Major Changes in West of England Combine

Written by Ray Knight on .


The close season saw major changes in the Combine as regards convoying and vehicles. Our new Transport Manager, Steve Gibbs of the Sodbury Vale club has done a marvellous job in overhauling and re-furbishing our three transporters and we must be grateful to other members of his club for assisting in cleaning out the vehicles and drinkers. Our new convoyer is Dave ‘Geordie’ Burdis who has 17 years’ experience behind him and who, before the start of the season made several visits to Frampton Cotterell to view the vehicles and make suggestions. One of his first tasks, without being asked to, was to introduce himself to our Race Advisor Mike Staddon of Crewkerne and has since been in regular contact – not just on race days. This augurs well for the future – every organisation needs a good team when it comes to the difficult task of caring for and liberating the birds especially when there are adverse weather conditions.

The Combine covers an area in excess of 6,000 square miles and as such it is like racing in a semi-national every week, many times with birdages in excess of those entered into specialists clubs. Of course, with an area this size, wind has a great influence on the result but this doesn’t alter the fact that even those who may be favoured must still have their birds in top condition to gain the honours. Combine racing is certainly no corridor flying and, with large birdages, the leading birds must learn to break for home early on – a marvellous opportunity to get birds used to semi-national and national flying.



The season got underway on 19th April when 252 members entered 4317 birds from Exeter. The day started off very cold but fine. The convoyer and race advisor, quite wisely in the view of most, decided to hold the birds to allow the air temperature to rise and let organisations in front of us clear. Liberated at 12 noon into an east wind (north-east in parts) the convoy cleared well except for a few stragglers and an excellent race ensued with very good returns throughout the Combine area. 




Brian Milkins of Towers club holding 1st & 2nd Combine Exeter (1) (4317b)


The top 50 positions in the result were dominated by clubs in the Bristol area with 48 lofts flying 62-70 miles. An exception was the loft of Tony & Aidan Locke flying 100 miles into Gloucester with two birds gaining 17th & 19th positions.1st and 2nd Combine went to the brilliant Brian Milkins of the Towers Club in Bristol (whose members occupied the first six places) making 1334 and 1329 ypm with two cocks. His first bird is a 3 year old Gerrit Lahuis x Bosua. The sire is from a batch of youngsters bought in 2005 which has bred for those that had them some very good birds - this cock escaped over Brian’s head last year so no more like this winner. The dam is a Bosua bred by club-mate Nigel Templer from the "Bult" when paired to the dam of Nigel’s section winner from NFC Saintes (blood tells).  The winner’s hen was hawked earlier this year so he hasn’t got the same partner to fly to this season. Brian’s second bird, a 2 year old cock is from two direct Lahuis pigeons, probably the best pair of breeders he has and responsible for many winners, not just for him but others as well. Unfortunately no more same way bred will be going from this loft as the hen of the pair died this year. The parents of Brian’s second pigeon also bred ‘Champion 30’ winner of 1st Open CSCFC Messac and are Koopman-based. Close behind Brian for 3rd Combine was Nigel Templer.




The second race of the season was again from Exeter on 26th April when 244 members entered 4408 birds. Unfortunately due to a mishap when cutting the strings in preparation for liberation birds from seven crates, affecting four clubs, were seen to escape. With the weather expected to close in later in the morning and the approximately 700 birds to wing-stamp or record from the affected clubs it was decided that the liberation would take place as normal, the four clubs would be omitted from the result and no charge would be made to them. Obviously fanciers were annoyed but I would thank them all for being so understanding and apologise again on behalf of the Combine for the problem. The 3749 birds from the competing clubs were released at 8.55am into a fresh south wind. 


Wraxhall Village club came out on top with eight birds in the top ten on the result. They took the first four positions with Ray English, G & V Watkins, S Allen and Gary Summers. G & V Watkins certainly had a good day, also taking 7th, 8th & 12th Combine. Ray’s winning yearling cheq w/f hen was well out in front on 2162 ypm for the almost 63 mile journey. She was bred from a Combine winner from Littlehampton who is now 14 years old at stock and is of Soontjen lines when paired to his granddaughter.  The winner now has 2 x 1st club, 1 x 2nd club and 1st Combine in her short racing career to date - all from Exeter and Yelverton, so she like the sprints. As a young bird she was lost racing and ended up in Derby, where a chap looked after her for a week. He liberated her in Leicester from where she came back Sunday morning in pouring rain and a head wind. It just goes to show birds can recover from mistakes with time and patience. This win makes getting up at 5.30 every morning a little easier to exercise the birds before going to work. Ray would also like to congratulate his fellow club mates who also had a good race on the day with many position in the top 20 of the Combine in what is a very friendly but extremely competitive club with excellent flyers and many National winners. Ray congratulates the Combine for three excellent races to date.



