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Doug Gatland of Merstham



Looking back at London & South East Classic Club winners (Part 17.)


Doug Gatland of Merstham


By the end of that summer, Doug had enjoyed an excellent 1995 season, winning several first in the very strong Reigate Columbarian, twice 1st Surrey Federation, 4th open SMT Combine Rennes and 4th open London & South East Classic Club Pau. The 1994 season was also a brilliant one for Doug winning many major prizes including 1st section, 1st open London & South East Classic Club Pau. The Pau winner was the Widowhood blue chequer cock '33' and he flew the 546 miles on the day, being clocked in 13 hours 41 minutes and won the Classic Club by 62 ypm. A  great performance! This great cock was of 'Champion Major' and Cattrysse bloodlines and had bred winners at his first year at stock. Doug said '33' got lost several times as a young bird, but as he got older he matured into an ace Channel racer, winning 1994: 1st open L&SECC Pau; 1993: 1st Club, 16th Federation, 55th SMT Combine (6,976 birds) Nantes; 1992: 2nd Club, 12th Federation, 71st SMT Combine (3,829 birds) Poitiers; 3rd Club, 18th Federation, 76th SMT Combine (3,262 birds) Bergerac (443 miles) on the day.


Doug had kept pigeons for over 20 years, since the age of eleven and started up as a second hobby to competitive swimming, as a means of relaxation. Doug swum for the England team all over the world and was made captain in the 1990 season. His first birds were exhibition fantails, but he became bored with them and obtained his first racers in 1982 as latebreds. His first racing birds were gifts from Joe Humphrey of Redhill and Doug spent many Saturdays in Joe's garden, awaiting his race birds and gaining an introduction to the sport. His first loft was a shed converted by his father, from knowledge gained by reading library books. At the time of starting up in pigeon racing, he was actively involved in his career as a competitive swimmer. He reached International status in 1987 and represented England and Great Britain until his retirement in 1990.


His first club was the Reigate Columbarian Society and he won his first race from Exeter in 1986 with a blue chequer cock of Busschaert and Delbar bloodlines. Several fanciers have given help and advice to Doug since his start, in particular Mr & Mrs Stan Witts of Whitchurch in Hampshire who provided him with the parents of '33', his L&SECC Pau winner. Two other fanciers who helped Doug were Dennis Leach and Stewart Donaldson, both local fanciers who have since moved away. Doug also exchanges pigeons annually with his good friend Duncan Harvey of St Pouria in Cornwall. Doug's first loft is still used today for the young birds and his main racing loft is 12ft x 6ft with two sections, one for inland Widowhood cocks and one for Channel Widowhood cocks. It is of pent roof design with plenty of ventilation under the eaves and trapping through open doors. Each section holds eight Widowhood cocks and the two teams of cocks are paired up a month apart. Doug has a third 12ft x 5ft loft which houses his stock birds and a few Natural racers. He said the most important factors of good loft design are dryness, good ventilation and never overcrowd. Stock birds are paired on 18th December with the first round discarded and the birds then separated. They are repaired 90 days prior to the first race with the widowers and the stock birds eggs moved under the race team. Doug prefers single­ reared youngsters whenever possible. Doug's main system is Widowhood for both inland and Channel racing. He finds it gives him the edge over his competitors by maintaining form over long periods and allowing the birds to rest and recover from racing during the course of each week. He said, "I do not feel that there is any clear cut rule about how the Widowhood System should be flown, only that you must maintain a careful routine and stick to it all season. If the routine is right, form will come”. Doug's is a simple Widowhood system which suits his current lifestyle.


