Gustav E Kuhn was born in October 1898 in Birmingham, though his grandfather had come from Germany. His father is described as a master cycle maker. His grandfather and uncles also had mechanical backgrounds, working in the traditional local trades of guns and engineering.
Gus was apprenticed to Butterfields of Birmingham who manufactured the two-stroke Levis motorcycles. He competed in his first trial at 15 and in July 1915 came 3rd in the Wolverhampton MCC hill climb at Style Cop on a
2¼ hp Levis.
In 1917 he joined the Royal Naval Air Service, doing two days initial training at Crystal Palace (where he was later to be a lap record holder!) before training as an Engine Fitter at Cranwell. He then moved to the experimental depot at Wormwood Scrubs, which was operated by the Admiralty as an airship base. On the 1st April 1918 the RAF was formed by the amalgamation of the RNAS and RFC and Gus was transferred to the RAF experimental department at Battersea.
It would be during this time that he met and courted Eva Crowe. She was the daughter of a butcher and a cook and lived just off Clapham Common North Side, London SW11. He left the RAF in March 1919 and returned to Butterfields.
In later interviews he denied his German roots, saying he was "born in Birmingham like my grandfather and his grandfather before him." No doubt, during WWI and inter-war years German connections were not fashionable. He was in excellent company though, as the Royal family were in a similar position! They changed their surname, as did hundreds of Kuhns at that time, but Gus stuck with his family name.