“Wings over Brooklands — The Story of the Birthplace of British Aviation,” by Howard Johnson. 157 pp. 10″ x 7″. (Whittet Books Lid., The Old Mills, Weybridge, Sur, KT13 8LD. £8.95).
This keenly-anticipated book, when it arrived, was a partial disappointment, saved by some excellent pictures, and the plans of Brooklands Aerodrome as it was area-1932 forming its end-papers. I had hoped to learn all about the aeroplane races which were such a feature of Brooklands before the First World War we touched on this not long ago in Motor Sport), to discover whether there were any Flying Schools within the Track after the Armistice but before the Henderson School of Renault-Avros went there in 1927 (the author thinks not), the inside stories about remembered incidents such as the difficult take-off of the Vickers Jockey, the break-up over the Track of that Vickers torpedo-carrier, and a hundred other matters of that sort.
I had anticipated in vain. Because a lot of the material in Johnson’s book has been recorded previously, in books like “Wheels Take Wings”, “Fifty Years of Brooklands,” Vickers’ histories, etc. There are items about Roe, Rolls and others, which do not strictly belong to Brooklands, our do the Atlantic flights, the airship R-100. Wallis’ bombs and the Concorde, except tenuously, yet there is space devoted to them which could have been more suitably given to flying at Brooklands as such. The book, in fact, is largely a disappointing botch-patch of aeronautical hisniry, instead of a story of flying in the Brooklands idiom. There is therefore still room for such a book, but unfortunately once one title has appeared other publishers are liable to back off Mr a long time.
Having said that, there are the excellent pictures, well reproduced and generous it size, in “Wings Over Brooklands,” although inevitably many have been used before. I like very much that of the SE5 that had crashed on the Bylleet banking, it is said during WWI — a brave girl, with bobbed hair, has managed to scale the steep concrete to look at it. Rather suprisingly, the photograph of the Vickers Vimy that crashed at the foot of the banking before a BRDC 500 Mile Race was due to commence does not appear. nor any reference to this. The Trans-Atlantic Vickers Vimy on the Track at the Fork gets atoll page to itself but the classic shin of a Vernon being threaded through the handicap chicanes set up for a JCC International Trophy Race does not. It is Brooklands’ items of this kind that thr book could have done with. However those who are seeking to piece together the old layout of Brooklands will find some very useful pictures, such as the splendid aerial-view of the Fork and Vickers sheds, pictures of other sheds, including those ot Vickers’ on the Byfleet side. and of the “Blue Bird” restaurant of pre-I914. the 1952 Control Tower and Clubhouse. the Flying School from the air taken in the 1930s. etc The page-meture of “the public” being allowed to LIM:LW-Up iii look inside a Vickers Vim’ is good but none of the post-war Brooklands Flying School and Brooklands Acre Club Staff are depicted, other than “the Skipper”, Capt. H. Duncan Davis, AFC.
The early accounts of Mon. Bellamy, A.V. Roe and Col. Cody are retold (but not the ultimate location of Roe’s historic shed, bought by the BARC for £15, a generous sum in 1908, surely?, and there is a whiff of motor racing. But the pictures captioned as of racing cars of the 1920s are actually from the 1930s. and the big picture of the Opening Procession on thr new Track in 1997 shows a Clement in the lead. not Mrs. (later Dame) Locke King’s 70 h.p. Itala, which anyway was of 40 h.p. There is one good picture of a Club day or race day on the Aerodrome, another ot Hope after winning the King’s Cup race, and the chapter, with photographs, map and gory details, of the Luftwaffe attack on Vickers at Brooklands in 1940 is worthwhile, although I believe some of this has appeared in the Brook/ands Socien. Gaaette. In naming typical light-‘planes that were recounted at Brooklands thr author confines hirnself to listing “Gipsy, Tiger and Puss Moths, the Avro Avian, and the Gadllys” but omits such obvious candidates as Blackburn Bluebird. Simmons Spartan, Robinson Redwing, Klemm Swallow, Comper Swift, etc., although space is given in this chapter to comic stones taken from “Wheels Take Wings”.
A bitty book, then, but one well worthwhile for its pictures. Looking at them, one is once again staggered that this historic place was not saved for posterity by the Government, after WW2, as the site of so much vital British aviation, from Roc to the VC10. The ‘oreward is by the great aviation pioneer, Sir Thomas Sopwith. CBE, FRAes, but as lie says. he had moved Hawkers to Langley before the end. Sir Thomas echows the sadness of many that the Trans-Atlantic Vickers Vimy failed to end its first-ever crossing from America to Britain at Brooklands, where it was made, as intended. — W.B.