned out there were 19 groups. At the Congress
itself, representatives of 34 groups showed up! The information
gathered there indicated that more than 500 alcoholics were
regularly attending A.A. meetings in Poland, and 200 of
these were at the Congress.
that marked only the beginning of the explosive growth.
The Congress adopted electoral procedures and selected a
seven-member Board of Trustees. The group representatives
then began meeting on a quarterly basis in each of four
regions. Many new A.A. get-togethers were organized and
enjoyed. An array of A.A. literature was made available
in Polish, ranging from a translations of The Twelve Steps
and Twelve Traditions and Living Sober (but not the Big
Book, as yet) to locally written pamphlets. Public information
work achieved more than 100 articles in the press, plus
many radio and television programs. By the end of 1985,
there were nearly 100 Polish groups, with a membership "conservatively"
estimated at more than 1,500.
Anonymous is present in nearly all other European countries
outside the Soviet bloc: Greece, Spain, Portugal, Gibraltar,
Malta, etc. In some instances, it is in the form of English-speaking
groups or Loners; in others, a small number of groups of
local inhabitants. But in none of these places - with the
possible exception of Spain - is A.A. as yet organized with
a structure, a service office or its own literature.