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Ronald James 'Squibs' Tily: Cycling Days 1935 - 1947

Posted: Friday 21st August 2020

Author: Shelia Clark

Dad was born in Peckham in 1916 during the First World War. He was one of the survivors of the Spanish Flu epidemic, contracting it when he was only a toddler.  He died at the age of 91 in 2007, which I believe is a testament to how fit he was as a young man through his cycling.

I can only write from looking at his collection of memorabilia and the snippets I picked up in later years when he used to chat to me. He never really talked about his younger days until he got older and I think when his memories of those days became clearer. Part of the aging process I believe.

He joined Sidcup Touring Club in 1935 and took part in many races and cycling tours. I think one of his favourite places to go was to Kent and he never forgot the beauty of the Kent countryside. I must admit I was amazed to see how far they would cycle on a Saturday afternoon or Sunday, as these were the only times he had off work. He was an electrician in the Brixton area and used to carry all his tools and cycle around to his various jobs.

One of his first races was in the Catford Cycling Club 25-Mile Novice Race in 1935.  From the programme you will see he was competitor number 28, R J Tily, and finished in a time of 1h 15m 31s, just outside ‘evens’ – 20mph which was a reasonable target in those days.

Sidcup Touring Club seems to have been a great way of socialising. Not only did they have many cycling tours throughout the year but also social events such as Christmas Dinners, Christmas Plays and Fancy Dress Cycle Days (see attached photos – Dad was Shirley Temple on the left).  Dad kept the full script of the 1936 Christmas play.  It was in the club that he gained the nickname ‘Squibs’. I have no idea why!

As well as tours in England and Wales Dad went on several tours abroad to Switzerland and Germany in 1937 and 1939.  See the conditions they encountered in the two images below.  In spite of the snow they were wearing shorts in the Alpine sun.

As they left Switzerland they were thouroughly searched by border guards at the German border, as can be seen above.

They were in Germany in the summer of 1939 just before declaration of war and thought they were going to have their bikes impounded at the border.  In fact the bikes were dismantled to look inside the frames. I suppose to see if they were carrying any secret documents. They were glad to get home that time!

Unfortunately, as for many people, war intervened and this idyllic life was curtailed.  Dad enlisted into the Royal Air Force when war broke out and was stationed all over Britain and cycled whenever he could, still returning to Sidcup Touring Club up until 1940. He was posted to Rhodesia in 1942 to train as a pilot. However, he did not pass his flying exams (I suppose as we now know that was lucky). He became an aircraft technician.  His love of cycling was still with him and he became one of the active members of the cycling club at RAF Cranborne, Rhodesia.

From 1942 until 1945 I understand he was one of the three members (all in the RAF) who originally set up The Bundu Cycling Club.  He was very active within the clubs entering the Bulawayo Harriers Annual Sports Meetings, the Cranborne Inter-Squadron Sports and the Rhodesia Athletic Championships. Also, they would go for a ‘run’ of 60-100 miles most Sundays and, when leave would allow, they would cycle further afield into the ‘Highlands of Rhodesia’, a mountainous area.  The Bundu Cycling Club took part in Rhodesia’s First 50-mile Massed Start Event which was held in 1945.  The same as in England, there was also a social side to the cycling eg dances, dinners etc.

In September 1945 Dad returned to England but he couldn’t go back to the family home in Catford, London, as their house had been completely destroyed during the war. Luckily his family survived. That was only because they were in their air raid shelter at the bottom of the garden. They were moved out to a house in Leatherhead in Surrey.

In Surrey in 1945/46 Dad joined the East Surrey District Association Cyclists’ Touring Club and met my Mum Betty. They eventually had a tandem cycle custom built for them and spent many happy hours cycling around Surrey and further afield.

Again there seems to have been an active social side within the club. Mum and Dad were married in June 1947 but family and working life meant that there was little spare time for long cycle rides. However, I do remember when my sister and I were small the whole family would go out into the country, my Mum and sister on their bikes and I would be in a child’s carrier on the back of Dad’s bike.  They both instilled a love of the countryside in us.

Reminiscences shared by Sheila Clark, Ron’s daughter.

Thanks for reading

Posted: Friday 21st August 2020

Author: Shelia Clark

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