1939 to 1945 - Wartime Memories
By Les Hitchcock
In 1938 a number of the racing lads joined the ‘Terriers’ (Territorial Army Reserve) and so right at the outset of the war a considerable number of Club members were lost to the Armed Forces. Other members including the late Len Howell (Secretary) and Sid Goodwin (Captain) joined the A.F.S. (Auxiliary Fire Service), Len was later to become a full time fireman. I was already an air raid warden in the A.R.P.
Sid Goodwin was as usual the mainstay of the club in his reserved occupation as an engineer on war work.
So on the whole the lads went off into the Forces and the girls in the Club took on the official jobs. Min Hall became Club Secretary, a job she did well for a long time. Racing activities of course ceased for some time until revived by the ‘father’ of our post war racing scene Frank Roome on his discharge from the Navy in 1943
Cycling was transformed by the war. Under ‘War Time Regulations’ the lighted rear lamp was forced upon us and the front lamp had to be shielded from above. We were of course plunged into complete blackout and learned to appreciate the full value of stars and moon and of course during an air raid we had the searchlights.
In order to confuse any invading enemy, all road signs, mile stones and place names were removed and we had to become masters of map reading (hence Sid’s short cuts). With the coming of strict petrol rationing our scene was transformed and apart from army convoys we became Kings of the Roads. Food rationing became more restrictive but catering places received an allowance, this included the cyclists numerous accommodation and tea places and to these were added the British Restaurants.
So throughout the war we ran a full Runs programme with all day and half day runs being supplemented with Easy Rider runs with tea places booked at one shilling and sixpence (7½ p). Youth Hostel week-ends were a regular and very popular feature and we ran a 100 miles in 8 hours in 1944.
Looking back now it amazes me the freedom from constraint that we had on a bicycle. We lived in a privileged area with little local damage. I have memories of cycling through Plymouth soon after it was blitzed and standing half a mile from the front looking straight out to sea with the rubble from the scarred streets no more than three feet high.
I remember the Chesham Vale lit up with hundreds of incendiary bombs, of bombs whistling down when riding through Bovingdon, of cycling through the New Forest with the sides of the road stacked high with ammunition, guns and tanks for mile after mile before ‘D’ Day. Of tank traps and barbed wire along the Devon and Cornish coast. Of riding out on the Bicester ‘road on our way to a North Wales tour and the sky filled with the planes and gliders of Arnhem. Of sea-planes at Poole and motor torpedo boats at Brixham. Of ducking down on the Harpenden road when a V1 (Buzz Bomb) cut out.
We had of course a grand bunch in the Club that reflected the mood and spirit of the time who, apart from doing their daily job and part time voluntary war service, found time to thoroughly enjoy their sport and keep the Club going. The Sun Inn was a great help and was used continually for darts, table tennis and dancing.
We of course held the Annual Club Dinner every year, I think the first war time one was at the Labour Hall in Wood Lane and we held some very successful ones in the British Restaurant in Rucklers Lane — very boozy affairs— with various members recovering in Hylda Roome’s Nash Mills cottage into which half the Club crowded after the dinner. This reminds me that at one time Frank and Hylda gave up their bacon ration and kept a pig which was very reluctant to go into Bob Pearman’s slaughter house, but the cottage was like a bacon factory for a while with their share of the carcase.
I recall a tandem run that I took to Newbury and the road fork decision that took us through Lambourn and over the Downs into the dark to find a ‘Wad and Char’ at a Red Cross Centre in blacked out Wantage.
Our expert with knife and jampot was Dennis Martin who could always coax enough for another slice after the pot had been pronounced empty — the jam ration was one pound a month. Then there was ‘Jock’ our Scots member from Watford who carried on cycling with an artificial leg and who at a Youth Hostel nearly caused the stranger in the lower bunk to have a heart attack when he dropped his leg complete with plus fours past him.
I remember the girls chatting up the soldiers in Boxmoor Hall into giving them pint mugs of tea at the start of a hardriders run to Ely on the first Sunday in March with snow on the ground.
One of my possessions is a certificate for a club tourist trial in June, 1938 over a course of 226 miles in 24 hours and that was after a full days work.