Out of the past, May 1994

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Out of the past

In the 1920s motor racing at Brooklands and private flying were flourishing, and addicts who found the Weybridge Motor Course too far away to visit would probably aim for the Shelsley Walsh hillclimb if they were living in the Midlands. If both these exciting venues were out of reach they might well spend a Bank Holiday watching aeroplane racing. Thus over the Easter holiday of 1927 many Hampshire folk would have wended their way on foot, by bus, or on motorcycles and in cars to the popular Ensbury Park (horse) Racecourse, at Bournemouth, for the air races. Rollo Martin, a friend of racing-driver W B (“Bummer”) Scott and the dashing pilot Dudley Watt, who was there at the time, has sent me some particulars, from his present address in New South Wales, Australia. For instance, on Easter Saturday in 1927 he was there, watching his friend Dudley compete in three of the events. In fact, the meeting, with £500 prize money, had started on the Good Friday. Capt Sparks of the London Aeroplane Club had won the Instructors’ race in a DH Moth at 76 mph and Dudley Watt had already been active, winning the Poole Handicap in his venerable SE5a (I did a piece on these ex-wartime bi-planes in racing some time ago, in MOTOR SPORT) at 114.2 mph. The well-known Miss Winifred Spooner, meanwhile, took the Christchurch Handicap Stakes in another Moth. Other winners were Flg Officer Ragg in the little

Hawker Cygnet and Capt G de Havilland in a Moth which averaged 87.5 mph for 20 miles.

The course started and finished before the grandstands and had two turning points outside the racecourse and one inside it. On the Saturday proceedings opened with the Easter “High Power” Handicap, an exciting title, like those “Lightning” races at Brooklands, but actually including any aeroplane of over 150 hp. Watt was pitted against two other Wolseley Viper-powered SE5a aeroplanes, but his own, G-EBOG, won at 1 1 6 mph. AV Roe Ltd had thought it worthwhile to bring its Lynx and Gosport machines but the other winners were Ragg (Cygnet), Miss O’Brien (DH Moth) and Youell, who flew an Avro 548 with one aged 80 hp Renault engine in the Business Houses Handicap. Racing on the Sunday was not permitted (resulting in the “Killjoy” Trophy race on the Monday!), when the famous Bert Hinkler was victorious in three events with the prototype Avro Avian, his best speed over the 20-mile course being 93 mph. As ever t SE5a was a great lew very low,

as a contemporary photograph taken with a Kodak camera using a Ross 4.5 lens and 1/250th shutter but a mini viewfinder, shows . . He fully expected Watt to pull his wings off, so tight were his turns. Interesting entries included the Hon Lady Bailey with her Cirrus-Moth, Comper with the CLA4, Capt Barnard, representing the DH School of Flying, with a MklICirrus-Moth and Lt-Col Henderson (Renault-Avro). Motor Macs had Capt Broad flying a Cirrus-Moth 11 for them and some pilots hedged their bets by bringing two aeroplanes for the same race. Local hotels and the Morley Garage had entries, and prize donors included Castro, and the Gloster Aircraft Co. It all came to an end later in 1927 after three fatal accidents at the lune meeting and is now just a memory from long ago. But I am reminded of two stories about Dudley Watt. Apparently his father was Governor of Broadmoor and he would beat the place up when flying over it, causing one of the inmates to say “Why doesn’t he join us, he is more barmy than we are. . .” Another quick anecdote is of how Watt told his wife one Friday that he was just going out for a drink with Bummer Scott. But they got so involved with various pubs that it was Tuesday before they returned, rather the worse for wear. Watt’s Estonian wife was justifiably furious. But Dudley just said, with wicked smile, “It’s what we in England long weekend, darling!” W B