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Charlie Appleby
A 'Can You Help?' Special
By Tom Marriott

Charlie Appleby

Charlie was born in Paynton Saskatchewan, Canada on October 10th 1913. To say it was a rural community in the farming flatlands of Canada may be an understatement because the population was under 200 people. It is located just East of the Alberta border.

Coming from a farming community he was no stranger to hard work and was working the fruit fields before his 7th birthday. In 1920 the family moved West to Edson, Alberta, population a few thousand. On leaving school he left home to work on the Prairies working in the vast wheat fields. Following that he worked in the forestry industry as a lumberjack, a most back breaking job in those days. He was obviously a nomad in those days as he left the lumber camps to become a hunter and trapper in the North. This proved to be a profitable line of work and he managed to save a considerable sum of money.

In 1932 Charlie left Canada on board a ship to England to seek adventure and to have a year-long holiday. However within a few weeks of his arrival fate was to intervene when a friend took him along to his first dirt track race at Wembley Stadium. He was hooked on the sport and a life as a speedway rider appealed to him.

However riding speedway did not come easy to him and try as he may he found it difficult to break into a team. He was on the verge of returning to Canada when he was offered a contract with Hackney Wick and lost no time proving himself a valued member of the team. By the 1939 season he was proving a hard man to beat but once again fate had something else in store for him as WW2 broke out.

Charlie being who he was joined up within 14 days of the war and became Aircraftsman Appleby of the RAF. Four months later he was a wireless operator-air gunner. And for the next five and a half years he saw action in India and Burma.

Demobbed in the spring of 1946 Charlie was immediately signed by Birmingham. It took a while for Charlie to regain his form but there was improvement in his riding. Charlie had at some point since arriving in England found the time to meet his wife and start a family.

Fate was to catch up on Charlie in his 25th meeting of the 1946 season. Birmingham were away to Newcastle in the Kemsley cup match on the 7th of October. Charlie was in heat three in the white helmet along with Jock Grierson (who was taking the place of Stan Dell who was listed in the programme but did not ride). Riding for the home team was the pairing of Leo Lungo and Syd Littlewood. Lungo gated and was being followed closely by Littlewood with Charlie in third place trying to pass the Newcastle pairing. Suddenly Lungo's bike seized and fell. Having nowhere to go Littlewood plowed into Lungo and was thrown clear of his bike. Charlie tried to steer clear but hit Littlewood's bike sending him high into the air falling hard on his head. Charlie was rushed to the Royal Victoria hospital with serious injuries to his head.

The meeting was continued but it had lost all its excitement as the 10,000 spectators and the riders were left in no doubt that Charlie Appleby had sustained serious injuries. Doctors at the Royal Victoria hospital made the decision to call Mrs. Appleby who immediately made the trip to Newcastle but she never got to the hospital in time as poor Charlie succumbed to his injuries shortly before 2 am the next morning. He left behind a wife and two children.

And there the story seemed to end until earlier this month when my good friend Roger Stevens told me about a trophy on the Canadian E Bay won at High Beech in 1939. The riders name being R.C. Appleby. The cup was being sold by someone in Alberta Canada. Was this the same rider? Did he go by his middle name for racing.

On doing some investigating I found out that in 1939 High Beech held some individual meetings, Did Charlie win one of these in 1939? The tie to Alberta is there as his family move there. Was he married prior to going to England? I don't know. If so did his wife return Canada after his death with the Children?

I called the seller who could not tell me much other than the trophy was from an estate sale so that proved a dead end.

Perhaps someone reading this article can shed some light on Charlie's cup win at High Beech or maybe someone has a copy of the program with the results?

Any help would be appreciated. I can be contacted at tmarriottsympatico.ca

Tom Marriott
Brantford, Ontario,

Many thanks to Roger Beaman for all his time and effort providing me with the info on Charlie Appleby.


This article was first published on 24th January 2008


  • John Hyam:

    "Leaguewise, I can find no trace - but still looking - of Charlie Appleby ever racing in a team match for Hackney. Pre-war, he rode for two teams, being one match for Birmingham in the Provincial League in 1937, then a handful of matches for Crystal Palace in 1939. Non-league, between 1936 to outbreak WW2 in 1939, he raced mainly at Barnet, Longmoor (California-in-England) and High Beech."

  • Brian Buck:

    " I am the secretary of Birmingham Speedway Supporters' Club and at our last meeting on January 17th we discussed a proposal to place a memorial plaque on the restaurant wall at the stadium in memory of Charlie who was the only rider to lose his life whilst actually riding for the Birmingham Team. (Alan Hunt was the Birmingham captain when he was killed in South Africa in 1957, but he was riding for Durban Hornets a South African Club at the time of the accident, and Zdenek Kudrna who was the only other Birmingham rider to be fatally injured, was riding in a grass track meeting in Holland on the occasion of the accident which cost him his life.)"

  • Matt Jackson:

    "On the family history website there is a record of all births, deaths and marriages. In the deaths section for the final quarter of 1946, Charlie's record for the registration of his death can be seen. He was called Robert Charles Appleby, so I hope that this can go part of the way to solving the mystery."

  • Jim Henry:

    "Charlie Appleby's 1946 career can be viewed on speedwayresearcher.org.uk in the Birmingham files."

  • Bob Mason:

    "Seeing the name Charlie Appelby rang a bell with me, I believe he was one of two brothers, Canadians who rode for Birmingham. He unfortunately lost his life in a track crash at Newcastle. The reason I can recall this is that my parents took me to his memorial meeting at the Alexander stadium in 1946, my first Speedway meeting as we were grasstrack followers. I presume some of the riders were in the meeting possible Dick Tolley he was a great favourite at the time, The program which was simple in B&W was lost many years ago. I believe Stan Dell rode in it, Smokey Dawson Lionel Watling? That's about all I can recall after all it was many years ago and I was only about 6 years of age."

  • David Clarke:

    "Alan Hunt was and still is my favourite rider my dad and me used to go to Cradley to watch him and when he went to birmingham we never missed a match, on his day he could beat anybody, his only problem was he was a poor gater, but after that you thought a hornet was on your tail his passing skills could hardly be bettered. I met Alan several times, the last time at Wembley which he admitted was one of the few tracks he did not like. I saw Alan ride for England at Harrogate when I was in the air force he had a fall early on and I did not think he would ride again but he came on as a substitute and rode with Dick Bradley who scored 17 points and a man next to me said that tears it, we won't win now. I told him to wait and see after the race was over, well Alan got off to a flyer and won the race Dick Bradley was second and England won the match. When I heard of Alan's death in South Africa where he loved riding, I cried like a baby and it put me off speedway for years, but eventually I started going again at Wolverhampton and I loved watching Ole Olsen and my second favourite Sam Ermolenko."

  • Tom Marriott:

    "Just a follow up on this article, better late than never I suppose. Following the publication of this article I was contacted by Charlie's son and the trophy is back with the Appleby family in England."

  • Brian Buck:

    "The two Appleby's who rode for Birmingham in the 1940's were not related. Ernie Appleby being English and Charlie Appleby Canadian. The memorial plaque I mentioned in the earlier message is now in place on the wall in the entrance foyer at Perry Barr Stadium and was unveiled by the Vicar of Perry Barr Dr. Crispin Pailing in the presence of nine members of the Appleby family including his son Martin and his daughter in a very moving ceremony."

  • John Hyam:

    "Further to the comments in regard to the late Charlie Appleby, this information has just been passed to me: Charlie Appleby was born Robert Charles Appleby in Payton, Saskatchewan, Canada on the 10th October 1913."

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