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William (Bill) Fairless 1918 - 2008

Barnesbury are sad to announce the death of William "Bill" Fairless.

Bill was a very promising rider who rode with and against some very good Barnesbury riders such as club champions T Lumley and R Tiplady, and as his Palmares shows, won some notable events. Like many of his generation it appears WWII was responsible for the end of his cycling career, initially we surmise from his role in a reserved occupation and from 1943 when he moved from the North East after joining the RAF. Barnesbury have a full set of records from this period, however Bills name dissapears from them after 1941.

Barnesbury 1940-41 Handbook (p16)

Bill Fairless was also well amongst the honours. He celebrated his 21st birthday by winning the North Shields Poly "25" in 01:05:26 when it rained heavily throughout the event.

His success in the Northumbrian 50 was well earned with Tommy Lumley more than 2 minutes behind, and he will most surely remember his ride in the Border City Wheelers 25 when he beat riders from the Eastern Counties and George Grant of the Gateshead C.C. On this occasion he did 01:03:44. He also scored magnificently in our own Open 25 over Don Richardson of Wearside Wheelers by 10 seconds with 01:05:09.

He also beat Lumley in the Hebburn V.C.C.25 with 01:08:12. Then Bill finished his first 100 and he was proud of his 05:01:55.

Bills' son, Geoff has kindly provided the following photos and information on his life:

Bill was born on 14th May 1918 at 79, Southey Street, Gateshead. His father also William was a famous local wrestler known as "Billy", "Billy Carr", "The Bovril Boy", or "The Pocket Hercules". He became the 9th Cumberland Wrestling Champion, North of England Champion, and British Champion in "Catch as Catch Can" wrestling, while all the time working as a tyre fitter for Dunlop.

Bill Junior after schooling at Sunderland Road School became an apprentice motor mechanic with Rossleigh Ltd. then an apprentice Fitter & Turner with Clarke-Chapman Heavy Industries. This was about the time he took up cycling with Barnesbury Cycling Club. His cycling medals, still displayed in his son’s house included the following:

Selected Palmares

Year Club Event Placing
1937 Barnesbury CC Open 25 Standard Ride
1938 Barnesbury CC Open 25 2nd Fastest Team
1938 Barnesbury CC Open 50 Standard Ride
1938 Barnesbury CC NRC 50 Standard Ride
1938 Barnesbury CC ERC 25 Standard Ride
1938 Northumberland Road Club Open 50 1st Team
1938 Jesmond Cycling Club Open 25 1st Team
1938 N&DCA "50" 1st Team
1938 N&DCA "25" 1st Team
1939 Barnesbury CC Open 50 Fastest Team
1939 Barnesbury CC Open 25 Fastest Team
1939 Barnesbury CC WW 50 Standard Ride
1939 Barnesbury CC Club 100 Standard Ride
1939 Barnesbury CC BCW 25 Standard Ride
1939 N&DCA "50" 2nd Team
1939 Border City Wheelers Open 25 1st Team
1939 North Sheilds Poly Open 25 1st
1939 Barnesbury CC Open 50 2nd
1939 Northumberland Road Club Open 50 1st
1940 Barnesbury CC Open 50 Fastest Team
1940 Barnesbury CC Open 25 Fastest Team
1940 Barnesbury CC Open 50 Fastest Time
1940 Newcastle Road Club Open 25 1st Team
1940 Newcastle Road Club Open 25 2nd Fastest
1940 N&DCA "25" 1st Team
1940 Wearside Wheelers Open 25 1st
1940 HV CC Open 25 3rd
1940 N&DCA Open 25 1st
? Wearside Wheelers Open 25 Fastest Team
? Jesmond Cycling Club Open 25 3rd Fastest

All of Bills medals (see photo below) are sterling silver and he mentioned that there had also been gold medals but he could not recall what became of them. There are no medals dating after 1940 when Bill would have been 22 years old.

As Bill was in a reserved occupation at Clarke-Chapman he was unable to enlist. In Oct 1943 when eventually he was allowed to volunteer he was selected for Flight Engineer training with the RAF. The photograph below shows him in uniform at the age of approximately 26.

His war service was on Halifax Mk3 bombers with 158 Squadron based at RAF Lissett, just north of Hull in Yorkshire.   He flew 34 operations over Germany and three over France with Pilot Bill Sharpe. The crew claim to have shot down the first Me262 jet fighter over Bochum, Germany. There were four sightings of the aircraft by the crew but it could not later be ratified by German war records. 158 Squadron included one of the most famous bombers of the war; a Halifax nick-named “Friday the Thirteenth”, which for all of the name’s unlucky connotations flew 128 missions without being shot down. (A reproduction of the aircraft can be seen at the Yorkshire Air Museum at Elvington just outside York)

It was at Lissett that he met his wife-to-be Louisa, a land army girl from Goole helping the Yorkshire farmers. They married at St. Albans Church, Windy Nook, Gateshead, on 16th June 1945. Bill left the forces as many did and went back to his old occupation at Clarke-Chapman. However married life in Gateshead was not to the new couples’ liking so in February 1949 he re-enlisted in the RAF as a Flight Engineer. By this time the RAF had moved on from the tail wheeled British built bombers such as Lancasters and Halifaxs and his first posting was to RAF Marham in Norfolk on American B-29s, called Washingtons by the RAF.

This was his last connection with bombers as later types did not carry Flight Engineers; instead he was posted to Transport Command. A succession of similar postings followed including RAF Abingdon in Berkshire, RAF Dishforth in Yorkshire, RAF Benson in Oxfordshire and finally RAF Thorney Island in West Sussex. Aircraft types on which he served were the Avro York, the Handley-Page Hastings and the Armstrong-Whitworth Argosy.

During his years with the RAF he was a great sports mentor. He helped coach football teams on every station where he served and was an avid golf player.

Bill retired from the RAF in the 1967, a year short of his 50th birthday and the family settled in Emsworth, Hampshire where Louisa and Bill owned a Ladies Hairdressing shop. Ten years later after working for a while as a Technical Author for firms in the Sussex/Hampshire area he branched out completely and obtained a qualification as a Golf Club Secretary. His first job was at Sherborne Golf Club near Yeovil in Somerset. They were very happy there but, as he told it, Mrs Thatcher offered the Club money to employ a younger man to reduce the unemployment figures and because he was over 60 he became retired as opposed to unemployed!

Bill and Louisa settled back into life in the South this time in Fareham, Hampshire. Louisa died on 24th January 1991 and in November 1992 Bill married again to Margaret, a lady from Gateshead. Regrettably his golf had to stop when he had a stroke on 11th August 1999, which left him wheelchair bound. Margaret nursed him for many years until he finally succumbed on Friday 13th June 2008, just after his 90th birthday. His ashes are scattered close to the 17th tee of the Southwick Park Golf Club near Fareham. 

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