The son of a wealthy businessman, Alexander Adolphus Dumfries Henshaw (Alex) was born at Peterborough on November 7 1912. He was educated at Lincoln Grammar School. As a boy he was fascinated by flying and by motorcycles. With financial support from his father, who thought aircraft safer than motorcycles, he learned to fly.
He began lessons in 1932, at the Skegness and East Lincolnshire Aero Club. A skilled pilot, in 1937 he won the inaugural London-to-Isle of Man air race in atrocious weather. In 1938, flying a Percival Mew Gull, he won the King's Cup Air Race. He flew at an average speed of 236.25 mph, a record that still stands.
Early in 1939 Henshaw made a record-breaking solo flight from England to Cape Town and back. However this triumph, overshadowed by the imminence of war, received no public recognition. In the census of that year his occupation was given as a fertiliser manufacturer. Alex was living with his family and his bride-to-be Barbara.