The pigeons are paired up around 90 days prior to the first race, this is very important to ensure that birds are ready to commence racing on Widowhood from day one of the programme. They all single rear a baby each and at about 15 days the hens are removed and the cocks continue to rear the youngsters. The babies are weaned at 28 days and the cocks are given five days rest to recover. They are then repaired and allowed to sit until one week prior to racing, when all hens and nests are removed and Widowhood commences. Pre-season training commences upon repairing the cocks for their second round and usually consists of about ten tosses from between 10 and 40 miles. Once on Widowhood cocks are exercised at home one hour in the morning and one hour in the evening with no other training. A conventional feeding method is used where the cocks are broken down at the start of the week and built up towards the end of the week. At the start of the season the cocks race every week up to Plymouth (185 miles) and this is usually about four races. The Channel racers are then stopped and raced every fortnight across from France. Doug believes it is essential to separate inland Widowhood cocks and Channel widowers to allow them to be prepared for their main races. Doug has certainly cracked the Widowhood System, his cocks win the Federation from Weymouth (110 miles) through to the Classic Pau (546 miles). Having said that, he won 1st Club, 4th Surrey Federation, 4th open SMT Combine (6,919 birds) Rennes in 1995 with a Natural hen. She was his red pied Westcott/Jan Aarden hen '50' and this cracking looking pigeon was sent to Rennes sitting six eggs due to hatch off. Doug was also 4th open London & South East Classic Club Pau in 1995, clocking his blue Clerebaut / Coudou Widowhood cock '34' on the day, after nearly 131/2 hours on the wing. This game cock previously won 2nd Club, 4th Surrey Federation Weymouth and 3rd Club Bergerac (450 miles).


Doug is currently working in purchasing for a major pharmaceutical company and is a qualified biologist. He said the Widowhood System fits in well with the high pressure of his work. He has Janssens for the inland races and 'Champion Major', Westcott and Jan Aarden for the long distance events. The plan is to create a family of his own pigeons capable of winning through to 700 miles. He maintained his most thrilling experience in pigeons was timing in on the day from Pau and said there is nothing to top it. His parents and wife, Amanda, take a background interest in the pigeons and are always willing to help with the birds if he is away or unable to attend to them. Diet in racing pigeons is of upmost importance and when you master it success follows quickly. Doug enjoys showing his birds at club level and likes to do the odd bit of judging from time to time. The moult is the most important time of the year, the food must be high in protein to build the new feathers, and the pigeons should rest and be stress free. Doug isn't into deep litter and scrapes the lofts out regularly, but likes straw on the floor of the young bird loft when weaning.


Alasdair Muir of Abinger Hammer.


One of our premier channel flyers in the south of England is Alasdair Muir of Abinger Hammer and he has won three L&SECC Merit Awards. Alasdair is a past president of the L&SECC and has won a record three times 1st open, including twice in one season. He started racing in his native Scotland at the age of eight where he was helped by his father and flew in the very strong Carluke Club in Lanarkshire. He has now been in the sport over 50 years. Since moving to Surrey, Alasdair has won many major prizes in long-distance events including 1st open Pau L&SECC in 1996 with his champion blue cock, ‘Andy's Boy’. The wonderful long distance pigeon went on to win the L&SECC Pau ‘Merit Award’, for recording three positions in the first 50 open in the result from the longest old bird Classic race.  He is a natural racer and his team gets an open loft and regular training tosses from the south coast. He feeds a good mixture based on horse beans and his young birds only get three races then they are put on the shelf to mature. Alasdair won the Angers Yearling Derby in 1997 with an unpaired blue chequer cock flying to his nest box. This game cock was one of several youngsters obtained from Johnny Burrow of Blackpool in 1996 and was bred from the Burrow Niort combine pigeon. The same season Alasdair clocked two birds from the Bordeaux Classic to win 1st and 3rd open, and chalk up a club record - a wonderful performance. Alasdair's Bordeaux winner was a yearling blue cock sent sitting eight-day-old eggs and had just reared a big youngster. He is a son of Alasdair's 1996 - 8th open Pau L&SECC winner and grandson of Andy's Girl, winner of 10th open Pau L&SECC and 26th open Pau NFC. Alasdair Muir is one of our great long distance fanciers and won three L&SECC ‘Merit Awards’.


Colin & Christine Crick of Stevenage.


