The Early Years – Part 2

I wrote in last month’s article how in 1937 the Club, after a lot of discussion and argument, decided to form a racing section. It took a little while before we got into racing but we did it with real enthusiasm. In those days there were only 3 disciplines; Track, Time-trials and, the comparatively new, Massed-start racing. This was not on the Open Road but closed circuit – our one being the Brooklands Motor Racing Track (where now a museum preserves its history) The accent was heavily on time-trialling as massed-starts were few and far between. Our first Club record for a 25 was my ride of 1.08.37 in 1937 but then Ted Barnett joined us and in 1939 had got down to 1.06.48. In 1941 Stan Hilditch took the record down to 1.04.56. The time was to remain undisturbed until 1948 when the Club raced again. Horace Ireland set up the first 30 record in 1938 with 1.25.59 but Chris Hatton broke the record twice with 1.22.10 in 1939 and 1.19.39 in 1940. Chris was the first holder of the 50 record with 2.26.05 in 1938 but Stan Hilditch had reduced it to 2.13.46 in 1940. The 50′ s saw the name of Ron Bensley in the Record list as part of the team in 1939 that totalled 7.08.40. We associated Ron Bensley with the longer distances and he set our first 100 record with 5.09.00 in 1938. When he was called up in 1940 he had reduced it to 4.45.40. However, his best ride was at 12 hours. None of us had any experience of a 12 and we thought he was brave (or mad) to try one. However, Ron did 229m 1320 yds – a very exceptional ride on a course and in conditions different from today’s. There were no helpers in a car with no idea about schedules and no food and drinks except those he carried or given very sparsely during the event by the organisers. Ron came 4th in the event which was a tremendous ride on the day. The next week he did his 4.45 100 and then went into the Navy to be killed on his first trip as a midshipman. His influence on the Club as a founder-member and General Secretary with its great spirit of friendship and love of all cycling was profound. We lost both a friend and a clubmate we all looked up to – he was a real leader. Our first tandem record was in 1938 1.11.08 by Ernie Wood and Frank Hardy. Chris Hatton and I broke it in 1939 with 1.9.37. p>

Massed-Start Racing really appealed to us ‘young’ riders and in the 1938-39 season we had a go.  We rode on the Motor racing circuit at Brooklands on Sunday afternoons. We entered a team of 6 comprising of Ron Bensley, Chris Hatton, Ted Barnett, Bert Gauntlett, Horace Ireland and me.  The circuit which had a banking was about 3 miles round.  It started with about ½ mile flat then had a short climb of 1 in 6, a sweeping bend then swung downhill to a sharp hairpin then back through the start. We all rode gears, min being a top of 92″. The distance was 100 kilometres and there were 120 starters! There were also plenty of crashes on such a circuit with such a field and we lost most of our team.  I managed to stay clear of the crashes but finished with both legs locked solid with cramp – we weren’t used to this type of racing but I did finish 5th.  We only had two more events we could ride although we didn’t know it at the time. In the second I got 6th and the 3rd I crashed. I did finish but never caught the leaders. As the season ended so the 1939-45 War started. Brooklands was closed to any racing and handed over to the RAF. It was a sad day for all of us.

There was a period at the beginning of the war that we knew as ‘The Phoney War’. Nothing much was happening on the ‘Western Front’ and racing carried on as much as possible. But things changed in May 1940 when the German invasion of the Low Countries and France took place, followed by the evacuation of our armies from Dunkirk.  The call-up really accelerated and we started to lose members to the forces.  The Battle of Britain never got going until the July and we managed to promote an Open 25 on Sunday 23rd June 1940 with a field of 100 riders. There were 39 non-starters may be due to the call-up after entering plus 5 DNF’s whether punctures or lack of fitness. It was won by M. Richardson of the Galena (a club that did not survive the war) in 1.3.57 – and we won the team with Stan Hilditch 1.7.14, Ted Barnett,Chris Nolan 1.9.24 a total of 3.26.58. 2 weeks later we had 9 riders in the Counties 25 and Chris won the handicap having improved by nearly 3 minutes to 1.6.34.

hist02_02In December 1938 we recruited 3 new members Stan Hilditch, Bill Hens and, on his reaching his 16th birthday on 17 December, Jim Burrows.  Stan’s club activities were on the racing side but both Bill and Jim were to do so much for the Club after the War.  We produced our first club magazine’ The Redmon Rag’ in December 1938.  The Editor was Ron Bensley and the first page carried an appeal for articles for the next magazine (sounds familiar, Jean). It also includes a note on the transition from a purely social club into a social/racing one. He records that 3 definite sections had been established by the new committee Social, Hardriding and Camping.  The Hardriding also covered and led to the increasing racing by club members. Obviously there was some opposition and grumbles but Ron’s last paragraph sums up the motivation of the club officials of that day and in the future.  ‘Remember that we all have the interests of the club at heart and whether it looks like it or not, things are being done for the best.

