Trials and tribulations — Harold Avery

David E Langford continues his series on Oxfordshire motorsport heroes who have inspired his work

Harold Mark Avery, an Oxford resident in his latter years, began his working life as a motor engineer apprenticed to G H Norton and Co, of Stroud, at one shilling a week.

Eventually starting his own business in Cheltenham, and then in Oxford, he was a keen politician and councillor in both towns before becoming Sheriff of Oxford in 1950, after turning down the position of Lord Mayor. He was an associate member of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers - there were only two in Oxford at the time, the other being Mr Norman Jones, the managing director of City Motors.

It was while serving in the army during the First World War that Harold was mentioned in dispatches from General Sir Douglas Haig, dated November 13, 1916, for "gallant and distinguished services in the field". The certificate goes on to say: "I have it in command from the King to record His Majesty's high appreciation of the services rendered'. It is signed Winston S Churchill, Secretary of State for War.

Such courage in combat signifies a courageous spirit in peacetime and, with Harold Avery, this quality was manifest in his ability as a motorsport competitor at Le Mans in 1934. Also competing in car trials, he won the British Experts Trial in 1933 driving a Singer Le Mans, as part of the Red White and Blue team. My illustration for this article was inspired by Harold's winning streak in the Singer, a popular sports car of the day.

As his business grew, Harold Avery began to employ staff at his Cheltenham garage and among them was Bob Foster, who became a legend in his own right by winning the Isle of Man lightweight TT in 1936 on a 250-unit construction New Imperial, along with the first post war junior TT on a Velocette, the machine which took him to the 350 World Championship in 1950.

As a member of the Velocette team, Bob was a co-rider with Cecil Sandford, another future world champion who was featured in this series last year. Harold Avery's car trial exploits saw him and his wife winning the London to Gloucester trial on December 7 and 8, 1934, which was described in Popular Motoring January, 1935.

"Provisionally, we hear, H. M. Avery deservedly won the best performance trophy. It was a gruelling trial for him as he must have been afraid of losing his chance of obtaining a Gloucester Goblet."

At the International Alpine Trial in 1934, Mr Avery took part in what was to be a piece of motoring history for all the wrong reasons. When the trial ended in Munich, there was a banquet held for the competitors, presided over by the then Chancellor of Germany, Adolph Hitler.

Each competitor was presented with a personally signed photograph of the Fuhrer along with an award (pictured above), which Harold's son, John Avery, still has to this day.

John told me that after Dunkirk, his mother destroyed the signed photograph of Hitler, which at the time was probably an understandable gesture, but with hindsight it could have been a valuable collector's item.

However, the award remains, and my photograph of it is reproduced here with John's kind permission.

John Avery went on to become one of Oxford's best-known motorcycle heroes and his own story will be told in next month's issue. Meanwhile he continues his father's story in a book which features John as one of the heroes of motorcycle sport in Gloucestershire.

The book is entitled First Rich Mixture - a memory of motorcycle sport in the county, written by Bob Light and featuring the photography of Bill Cole.

Under the headline The Oxford Flyer, John tells of his father's beginnings in Cheltenham when his motor engineering business was requisitioned at the start of the Second World War for the purpose of making maps.

Harold Avery initially volunteered for the British Legion and was due to go to Czechoslovakia to keep the peace, but when Germany invaded Poland, the British Legion was not called upon, which was just as well as he would have been a prisoner of war for five years. However, he volunteered for the Army and was commissioned Captain in the Royal Army Service Corps as an Impressment Officer, requisitioning vehicles for the war effort. Invalided out of the army, he eventually took over The Lambert Arms in Aston Rowant, a coaching inn at the foot of the Chiltern hills on the A40. John explained that his father later purchased a garage in Headington, selling cars and motorcycles.

They were agents for Lea-Francis, BSA and James. John had left school by that time and began working for his father at the garage, developing his own skills as an engineer and businessman to continue the family tradition.


For commissions and information on D E Langford's work, call 01865 434359. First Rich Mixture was first published in 2000 by Ariel Publishing at The Swan, St Harmon, Powys LD6 5NG
For details of D.E. Langford's work or call 01865 434359.
February 208 Oxfordshire Limited Edition