Ray English of Wraxhall Village with his 1st Combine Exeter (2) (3749b)


Saturday 3rd May saw the Combine at Yelverton when 278 members entered 4729 birds. The weather at the race-point was cold and overcast so liberation was delayed to give time for brighter spells and warmer air. The strings were eventually cut at 12.45pm with a very light easterly wind blowing. An excellent race ensued with twelve clubs featuring in the top 50 on the result flying between 58 – 102 miles. The patience shown by our convoyer and race advisor certainly seems to pay off

Once again the strong Towers Club in Bristol featured well taking six positions in the top 10 including 1st & 2nd Combine for the 90 mile journey.1st Combine on 1488ypm was the consistent partnership of Mr & Mrs Wile & S Lias; Garth and Steve’s winner is a yearling blue w/f cock raced on widowhood - the sire is a van Houtte bred from Louella stock and the dam is a daughter of the "Gerrit Pair" (that name is mentioned with the first week’s winner for Brian Milkins), responsible for many winners belonging to Nigel Templer. This is the second Combine winner she has bred plus other prize winners for the partnership. Close runner-up was fellow club member Chris Templer on 1486ypm followed by Nigel Nutt of Glastonbury on 1484ypm and Taunton secretary Steve Widger on 1480ypm.


Garth Wile & Steve Lias of the Towers club with their 1st Combine Yelverton (1) (4729b)

Our final inland race before the channel was again from Yelverton on 10th May when 267 members from all 27 clubs entered 4054 birds – an excellent birdage considering the weather forecast and the fact that the Central Southern Classic was holding its first race of the season from Guernsey. In my own club at Gloucester, the furthest flyers in the Combine, the members had entered 68 birds into the Classic race but still managed to find 426 birds for the Combine which goes to show how few losses have been experienced in the first races. Whilst other organisations were liberating on the south coast, the weather in Devon was not suitable for an early liberation – it was cold, overcast and there were plenty of rain bands blowing through on the strong SW wind. Things started to improve with glimpses of the sun then another rain band showed itself – eventually with the sun breaking though the strings were cut at 11.05am and the birds cleared well towards the north-east in two main batches. A fast race ensued and the winners, Mr & Mrs Pete Phelps of Gloucester – the furthest flying club in the Combine – timed a 2yr old dark cheq widower to make 2174ypm for the 123 mile journey. An excellent pigeon – a yearling cock was second Combine down at Midsomer Norton for L & P Emery making 2169ypm for the almost 90 mile trip – I say excellent because the next four places were all taken in the north of the Combine for Nick Orchard of the Nailsworth Club, in 3rd & 4th spots making 2152ypm and 2150ypm for the 119 mile journey and Steve Hanman of Gloucester – furthest flyer in the Combine – in 5th place making 2146ypm over 127 miles.


Pete Phelps of Gloucester & District with the partnership’s 1st Combine Yelverton (2) (4054b)


Pete was ‘over the moon’ about their win – he had won the Combine three times before several years ago with his then family of Planet Bros Van Loons flying in the old Gloucester South End FC. On one of these occasions he was 1st & 2nd Combine from Minstead with two brothers. His winner from Yelverton is a Denis Sapin with a few minor cards to his name. Pete was so pleased to get Gloucester & District FC, where he is Chairman, ‘on the map’, this being the Club’s second season racing in the Combine and first Combine win. He would like to thanks everyone in the Combine for great racing – long may it continue.

That’s it for the first part of the season. It is very heartening to have had phone calls from a number of fanciers in all parts of the Combine to say what good racing we have had with few losses. I am sure this is down to patience by the race advisor and convoyer who have wished to give the birds the best possible starts and, as a result, waiting until later in the day for other organisations to clear and for the air to warm. I would also like to thank all Clubs for the prompt submission of results by email, enabling me to get a full result out by Sunday afternoons. Please have a look at our website to learn more about the Combine.

Alen Gibb