Book Reviews, February 1964, February 1964

“The Big Load,” by Ted Murphy. 192 pp. 8 3/4 in. x 5 3/8 in. (G. T. Foulis & Co. Ltd., 1 – 5 Portpool Lane, London, E.C.1. 18s. 6d.)

It obviously couldn’t be long before some publisher of motoring books sought a title covering experiences with commercial vehicles. Foulis found such an author in Ted Murphy, a cockney lorry driver who graduated from horse-drawn transport at an early age and who subsequently gained a long and widely varied experience of the long haul.

His style of writing may irritate some readers and I was irritated myself when he failed to give the makes of some of the early commercial vehicles he encountered. However, that is hardly fair, because Ted Murphy does name most of the makes he was associated with, from a medium-sized Vulcan, of around the early ‘thirties, and he not only names most of the later lorries, vans, and coaches – Commer, Scammell, Mercedes-Benz, A.E.C., Leyland, etc. – that he drove but sometimes includes worthwhile information about their marque eccentricities.

It is practically all there – glimpses of well-known routes, working conditions, the cafés, drivers hazards of “trunking,” coach operation, from quite early times to the present-day. “The Big Load ” adds considerably to a motorist’s knowledge of what driving (and loading!) the heavies is like, of technical terms, advantages of different body styles, driving technique when sitting in front of a multi-ton cargo, servicing systems, and a great deal more.

For either informative or light reading this is a welcome, if not a memorable, book. One suspects that, Foulis having opened the flood-gates a crack, more books about memories of the cornmercials will follow. There should be scope for something on the even earlier period than that with which Ted Murphy deals, pre-1914, and the nineteen-twenties, and for a good book about the steam-wagon era, and I wouldn’t mind writing under the title of “Motor Transport in the First World War.”

But whatever follows “The Big Load” on the commercial and Public Service vehicle theme, Ted Murphy has not only pointed the way but has set a high standard for others to follow. – W. B.


“Early Bird,” by Major W. G. Moore, O.B.E., D.S.C. 146 pp. 8 3/4 in. x 5 1/2 in. (Putnam & Co. Ltd., 42, Great Russell Street, London, W.C.1. 25s.)

Many flying reminiscences of the R.F.C. days were published between the two great European wars. I have read and enjoyed as many as I have been able to acquire, and gradually this kind of reminiscent autobiography has ebbed away. It has been revived again by Major Moore, who writes an extremely readable and informative account of his career as a Naval airman between 1914, when he took his Royal Aero. Club pilot’s certificate after only 24 hours’ training, at Hendon with the Beatty School (run by an American proprietor) on their Gnome-engined modified Wright pusher biplane, to the experiments in deck-landing on the Navy’s first Aircraft Carrier Furious at the end of the war.

Major Moore writes intelligently about the many aeroplanes he flew, including B.E. 2c, Sopwith Pup and Camel, Bristol Bullet, a captured German Albatross, and many sea planes, etc., and there is a splendid description of how he performed stunt aerobatics in a Camel, as well as a hair-raising account of a dicey night landing in a Bristol Bullet, the Gnome engine of which had broken an inlet valve spring, so that every time the throttle was opened the cockpit filled with flame via the crankcase and inlet pipe, at the Isle of Grain.

Whether Major Moore is writing of personalities, aeroplanes or places, he makes his flying autobiography extremely interesting, as well as presenting important historical facts in clear perspective for the first time. Some interesting cars are mentioned in “Early Bird,” notably the primrose-yellow Sizaire-Berwick with burnished aluminium bonnet used by Lt.-Comdr. Douglas Oliver, R.N., when he commanded the Isle of Grain air station, brass hats being met in more mundane R.N. Lancias, and the model-‘T’ Fords and Reos that served so well, on roads, tracks or converted to use railway lines, in the East African campaign.

Normally I prefer accounts of R.F.C. activities in Europe but Major Moore’s story of Naval flying and the aeroplanes he flew in Africa left me enthralled. A nostalgic book which no students of early aviation or the 1914/18 period should deny themselves. The pictures are excellent. There is a Foreword by Marshal of the Royal Air Force, Sir William Dickson, G.C.B., K.B.E., D.S.O. – W. B.


