Norwich speedway legend Len ‘The Mighty Atom’ Read dies at 102

Len Read was a big-hearted rider who thrilled the fans at several speedway clubs, including the Star

Len Read was a big-hearted rider who thrilled the fans at several speedway clubs, including the Stars in his native Norwich. Picture: Mike Kemp Collection - Credit: Archant

A former speedway star who achieved legend status in Norwich has died

The Norwich Stars in 1946 with Len Read on the left at the front. Picture: Mike Kemp Collection

The Norwich Stars in 1946 with Len Read on the left at the front. Picture: Mike Kemp Collection - Credit: Archant

Len Read, known as 'The Mighty Atom' and 'The Pocket Rocket' during his racing career, was a prisoner in the Far East during the Second World War and went on to ride in Norwich, Plymouth and Liverpool in the years after.

Mr Read's son, Len Jr, who lives in Perth, Australia, confirmed that his father had died on Thursday, February 20, after a brief spell in hospital.

He was 102 years old, but "was aiming for 105", according to Len Jr.

Born in a house on Barrack Street, Norwich, in 1918, his speedway career began when Norwich Stars manager Dick Wise gave him a chance to ride after doing odd jobs around the now defunct team's The Firs Stadium in Hellesdon.

Len Read - the 'Mighty Atom' - in his speedway racing days. Picture: Mike Kemp Collection

Len Read - the 'Mighty Atom' - in his speedway racing days. Picture: Mike Kemp Collection - Credit: Archant


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An injury from a crash saw his 1946 season end prematurely, before he signed for Plymouth Devils. In the south west, he soon became a favourite after scoring a total of 989 points in his first three seasons.

Mr Read later moved to the north west to ride for Liverpool Chads before returning to finish his speedway career with Plymouth.

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All this came after a gruelling experience as a prisoner of war during the Second World War.

He joined the Norfolk Regiment after the conflict broke out - shortly after marrying his beloved wife Doris in 1939 - and later ended up being ordered to surrender to Japanese troops in Singapore.

Len Read with other speedway riders meeting up in Norfolk a few years ago. Picture: Mike Kemp Collec

Len Read with other speedway riders meeting up in Norfolk a few years ago. Picture: Mike Kemp Collection - Credit: Archant

He was among hundreds who were forced to work 12 hours per day building the so-called Death Railway through the jungle, surviving cholera and malaria as well as the "medieval discipline" of their captors.

Mr Read said of his experiences in 2017: "It was tough. Discipline was medieval. It is difficult to explain to others what it was like. The Japanese were cruel.

It was heartbreaking. We lost so many. It was terrible but for some reason I thought I would survive and I did. So many others didn't and I still think about them - especially at night."

Later in life, he ran The Red Lion in Magdalen Street before setting up his own driving school.

Len Read's house in Barrack Street, Norwich, in the 1920s. Picture: Mike Kemp Collection

Len Read's house in Barrack Street, Norwich, in the 1920s. Picture: Mike Kemp Collection - Credit: Archant

Mr Read lost his wife Doris, but is survived by his son Len Jr and daughters Jenny and Penny. He was also a grandfather and great-grandfather.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been made.

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