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Wally Happy – a life in cycling

Posted: Friday 21st August 2020

Author: Peter Underwood

Wally Happy was born in Chelsea on 31 October 1932. Aged 14 years he joined the SW London Section London Centre Private Members NCU & Sorian Road club where he was a member until 1951. When he was 19 years of age he became the Massed Start & Track Racing Secretary, a post he held until he left the club. In 1949 Wally rode first mass start race at Goodwood on his own, without a team to back him up. To compete, he cycled from London and spent the night at the Railway Hotel, Petworth. Just one year later Wally (aged 18!) promoted an open road race at Wembley Park trading Estate. He finished first in the Junior Event, Alan Shorter of Barnet CC was first in the Senior Event. What drove Wally on at this young age was that he was desperate to learn how to become a champion to avoid being sent to the Korean War when called up for National Service.

With this in mind, in 1951 he joined the Norwood Paragon CC regarded as the toughest all-male cycling club in South London (according to Bert Hardy in ‘My Life’). In this year he won the club’s Most Improved Track Rider trophy and at the end of the season he won the Norwood Paragon CC Hill Climb and the SW NCU Private Members Hill Climb both held on the same hill and on the same day. John Barclay, who later became Wally’s best man at his wedding, advised him to concentrate on track racing in an attempt to get into the National Pursuit Team.

In 1953 he cycled via Ostend and Ghent to Apeldoorn where he came 13th in a Criterium race, then on to Amsterdam where won many primes in the Oost Race. In this tear he also achieved his ambition to be member of the National Pursuit Championship team with Ron Stretton, Pete Smith and Mo Jefferies. Their team won the London Team Pursuit Championship and Wally also took the Tandem Paced Championship (see image of Wally at speed behind the tandem pacers) and Tm Road Race Championship. Wally was hoping that there could be the possibility of competing in the Olympics and/or the Empire Games to be held the following year.

Image of Wally at speed behind the tandem pacers
Image of Wally at speed behind the tandem pacers

However in 1954 RAF National Service called and on enlisting Wally realised that S/Ldr Sam Wooley in charge of the RAF Cycling team was a vice President of his Club! Wally was sent to compete in the Tour of Ireland with Les Ingman, Bryan Stocking and Ken Knapman by Frank Southall. He was given a Hercules team bike to ride in support of Shay Elliot of Ireland. He was standing at 11th on General Classification with one more day to go but had to retire due to being delayed by a freak storm.

In that year Wally also rode at the prestigious Good Friday track meet at Herne Hill, he competed in the Italian Pursuit Race ‘Home Riders v. Rest of the World against riders from Australia, Germany, Belgium, France, South Africa, Italy and Switzerland. The following year he rode mainly track and grass track but did place 10th in the RAF 25-mile Time Trial Championship with a ride of 1hr 0mins in a storm.

In 1956 he was in the National Team Pursuit winning team again, this time with Don Ward, Alan Large and Robin Buchan (Norwood Paragon CC team).

To prove he didn’t spend all his time riding his bike or thinking about riding his bike, in 1957 he married Pat Westlake, twin sister of Peter Westlake of the Sydenham Wheelers, his RAF Madison team partner Ronnie Beal’s Club. The Westlake twins had been in the same class at Bellingham School as George and Henry the Cooper twins of boxing fame.

At the Good Friday track meet at Herne Hill, 1957, Wally Rode in the winning team in the ‘Revenge Team Pursuit Race’ (Norwood Paragon v. Polytechnic) and also the Raleigh 5-mile Scratch Race.

In 1959 Wally signed up to join the Regular Army for 22 years and very soon he attacked the army 1-hour Tandem-Paced Record. He just failed to do this by 708 yards covering 31 miles 479 yards. He did however break an intermediate record passing through 25-miles in 47 minutesimage of certificate below). Later he broke the Army 25-mile Time Trial record with a time of 56m 25s. He was awarded his Army Cycling Union and his Corps Colours.

Later that year, on 12th August Wally again attacked the Tandem paced records and this time he was successful in both the 25-miles event (47 minutes 39.2 seconds) and the One-hour (31 miles 708 yards)

Thanks in part to these performances he was elected to captain the Army road and track racing teams for 1959 and 1960.

In 1960 he was selected to ride behind big pacing motors in East Berlin in an Olympic Team Match on March 23

In 1969 Wally became the British Army of the Rhine track sprint and pursuit Champion at Munchen Gladbach Track in Germany.

In 1971 and 1972 he became the Army Roller Sprint Champion (see image below of Wally on the rollers) as well as winning the 1500m Time Trial Championship. Also in the years 1970, ’71 and ’72 he rode in the Tour du Var race for veterans in Southern France.

Wally on the rollers
...and finally Wally behind a 'real man's' pacer at Alexandra Park, Portsmouth, early 1960's. He is riding a Granby pacing bike of vintage era which was built for strength rather than lightness. It had previously been owned by the late Wally Gimber of Dulwich Paragon. The pacing machine is a belt-drive Triumph 600 ridden by the late Jack Smith of Portsmouth North End CC. Wally donated the Granby to the British Pacing Association. It is still used in its white livery with green, black and gold tricolours on the seat tube, the colours of Norwoood Paragon.

In 1973 Wally was runner-up in the Army 12hr Time Trial Championship.  In the same year, now aged 40 years, he also won the 114-kms British Army of the Rhine road race championship on the Hohne-Belsen Ranges.

At last Wally had achieved his ambition to win a Road Race. He later learned,thanks to Dick Poole’s accurate record keeping that he (Dick) had finished 10th to me in the Junior Sorian RC Road Race he had promoted and won at Wembley in 1950.

It was back to the rollers in 1975 to become the Army Roller Champion at both 400m sprint and 1500m time-trial

A year later, a glutton for punishment Wally came third in the Army 12-hour Time Trial held on the roads at Ringwood in the New Forest: this was the year a fire burned down much of this area.

In 1976 Wally and Mike Wallis of the CTC set up Concorde (GB) Cycles, Wally’s mission was to tour Germany, where he was stationed, looking for orders to keep the frame builders working.

In 1978 Wally tried a new aspect of the sport entering the 800Kms Randonee Paris – Harrogate.For once he didn’t succeed as he was forced to retire.

On 8th August, 1980 Staff Sergeant Happy (Wally) was awarded his  ‘Station Colours for Cycling’ by the Dusseldorf Station Sports Committee – Royal Army Dental Corp

Wally retired from the armed forces in 1981 and he exported (from the UK) and erected three Colt prefabricated buildings on his own land in Normandy, France. He created a business letting these out to cyclists wishing to holiday in the area.

He is still involved in cycling being an active member of the Veteran-CC, attending many events with his stall of cycling goodies and organising an annual event for classic lightweights.  Wally is still a member of VC Londres and is campaigning to keep Herne Hill Track in use and for cyclists of all persuasions.

For more on Wally’s life visit the RADC Association home page article.

Thanks for reading

Posted: Friday 21st August 2020

Author: Peter Underwood

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