The Lokeren Disaster of 1970
The 14th of July 1970 has gone down in history as one of the sport's darkest days. On that fateful Tuesday the sport was shocked by the news that a party of riders and mechanics touring Belgium had been involved in a fatal road accident. The minibus they were travelling in was involved in a horrific crash that saw it hit two lorries, a petrol tanker and a house.
The accident claimed the lives of riders Peter Bradshaw, Martyn Piddock, Gary Everett and Malcolm Carmichael. Team manager Phil Bishop and driver Henrikus Rommoes were also killed.
Those 'lucky' enough to only suffer injuries were riders Colin Pratt, Stan Stevens, Garry Hay and mechanic Roy Sullivan. Pratt suffered a broken neck and severe internal injuries that ended his riding career. It was later discovered that the minibus had not been insured against an accident and it took three years, and a lengthy court battle, before those involved received compensation for their suffering.
The majority of those involved were associated with West Ham and as such their loss was most greatly felt at Custom House. The manager's notes in the programme for their next meeting, a league match against Wolverhampton the following Tuesday, made for emotional reading. We reproduce the notes here.
Harry Ward was just a teenager at the time of the tragedy but he retains vivid memories of those dark days. Read his recollections here.
Robert J. Rogers was another West Ham fan who remembers the cruel events of July 1970. Read Robert's article here.
On September 20th 1970 a memorial meeting was staged at West Ham for those who lost their lives in the accident. Ivan Mauger won the inaugural Lokeren Memorial Trophy with a 15 point maximum. The programme for the meeting included a tribute to 'those who failed to return from Lokeren'. This excellent article was written by Paul Parish the editor of Speedway Star magazine. Read the article here.
Special thanks to Robert J. Rogers for all his help in producing this feature.
This article was first published on 9th July 2005
Scott White on our features:
"Gosh what a horrible sight to see that photo of the camper van in which people died, it is good that you put this article up in the people's memory, not sure about the picture though to be honest. Love the site, every week something new and of interest, really is superb, keep up the good work."
"This is the first time I have seen this article on the accident that killed Martyn Piddock. Me and my wife have always been fans of speedway with the Ipswich Witches being our home team. We were shocked at the time of the accident as we liked the riding of Martyn Piddock and when our first son was born on the 6 Oct 1970 we named him Martyn."
"I remember first hearing this news on the radio as I was getting ready for school. I was 15 at the time and totally shocked by it. As the tribute booklet says - "Departed but not forgotten....long live their memories"
"Those old enough to remember never forgot that horid day, even now some 35 years on it brings back sad memories.
Although I have not been a keen speedway fan now for 20 years, back in the 60's & 70's I was at speedway meetings 5 times a week. West Ham Tuesday, Crayford Wednesday, Wimbledon Thursday, Hackney Friday, Rayleigh Saturday.
I was at Hackney the Friday before the accident, where they were playing West Ham in some kind of cup match. Standing at the pits gate that evening watching the boys in such fine form, they had no idea of the fate that awaited them three days later.
I too remember seeing the London Evening news headines that Tuesday afternoon, in fact I still have a copy of the newspaper.
Going through some old audio tapes of mine the other day, I found a tape that I had recorded of the West Ham v Swindon match. Although it's only my voice giving a rather poor commentry, you can hear Ted Sear make the announcements and of course hear the roar of the bikes being ridden by the riders including Peter and Martyn.
Roy Sullivan later worked with my wife in Hoddesdon for a few years during the 70's and I met him on a few occassions but never mentioned the accident. I can tell you he certainly had made a complete recovery."
"Before emigrating to Canada 2 years ago one of my drinking pals at my local pub was the late Phil Bishop's son, Phil Bishop. Initially I didn't realise who he was, but in conversation we eventually got onto the subject of Lokeren, and how sad that this terrible tragedy happened. "It was fate, just a terribly sad end to several speedway personalities lives, Terry Betts was going, pulled out at the last minute, can't remember who took his place".
Even now after all these years, Phil is very sad around the circumstances of his father's death and struggle's to even talk about it. Phil junior has had a very successful career in tv, for many years he was producer of "Top of The Pops" for the BBC, and then went to ITV where he was head of religious broadcasting (he had the right surname for the job!).
He told me of his father's passion for racing and the numerous injuries and broken bones that he had suffered during his riding days, he also said how Phil loved helping out the younger riders and enjoyed his envolvement in the running of West Ham. This I think is how most people in the sport will remember Phil as a fun loving competative person with a joy for living and sharing.
I said any chance your boys might have a go at racing, Phil said "not a chance even, there are less exciting ways of making more money, without risking your neck"."
"I followed Wimbledon from 1960 until its closure, my favourite rider was Ronnie Moore. I always thought Gary Everitt would come good, such a sad loss to the sport. I miss speedway now, no clubs close to my home in Sutton."
"Sunday 20th September, 2015. Sunday 20th September, 1970. 45 YEARS apart, but the same day and same date. 1970 was the meeting held at Custom House for the Lokeren Memorial Trophy, won by Ivan Mauger with an immaculate 15 point maximum. Would be nice to just take a minute out to remember those who perished in speedway's biggest tragedy."
"Still hurts to remember that tragedy. I was one of the very few West Ham fans who saw the last two meetings in Holland at Tilburg and Amsterdam, talking to the riders and Phil Bishop after the events has a special meaning for me. Shock and horror the next day listening to Dutch radio, yes in those days I could speak and understand Dutch. Sad, sad days, I for one won't forget."
"My name was Stuart Whitlam. I rode 2nd halves at Wimbledon and Hackney 1964/65."
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