Cars in books, August 1973

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Following my reference to an excellent account of motoring in a vintage Bentley which Richard Hughes incorporated in his novel “The Fox in the Attic”, I was compelled to read the sequel, “The Wooden Shepherdess” (Chatto & Windus, 1973), and found therein only passing reference to the chief character’s Bentley but much about American cars of the 1920s. The wild American youth the hero finds himself unexpectedly living with use old Fords, an ancient Dodge and a sports Oakland. There is the cop on an Indian motorcycle and an epic chase ff a Stutz Bearcat driven by the hero, pursued by a Duesenberg, while a Pierce-Arrow comes into it, as well as a home-made special. It is all most authentic, except that I wonder if Oakland really made a sports job equal to a Bearcat or a Mercer?

Leaving fiction for autobiography, a reader lent me a rare book “Waves-Wheels-Wings” by Comdr. Sir Walter Windham, late RN, RIM, RNR, RNLI, MS (Hutchinson), published during the Second World War. It contains much of early flying and motoring. Lt.-Comdr. Glen Kidston was a stepson of the author’s and the story is recounted about Kidston’s narrow escape from the air crash at Caterharn in 1931, which formed the subject of some correspondence in Motor Sport some time ago … “he was sole survivor from the burning wreck of a German aeroplane . . . in which six persons were burned to death”. Kidston’s other escapes are also mentioned, when his racing motor-boat broke up in the Solent in 1928 (the passengers who also escaped included Prince and Princess Imeretinsky, who owned a Bentley and later a Roesch Talbot), his accident in the Bentley in the 1929 TT and one when his car went through a stone wall in the North of Scotland after skidding on ice. “When attempting a record for the run from John o’ Groats to Monte Carlo”, which I assume was actually during a Monte Carlo Rally.

We published a picture of the Kidston house at Gwernyfed Park, Breconshire, some time ago and this has more motoring associations than I realised at the time I took its because Sir Windham says his wife was “the widow of Captain Glen Kidston of the Black Watch, eldest son of the founder of the Clyde Shipping Company” and that “Both her sons took to flying and her daughter, Audrey, took her certificate at Brooklands”.

The author’s first motor vehicle was a de Dion tricycle which the subsequent Lord Perry who headed Ford’s of Dagenham taught him to ride in Battersea Park, after which he rode it in the Emancipation Run from London to Brighton in 1896 and later tried to ride from London to Scotland, doing part of the distance by train, however. Later he had a Darracq in Elgin which was denounced from the pulpit of Duffas Church as “that white devil”. Sir Walter Windham later made detachable bodies in a works just outside Clapham Junction station and in 1911 supplied three different bodies for a Daimler used by HH the Maharajah of Sirohi, India, which was apparently still in use in 1922, when the Prince Of Wales was there.

He was also the owner of a “big 90 h.p. Mors sporting car” which he drove at the Army manoeuvres when Lt.-Col. Mark Maythew was trying to interest the War Office in cars—apparently General Sir Evelyn Wood thought it too dangerous to ride in. There is much about pioneer aviation— the author formed the Aeroplane Club in 1908—in Asia and elsewhere and a picture showing him with Jenatzy after the 1903 Gordon Bennett race, when he “had charge of the winning-post”.

Next, I am indebted to Cpl. W. Stanton of the RAF for the following extracts from “Like a Diamond Blazing” by Lawrence G. Green (Trinity Press) 1967): This bleak coast which Wilson explored reminds me of a more famous treasure hunter who was here. I had dealings with him three times in my life—the late Captain (afterwards Sir) Malcolm Campbell. At the age of eighteen, during World War 1, I had to appear before Campbell at Denham School of Aeronautics to answer questions on aero engines. I failed. Next I encountered this formidable character at Verneuk Pan in Bushmanland, where he was trying to set up a new world land speed record with his Bluebird car. Once again he found my knowledge of engines unsatisfactory, and he bitterly complained of something I had written. The third meeting occurred in 1934, when Campbell returned to South Africa on a mysterious enterprise which he refused to discuss with me.

