Gene and Vince Alexander Reminisce

Gene and husband Vince - March 2016
Gene and husband Vince – March 2016

Gene Alexander joined Camberley Wheelers C.C. in 1935 when she was 19 years old. Her family were involved in cycling way back at the turn of the century when her grandfather ran a business in Bexleyheath, Kent making the early forms of bicycle.

Before her marriage Gene’s mother was an active member of the Catford C.C. and her enthusiasm for the sport was obviously handed down to Gene and her brothers.

Vince writes:

In the 1950’s CWCC’s printing was done by a Mr Appleton who used to have printing equipment in a lean-to attached to his house in Yateley. I used to enjoy chatting with him when I took our clubs requirements to him, He was ‘born and bred’ locally and he remembered an active cycling club that had affiliations and attachment to a Camberley church situated just off the High Street. He could not name the cycling club but he was sure that they were active in the early years of the 20th. Century

When I joined the club in 1945, I do remember that, like most clubs across the country, it was expanding its membership.. There was local competition for new members between the neighbouring Farnborough and Camberley clubs, and the pool of youth being built up within the Royal Aircraft Establishment at the time was a prime source (As an Apprentice I was one of these!). The RAE used to run an annual sports day through the 1950’s and cycle events were included on the grass track laid out on the sports field.. Thus there was competition between employees who were also members of both clubs and I think that this added to the rivalry that existed between the 2 clubs. From my recollection I know that I tended to be placed second in these events behind a ‘fast’ Farnborough C.C lad called ‘Spud’ Harris.

Cycle racing on Grass tracks was very popular through the late 1940’s and the 1950’s. Most events were combined with Annual Carnivals promoted by local towns.. The Camberley club had the task of covering all the arrangements for the cycling competition within Camberley’s carnival day. I remember having to measure out the ground available on Camberley’s recreational ground and I finally laid out a 440 yard track that had 2 different radii to utilise fully the available space. The cycle racing entries for Camberley’s events (and that for many of the local towns events) were restricted to the clubs within the Border Cycling Association. However grass track meetings closer to London (Windsor for instance) were open to all and there were racing cyclists at the time who specialised in this form of our sport. Thus there were products produced such as tubular tyres designed specifically to be used on grass.

Local towns that organised Grass track events in the 1950’s that I can remember were Camberley, Farnham, Alton, Basingstoke and Guildford. Guildford, incidentally, ran senior grass track events before the war and these attracted the countries major racing cyclists. My club at the time used to attend the Carnival town meetings but we treated them primarily as a ‘fun day out.’ Although we rode the cycling events, we also used to enter such events as the 3 legged running event and a ‘tilt the bucket’ event (then popular with the audience!) I particularly recall riding at a Farnham event one year when rain had made ‘their 6 lap to the mile’ track ‘very dodgy’. For the sake of those who had paid to view the event the clubmen decided to ‘give it a go.’ Inevitably riders ‘came down’ on the bends and it became a case of getting back up, checking your bike and getting on again. I particularly remember this event because, within a crash in a heat, a Farnborough C.C. competitor damaged his wheel. I ran across with my bike to lend him mine; tripped over a marking peg and broke my leg! While in the hospital I was joined by 2 other clubmen with injuries. One clubman had even damaged his leg while taking part in the 3 legged race!

Sadly, Gene and Vince are no longer with us, having passed away in 2018 and 2020, respectively.

Vince was a long-time member of the club having joined Camberley Wheelers CC in 1945 to join his wife Gene Alexander, who was already a 10 year member having joined in 1935. 

Gene’s time with the club as recalled by Club President, Dick Poole – “Gene was originally a member of the Camberley Wheelers (having joined in 1935 at the age of 19) which merged with the Farnborough CC to become the Farnborough & Camberley CC and has been a member for over 60 years. In the 1950’s she was a prolific rider in short distance road and track events and in 1951 with J.Budd broke the womens’ tandem 30 mile record in a time of 1.11.36, in 1955 as Gene Tiley she broke the womens 25 mile record in a time of 1.04.01. She was also a good track rider and at Reading track set a new hour record of over 22 miles, -considering that was done on a cinder track I don’t think there are many lady riders who could cover the same distance to-day in the same conditions.

Gene was always a staunch supporter of the club and would usually be present at Bentley issuing out the numbers at the club Open events until ill health prevented her getting out. Her birthday was in February close to the club’s AGM and I shall always remember the day the dates actually coincided and she still turned up!”