They went up tiddly up up… They came down tiddly down down!

SpeedwayFiction Speedway like it used to be! Home Speedway’s Magnificent Men Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines

IF ANYONE doubted that speedway riders belong to a species driven by its insatiable thirst for speed and danger, he need only look at the way the early dirt track racers were drawn by the lure of flight.

Taking to the air in the flimsiest of machines, encouraged as often as not by Roger Frogley - one of Britain’s top riders in the pioneering years - they flocked to gain their pilot’s licences and filled the skies above the unsuspecting heads of the residents of Hoddesdon.

Roger Frogley (right) giving flying instruction at Broxbourne

Taking to the air in the flimsiest of machines, encouraged as often as not by Roger Frogley - one of Britain’s top riders in the pioneering years - they flocked to gain their pilot’s licences and filled the skies above the unsuspecting heads of the residents of Hoddesdon.

Unfortunately, Frogley crashed his aircraft more than once, the worst occasion being when he came down beside the River Lea while attempting an emergency landing in a field.

Roger Frogley (left) and his brother Arthur (‘Buster’), directors of the Herts and Essex Aeroplane Club Wreckage of Roger Frogley’s de Havilland Moth aircraft which came down in a field alongside the River Lea The Fish and Eels, still serving today. Frogley’s plane crashed Close to the inn on October 13, 1929

Amazingly, the aircraft was not written off. It was returned to the manufacturer, de Havilland, who repaired it and returned it to the owner on April 8, 1930, as the delivery note below indicates. Much needed to be put right although the note lacks detail, simply referring to ‘necessary repairs’.

I HAVE often wondered why it is that speedway riders are attracted to aeroplanes. Perhaps it is the sheer thrill of speeding through the air – you should hear Lionel Fredericks wax enthusiastic on the subject! – Though personally I’ve been scared stiff whenever called on to fly. My own desire has always been to stick to Mother Earth.

But, whatever the reason, the fact remains that speedway racing and flying seemed to go hand-in-hand and have done since the early days of the sport. Roger and Buster Frogley, two of Britain’s first speedway stars, popularized aviation among the riders when increasing weight caused their retirement, and they did well with the flying-school at Broxbourne.

It was there that many of the old stars used to put in their flying-hours. Vic Huxley nearly frightened Ernie Bass, who used to promote at Lea Bridge, out of his life by looping the loop with him – and when he landed Ernie declared that only the thought that he himself was an insurance broker stopped him from jumping out!

Talking of Lea Bridge reminds me of ‘Stiffy’ Aston, who used to ride there. He decided to winter in Australia and intended flying his own plane out there, but unfortunately Stiffy crash landed in North Africa and had to abandon the scheme.

Jack Ormston and ‘Smiling’ Jim Kemster were two others who did their early flying from Broxbourne. Jack, who was one of Johnny Hoskins’ unbeatable Lions and later went to Harringay, is now farming and training racehorses in Yorkshire. He was among the most enthusiastic of flying riders and competed in the King’s Cup air race on two occasions.

He visited Australia in the winter of 1929 with Roger Frogley with whom he owned a plane in partnership at the time shortly before the pair left England, Roger was piloting the machine when the wind forced a door open and a whole lot turned turtle. Roger escaped with nothing more serious than shock and a badly battered nose – and the following day beat Jack Parker at Wimbledon in the English Championship.

I have mentioned before, I think, that Jim Kemster crashed to his death when flying a plane for Air Transport Auxiliary after the cessation of hostilities in Europe. He hit a high tension cable when hedge hopping in France, and that spelt the finish of one of the finest riders the cinders have ever known.

It was Jim who was responsible for the rise in popularity of the Rudge speedway machine after the all-conquering Douglas had held sway for two seasons. Incidentally, both Jim and Roger Frogley were married at the same time at Leighton Buzzard registry office in October, 1930.

Not long before the war, a bunch of New Cross and Bristol riders – among whom were Stan Greatrex, Ernie Evans (the young Australian who was in partnership with Stan in a motorcycle business in those days), and Morian Hansen the Danish rider – did a lot of weekend flying. Morian – which, by the way, is only a nickname approximating to our ‘Darkie’ – joined the RAF and became famous as an air-gunner. He was twice decorated, now, back in Denmark once more, owns an airfield and a successful airline as well. He has not completely forsaken the cinders, though, and you may keep your weather-eyes peeled for a possible visit from a Danish team later this season. Matches between Morian’s boys and Second Division sides would be bright attractions to my way of thinking and give the sport that international interest which has been so badly lacking this season.

Another rider to be decorated during the war was Lionel Van Praag, who received the George Medal for rescue work after a crash in the Timor Sea while he was serving in the RAAF. Lionel has always been a keen flyer, of course, and in the years before the war flew to Manchester from London to ride in one of the test matches at Belle Vue.

Mention of the RAAF reminds me that Bluey Thorpe, the young Australian who was at one time on Wembley’s books and is now with Norwich, was also in that service. Bluey (which is Aussie for ‘Ginger’) had rather a bad crash last season but is now recovered, I’m glad to say. He is married to a Norwich girl and I fancy that the local ‘pull’ was one of the main reasons for his move from Wembley. The saddest crash of all, perhaps, was that which ended the life of Frank Charles, captain of the English test side in 1936. Frank was ever keen on gliding and a very proficient pilot. At Dunstable Downs one day the towrope of his glider failed to disengage properly, with the result that the machine nosedived into the ground and Frank was killed.

Air travel seems to be very popular just now. The Duggan brothers and Cliff Parkinson flew from Australia, complete with machines, to this country while Bill Kitchen and Ron Johnson recently made their successful flying visit to Czechoslovakia, and another who has been flying around Europe during the winter is Birmingham’s captain Phil Hart.

Phil, who is an Australian by adoption (he was born in Balham) originally came to this country with Steve Langton (now with Arthur Westwood at Tamworth). He went to Sweden last winter intending to race on ice there but as the meeting was frozen out he flew to the British Zone of Germany. According to Phil he spent a pleasant time at Kiel teaching the services the rudiments of speedway racing and hopes to go back there at the end of this season to carry on his ‘school mastering’.

As far back as 1935 Lionel Van Prague and Dick Case flew from Australia to New Zealand to help Wally Kilmister (not Kllminster, if you please) to whack an English touring side which included Jack Parker and Bob Harrison in a series of so-called Tests. Mention of Wally, who often spectates at meetings these days, reminds me that he lost all the trophies he won on the track when his house at Wembley was burgled recently.

There are dozens of other instances of the link between speedway and the air but space for bids my mentioning them all. Bobbie Cox wrote recently that she found most riders to be schoolboys at heart, always ready for a dare. That, perhaps, is the explanation of aviation’s attraction for them. It is fast and thrilling, satisfying to that urge for excitement which riders seem to possess off and on the track.

Riders In The air

The following article, by Roger Marston, is taken from the Speedway Reporter, May 31, 1947