“ON THE ROAD” WITH KEITH MOTT.
John & Rose Wills of Frimley.
This week I'm going to feature a man who I have known since the early 1970's and who is now one of the most respected fanciers in the world of long distance pigeon racing. In the early 1970's he was a footloose and fancy free young lad and was a “hot arse” trying to win sprint, club and Federation races every week. Of course, I'm talking about my ol' mucker, John Wills, who lived in Feltham and raced in the West Middlesex Federation at that time. I can remember one snowy winter day in 1979, when I had arranged a meeting with John at his loft, for an article photo shoot, and had to bang on the front door to get him out of bed! He had enjoyed some good success with his good with his good blue pied Cattrysse cock, “Billy”, who had won the longest old bird race from Bergerac. This handsome cock was bred by Johnny's dad, Bill Wills of Ealing, who was a brilliant fancier for many years in the Middlesex area. I think Billy's Bergerac win changed John's whole outlook on pigeon racing and on that cold day in 1979, he told me that he had had enough of Federation sprint racing and was going to have a go at National long distance events only. John Wills has never looked back, with the rest being history! Johnny raced in partnership with his wife, Rose, who was a brilliant fancier in her own right and the Frimley loft had won countless major prizes in the long distance National and International events, including 6 times 1st open British International Championship Club and 4th open NFC Pau. The Surrey loft had been in the NFC Pau result every time they had sent since 1989 and John said his pigeon management was based on common sense.
John and Rose had a very good season racing in 2005 and the star birds were: “Uranus”, winner of 2005: 6th open BICC Barcelona, 1st open Greater Distance NFC, “Rose’s Girl”, winner of 2005: 88th open NFC Tarbes, 5th open Greater Distance NFC, 2004: 85th open NFC Saintes, “Sarah”, winner of 2005: 9th open BICC Dax. The partners raced 25 old birds on the natural system, not including the yearlings, and hopper fed Beans for all races up to 700 miles. The Frimley set up was made up with two lofts, 24ft x 8ft for the old birds and 12ft x 5ft for young birds, and Johnny maintained that the main factor in good loft design was plenty of fresh air. He thought deep litter was a good idea, but it must be kept bone dry. John was a night worker, as a Market Porter, and although Rose carried out a lot of the loft management, his pigeon system had to be kept plain and simple. John and Rose raced about 20 young birds to the perch each season and 10 latebreds were produced annually, which were not trained in the year of their birth, just left to grow. John told me these latebreds were trained and raced later on and usually turn out to be some of his best birds. Six pairs of stock birds were housed at the Frimley loft, which were mainly John's own family based on the Ian Benstead of Caple pigeons and a bit of the Burger, Galabank and Cattrysse bloodlines.
Johnny had been a pigeon fancier for 40 years and said he could remember losing his first winner and his dad telling him he would have to learn that you lose good pigeons, because many get lost in the end. John had learnt a lot since those days when he started racing at the age of 15, winning top honours year after year. Johnny crowned his long distance racing career by winning 1st open BICC Pau National, by approx. 30 minutes in 1984. His winner, red chequer cock, “Roller Coaster”, was a six year old bred from stock obtained from Ian Benstead and the late, Ken Couch of Feltham. The Wills' loft was turned temporarily North Road in 1984 due to the Channel ban in 1983, but had the one race south race, the BICC Pau event, when he sent one pigeon, “Roller Coaster”. This cock's previous form was endless, including 1st club Dax (only bird in race time), 32nd open Combine Niort, 13th open Federation Bergerac and 47th open Combine Melle (smash). From the 1984 BICC Pau race he lifted £435 and recorded a velocity of 800 ypm, a brilliant pigeon!
