Historic AA vehicles
Historic AA vehicles

The AA collection of heritage vehicles representing many different periods in the history of AA roadside services.

Between the wars

Following the end of the war motorists were being advised to use a British fuel, Benzole - derived from coal tar - as this was much more plentiful and cheaper than imported petrol.

First filling station, Aldermaston

First filling station, Aldermaston

Fuel distribution was inefficient though with members buying 50 gallon drums form local stockists and storing these in the garden at home.

So in 1920 the AA opened the first roadside filling station. Located at Aldermaston in Berkshire, this had a 500 gallon storage tank and a hand-operated pump.

The AA opened 10 more similar filling stations up until 1932 by which time the petrol companies had seen the commercial potential and the AA withdrew.

First motorcycles

By 1922 the patrol service had been restored to its pre-war strength. After the war patrols started to use motorcycle combinations equipped with tools, spare parts and fuel.  Cyclist patrols still existed and they carried out a number of roadside repairs as well.

1923 – 274 patrols with motorcycle combinations and 376 cyclists

1938 – 1,500 motorcycle and 850 cycle patrols

Patrol with motorcycle combination

Patrol with motorcycle combination

Road safety

Reflector posts (pre-1940)

Reflector posts (pre-1940)

When arterial roads came into use in the 1920s the AA put up reflective marker posts to mark the road edges. These carried the AA logo and red or whit reflectors depending on whether they were on the nearside or offside of the road.

When weather conditions became really treacherous, AA signs and fog flares were deployed to help motorists.

Membership

AA membership grew steadily between the wars:

  • 1920 – 100,000 members
  • 1925 – 250,000 members
  • 1934 – 500,000 members and around 1.5 million cars on the road
  • 1936 – 600,000 members
  • 1938 – 700,000 members
  • 1939 – 725,000 members and 2 million cars on the road
Making ice-bound road signs

Making ice-bound road signs

Severe winters in 1935 and 1936 affected motorists right across the British Isles and led to the introduction of a special 'Ice Bound Road' sign.

Historic AA vehicles
Historic AA vehicles

The AA collection of heritage vehicles representing many different periods in the history of AA roadside services.

Aviation section

AA aviation services (1932)

AA aviation services (1932)

There was growing interest in private flying in the late 1920s.  Some members were joining flying clubs or even buying their own planes and in 1929 the AA formed an Aviation Section, initially to survey landing grounds and provide information about changes or obstructions.

The AA produced the first air-route maps and was the first to supplement telephone and post by dropping messages to patrols from aircraft.

In 1931 the AA started the first weather information service for pilots with reports broadcast every hour.  Recognising its value, the Air Ministry took over the service in 1933.

The AA Aviation section continued until the outbreak of the Second World War.

The famous aviator Amy Johnson worked with the AA to plan her 1932 World Record flight to Cape Town in a De Havilland Puss Moth.

Aviation services (1932)

Aviation services (1932)

During the 1920s the AA used an airship for traffic spotting and in 1928 used two light aircraft to support the growing number of aviators joining the AA.

After the Second World War, in 1957, the AA bought a twin-engined biplane - a De Havilland Dragon Rapide - for aerial photography and to observe traffic flows on roads including the new M1. The same aircraft was used to drop supplies to snow-bound villages in Scotland.

Piper Navajo (1972)

Piper Navajo (1972)

In 1963 the AA acquired a Piper PA-23 Apache 160 fitted with a camera to take images used to help compile routes maps and other touring information.

By the 1970s a larger aircraft was required to repatriate members taken ill or injured overseas and requiring urgent medical treatment.

The AA stopped using its own planes in 1987, but continued until 1994 to repatriate sick or injured members from abroad through a partnership with the St John Ambulance Aeromedical Service.

Piper Apache (1963)

Piper Apache (1963)

Historic AA vehicles
Historic AA vehicles

The AA collection of heritage vehicles representing many different periods in the history of AA roadside services.

Foreign travel

Foreign travel increased again after the First World War and the AA worked with touring clubs across Europe to establish the Alliance Internationale de Tourisme (AIT) with a view to simplifying procedures for foreign travel.

The AA was able to negotiate reductions in shipping rates to the Continent while the complex documentation of the time was managed by uniformed AA officers at the major ports.

Travel to the Eastern Europe was difficult in the 1920s and the documentation required was the exclusive preserve of the RAC.   In 1927, to break this stranglehold, an AA mission was sent on a 6,000 mile journey around the clubs in the relevant countries to persuade them to work with the AIT and the AA.  Similar approaches were made in Spain, through King Alfonso, and in Italy, through Mussolini, to ease travel arrangements for AA members.

Fixing a GB plate (1929)

Fixing a GB plate (1929)

Historic AA vehicles
Historic AA vehicles

The AA collection of heritage vehicles representing many different periods in the history of AA roadside services.

AA routes - early development

The very earliest AA Patrols were often called upon to give verbal advice and directions. The AA routes service grew out of these informal beginnings with the first paper routes - hand written on route cards - being introduced around 1912.

Hand written route cards

Hand written route cards

These early 'routes' were personalised itineraries to meet individual requirements for directions combined with a limited range of printed town plans and booklets of 'day drives'.

After the First World War, the AA set up a touring routes section, and the style of routes issued became more professional.

 

Strip map

Strip map

As membership grew so did the demand for routes. By the early 1920s routes consisted of a set of handwritten cards, each giving details of the route between 2 different points. Information about local places of interest was written on the reverse.

As demand increased typing and duplication of cards was introduced – by the late Twenties, 7,000 different cards/sheets were being printed and more than half a million routes were being compiled every year.

By 1926 a tour was available as well as a route. Tours could take several days and the information provided included remarks about scenery and advice about ferry crossings.

'Strip maps' were first added to route sheets around this time as a further aid to navigation. These were further improved in the Thirties when progressive mileages were added.

Demand for routes peaked at around 600,000 per year, but then declined rapidly during wartime and development ceased.

Foreign routes service

Town plans and routes (1947)

Town plans and routes (1947)

The 'Foreign Routes Service', initially covering France only, was introduced in 1925.

Initially two members of staff were sent abroad to 'log' the main routes from which the first printed routes were built up.

Route sheets were handwritten from maps with additional information being obtained from associated clubs overseas. AA members were also asked to report on journeys they had made.

Gradually the route network expanded, eventually to cover all types of journeys, including overland to India, Africa and even beyond.

Historic AA vehicles
Historic AA vehicles

The AA collection of heritage vehicles representing many different periods in the history of AA roadside services.

The Second World War

Hundreds of AA men had joined the Supplementary Reserve of the Corps of Military Police in 1938 and within days of the outbreak of war were controlling the landing of the British Expeditionary Force.

Many volunteered for other units too.

Back at home, patrols on the road had to wear steel helmets and their motorcycles were painted khaki.   Patrols acted as observers working in close liaison with the various command HQs.

Direction posts and village name signs were taken down and petrol rationing was introduced.