Memories of speedway rider who was desperate not to be forgotten
PUBLISHED: 07:58 24 August 2020 | UPDATED: 08:31 24 August 2020
Mike Kemp Collection
He said 70 years ago he did not want to be a forgotten speedway rider. He is not. Derek James pays tribute to the late Johnny Davies.
Once a year elderly gentlemen, from across the country and abroad, gather in Norfolk to meet up and remember when they were Stars, Norwich Stars. True local heroes.
They are mostly small, softly spoken, modest chaps who were once cheered and applauded by huge crowds, men, women and children from far and wide.
They were the brave speedway riders. They rode like the wind and often received terrible injuries. Our own Malcolm Flood lost his life
Some were better known than others but they were all brought together by a passion for speed and excitement at a time when their sport was huge and the fabulous Firs Stadium was packed to the rafters,
The speedway riders and their followers were all brought together by a love of this exciting and dangerous sport and they had a special soft spot for Norwich and Norfolk and the fans.
One of the most popular characters at the annual gathering of the Veteran Speedway Riders Association at Bawburgh Golf Club organised by Pam Hedge, wife of top rider Trevor “The Hedgehopper” Hedge, was Johnny Davies who lived quite a life.
Mr Davies has recently died at the age of 95. The lad who fibbed about his age so he could serve his country in the Second World War and later received the highest French order for military merit the country has.
Sadly he only rode for Norwich for a few years before a serious injury finished his career on the track.
He wrote: “I was on the top of the world in those days, for the fruits of my experience were beginning to show dividends.
“Then I received the injury which not only put me out for the rest of the season but may even yet spell finish to me as a rider. How strange it all seems.
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“Just when you think you have been through all the hardships something comes along and you are laid low for many months.
“It is even more serious to me, for when I was hurt it was thought that I had either displaced or broken my shoulder, but when this cleared up I found that I had lost the use of my left arm from the shoulder down to my hand,” said Johnny.
He went on to say how much he loved riding for Norwich in the late 1940s and early 1950s. “I liked the track, the management and the supporters. I do not want to become one of speedway’s forgotten riders.”
His daughter Pauleen told me about the other side to her dad’s long and eventful life.
John Gwynne Davies was born in East London during 1925. His Welsh parents kept a dairy in Stratford.
He grew up loving motorcycles and he fibbed about his age to join the Army at the start of the Second World War. He was a member of the Sixth Airborne Division and a dispatch rider. He was one of the first men to parachute into France the night before D-Day.
Can you imagine anyone catching this young soldier on a motorcycle as he made sure important messages got through!
A few years ago he was honoured by the French people by being awarded the Legion d’ Honneur. A fitting award for a brave young man at the beating heart of the action on D=Day and the following days across France.
After his speedway career in Norwich was cut short Johnny went on to have five children, four girls and a boy. He ran cafes and shops in London before the family moved to Wales. “He was very proud of his London/Welsh heritage,” said Pauleen.
Mr Davies certainly moved with the times and went on to be a computer operator at the University of Wales in Aberystwyth which he loved and when he “retired” he worked part-time at a garage .
A highlight of his year was to head back to Norfolk to meet his old speedway friends. The Stars reunited.
Mr Davies was a proud father, grandfather and great grandfather. He spent his final days in a care home.
Remember Johnny Davies.
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