John had had pigeons all his life, racing in the early years with his father in the Ealing Club. In later years Ian Benstead let him have birds off his best. Johnny said as a lad he used to watch Tubby Tate's pigeons whilst on his paper round and was inspired by this great fanciers’ performances. In the early 1980's his loft housed 20 pairs of racers and he bred as many youngsters each as he could, so he could keep his team young. The birds were raced on the natural system, with old birds going through the programme and youngsters treated lightly, with approximately three races each. Food was changed for different times of the year adding more beans as the longer races got nearer. John said he never went on holiday as all his time is spent with his birds and the best race to win is the next one. In 1966 he bought some Cattrysse pigeons from S. Smith of Loudwater, Buckinghamshire, which won from 100 to 460 miles. In 1977 he bought a cock from Ian Benstead which bred winners straight away and after that he obtained many birds from this long distance “master” and founded his highly successful day family on them. As I've previously stated John's pigeon management had no real hard and fast rules and was run on common sense. He said, he had always trained the pigeons when he thought it is necessary, with single ups from the south coast.
John liked eye sign and paired pigeons up clashing all their eyes but said he had seen many good pigeons with what he regarded as not very good eye sign. He liked to pair his best birds to either a pigeon out of their brother or sister and picked out stock pigeons on performance and type. John studied each bird separately and sent them in the condition they favoured. He said he had respect for many of the present day long distance fanciers, but his mentor was Ian Benstead, who is no longer in the sport. John and Rose were once the secretaries of the British International Championship Club and John was a Vice President, and on the Committee.
The members of the L&SECC sent well over 2,000 birds to the Tours classic held at the back end of May 2009 and were liberated at 05.30 hrs in a strong north east wind. With the head wind and very hot weather conditions promised for the race day, the convoy was liberated at good early time to give the birds a good start. Johnny Wills and his daughter, Sarah, of Frimley won 1st SW section, 2nd open, 1st Yearling Derby with their handsome natural blue chequer cock, now named ‘Del Boy’. John’s Yearling Derby winner had no races as a young bird, only being trained along the south coast and this season had two mid-week training races from Hamworthy with the ‘Lion Brewery’ club, before going in to the L&SECC Alencon race, and then in to the Tours Classic. John told me at the time, he had not reared a youngster, being sent to Tours driving his hen to nest and was getting very keen for some days before the race as he kept going in to the young bird section and feeding the youngsters in there. ‘Del Boy’s’ mother was John’s great pied hen, ‘Rose’s Girl’ and winner of 2004: 85th open NFC Saintes, 2005: 88th open NFC Tarbes, 5th open Greater Distance NFC and this whole winning line goes back to the great old red chequer cock, ‘Roller Coaster’, winner of 1st open BICC Pau.
Rose Wills of Frimley.
We have featured the brilliant long distance partnership of John & Rose Wills, but the story doesn't end there, as Rose raced a team of club pigeon in her own right, with outstanding success. The partners had won the British International Championship Club six times to their main pigeon set up, but Rose has her own 18ft x 6ft, three section loft, to which she raced her own 12 pairs on the natural system. Since their marriage, she had always been a pigeon partner with John, but decided she wanted to try racing her own birds in 2003. Rose won her first race with young birds in the 2003 season, when she recorded 1st club, 1st Berkshire Federation, 1st open U.B.I. Combine Guernsey, with her Champion blue cock, “Blue Streak”. What a brilliant start! On starting up she obtained pigeons from Tony Hayward, Brian Long, Brian Leadbetter and Jimmy Bulger, and all were highly successful for her.
Rose said she liked week to week racing in the Federation but preferred the long distance racing with John in the BICC and NFC. Her best racers were: “Blue Streak”, bred by Tony Hayward and winner of 2003: 1st open UBI Combine Guernsey, 2004: 1st club Guernsey (twice), 1st club Seaton, 1st club, 7th open BB&O Federation Messac, 2005: 1st club Wincanton. “Blue Streak” has bred winners including a hen which has won 1st club Exeter (twice) and 22nd sect. E, 55th open NFC St. Nazaire. “The Streak's Nest Mate”, bred by Tony Hayward and winner of 2nd sect. E, 75th open NFC Nantes, 2nd club, 3rd Solent Federation Messac, “03242” , bred by Tony Hayward and winner of 1st club, 1st Berkshire Federation, 4th open UBI Combine Messac, “69143”, bred by Brian Long and winner of 1st club, 1st Solent Federation Messac, 1st club, 6th Berkshire Federation Tours . A wonderful kit of racers!
