One evening in 1938 when I was seven and lived in Fen Street Canning Town, my Uncle Ted stuck his head round the door and called "Ron! I will take you some where I'm sure you will like. Well! after two hours of great excitement he guided me to the rider's dressing room door just as the riders were going in for their bath, they were still covered in the silver sand from the track. Then suddenly Uncle Ted pushed me in front of one of them [who I learned later was Arthur Atkinson] and as he pushed he said to the rider "Ron would like to have your racing goggles" Without hesitation Arthur took them from his helmet and said to me "When are you coming to ride then" I was speechless. I carried the goggles home very carefully, making sure I did not rub the sand from them. After boring my Mum and Dad with all the details of the evening I took my goggles to bed, lying them carefully under my pillow, I rode around the track in my dreams all that night.
During the war [that sounds like Uncle from Del Boy] after a night's air raid I would skip school and climb the fence into the stadium car park to search for shrapnel in the car park and on the track. this was because there would be much more competition on the school route. The importance of this was because you could find, for instance, a complete fin of an incendiary bomb or a cone head of an exploded anti-
One Saturday afternoon, together with three cousins, I found a whole complete unexploded incendiary, these were small enough to handle even for me, so in my joy and excitement I lovingly carried it back to my home where Mum, Gran and Aunties were having tea and I placed it upon the table between the biscuits and cups and saucers. Suddenly there were screams and pandemonium some ran out of the room, others including my Mum insisted that I took it back to where I found it. Being an obedient child I did just that though reluctantly, laying it back on the track somewhere opposite the starting grid. On the way back home, though disappointed, I mused on the point that my family were not too worried about the likely hood of it exploding on my way back over the fence and into the arena. Well! We were at War.
In spite of the continuation of the war the car park gates of the Stadium still greeted me every morning, from my Gran's bedroom window and I just ached for the return of full time league speedway. I was now at the grand old age of 13 years, my family had split up which found me in the kind and gentle care of my Gran and Grandad, so gentle that for the last six months I had not walked through those hallowed portals of Tollgate School at the bottom of Bennett Road. Indeed at 14 years when I went back for my Testimonial, to enable me to work at Moreland & Hayne Engineering Co. West Silvertown, then adjacent to Lyles Park. Even my old Head Master [Mr. McKinnon] did not recognise me. But never the less I got a glowing report, on the back of which I got my job and was soon doing piece work on turning steel on a capstan lathe.
But I digress.
Several weeks before D DAY a Mechanised British Army Unit, with tanks and other vehicles invaded my Stadium and filled it up with troops, tents and of course the tanks. D DAY passed but they were still there, but something strange happened. We kids were always talking to the guards who patrolled the corrugated fencing; they had primed rifles and fixed bayonets, which of course was really very interesting for us. But on the junction of Coleman and Beckton Road a section of the fencing had been damaged by a Bulldozer, over which the soldiers inside could see us.
It was a beautiful summer evenings when one black bereted soldier appeared and called to me "Come here son, tell me if the guards are around”. I said "No but I will go and find one for you”, to which he swore at me. "Tell some of your mates to keep the guards talking round the corner then go over the road to your flats and tell your mums and dads to open their front and back doors" Which I must say I found quite fun. Then before you could say "Bobs yer Uncle" twenty to thirty of the soldiers climbed over the fence crossed the road and ran through the flats and out their back doors, setting off umpteen dogs barking and howling and even some women screaming.
Then for a while it was all quite until the guards came rushing round from Coleman Road to stem the flow but the advanced party were long gone. I fancied that the guards eyed all us would be Just Williams with great suspicions over the next few days, but as it turned out, within of a few hours these men were all rounded up and charged with desertion, for they knew that they were soon to be shipped out to reinforce the early D Day casualties. Very sad really, but in the whole of the south of England just like the Hammers Stadium at that time it was just one big Army, Navy and Air force barracks with no mail or leave for anyone, so these few soldiers must have stood out like a sore thumb.
Just a few mornings later I was dreaming of speedway bikes tuning up, but woke to the throaty roar of tank engines starting up. I jumped to the window just as the big car park gates opened and out swung a long line of Churchill Tanks, some with their commanders sitting on the turrets, as the tracks of these great monsters ground into the road tarmac on the turn into Beckton Road, I rushed to the front room and opened the window and waved like hell!