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When the entrants for the London - Isle of Man Race assembled at Hatfield for the 1939 event the absence of Continental competitors was conspicuous, due no doubt to the increasingly tense international situation. There had been one Messerschmitt 108 entered by General Lieutenant Wenninger who was anxious to support the races again. The machine was to have been flown by two of his London staff but the entry was withdrawn when permission from Reichsmarshall Goering had not been obtained. Geoffrey de Havilland was back with the T.K.2 as was Alex Henshaw in his Mew Gull. He was joined by its designer, Captain E. W. Percival, in another Mew Gull while this time Tommy Rose was trying his luck in a Miles Hawk. Regulations for the race were altered so that there was no need for a compulsory stop at Speke and the course was altered whereby Blackpool became a turning point from where competitors could fly direct to a point in the north of Douglas Bay and thence to Ronaldsway. The total distance was now 256 miles of non-stop flying. The 64 mile sea crossing from Blackpool was patrolled by Douglas Lifeboat and naval vessels.

The race was blessed by fine weather though strong winds kept speeds down. The B.B.C. broadcast commentaries from both Blackpool and Ronaldsway and listeners heard of the thrilling finish as Geoffrey de Havilland flashed over the line hotly pursued by a rapidly gaining Alex Henshaw finishing just seconds behind. The T.K.2 had taken 1 hour and 31 minutes to complete the distance averaging 165 m.p.h. Alex Henshaw's faster Mew Gull had taken 20 minutes less and averaged 215 m.p.h. Last to start was Captain Percival and he was under a minute behind in third place averaging 218 m.p.h. in his own Mew Gull. The slower machines were well and truly outpaced this time. By far the oldest competitor in the race was Lord Londonderry, aged 61. He completed the course flying a DH 87B Hornet.

The entry for the Air Derby was reduced to nine when Alex Henshaw withdrew the Mew Gull after deciding to accompany his father, Albert Henshaw, who had flown his Vega Gull to the Island to take part in this event. The combination of father and son did the trick and the name Henshaw appeared on the magnificent trophy for the first time. The handicapping had been excellent with the first three finishing within the space of 46 seconds. The final results were as follows:

  • 1st Albert Henshaw (Vega Gull) 58m. Os. (167,5 m.p.h.)
  • 2nd Tommy Rose (Miles Hawk) 52m. 25. (183.75 m.p.h.)
  • 3rd F. W. Percival (Mew Gull) 41m. 2s. (237 m.p.h.)
  • 4th T. W Brookes-Smith (Miles Falcon) 60m. 105. (161.5 m.p.h.)
  • 5th G. R. de Havilland (T.K.2) 52m. 42s. (184.5 m.p.h.)
  • 6th J. Rush (Miles Sparrowhawk) 68m. 6s. (168 m.p.h.)

While unable to compete in the event the Messerschmitt 108 of General Wenninger joined the crowd at Ronaldsway and the Air Attaché flew round the course to demonstrate his support for the race.

The Tynwald Air Race again provided plenty of thrills with seven machines taking part, all with engines under 120 h.p. The race was won by Squadron Leader Edwards, who was accompanied by his wife, after his Avian had succeeded in overtaking the Chilton of R. A. Porteous. Third was Squadron Leader Mole followed by E. R. Ward, both in Tipsy machines.

On that sunny 1939 Whit Monday afternoon. as a young schoolboy fascinated by the racers skimming across Douglas Bay, the writer little realised that many of those famous pilots would soon be applying their skills to much more serious affairs. Alex Henshaw, that same year, was appointed as test pilot with Vickers Armstrong and he became responsible for the testing of all Spitfires produced by the great Castle Bromwich factory in Birmingham. Geoffrey de Havilland became chief test pilot for the development of the Mosquito which was the result of the vast experience gained in the last years of peace.

Excerpts from

Manx Aviation in War and Peace published by kind permission of: The Manx Experience