Rose was born in Hanworth, Middlesex and first became a pigeon fancier at the age of 24, when she met John, who had been in pigeons all his life. None of Rose's family were pigeon fanciers and her main hobbies then were horse riding and swimming. Her first loft was an 8ft x 5ft shed and kicked off by herself, racing in the Sandhurst club, with different families of pigeons, including Huybrects, Wildermeesch, Braakhuis, De Klak and Marcellis. She said her worst mistake when starting on her own was sending to the 2005 BICC Tours race, which turned out to be very bad and she lost some of her best pigeons. Rose said she carried out most of the loft management for herself and John, because of his night work, but had a great helper in their daughter, Sarah. She said her biggest thrill was when she won 2nd sect. E, 75th open NFC Nantes at her first time flying in the National, on her own.
The pigeons were raced on the natural system, but Rose tried the Roundabout in the 2005 season and repaired them up for the NFC St. Nazaire race. The 12 pairs were well trained off the south coast before the first Federation race and were raced up to Saintes (384 miles). They were fed on widowhood mixture when racing and Beans in the winter months, and when they were rearing their youngsters. Rose had no stock birds and bred from her race team, which were paired up in mid-February. Rose told me she usually raced 24 young birds, which were put on the darkness system and bred 6 latebreds to top up the team at the end of the season. She trained the babies up to 35 miles for two weeks before the first race and they started racing in mid-August. They were fed on a good mixture and handfed with peanuts, which they were looking for all the time she was in the loft. She raced to the perch, but if they want to pair up, they were allowed too and in 2005 some of the young birds were housed in the old bird section, which seemed to keep them happy.
Rose told me she had a soft spot for her Champion racer, “Blue Streak”, but two of her favourites were: “Ever Loyal”, bred in 1995 and this wonderful blue chequer pied hen only had eight races in her life, Pau (twice), Barcelona (twice) and Palamos, being only once off the clock. She recorded 95th open NFC Pau, 5th open BICC Barcelona and was dam of 1st open BICC Biarritz in the 2004 season. The other was her sire, “The 87 Cock”, bred in 1987, and this brilliant old blue chequer cock won, 95th, 120th, 240th open NFC Pau and was the sire of many premier long distance racers, including “Ever Loyal”.
Rose was a life vice president and marking station I.C. for the BICC and was also on the management committee. She told me she would like to see small clubs amalgamate, as some clubs are far too small, and this would make competition keener. Rose maintained good success with racing pigeons is down to a combination of factors, starting with good birds and good management. Most of her birds were tame, including “Blue Streak” and she liked a few latebreds, which were housed with the long distance team, and these were only trained in their first year. The birds were given oil seed during the moulting period and were parted in the winter months. Rose Wills was a great worker for the sport, and I must say, established herself as one of the premier lady racers in the U.K. at that time!
Ian Benstead of Capel.
The Dorking loft of Ian Benstead won 1st open British International Championship Club from Lourdes in 1986 and although he has been out of the sport many years, his name lives on, with many premier long distance fancier winning with his pigeon today. I first visited Ian in 1977 when my late good mate, Dick Brooker, took me to his Capel home to report on his Niort Combine win. When you visited his loft, which was set in the wonderful Surrey countryside, you were lucky to see the pigeons, as they had an open loft and roamed the fields all day. If the pigeons would stay in the trees, Ian said, he wouldn't bother with a loft. Ian Benstead was a natural flyer in the truest sense of the word, with his brilliant long distance team of pigeons spending most of their time in the trees and fields. I revisited Ian again in 1986 when he had a wonderful season racing in the British International Championship Club, recording 1st, 5th, 6th, 23rd, 25th and 26th open Lourdes (555 miles), 2nd and 13th open Perpignan (603 miles), 3rd and 19th open Pau (537 miles) and 4th and 11th open Marseilles (603 miles).
Ian started in the sport in 1949 with a stray blue chequer hen from a fancier in Carshalton and that game pigeon broke his novice status from Seaton the following year. Ian had trapped the hen, so he took it back to the man on his bike, who thanked him very much and gave him half a crown. On his return home, Ian found the hen had already returned there, waiting for him. Next day, he returned the pigeon once again to Carshalton but the man presented it to him and thus started him up in the sport. When Ian went into the army, he gave the hen away and she bred many winners before she died at a ripe old age. He obtained 30 July bred; latebreds from Ron Sheppard in 1964 and these were the base of his champion long distance family.
