Airman and Speed Merchant
Walter George Molyneaux Barron ‘Broomstick’ Broomhall was born in 1912 in The Avenue, St Margarets. Educated at the City of London School and Imperial Services College, at age 16 he was an apprentice at the Hawker Aircraft Factory where, in his spare time, he built ‘The Broomhall Special’, his first racing car, which he entered for the Lewes Speed Trials, averaging 62mph over half a mile from a standing start. At the Shelsley Walsh Hill Climb the car suffered a broken chain, hit a bank at 45mph, turned over three times and burst into flames. Not for the first time in his eventful life, Broomstick emerged unscathed.
Ice-skating in Switzerland
Passing his Flying Test at 17, he surpassed the leading figures of the day in aero sports, thrilling crowds with his stunt flying. By 19 he had won the One Mile Amateur Ice Skating Championships at Richmond Ice Rink, the London Cup and the Manchester Cup at Rickmansworth, scored the first and only goal against World Champions Canada, at the first International Ice Hockey match played against England at Brighton, and was British Ice Skating Champion for the third year in succession. Captaining England at Davos in Switzerland, he won the 5000 metre race, broke the quarter mile, the half mile and one mile British Empire outdoor records, the 500 and 1500 metre outdoor records and the 5000 and 10000 metre European and World records. At 20 years of age he was building his own speedboats, eventually winning the Oulton Broad Championship by a lap and half in Wildfire V.
Swimming in Roller-skates
Taking on a £10 bet from a producer at Twickenham Film Studios to swim 'the Lido Swimming Pool' fully dressed and wearing roller skates, Broomstick didn't clock the low water level, dived in, banged his head on the bottom and lost the bet.
In Canada & USA
Having test flown a Whitworth Atlas to 21,000 feet without oxygen (of course), he flew Canada coast to coast, winning the Ontario Ski Jumping Championships and saving 15 stranded men dying of starvation en route. After storming the USA, he returned to England to make the headlines, first saving a drowning woman off the coast of Worthing and then, on his maiden flight as a captain with Imperial Airways when his aircraft suffered a massive electrical failure in dense fog, he saved it, his five passengers, a new housing estate and Croydon airport by landing on a nearby disused golf course. At least that's how Broomstick has it recorded in his scrapbook memoir. According to Flight magazine, however, the hired aeroplane with one passenger was brought down in a most unsuitable place in no more than a haze. The machine was removed and promptly impounded until the fee was paid, causing much loss of revenue to the owners. Broomstick eventually 'sent along a tenner', claiming that he was prevented by the police from returning to the machine after telephoning, since he was wearing carpet slippers and therefore could not possibly be the pilot!
In South Africa
In 1936, as Chief Pilot with the South African International Aircraft Corporation, Broomstick entered the gruelling Durban to Johannesburg motor cycle race on a machine he built himself, and won. Having shattered the World 12 Hour Endurance record for a Class A motor boat and winning the £1000 Gold Fields Bowl Race, the threat of war brought him back to Blighty as Chief Flying Instructor, RAF Reserve.
Winning the 50 Mile speed boat championship at Poole while on leave from Bomber Command, it was as Leader of Flight No1 Fighter Squadron that he became an air ace during the Battle of Britain. Later, he inadvertently established the largest US air base in Europe at Burtonwood near Warrington, by managing to land on the runway a distressed B24 Liberator bomber, which he had ferried across the Atlantic.
After the war, Broomstick made the first non-stop flight from Reykjavik to the UK, test flew surplus US fighters for Sweden, Norway, Cuba and Mexico and almost married a niece of the Queen. But then after more adventures in Korea, New Guinea, New Zealand and Australia, where he flew for a time with the Flying Doctor Service, life took a crueller turn.
Returning to England and forced to sign on at a National Assistance Board re-establishment Centre, the last confirmed sighting of him was in the 1970s when he was discovered living in the cellar of a derelict house in Amyand Park Road, Twickenham. Here he commandeered old newspapers for his bed and ate whatever he could scavenge.
Only through the kind efforts of a local businessman and councillor, Ken Elmes, were his last few days made tolerable. He gave Ken the weighty scrapbook of his life and times for safekeeping when he was taken, seriously ill, to the West Middlesex Hospital, from where he never returned.
This text is an abbreviated version of an informal talk given at the Borough of Twickenham Local History Society in May 2007 by Edmund Harris. It is hoped to find out more about Broomstick's family.