What a cracker! These were the words on everyone's lips after the London & South East Classic Club Blue Riband race from Pau in 2000. Every season when I convoy the Classic for this 550 mile race, I always hope for day birds but once again the fresh northerly wind in France decided this factor of the race for me and there were no pigeons clocked on the day of liberation. Next morning the flood gates opened and the birds poured in, with some members getting all their entries home on the winning day, this must rate as one of the club's best longest old bird races on record. I only had one foot in the door from my return from Pau and the phone rang with congratulations on a brilliant race and it didn't stop ringing for several days. Founder member of the L&SECC, the late Gerry Byrne of Kingston, who could be the greatest critic when it was needed, rang and said it was the Classic's best ever Blue Riband race. I must say what wonderful condition the 644 birds were in for the Pau Classic race and this was full credit to the members for their hard work and effort in preparing their entries. When I was away with the Classic's birds I was very focused and intense with the job at hand and pride myself that I knew how to feed and maintain the bird’s condition in the basket, to ensure the very best race. I have been a successful fancier for over 45 years and looking after the birds on the road comes as second nature to me. I worked very hard at the liberation site to maintain the wonderful condition put on the birds by their owners and after a two day holdover at Pau they looked in brilliant shape. On the Sunday morning the weather conditions at Pau were the best I have ever seen, with blue skies and bright sunshine. With a brilliant morning at the Pau caravan site, I liberated at 06.00hrs in no wind, being northerly on route and the convoy cleared the liberation site instantly.

 The weekend after the race, I made the 70 mile drive up to Stevenage to visit the Pau Classic winning loft of Colin & Christine Crick, who raced in partnership with their son, Adam. Colin was one of the club's longest flyers from Pau and previously won the Classic in 1989 from the Yearling Derby Tours race. On the day of the Pau Classic Colin had to work, so Christine clocked in the winner, plus his club birds from Tours, which also won. Their Pau winner is a Titmuss/Janssen dark pied hen, now named ‘Christine’ after the clocker and was sent on a youngster. This champion hen was clocked just before 10.30hrs and  won the L&SECC Pau ‘Merit Award’ for winning three positions in the first 50 open, with 1st, 25th  and 28th open Pau, plus 49th open Bordeaux. A brilliant hen! Her full sister was also an outstanding long distance racer, winning 7th open Pau L&SECC and 25th open Pau NFC. Both these great hens liked to race to overdue eggs or youngsters and 'Christine' was Colin's sole entry into the Pau Classic. Her dam was bred by Peter Titmuss and her sire was one of the Crick / Janssens which won six times 1st inland before going to stock. On her build-up to the Pau Classic she had four inland races and one Channel race from Vire and was sent to Pau feeding her first youngster, being paired up in May. 

Colin started up in pigeon racing in 1958, with some help from a fancier who lived next door. His father was also an outstanding fancier. He liked any racing, long or short and races on the widowhood and roundabout systems in the early part of the season, re-pairing for the long distance events. The Crick loft housed 60 racers and were normally paired up in January. Training was from about 30 miles and the team was broken down two days a week for the sprint races. Colin had two smart lofts, being a carpenter by trade, one 10ft for the widowhood cocks and the main one being 30ft long, three sections, which housed the roundabout racers and young birds. The 50 youngsters raced on the natural system to the perch and all the stock birds were outstanding retired racers. The base family kept were Janssens, which have been obtained from premier fanciers. Colin was a great worker in the sport, with clock setting and committee work with the London & South East Classic Club. A very popular winner of the Pau Classic race!


The late, great Ken Hine of Hayes.


I was marking for the last London & South East Classic Club race of the 2011 season from Carentan on Friday 9th September and was told that the great long distance racer, Ken Hine of Hayes, has passed away the day before. Gary Inkley was one of Ken’s best friends and while marking his birds, Gary gave me the bad news. I must say I was a bit shocked, as Ken aways looked so fit, but Gary said he had been suffering from bad health for some time. Ken was made a life vice president of the National Flying Club a few years ago, after giving many years of hard work for the club, serving for Section E on the committee. Through his many years in the sport, Ken has recorded countless premier performances in long distance races, including 1st open L&SECC Pau, 1st open BBC Palamos (twice) and 1st section E. 3rd Open Pau Grand National (565 miles) in the 2002 season. The sport of pigeon racing has lost another of its great long distance champions!


