Published: 06:00, 08 May 2020
Kent Kings co-promoter Len Silver was celebrating VE Day 75 years ago but is in the midst of another battle on the anniversary.
The speedway season should have started last month and Silver knows the battle to overcome the current coronavirus crisis is every bit as challenging as the one to defeat the enemy three quarters of a century ago.
The 88-year-old from Maidstone, who was living in the East End during the height of the Second World War, said: “This is not that dissimilar is it? The only thing different now is that it is an unseen enemy. We don’t know where it is.
“It is like the war in some respects but this enemy that we have got is totally unique.”
The coronavirus crisis has put Speedway on hold, like the rest of sport in the country, but authorities say they are “100% committed to staging racing this year.”
But Silver - a former team manager for the England and Great Britain's national sides - admits they would struggle to race again this year unless crowds are able to attend.
“When it can actually restart is a matter of huge debate,” he said.
“We couldn’t possibly run speedway behind closed doors, as they say, it couldn’t happen. Speedway is financed through people coming in the turnstiles, it isn’t finances by television and sponsorship.
“Until it is safe to do that then it is not going to happen. Will it be the autumn? I don’t know.
“I think realistically we are looking at next year. I would like to think that we could get a few odd meetings at the tail end of the year but that is going to give us problems.
“I can’t see our more elderly fans wanting to come to the stadium. They are all as frightened as I am. I don’t want to go out. I am one of the vulnerable group and all the people like me who would normally go to speedway without a care in the world, they are all going to be thinking, ‘should I go and sit in the stadium?’ I don’t think so. We are looking at reduced audiences at best.”
The Kings were gearing up for a big year after being promoted into speedway's second tier for the first time in their history.
Silver said: “It was going to be a massive year. New league, new riders, new era, first time in the professional leagues, we were looking forward to it massively, but there it is, nobody could forecast what has happened and nobody can forecast what will happen.”
The London-born promoter is well respected in the world of speedway, growing up watching his local riders at West Ham after the war was over. Crowds then rivalled that of the football team.
Large parts of the East End were emerging from the devastation of the war. Silver and his family lived in Bow during the time of the Blitz. As a kid - he was seven when the war stared - he had been moved out to different parts of the country, from Wiltshire to Somerset, but it didn’t take him long to return to London.
He said: “During the war I was near the bombing but I didn’t have any bombs falling next door to me or anything like that, I was lucky in that respect. We used to go into the dugouts every night. We would get out of bed, go down there for a couple of hours until the air raid was over, and then back to bed again, that was our nightly ritual.”
His father had fought in the First World War and was an ambulance driver during the Blitz.
“He was a hero,” Silver said. “He used to go out rescuing people while the raids were going on. I wasn’t aware of it at the time. I knew he was an ambulance driver but it didn’t occur to me that he was going out risking his life.
“Looking back now I realise how naive I was. He risked his life every night, unbelievable.”
For a while Len lived with an aunt in Hornchurch but that was no quieter. The house was next to the aerodrome during the height of the Battle of Britain.
He recalled: “The spitfires used to take off right over our roof, they almost used to knock our chimney off.
“There were dog fights going on but you couldn’t really discern what was going on as it was too high up.”
Silver would take an interest in the world around him, heading to the cinema to watch the latest newsreels and keeping his wits about him when the V1 flying bombs and then the V2 rockets came raining down.
He said: “The V1s, the doodlebugs, they were bad but funnily enough we thought they were funny, I don’t know why, looking back, but they used to come across the sky sounding like a motorbike, then the engine would stop, but because we could see them we weren’t quite so frightened of them.
“The V2 was a different matter altogether. You didn’t hear anything, just the crash, and a whole street of houses would be gone.
“I was alive to what was going on in the war. I was fascinated by it all and I remember it all very clearly. I remember when we sunk the big German boats like the Bismarck, I can remember all that stuff and I can remember Churchill’s speeches.
“When the war ended I was about 14 and we had the general election. They kicked Winston Churchill out and I was absolutely gobsmacked. The man had saved us, now they were kicking him out.”
When the battle in Europe was won, Silver remembers the celebrations well.
“We had a street party and all that,” he said.
“We lit a bonfire in the street and had what was called a knees up, there were trestle tables in the road, all the women in the street baked cakes, it was quite a time.”
Seventy-five years on, he’s isolated because of his age during the current war against coronavirus. His ex wife lives across the road and they are close friends. She’s likely to take him a meal.
“I am sure it will be much like any other day,” he joked.
“I spend all of my mornings doing jigsaw puzzles, then I do Countdown on the television, I do sudoku puzzles, I do a few emails and stuff on my computer and then in the evening I watch the tele. That is how the days go by.
“The highlight of my day is lunch! I should maybe have a bottle to celebrate though.”
What he will really be celebrating, however, will be when he can get back trackside once again and watch the sport he loves.
More by this authorLuke Cawdell
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