We produced a Redmon Club Handbook listing the officials, the Club General Rules – and the Racing Rules. General Information gives details of where runs meet, Rosehill Roundabout on Sunday and by the George Inn, Morden on Wednesdays at 8 pm. Bi-monthly club run sheets were published and the Redmon Rag was published quarterly.  Standards for 25, 50,100 miles and 12 hours for both solos and tandems were also listed. Gold for a 25 was 1.5.0, for 50 miles 2.15.0, 100 – 4.50.0 and 12 hours 215 miles. Club records and the winners of the 1939 Club trophies were also given.  The Best All-Rounder was Chris Hatton (over 25, 50 and 100 miles).  He was also the Club Events Champion. Ted Barnett won the 25 cup with 1.6.58 and the 50 with 2.20.52.  Ron Bensley took the 100 cup with 5.0.13. Times have changed in more ways than one!

hist02_0102As 1940 developed life was dominated by ‘The Battle of Britain’ and club-runs were sometimes stopped whilst we watched the dog-fights going on above us.  All the time, members were being called up and although a few more people had joined the club it was obvious that from lack of numbers alone that club cycling was coming to a close for the Redmon.  We hoped that the Sunday runs would carry on but the future was very uncertain and we all knew we would have to face up to it however unpleasant.

It may be hard for anyone who didn’t experience it, but many things did carry on as usual wherever or whenever possible in spite of the war. Indeed, an effort was made to ‘carry on’ even when things were difficult. This was true of us in the Club and we did our best to keep the Sunday runs going together with the weekly club night. When members came home on leave they joined the runs or popped down to the clubroom. Those of us still in civvy street passed on club news when we wrote to those members who were in various parts of the country or abroad.  Certainly, the friendships formed in the Club carried on right the way through the war and helped us all get by.  But, things did get more difficult during 1941 with just a handful left. The Club was gradually getting smaller and it was obvious that club cycling and the Redmon were coming to a halt – our uncertain future had finally caught up with us.

An Extraordinary General Meeting was called. After much discussion it was decided that the Club would cease its activities for the duration of the war. I was elected General Secretary with the responsibility of restarting the Club when peace was declared.  I probably got the job because I worked in engineering making ammunitions.  We thought that this might be a reserved occupation so I would remain in ‘civvy street’ at least for the ‘time being’ and would be able to look after things.  Joyce, now my wife since we married in March 1941, was elected Treasurer.  The Club’s funds were deposited in the Post Office.  Two signatures were required to withdraw them (about £40) those of Charlie Bowtle and Joyce.  When you think that when I joined the Club the subs were 8 old pence a week which mainly went to pay for the clubroom so £40 was something of an achievement in the 6 years or so we had existed. The few young members still awaiting call-up drifted off to ride with clubs that were still hanging on. They were mainly clubs that had been established for many years and had members too old to be lost to call up, etc.  The Belle Vue and the Addiscombe were two local clubs this applied to.  Interesting that of the 34 or so clubs listed on our Open 25 start sheet on 23rd June 1940 15 did not survive the war at all.  A few more disappeared after the immediate post-war years so at least we were not the only ones and we are still here!

The clubroom itself ended abruptly just 3 weeks after we had stopped attending.  A bomb fell just outside and the roof was smashed in by huge stones blown up from the road.  As soon as I found out some 3 weeks later I hurried round and it was a depressing sight. The roof, had fallen in and the door was hanging from its hinges. I managed to salvage the table tennis top but the dartboard and the Club rollers had been stolen (looted we called it).l I borrowed a handcart from someone at Morden and with Joyce we picked up the table-tennis tops and walked back with them to our place in Links Avenue where we stored them under the bed for the duration. During the gaps between shift work and lots of overtime and being on the Anti-Aircraft Guns manned by the Home Guard (of which I was one) I kept in touch with some of the original members and others in the forces both at home and in all parts of the world.

Ron Martin

Previously Printed in the Redmon Review for March 2005.