Motor Emergencies . 28th October 2019
SASHA had a return visit from Roger Day this week, not this time relevant to the Kennet Valley at War but a brief history of the Automobile Association. A snap shot of the evening follows.
When the Red Flag law was repealed in 1897 it started a war between the police and the early motorists. The police set speed traps all over the country to catch those exceeding the 12m.p.h. permitted. In 1905 some motorist joined together calling themselves the Motorists' Mutual Association. They patrolled on bicycles to warn motorist, using salute and signals, so the drivers' could avoid being caught by these traps. This group quickly renamed themselves the Automobile Association.
By 1920s the AA patrolmen or( the scouts as they were then called) had not only bikes, but uniform, small tool boxes and first aid kits. Over time, the bicycle was replaced by different models of motorbikes from the Triumph with its sidecar to the BSA then vans of differing types . The AA even had planes, in 1957, the first was the De Havilland Dragon Rapide, these were used, among other things, for making the maps available in the Handbook.
The sentry type AA box was set up from 1912, originally for the patrol men, they were responsible for the maintenance of the boxes and surrounding area, which they took a great pride in. As the boxes increased in size, the idea of giving members a key to access the telephone road information was a hu ge success. We saw photos of the various models, the roof lines change from the "Y" to "W", over time all the boxes were replaced by the "ice cream cone" phone stand. Even these were phased out by the 1990s as mobile phones arrived in numbers. Several members of SASHA still retain their keys which unfortunately do not open any doors now.
In the early days of driving the motorist didn't know exactly where they were in the countryside. The AA put up name plates in villages to identify them and they also gave information on the distance to neighbouring towns, eventually this became the responsibility of the local councils. Locally at Winterbourne Ramsbury and Aldborne these name plates cane still be seen.
After the war the price of fuel, which had risen from 1s 9d a gallon to 4s, failed to return to pre war prices. At Aldermaston the AA set up the first filling station, selling benzyl fuel to members. We saw a photograph of the building but there is no trace of it now. Roger Day has spoken to many former patrol men to collect their memories and photographs. The AA had a training school where the new patrolmen received instruction and the current men had refresher courses. A group photo was routine at the end of each course.
Numerous different perks have come with membership over the years. The Relay home for broken down vehicles and the Route planning service. The Handbook with it maps, recommended hotels and garages which were inspected regularly and given their star rating. By 1932 there were 500.000 members and regional head quarters were put in place, they were all called Fanum House. Now there are over 14 million members and the AA is a public company. Unfortunately this meant the dismantling of the AA museum at Basingstoke and the records and old bikes etc have been either disposed of or scattered around the country.
It has always been the principal of the AA that the person is the member not the car so when a AA box was sited in Gore End, a remote place on Salisbury Plain near Imber ,(the deserted village) one of the none driving locals joined the AA in order to get use of the AA phone.
Many SASHA members remembered a television series around 1998/1990 which featured the caste as AA employees and much of it was filmed around Stockcross Hungerford and Pewsey area. I see that there is an episode of The Last Salute, Happy Motoring is available on Youtube so I am going to give that a go.
The evening with its photos and tales brought back many memories for the audience. We all had stories connected in some way with the AA. The famous AA grill badge which meant the member would receive a salute from the patrol man riding his yellow motorbike with its sidecar . Many of the listeners had used the route planners when going on holiday or to cross Europe or accessed a AA box in case of emergency.
After answering questions and receiving a vote of thanks we all enjoyed tea and biscuits.