The North Cotswold Cycling Club
THE PARTING OF THE WAYS
With ominous rumblings emanating from Europe the North Cotswold began its 1939 season with a schedule of rides covering the spring and summer months. The misfortune of what followed was that the club was prospering better than ever, and continuing to attract new members. In March 1939 there is evidence of a new self-confidence when an Open 25 Mile Time-trial was run under the North Cotswold banner. Nearly eighty riders, hailing from eighteen Midland clubs, participated in the event, best placed for the North Cotswold being Phil Grimmitt in 21st position.
Two of the rising stars of the club were in action in June of that year. On 11th June Theo Parsons beat his rival Phil Grimmitt by twenty seconds to win a Club ‘10’, just a week after having won a Club ‘25’. He bested Phil again by a margin of just over a minute in a further ‘25’ in July. At the end of July, however, Phil came home six minutes ahead of the second man in a ‘50’, in a time of 2hrs 18mins 48secs.
It was clear that, in Theo and Phil, the club had two excellent young riders with further potential. Sadly, their opportunity to shine was cut short by events. On 3rd September 1939 people gathered around their wireless sets to listen to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain make his now famous address to the Nation, declaring war on Germany for its invasion of Poland. The World was on the brink of change.
By September the racing season had all but ended for the year. During the remaining months of 1939, and into the early part of 1940 - the period known as ‘the phoney war’ – members of the club began to enlist in the forces. Club activities were put on hold, ostensibly for the duration, though, as it transpired, indefinitely.
For some, their entry into the War proved a baptism of fire. The youngest of the Parsons brothers, John, was sent abroad in the first wave as part of the British Expeditionary Force. Having celebrated his twenty-first birthday in France, just a month later he suffered the full horrors of the Dunkirk evacuation. Enlisting in the Royal Engineers in May 1940, his elder brother Norman was, by the autumn of that year, working in London on bomb disposal. After joining the Territorial Army in May 1939, Theo Parsons became a member of the Royal Artillery, whilst Phil Grimmitt, for his part, signed up for the Gloucester Infantry. Bill Tustin, because he only had one eye, joined the Medical Corps. Reg Steptoe joined the Royal Armoured Corp. 2nd Royal Hussars, a tank regiment, with his Post Office buddy, John Woodger. Sadly, John was killed during the North African campaign in November 1941, aged 25. Club co-founder Cyril ‘Butch’ Invine, an Aircraftman 1st Class in the RAF, also died in tragic circumstances in 1943.
By 1940 that nucleus of members who had started the club in the autumn of 1932, and had subsequently driven it forward, were mostly absent from the Vale. And, unlike the more established cycling clubs, such as the Cheltenham & County, there was no senior generation of riders to keep things ticking over during the war years. Whilst most of the club members survived the war, by the time general demobilization arrived in 1945/6 their priorities had changed. Some had married, or were about to make the pledge. Many did not return to their family homes in the Vale, but started new lives elsewhere.
It is not exactly clear what happened to the club after the War. There may have been discussions among those who returned to the Vale about reviving interest in it. If so, these apparently came to nothing, and the club finally folded. But this was not the end of club cycling in the Vale. In 1947 a brand new club - The Evesham and District Wheelers - was formed; one or two of its founders being ‘refugees’ from the NCCC. This new venture filled the post-war void for club cycling in the Vale. And it remains to this day a thriving outfit, hinting at what the North Cotswold might have become had it not been for the untimely interruption of a world war.
After nearly seventy years, few of those who rode with the North Cotswold are still with us. Those carefree, innocent days of the 1930’s, when young folk took pleasure in simple, harmless pursuits, now seem a world away. But cycling itself remains the pleasant, healthy and affordable pastime it has always been. In the Vale of Evesham, club riders of all ages, from children to veterans, still head out each weekend into the open countryside with the same shared sense of fellowship as those who have gone before.
For the likes of Steppy, Shirt, Par, Winnie, Butch, Shunner, The Colonel, and the other members of the North Cotswold Cycling Club, that time has now passed. But in those golden days nearly three quarters of a century ago, when England’s somewhat temperamental climate chose to smile upon them, there was absolutely nothing to beat a club run, as the Club Secretary would sometimes lyrically record:
The Club set off in excellent weather up the Fish Hill. Along ‘the top’ old Sol, shining out of an almost cloudless sky, helped to make the Cotswolds appear more beautiful than ever. Down through Bourton, snuggling against its hill, to Moreton-in-the-Marsh, turning right we proceeded through the lanes to Evelode where we joined mine host and the locals at darts. It was here that the usual late comers caught us up. Their excuse? ‘furniture removing’. We met with the Cheltenham boys, and after lunch Cheltenham’s worthy leader showed us what Lane riding really was…
31st January 1937
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