Wednesday, 12 March 2008

#047 - 1955 - Peace Race - Part 1

1955 saw me receive an invitation from Arthur Spurgin (Chairman of the N.C.U racing committee who I had met on the Tour of Eire), to go as mechanic to the great East European classic the Prague-Berlin-Warsaw event. The challenge to go was overwhelming but I had trouble with my brother as I would be away from the business from April 30th to May 18th .

I was a real novice for an event of this magnitude, on one of my Birmingham trips I visited the Cyclo Gear Company of Aston, two of their mechanics had been on this race some three years previous. On our first meeting they told me on no account to go, “the roads are non existent in parts and the work is horrendous” I was warned, this made me very apprehensive. However when they learned that I had accepted the challenge they gave me a toolbox with special tools for their “Benelux” gears, and a pal of mine an engineer by the name of Jim Jelly, made me a truing stand for wheels which fitted on top of the tool box, so I thought we were all set, I was still bodily fit and was training most mornings at 7am with Dave Booth ( I did not know then that I would not race again due to the time being taken up by trips abroad).

East German, Polish and Czech visa’s were obtained and I set forth first by train to London, and then by taxi with all the equipment plus a spare bike, to the NCU headquarters, where we met the rest of the team. I knew most of the boys having recently ridden in Eire against them, and Ray Booty came from my area. I had a look at the teams bikes and saw that I had not got many spares to cover any eventualities, so I visited Messrs Holdsworthy Factoring Company in Annersley, near Crystal Palace, and bought - at my own expense - a load of gear. We then checked in at London Air terminal and then by coach to Heathrow where we caught a “Sabena” plane to Brussels.

I was seated next to Owen Blower and he said “this our first trip with a England Team and it is up to us to do a good job in our relative spheres". We vowed we would to the best of our ability, little knowing the consequences.

We checked our luggage off at Brussels then sat down on a form outside (the weather being marvellous). Sitting with us was Barbara Lyons daughter, (Ben and Barbara Lyon were well known for their B.B.C. radio programme “Life with the Lyons”), we chatted to her and found she was going to her first singing contract with Radio Luxembourg. We told her where we were heading for and she said

“Your are not going on that are you?” pointing to the far left corner of the Airport to an early Dakota MK1 with Polska Airways written on the side and lace curtains in the windows.

“No” we all chorused “we’ll be going on something better than that”.

How wrong we were, this was our aeroplane and some hours later we were on it, we had no seat belts and the “air hostess” dozed off, I do not know how high we flew but we had a lovely view of the ground, we landed at East Berlin and you could feel the different environment we were in. We took off later from there landing safely at Prague.

The airport compared with Brussels and London seemed dead. Apart from some military planes in the far corner, that’s all there was. We checked the bikes and luggage then found customs wanted to look at everything (what had we come to we thought). A coach eventually arrived and we were put in a very nice clean hotel called the Atlantic. The accommodation was good and surprise, surprise there was a separate hotel room for the bikes, we could not get over our wheeling bikes on red carpets and in to lifts. Unheard of in England.

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