So our Dear “Dusty” has passed along.
An appreciation by Tom Morgan of ‘The People’
I went into the pits towards the close of the speedway cup tie at Hackney on Friday. On the gang plank leading towards the track I brushed against ‘Dusty’ Haigh going out for his fourth ride. A few seconds later ‘Dusty’ passes me again he was on a stretcher, dead.
That’s just how it happened. So awfully sudden that the shock was numbing! One moment laughing and joking and keen to add another win to the three he had already collected, the next, stark tragedy.
The threefold spill happened so quickly that it was difficult to see what actually occurred. Coming out of the first bend, Haigh was slightly ahead. Then he got into a terrible wobble and for a moment it looked like he would right it. However his bike slewed right around and he fell.
But the fall itself was quite simple it wasn’t that that proved fatal. The following riders were so close behind and so bunched together that they had no earthly chance of avoiding a pile up. One or more of them must have struck Haigh as he and his machine lay right across the track and I saw his recumbent form move at least twice as something hit him.
It was all over in a flash. The doctors said the death was instantaneous.
What a terrible shock for the other three boys in the race. Given half a chance, they are all clever to avoid spills by a hairsbreadth, but in this case they were just flung into a maelstrom of whirling limbs and machines.
The only man in the race I could find afterwards was Tommy Croombs. “I thought ‘Dusty’ was set for another win” Tommy told me. “He was about a length in front of me when he suddenly wobbled and fell outwards right across the track. Rather than hit him or his machine, I wrenched over my handlebars and charged into the safety fence”.
They took poor ‘Dusty’ straight to hospital, of course, but the crowd was kept in entire ignorance of the whole proceedings.
Pretty little Mrs. Haigh saw it all. It must have been a terrible job breaking the news to her. I wouldn’t have been in Fred Whitehead’s shoes for anything. Poor Fred was shaking like a leaf, but he was man enough to stand up to his job. Though he did not breathe a word outside, he collected the pressmen in one room and told us straight.
Fred was one of the first to reach Haigh as he lay on the track and Captain Dick Case was a close second, dick felt it keenly. He and ‘Dusty were great pals.
But 15,000 people must have sensed that something was wrong. They hung about the ground for hours afterwards and, ironically enough frequently sent up cheers for Hackney victory, not knowing that they would never see one of their brightest stars anymore.
The news eventually leaked down to the stadium club room, and when it happened it needed strong nerves to stay there. Speedway racing is such an intimate sport that everybody knows the riders almost personally. And every person in that club room that he or she had lost a great friend. Can you wonder that the awfulness of it all caused not a few hysterics.
I knew ‘Dusty’ very well. It was only on Wednesday that he came up to me with a long ‘moan’ about having blown up three motors this season. Very keen on speedway racing to. Rode for his team all the time and every time. He was in high hopes of being picked for the first test. He would have been to.
‘Dusty’ was one of the practical jokers who mad life so easy to live. With his snub nose, his big wide smile and his curly shock, he could never look serious if he tried.
Born in Huddersfield 33 years ago, he first appeared on a bike at Halifax, where his escapades and the surface of the track induced the crowd to drop his Christian name of Herbert and call him ‘Dusty’.
He spent the first four years of his competitive racing between the Sheffield, Belle Vue and Manchester tracks. During one spell at Sheffield he was captain of the side and was top dog in that part of the world.
He afterwards came to London to join Lea Bridge and was one of the band of riders who were shuffled along to Walthamstow and thence to Hackney Wick.
Hot on football, too, was ‘Dusty’ both as a player and as a fan. One of Huddersfield Town keenest supporters. He was also a low handicap golfer and could wield a baseball bat as well.
And so Haigh has gone the same way as Farndon. I have seen the last rides of both men and I don’t want to see any more such rides.
Why the fate should sort out such men as Tom and ‘Dusty I don’t know. They could take apparent risks with perfect safety. Neither of them asked for trouble. They were too clever for that. Yet the devil-may-cares and the impetuous ones always manage to get through scot free.
And so the second black mark must be made against speedway racing. It’s terrible that there should be two, but thank goodness it’s no more.
So long ‘Dusty’
Reprinted by kind permission of the editor of “The People”.
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