Most people thought Campbell was after diamonds. I heard a rumour that he was seeking Captain Kidd’s treasure somewhere on the Coast of Diamonds. Campbell had previously visited Coco Island in the Pacific with another racing motorist, Captain K. Lee Guinness, in search of private treasure. At that time Campbell had stated: “I am sure there is nothing so fascinating as this hunting for buried treasure. It is a legitimate pursuit, and there is still a lot of it hidden in the earth, all over the globe, waiting for some adventurous soul to find it”.

Campbell had two light aircraft for his expedition, and a policeman. (I forgot to mention that the Carp expedition took a policeman along when it entered the forbidden territory. I have always been conscious of police surveillance in this territory; and quite right too.) Somewhere on the desert coast Campbell set up a camp. It was between Sylvia Hill and Spencer Bay; and there must have been a hard pan which they used as an aerodrome.

Campbell was surveying the coast when he made a forced landing near Sylvia Hill one day, bending the metal airscrew. He elected to wait among the dunes, with three water bottles and a few tins of bully, while his second pilot took off from the soft patch and made a tricky flight to Luderitz with the quivering damaged aircraft. Campbell, in my opinion, was unlucky in most of his ventures. On that occasion, however, luck was with him. He wandered about, found a good hard landing ground, and marked it with huge letters in the sand.

The wind was cold that night; Campbell was over fifty and wearing shorts; he shivered all night without a fire. Next evening the aeroplane came back, equipped with a new airscrew, and Campbell got back to camp. After weeks of searching, he packed up and returned to England without a word about the treasure he had been seeking. It leaked out, of course, for a number of officials in South West Africa had been told. According to legend, a German prospector was taking a gold sample of marvellous value to Windhoek before the war, gold found somewhere in the coastal desert. He died on the way, leaving only vague directions. Some years later there was a gold rush in the Rehobth district and rich pockets were discovered. But the lost reef from which the dead prospector’s gold came—that remains a legend. That was the object of Campbell’s expedition.

.South of Bogenfels the desert relents a little. There is a long, shrub-covered stretch, still desolate, but offering some grazing in good years, You see a steenbok here and there; even herds of gemsbok, and always the jackals. It is an easy run in a touring car nowadays; but the old hands told me of many ordeals. Camels made the coastal trip possible—just possible. The first motor-cars did not attempt it. At last a track was made for cars, however, and large drums containing food, water and petrol were placed at intervals of ten kilometres. Often enough the drivers had to leave their stranded cars deep in sand and walk to the nearest drum for supplies. The tracks they left may still be seen; even their troubles may be traced in the sand. Diesel trucks with huge trailers were first put on the run in 1929. They take ten hours for the 187 miles run from Luderitz to Orange Mouth, day after day, year after year, hauling 500 tons a month, carrying everything from lucerne to heavy machinery. One truck purchased in 1932 has now covered more than a million miles.

In “The Nearest Way Home” by Daphne Fielding (Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1970) there are mentions of Land Rover journeys in Europe and a Renault Dauphine the authoress and her husband had in France, while if anyone still has a Mk. VI Bentley Reg. No. ?FJ 358 they may care to know that it was once owned by Dirk Bogarde and used by him during the filming in France of “Ill Met by Moonlight”.

I am astonished the publishers of “Flying Fever” by Air Vice-Marshal E. E. Vincent, CB, DFC, AFC, DL (Jarrolds, 1972) denied us a review copy, because it is another book about flying, notably in the inter-war years, and would have been enthusiastically dealt with. The author learnt to fly at Brooklands on Maurice Farmans in 1915, aged 17 (another one for the BS archives!). He used as transport a single-geared 4 h.p. Broadway. The book is full of fascinating accounts of flying between the wars in Avro 504Ks, Bristol Fighters, DH9s, AS Siskins, at Tangmere, Westland Wapitis and Vickers Vincents in the Far East, Gloster Gauntlets and so on; followed by service in the Second World War and during the peace which broke out afterwards, up to the destruction of the Japanese Air Force in Burma. There is even a chapter on No, 2 Armoured Car Company to which the author was posted, in Palestine, in 1926. The vehicles are described as mostly 1912 Rolls-Royce chassis, and one a 1910 model. “These had been private cars for some years, then bought during the war and had 4-1/2 tons of armour and extra leaves to the springs put on them. They would still do their 60 m.p.h. over a mud-flat—such as was recently (1970) used for the hi-jacking of three airliners!”—W.B.

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