Classic Lightweights UK
Wheels and Wings - Lewis (Lew) PondLew Pond - as told to Rod Boot
I was born in 1919 and grew up in the worst depression of the twentieth century and without doubt that meant I had a healthy respect for money. Following a serious illness when 13 years old, my father bought me a Raleigh Roadster bike which cost £4 19s 9d. The average working man’s wage in London at that time was £3 per week.
I started cycling in the country with a Scout party, but by the time I was 15 I had joined the Uxbridge Wheelers and was taking part in all their activities. By that time my bike had been exchanged for something more suitable for club riding.
My first racing success was in 1936 at a grass track meeting in West Drayton, to which we had all cycled on our club bikes and then removed our mudguards and brakes.
Having been a keen student of bikes and “The Bicycle”, which wrote extensively about tactics, I managed to get the “double” and was rewarded with a prize of £3 for each race and became hooked on bike racing.
From that time on, I rode in short time trials and massed start races which were becoming popular. I rode in the first race to be televised at Crystal Palace in 1937, riding a bike with gears which were just starting to be used, and I also rode in events at Brooklands (images below), Belle Vue Gardens (Manchester) and Crystal Palace.
Above: Finish of the July 1937 45-mile practice road race race at Brooklands,1937 - Lew Pond wins from Wells and W A Messer
The infamous 'mountain' at Brooklands taken during the 100km main event
In 1938 I started racing at Herne Hill and joined the Polytechnic CC, who at the time had a very good track team. At track meetings you could get several races in one day, with the possibility of winning several prizes. I had obtained my driving licence two weeks after my 17th birthday, which meant that by taking a number of friends we could share the travelling expenses and start going to meetings all over the country.
At that time the NCU, in conjunction with the AAA, approved joint athletic and grass track racing meetings in many areas of the country. Anyone found guilty of taking money was banned for life from the Olympic Games. The AAA were very strict on the taking of money, but the NCU less so, and they could give permission to a promoter to pay approved travel expenses to a limited number of riders, should the promoter wish to do so. No pros could take part at AAA meetings, but were allowed to compete in joint AAA/NCU events. However, make no mistake that most top riders of the day made their own arrangements with promoters who wanted the riders’ appearance at meetings.
The top riders on the track from 1938, were D S and C W Horn; W W Maxfield; C B Helps; J Sibbett, to name just a few. Dennis and Cyril Horn, from the Fen Country, were farmers, but with the use of a Rover car attended many of the enormous number of track meetings and took their craft of bike riding very seriously, to very profitable advantage for the entire summer. Gerry Burgess (founder of GB brakes and accessories) and I (see image below), having won the tandem sprint title in 1939, were duly advised on procedure with expenses by a number of elite riders.
Winners of the National Tandem Sprint Title - 1939 - Herne Hill
Lew Pond (stoker, centre) and Gerry Burgess (captain, left)
Gerry Burgess wass founder of GB components.
Notice distinctive fencing on Herne Hill stand.
Reg Harris had started track racing during 1938/39 and I must admit to enjoying winning the final sprint in a “four up” race on a wet track at the Butts, Coventry, against Reg and W.W. Maxfield, who was the current British Champion.
It must be remembered that during the period just before the war and immediately after it, very large numbers of spectators attended good sports meetings and promoters could make good profits if they could get the right riders to compete. During the war, there were limited hard track meetings in Paddington, London, even during the Doodle Bug raids. Later, many annual sports meetings were held under the Government’s "Holidays at Home" programme. Travel by train was the norm at this time because of petrol rationing.
I understand that Reg Harris served in a tank regiment during the war and was, I believe, invalided out during 1944 after being injured in a tank. He started racing again as soon as he was able and it seems that he never had a normal job, but was initially with Claud Butler Cycles and was racing full time. Without doubt, Reg knew what he wanted and was never a team man. He refused to go as a team member when invited to any of the early post-war events for national teams.
I won the national five-mile championship in 1945 and Reg won the 1000-yards title, so were both included in a team, that also included Allen Bannister, to represent Great Britain in a race called “The Grande Prix of the Liberation”, which was to take place in Vincennes, in the east of Paris. We met at Victoria Station and travelled by train, ferry via Newhaven and Dieppe, and then again by train to the Gare du Nord. Reg was already in Paris and did not stay with the team, as I understand he was busy with a continental manager, fixing appearances at other meetings. On the Continent riders were amateurs in name only and received prize money in cash. If one was good enough, it was possible to make a good living, and Reg was certainly in that category. A year later he was World Champion.
At this time there was an acute food shortage and accommodation was difficult to find. We were in a hotel in the suburbs of Jean Joures, which was a considerable distance from the track. No food rations were available and we had to buy food on the Black Market.
The Grande Prix of the Liberation had entries from all over Europe, with heats of eight riders in each, then semi finals over two laps of the 800-metre track, followed by three, 3- up races for finalists.
The large number of riders in the heats was, I found, a bit of a problem, especially as some of the French riders combined in an effort to win. However, I was the only British rider to reach the final, which was run over three races with each rider receiving points for their positions in each. In the final I was beaten into second place by the French champion, Rivoal, with third place going to Gilleon of Luxemburg. There was a big crowd of at least 20,000, despite there being another meeting of professional riders taking place in another part of Paris. Prizes were awarded in cash, which came in useful!
Some two weeks later, a British team was entered to ride in an event at the Gidropbasen track in Copenhagen. The Gidropbasen was a concrete, outdoor track with steep banking and with cabin quarters and a medical centre in the middle. The team selected comprised Reg Harris, Tommy Godwin, Jerry Wates, Dave Rickets and Lewis Pond.
