South West London DA: Sou' Wester Archive
Profile of Les Johnston

Profile: Les Johnston - (Mar/Apr 2006)

I was born in 1930 at Kings College Hospital, Camberwell and spent my childhood in East Dulwich, South East London. My parents had both been cyclists and my first memories of cycling were in Dulwich Park with my mother.

With the advent of WW2 I was evacuated privately to stay with a great-aunt who lived in a part of Wanlock House next to the Youth Hostel at Wanlockhead in Dumfriesshire. I remember the warden of that time, Mrs Young, a strict single mum with a daughter who was in the same class as I was.

During the early 40's there were severe winters, I made a sledge. It had half-inch square steel runners made by the local blacksmith and was very fast so I became proficient at sledging. The only bike I had access to at that time had belonged to my cousin. It was too big for me and I had to ride with one leg through the frame. Food was rationed but we were quite well off for meat with a good supply of rabbits provided by the gamekeeper.

At the end of WW2 it was back to East Dulwich. I attended the South East London Technical College. I bought a second-hand bike, an Excel, made by Dan Genner who was based in Colliers Wood. I was a member of the South East London Group of the YHA in the late 40's. We used to meet on Sunday mornings at Camberwell Green for a club ride and for weekend hostel trips which were a regular feature. Circa 1949 a few of us wanted to try racing so we joined the Dulwich Paragon CC I rode time trials up to 50 miles on the road and for one season I rode on Herne Hill Track.

My National Service was deferred until I finished an apprenticeship. In 1951 I joined the RAF for four years. RAF trade training was at Melksham in Wiltshire from where I was able to cycle home at weekends. I was then posted to RAF St Eval, Cornwall where I did the rest of my RAF service as an Aircraft Electrical Fitter.

Our entitlement to rail warrants made tours of the British Isles a possibility. One year I went to Fishguard, took a ferry to Rosslare and cycled around Southern Ireland, staying at An Oige Hostels. Another year I got a warrant to Glasgow from where I toured to Glen Nevis (a beautiful day to climb Ben Nevis) and on to the Isle of Skye where, due to mist, I didn't see a thing. After the RAF, before finding a job, I spent seven weeks cycling in Europe, staying in Youth Hostels.

I got a job with the Ministry of Defence and stayed with them for 37½ years. I worked at Chessington for 30½ of those years preparing technical publications for the three services. That job went to Glasgow so I got a job, again in publications, at High Holborn in London. I cycled to work for most of those years.

I am married to Barbara and we have a son and a daughter. We moved to Worcester Park in 1971. Our grandson, Lyndon has been out with me on Section rides with the Beginners and Midweek Wayfarers. I have four bikes at present - an A.S. Gillott which I bought as a made to measure machine in 1951, a Pearson based on a frame bought new in 1993, an all-terrain Dawes which was rescued from a skip and a shopping bike. I have done a taster session on the Manchester Velodrome. Other activities include travelling abroad, caravanning, swimming, windsurfing, water skiing, attending lectures at the Royal Geographic Society and the theatre.

Thanks to Les from David Aylett:

"The Beginners Section has always been grateful for help received from experienced riders. The Profile above tells just how experienced a rider is Les Johnston.
"Les is also one of our most regular helpers. He turns out almost every Saturday to lead a ride for up to twenty 'graduates' from the Beginners, together with others who want to go on a faster and longer afternoon ride. Thank you Les, from me and from all the riders in this group who enjoy your leadership and commitment."

Picture of Les Johnston