Air-raiding the archives!

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It is war! That was the devastatingly chilling declaration made by Neville Chamberlain in 1939 and now in 2001 by Tony Blair.

I still remember vividly how, just after war broke out, Mr Wesley J Tee, the then-owner of Motor Sport , called me into his office and said, “Well, see you after it’s over, perhaps. I’ve stopped publication.”

“Can’t we go on?” I responded. “But the last war lasted five years, this one may go on for 10,” said Mr Tee. “What would you put in the magazine?”

“History,” I replied. He thought fora moment, said we would have a go, and rang down to tell the printers to stand by.

I hastily cobbled up an eight-page, coverless issue for October 1939, its first page captioned simply, ‘It Is War’. The contents included the usual ‘Club News’ and ‘Rumblings’ features, an appeal for trials for standard instead of for special cars, a piece about a ‘IT Ulster Austin 7, and reports of John Cobb’s 368.85mph Land Speed Record and Forest Lycett’s Brooklands records with his 8-litre Bentley, the VSCC Prescott hillclimb and Lewes speed trials, how the IRS Special won the Irish Phoenix Park GP and an Austin 7 won the American Alexandria Bay Road-race, plus other news items. Also, the announcement: ‘Next month’s issue back to normal style’.

And so it was. War engulfed us, and when the air-raid sirens shrieked across London on the Sunday morning after the announcement by Mr Chamberlain, Tom Lush and I drove round Parliament Square in an Austin 7 Ruby to see what was happening, which was nothing.

Ignoring the new shelters, we then went to the Council Offices at Wandsworth to volunteer our services but the caretaker was quite unable to respond! So was able to run Motor Sport throughout the period of hostilities, having missed my attempts to get into the Army and then the Royal Air Force, ending up in a ‘reserved occupation’ at the Royal Aircraft Establishment in Farnborough, Hants. Curiously, this also involved writing, about Air Ministry aircraft, glider and aero-engined information in loose-leaf manuals, or `OPs’.

After a day at the RAE offices, formerly a Post Office, I would pore over Motor Sport material into the early hours; I suspect my landlady thought I was a spy. One should not be too smug about these deeds. The Autocar and The Motor also came out regularly all through the war years, their editors unfit for call-up. In my case I was helped enormously by the mass of articles sent to me by Motor Sport readers, many of them inspired to set down their motoring memories while deprived by the war of their cars.

I had been told by Mr Tee that printing blocks could no longer be provided, as copper was rationed (but how did new pictures appear in those weeklies?). Instead I was sent a huge pile of ‘pulls’ of pictures used by Speed (which Mr Tee had taken over), and I had to fit these to whatever articles they might vaguely suit. For instance, if you found a description of an 8-litre Bentley with an illustration of a 3-litre as ‘a similar type’ and thought Boddy was not much of an editor, that was why.

Witness for the persecution

The Daily Mail had a story sometime ago about a farmer summoned for parking his large Ford tractor in a London street when it had never been there. It was 150 miles away at the time, but a parking notice and demand for a 1,60 fine was received. At the time of the alleged offence the farmer and his family were confined to their farm due to the foot-and-mouth crisis.

Nothing new. Years ago I bought a Mini-Cooper as a wedding present for a daughter. It was a restored ex-press car from BMC. I was duly summoned for a parking offence with it, several weeks before the car had been delivered to me! I was supposed to have parked it on double yellows outside an office in ‘City Road, WC’, of which there is no such address, and for a few minutes only.

I consulted my diary to see where I was on the day, and remembered that I had been at Beaulieu, at one of Lord Montagu’s parties. I informed the policeman that if this matter went to court and they called Graham Hill and his Lordship as witnesses, I would win, and it might be a costly business. I heard nothing more.