“Annals of British and Commonwealth Air Transport,” by John Stroud. 675 pp. 8 3/4 in. 5 3/8 in. (Putnam & Co. Ltd., 42, Great Russell Street, London, W.C.1. 84s.)

This is yet another of those erudite, extremely detailed, and copiously illustrated aviation works of reference which Putnam make a pleasant habit of publishing. Compiled as a diary, it details the history of air transport, from the earliest such flights to the end of 1960, in almost day-by-day entries.

The main sections of the book are divided into United Kingdom and British Commonwealth air transport activities, there are fascinating appendices listing the main details of transport aircraft and airlines, identification letters, traffic statistics, Civil Operations in the Berlin Air Lift and, most interesting, the aeroplane fleets of the British and Commonwealth Airlines from 1919-20 onwards – the fleet of Air Post of Banks Ltd. in 1920, for instance, consisted of just two aeroplanes, both Westland limousines!

The specifications of British Transport aeroplanes range from the 1918 D.H. 4A which cruised at about 100 m.p.h. to modern air-liners, and the 364 photographs are both of absorbing appeal to aeronautical historians (the pioneer airliners, Croydon aerodrome’s level-crossing, Heston, etc.) and of great interest to all who, like racing drivers and journalists, make much use of air travel. There are eight maps, covering air routes from 1929 onwards.

A table of the main fatal accidents involving U.K.-registered civil transport aeroplanes in peacetime is reassuring, especially when studied in conjunction with the mileage statistics (B.O.A.C. in 1960/61, 64,948,897 miles; B.E.A., 1960/61, 40,150,667 miles). Since 1920, when a Handley Page 0/400 crashed near Cricklewood and four people were killed, there were no major fatal accidents in the years 1921, 1925-6-7-8, 1931-2, 1951; the worst year was 1948 when there were seven crashes, involving B.E.A. Vickers Viking at Ruislip, B.S.A.A. Avo Tudor in the Atlantic, B.E.A. Vickers Viking over Berlin, a Skyways’ D.H. Dove at Valence, Hargreaves Airways’ D.H. 89 in the I.o.M., a B.O.A.C. Douglas DC-1 at Cap Sicie and a Mannin Airways’ D.H. 89 in the Mersey ; 62 being killed altogether. – W. B.

“Men, Women and 10,000 Kites,” by Gabriel Voisin. 248 pp. 8 3/4 in. x 5 1/2 in. (Putnam & Co. Ltd., 42, Great Russell Street, London, W.C.1. 30s.)

Here is another book which students of aeronautics will welcome, a translation by Oliver Stewart from the French of 84 year-old Gabriel Voisin’s life story, of how he flirted, fornicated and flew aeroplanes. The going is a bit heavy and, as Voisin is telling his own story, some of the accounts may well be biased. But any contribution to the annals of the past by such a great figure as Voisin must earn attention if not respect,

The book incorporates pictures of the box-kite and pioneer period of flying and concludes with a remarkable document wherein Voisin sets out to prove that the Wright brothers’ first real powered flight took place, not in 1903, but on May 6th, 1908, by which time, Voisin has it, they were using a French Barriquand et Marre engine. They were, says Voisin, beaten to it by l’Eole, designed and built by Clement Ader.

Be that as it may, I am surprised to find, on page 209, that the highest speed attained by a car in 1958 is quoted from France-Soir as being that of John Cobb, at 270 m.p.h. In 1958 this honour belonged to Cobb, at 394.196 m.p.h.

“Men, Women and 10,000 Kites” gives some interesting details of Voisin compared to other aeroplanes of the 1914/18 war. The book concludes with a reference to a Panhard-Levassor light car, the design of which Artaud and Dufréne bought back, after Citroën had refused it as too luxurious and sold, with the prototype, to Voisin, who commenced to produce it from 1918 onwards, leading to Voisin Automobiles which built a total of 27,000 vehicles at Issy. Voisin whets the appetite of vintage-car enthusiasts by concluding : “… thirty years later Voisins are still to be found on the market in excellent condition.”

He has told the story of his car-producing years in another book, “My 1,000 Cars.” I hope Putnam will decide to have this one translated and so enter the motor-book field. – W.B.