Ken was born in Acton, West London, and was introduced to pigeon racing at a very early age, as both his father and grandfather were both fanciers. He had his first pigeons at the age of 16 and these were obtained from top fanciers including, Alf Baker, Tubby Tate and my late, great friend, Alex Fleming of Esher. Ken told me, that the one person he owed a big debt of gratitude to was, George Burgess of Wraybury, as his help and advice through many years had been beyond measure. It was the performances of Alf Baker and Tubby Tate which really enthused Ken, as a young man and he had always liked long distance racing. When he started up in the sport he lived in a flat and his small two section loft had to be sited in a borrowed garden. Those early days saw Ken race in the Chiswick North Road Club and was very successful at that time with Alex Fleming pigeons, bred on the ‘Derick’ and ‘Bubbles’ lines. Ken once told me, every fancier makes mistakes when they first start up pigeon racing, but the secret is to learn from them. Ken said, he often thought back to the early days and the pigeons he had owned, with one of the best being a chequer pied cock, bred in 1964 and named ‘Garth’.


Ken’s loft set up in Hayes was large, which he said was a matter of personal choice, but maintained, he had seen a pigeon win flying to a rabbit hutch and so have I. His wonderful set up must be described as a ‘pigeon paradise’, with three very smart lofts, set in green fields, with horses and stables. Whilst he cleaned his lofts out on a regular basis, he said, he knew fanciers who keep their bird on deep litter and were also very successful. In the main he had raced his pigeons on the natural system, but had tried the widowhood for a few seasons and both have brought him good success. The families of pigeons raced at the Hayes loft were the very best of long distance, in the form of the late Peter Titmuss of Wheathampstead, the late Jim Biss of Norwich and the late Fear Brothers of Clandown. Ken maintained that any new introductions always come from lofts with outstanding long distance records. Ken was retired from his haulage firm and said he is fortunate that his family were interested in his pigeons, and they helped him out around the lofts.


Ken told me his most thrilling experience in pigeons was when he won 1st open BBC Palamos, 1st open L&SECC Pau and 1st and 2nd club Nantes all on the same weekend. Brilliant pigeon racing! The lofts performances at the long distance through the years has been fantastic winning: flying Thurso 20 consecutive years and winning 16 times: Lerwick (600 miles) four times, 2nd combine three consecutive years and timing in on the day from Lerwick. Turning south road in 1985 and winning: 1985: 69th open NFC Pau, 1986: 15th open NFC Pau, 1987: 52nd open NFC Pau, 1988: 52nd , 58th and 154th open NFC Pau, 1989: 15th and 48th open NFC Pau, 1990: 33rd and 99th open NFC Pau, 33rd and 71st open NFC Sartilly, 1991: 16th open N FC Bordeaux, 1992: 99th open NFC Pau, 1993: 27th open NFC Pau, 15th open NFC Saintes, plus many other premier NFC positions through the years. Ken told me he had enjoyed many memorable moments in his time in the sport, but the weekend he won Palamos and Pau, was the best.


He has served on the committee of the National Flying Club many years and was a life vice president, but said until recent years it has given him great pleasure. He told me, ‘I certainly do not agree that committee members and officials of other specialist clubs should serve on the committee of the National Flying Club. It is my personal opinion that this could create a conflict of interest’. Ken was not happy with the NFC going with the Entente Belge to Dax a few years ago and said, those that wish to compete in International races, can do so with the BICC. He told me, he thought that Gary Inkley of Hillingdon was the best fancier in his area. On the subject of breeding, Ken practiced some inbreeding and line breeding to maintain his family of long distance pigeons. This was something he had learned a long time ago from his great friend, the late, great Peter Titmuss. He thought the moult period was a very important time of the year for pigeons and said, get the moult right and success will follow. There you have it,  the late great Ken Hine of Hayes, long distance ‘ace’ and great worker for the National Flying Club!


There you have it, four London & South East Classic Club longest old bird race winners.

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