Gwenda Hawkes

While researching Gwenda Hawkes, by coincidence I came face-to-face in the local library with Glubb Pasha by Trevor Royal, about the career of Sir John Bagot Glubb, MC, DSO, OBE, CMG, Commander of the Arab Legion. Apart from this book being a full account of the long and exciting life of this great military character, most interestingly described in its 525 pages, the gentleman was the brother of Gwenda May Glubb, the lady racing driver concerned.

From this book we learn that she was born in Preston, Lancashire, and educated at Cheltenham Ladies’ College, where she taught herself to drive in the car (make not named) belonging to the family of a school friend. When the First World War broke out, Gwenda joined the Scottish Women’s Hospitals organisation as a volunteer and was sent to the Eastern Front, where she drove ambulances under difficult and dangerous conditions, for which she was awarded the Cross of St George and St Stanislav by the Romanian Government. Trevor Royal recounts how the train journey to the Crimea took several weeks, as the occupants had to get out and chop wood for the engine every 20 miles or so… Her mother, Lady Glubb, who was then living in a flat in Kensington, did not see her daughter for long periods and postal communications were slow. After the war, when Lady Glubb was living at Pembury, near Tunbridge Wells, Gwenda was still some way away, living near Brooklands. She undertook long-distance promotional rides for motorcycle manufacturers, first in November 1921, when she did a 1000-mile run for Ner-a-Car, covering 190 miles per day, and then by racing Trump machines at Brooklands. At Montlhery she co-rode a 350cc Rudge on a successful 24-hour record run (54.21 mph) and survived a bad accident when the back wheel of a Terrot-JAP collapsed.

Later, of course, Gwenda went to live at Montlhery, married Douglas Hawkes, after divorcing Col Janson and Col Stewart, and at the age of 42 was driving the Derby Special at speeds in the region of 150mph, on record-breaking and test runs. Trevor Royal quotes her lap-record of the French track at 145.94mph but not her subsequent one at 147.79mph, and he confuses her Brooklands Ladies’ lap-record of 135.95mph with the absolute lap-record, held at that time by Oliver Bertram and the 8-litre Barnato-Hassan at 142.60 mph. Before WW2 the Hawkes returned to Brooklands to run their business and during hostilities make military aeroplane components, after which they decided to follow the Glubbs to the Mediterranean and the Aegean on their yacht. After giving that up, Gwenda remained an enthusiastic traveller, driving back to Britain in her Dormobile or her 2CV Citroen in the 1960s. She died on May 27, 1990, only a few days short of 96th birthday.