Ian's best performances in the SMT Combine were 1st and 2nd open Niort in 1972 and 2nd open Nantes in 1975, although many other positions were won. He hadn't competed in very many Pau N.F.C. races, but recorded 2nd section,15th open, 9th section, 34th open, 4th section, 142nd open and 6th section, 259th open. Ian's Niort combine winner, “The Combine Cock”, was still in the loft at that time and looked fantastic for his 18 years of age. This handsome old white flight cock won the SMT Combine in only the second race of his life. Ian rated Eric and Pat Cannon of Godalming the best long distance fanciers in the Surrey area and had a lot of admiration for John Goodwin, the NFC convoyer at that time. He said John was second to none and when he liberated you knew the birds would home well. He thought good loft ventilation was most important and said a horse is likely to catch a cold when you bring it in and not when you put it out in a cold field. When the birds are exposed to the elements, they come to hand naturally, with the seasons. He said he thought the old bird races started too early and finished too early. Ian had never introduced another bird into his loft since he started with the Sheppards in 1964. The loft was creosoted inside and out, and Ian thought there was nothing finer. He said it doesn't hurt pigeons, as a hen drunk some one day and she didn't bat an eyelid. Ian always said he would bet odds on a short flier in regard of over fly as the further the bird fly there is always another wire and another gun, and the further fliers have a hard job. His loft was 20ft x 12ft and the birds were trapped through open doors. Ian built the loft himself with wire floor and the droppings are cleaned out from under the loft. Wire windows were on all four sides so the wind blew right through the structure and the nest boxes had no fronts, so the intruders could be rejected without much fuss or damage. He liked the birds to be subjected to the weather and maintained they were better for it. He told me, one day he put a handful of grit on the nest boxes and the wind blew it straight out the window at the back of the loft. The birds had an open loft all day, in any weather, and nested in anything, including cardboard cartons.
The 1986 B.I.C.C. Lourdes winner was a very nice blue chequer hen called, “The Lourdes Hen”, and was a classic long distance type, being medium sized, with good length in the body. This game hen won the Lourdes event in only the second race of her life. Ian's 5th open BICC Lourdes winner was the blue cock, “Double One”, and he also won 3rd East of England Continental Club from Orleans (246 miles). Ian told me the cock was for the future. Another of Ian's stars was his blue chequer cock, “The Marseilles Cock”, which had flown Marseilles four times with the BICC, recording 4th, 7th and 9th open and Ian flew 603 miles from this race point in the south of France . He liked a medium apple-bodied pigeon and said it took three year for his to mature and Ian liked to see the eye placed in the centre of the head. He used to be a racehorse trainer at Epsom and a lot of his pigeon management was based on his horse training days. He didn't race inland, and the youngsters were not raced or trained in the year of their birth. One hen in the Benstead loft was sent over 600 miles for her first race of her life and returned safely. The birds were not parted in the winter months and were put down to breed in March. Training started the first week in May and was mostly from the south coast, including Bognor, Worthing or Brighton. Sixty old birds were housed, and 30 youngsters were bred each season and if anything looked wrong with a squeaker or egg it was disposed of without delay. He said pigeons are easy enough to breed so why waste time on sub-standard goods?
The birds were hopper fed on beans in the winter and a good mixture when racing but didn't like rearing on beans. A pigeon that caught my eye was the blue chequer cock, “The Bergerac Cock”, which had won in 500 mile show classes. This handsome cock was getting on in years, but had a wonderful racing record, winning 1st club Bergerac and 6th open BICC Barcelona. One of Ian's favourites was the light blue chequer cock, “The Two Way Cock”, which won 1st club, 11th Federation Thurso (530 miles) north road, as a yearling. Ten days later he was sent to Lourdes (555 miles) south road and was recorded on the winning day. A wonderful family of long distance racing pigeons!
After my visit to Ian Benstead's loft in 1986, the loft went from strength to strength and Ian is one of the most respected long distance fancier in the sport. One of his best performances in recent years was in 1992 when he won 1st open London & South East Classic Club Dax. A brilliant fancier!
TEXT & PHOTOS BY KEITH MOTT (www