Harris did not travel with us as he had another engagement on the Continent. We flew from Blackpool Airport in a German Condor aircraft owned by Scandinavian Airways.
Racing had continued to take place on a regular basis during the occupation and the Danish Bicycle Club was very wealthy as a result of their betting Totaliser. There had been no food rationing in Denmark during the War and no bomb damage, apart from that which was inflicted towards the end by the RAF on a Gestapo-run prison. The abundance of food compared with France and Britain was unbelievable and did not help our team performance which ended in defeat on points by the Danes.
During the occupation of Europe, riders were transported from country to country, by Luftwaffe Transport Command, to ride at meetings, as part of the German plan to keep the population contented.
Our return flight to the UK was by Flying Fortress in which we sat on wooden seats facing each other across the fuselage, but after some two hours in the air we found ourselves back in Copenhagen, due to an aircraft fault. As I needed to get back to the UK urgently, to attend another engagement, I went to the British Embassy, who arranged a seat for me in an RAF Dakota, in which I finally landed at Croydon Airport.
On the 16th July 1946 I was back in Copenhagen at a meeting in which I had been invited to take part in a match race with the Danish champion, Alex Shandorf, and six other riders over seven laps. The first four laps were paced by two professional riders who kept the pace very fast, before dropping out with three laps remaining and leaving eight riders going flat out for the line. That was my kind of race and I was able to find an opening in the bunch on the last bend.
The officials were not happy about my tactics and said that I should have overtaken on the outside, but as my name had been announced as the winner resulting in the Tote paying the punters the result stood. They were content and I was happy! Not only were the prizes paid in cash, but a daily living allowance and other expenses were also provided.
In 1947/48, I was invited to captain a team to visit South Africa and Southern Rhodesia. The team members were, T Godwin; A Bannister; D Ricketts; Ian Scott; R Meadwell and myself.
The visiting GB track team enjoying a training session in Bulowayo
The tour lasted a month and having looked at old news reports, I find that six national records were broken, in addition to eight state records. We rode in meetings in Martyburg, Paul, Durban, Bulawayo and Kimberley. All the tracks were concrete banked circuits and were in very good condition. At that time Southern Rhodesia was the most prosperous African state but is now, of course, suffering very high inflation.
On our return to the UK the team for the 1948 Olympics was announced, comprising Reg Harris; Alan Bannister; Tommy Godwin; R A Geldon; G Love; Jerry Waters and myself.
For about a week before the Games the team was required to stay in Dulwich close to the Herne Hill track, in a property owned by the current editor of Bicycle Magazine and it was intended that final race team selections would be made during that week.
1948 Lew Pond wins at Herne Hill - Reg Harris (second from left) watches
Again, Reg Harris, who was Amateur Sprint Champion of the World, refused to stay with the rest of the team, partly because of the heat in London but also because he had his own training schedule. The officials told him that if he did not stay with the team he would not be allowed to race, but that was no help in changing his mind.
Bearing in mind that once he started racing after the War, he was determined to become World Champion and had no permanent job to enable him to support himself, Reg did what all continental riders did and made his living by racing and had nothing to do with official teams. Had he been left alone, but given support, there could have been a better contested sprint final. In the event Ghella, who was only eighteen but not to be underestimated, beat Reg and later that year became Amateur World Sprint Champion, whilst Reg Harris became Professional Sprint Champion. Without doubt Reg should have been left to concentrate on his sprints, but insisted on also competing in the tandem event and, by his own admission, was below par against Ghella.
The British pursuit team did well to come third in their event, although their time was much slower than that achieved in South Africa.
Gallery of Lew Pond racing at Herne Hill 1946/47
Winning London Centre Sprint Chapionship 27 July 1946
Winning London Centre 10-mile Championship 27 July 1946
Winning Final of 5-mile scratch race 3 May 1947 - Bannister on grass
Reg Harris (Manchester Wheelers) leads Lew Pond (Polytechnic CC) at Herne Hill
Lew Pond beats Reg Harris at Herne Hill, late 1940s
Another win for Lew Pond - all three using Major Taylor stems
Later that year I stopped racing due to a fire in a bakery that I owned, but I learned to fly.
Two medals held by Lew Pond
Left: 1939 National Tandem Champion
Right: Medal as a member of the GB Olympic Team 1948
To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the occasion that Bleriot had been the first to fly across the English Channel, an event was organised for July 1959 during a week long period when the weather was good. Competitors could use any means of transport to travel from Marble Arch in London to the Arc de Triumph in Paris in the shortest possible time.
One team was flown by helicopter to the Thames and then by boat across the Channel to France where they boarded a jet aircraft to an airfield outside Paris. From there they were taken on the back of motorcycles to the Arc de Triumph.
They were, however, beaten by an RAF team who completed the journey in less than an hour. I was asked to take part and, having accepted, I decided to do everything myself. So before the event I flew a spare bike to Mosselle airfield in France. I also arranged for a club member to have my flying suit, maps etc, waiting at Croydon Airport and for a light aircraft to be ready with the engine running.
I cycled from Marble Arch to Croydon and then boarded the aircraft, which was a small low winged monoplane, powered by a very small Volkswagen engine. The fuel system was by gravity feed and I was able to view the amount of fuel available by means of a small float, as I sat in the open cockpit. Using visual navigation, I crossed the Channel at the narrowest point and then direct to Mosselle. The airfield was about twenty miles from Paris and having cleared customs, I cycled as fast as I could and arrived at the finish in just over four and a half hours. Having been checked in at the Arc de Triumph, I returned to London, clearing customs at Lydd Airport.
That was the end of my racing career, but I then took up flying seriously, gaining my instructors licence and later becoming a professional pilot….but that’s another story.
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