When Yorkshireman Cyril Oswald Jennings, better known to us as Mick Jennings, returned to war-torn Kuala Lumpur in 1946, he was already 46, had served in Mesopotamia, the African Gold Coast (now Ghana), Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. To flee the invading Japanese army, he attempted to sail to Australia in a little dingy, was made a prisoner of war, lost his first wife to illness during internment in Sumatra, and was about to write a book about his adventures at sea (An Ocean Without Shores).
Jennings first stepped foot in Malaya in 1935, a year after Sir Shenton Thomas [Montgomery, B. (1984). Shenton of Singapore: Governor and prisoner of war] arrived in the Straits Settlements as its Governor (1934 to 1942). Prior to that, Thomas was Governor of the Gold Coast Colony (present-day Ghana) from 1932 till 1934 while Jennings was a surveyor there between 1926 and 1930. Not an unusual posting for either as many of the Colonial civil service personnel were transferred to Britain’s South East Asian outposts from Africa from the mid-1930s.
In September 1939, as the world braced itself for another war to end all wars, Jennings acquired MG K3 007 from the MG factory in Abingdon while on vacation in the UK. He had the race car shipped to Singapore shortly after the United Kingdom declared war on Germany (3 September 1939). It was very much a “Phoney War” (Sitzkrieg) at the time but the fact remains that the MG escaped being torpedoed by German U-boats in the Atlantic on its way to the Suez Canal and Malaya. We don’t know what Jennings paid for the K3 but we do know that it was rebodied by his “tukang magic” (master fabricator in Malay).
STEALING TIME: A Straits Times correspondent in Britain reported on 20 January 1940 that Jennings, “…the well-known Kuala Lumpur racing motorist, is now on his way back to Malaya after a year’s leave in England. He saw a great deal of British motor sport before the war broke out and hopes, as a result of his experience, to clip a few more fifths off his speed trial times when he gets back. Mr Jennings said, before sailing, that he hoped to be able to organise motoring meetings on behalf of the Malayan Patriotic Fund, and that he would try to inaugurate a small car club in Kuala Lumpur.” In the Jennings’ carry-on luggage the K3, a weapon that he hoped would take off more than a fifth of his speed trial times.
In fact, Jennings would have to wait till after his contemporaries in Singapore set up the Singapore Motor Club in February 1948 before he got his chance to set up his “small car club” in the Federal Capital of Kuala Lumpur.
A CAR CLUB: Finally, around 11 March 1950, his brainchild came to fruition – the Selangor Motor Sports Club was born. Capt. Cyril Oswald ‘Mick’ Jennings of the Kuala Lumpur Municipal Office (he was Municipal Architect), officiated as the Club’s first President. He also designed the club’s badge [see photo].
His committee consisted of Mr. A. de Silva as Hon. Secretary, Mr. S. Mitchell as Treasurer with Kyle-Palmer’s James L. Ross, Kinta Electrical Distribution’s Peter Carey-Rees, A. Nixon, E.C. Asplen, H. Woods and H. Woodhouse making up the initial committee. J. Lavers was elected publicity secretary [Straits Times, 11 March 1950, pg. 12. Selangor Forms A Motor Club].
When it came to organising motor sports events, the AAM still held the upper hand and the Selangor and Pahang Branch organised the Lornie Road Speed Trial on 16 July 1950, the second Lornie Mile held after the war. The initial announcement from the newly formed club suggested that its first event in 1950 would be a Motor Gymkhana and Concours d’Elegance, although there seems to be no indication that this took place that year.
However, the AAM’s hold was broken on Boxing Day in December 1950 when Jennings’ Selangor Motor Sport Club pulled off the Kenny Rise Half-Mile Hill Climb in Kuala Lumpur, the last motor sports event for the year. There were 17 events run that weekend, 12 of which were for cars. FTD was set by a Selangor participant, Lim Wong Nyan, driving a Ford V8 L.A. Special (which was later sold to engineer Freddie Johns (and renamed the Black Ghost). Jennings won the 1500cc class in his Black Draught MG TC, which the Singapore press mislabelled “The Dread Nought”.
Jennings, who was also instrumental in the formation of the little-known Gear Box Club in Kuala Lumpur in 1953, had been an active member of the motor racing community before the Japanese invasion of Malaya having participated in the 1940 War Effort Grand Prix held around the streets of Johor Bahru in his very famous MG K3 Magnette.
Let’s backtrack for a second and look at the first event held in Selangor after the war. That first motor sport event in Selangor after the Japanese withdrawal was the Lornie Mile, held in Kuala Lumpur on 3rd July 1949. It was run by the AAM’s Selangor & Pahang Branch. The event was graced by an overhead pass by Wing Commander Roderick “Babe” Learoyd V.C.in a de Havilland DH.80 Puss Moth high-wing monoplane. There were an amazing 125 entries for this first post-war motor sports event in Selangor! But the AAM’s role was evolving and organising a motor racing event was more than the organisation was prepared to take on. Similar to what had transpired in Singapore and later on in Hong Kong, the motoring enthusiasts leapt at the opportunity of establishing clubs to cater for their interests.
On 18 March 1953, the Selangor Motor Sports Club changed its name to become the Malayan Motor Sport Club (MMSC), possibly, as one report put it, because the High Commissioner to Malaya, Sir Henry Gurney, declined to become patron of a club only associated with a single state. The new Club had three key patrons: Yang di-Pertuan Agong Sultan Hisamuddin Shah (the second Yang di-Pertuan Agong of Malaya from 14 April to 1 September 1960, and the sixth Sultan of Selangor between 1938–1942 and again from 1945–1960. Sultan of Selangor); Tunku Abdul Rahman (later to become the father of Malaysian’s independence); and Dato’ Sardon bin Haji Jubir (Malaysian’s Minister of Transport). Consequently, MMSC became the de facto body representing motor sports in Malaysia.
The newly-formed Malayan Motor Sports Club ran its first event, the Lornie Mile speed trial, on 5th July 1953. Naturally, there was a new badge, same design but with a different crest and the word Malaya replacing Selangor on the top.
And Mickey Boy? Well, that was his nickname, the anthropomorphic mouse a mascot on his early race car.
This is an abridged version of the story of the history of the Automobile Association of Malaya and of C.O. Jennings’ racing interests. The full text remains as an unpublished manuscript in Volume I of Lost Circuits: Motor Racing Tales From The Far East. To understand a bit more about C.O. Jennings see:
Jennings, Cyril Oswald. An Ocean Without Shores. Hodder and Staughton.
Jennings, Cyril Oswald & Jennings, Margery. Escape to Japanese Captivity: A Couple’s Tragic Ordeal in Sumatra, 1942-1945 (January, 2021).