I was highly intrigued by the letter from my fellow Dane J D Scheel in your November issue, which raised the question whether Sir Mansfield Cumming (alias `C’, the first Chief of MI6) took part in the Paris-Madrid race in 1903. Only a few days prior to reading Mr Scheel’s letter I came across Sir Mansfield’s name in some of the old Wolseley car records. In those days he was plain Lieutenant Mansfield Cumming, RN, but die records proved that in 1903, he took delivery of one of the special racing Wolseleys, more precisely described as a Gordon Bennett type.
Sir Mansfield Cumming is, perhaps for the obvious reason, not the easiest person to compile biographical notes on; neither Who Was Who nor Burke’s is terribly helpful, he did not merit an obituary in The Times, and has not made it Into the Dictionary of National Biography. However, he was born in 1859, the son of a Colonel Smith; he joined the Navy as a boy and was a career officer. We know he was still a Lieutenant in 1903, and he only made it to a Captaincy.
He married twice. His second wife’s surname was Cumming which he then assumed; whether he hyphenated Smith and Cumming depends on which reference book you believe. I believe that his child (or children?) were of the second marriage, and I consider it unlikely that he had a son old enough to act as a racing mechanic in 1903! He retired at the end of the First World War and was created a Knight Commander of St Michael and St George in 1919. He died in 1923.
Cumming is probably best described as a gentleman amateur, and one suspects that his racing career never progressed after 1903 (by which time he was 44 years of age). Certainly by 1906 he must have retired from motor racing, otherwise surely his name would have cropped up in WB’s exhaustive tome on Brooklands?
Summing up, I would agree with Mr Scheel that it is extremely unlikely that Sir Mansfield Cumming took part in the Paris-Madrid. One suspects that the master of deception successfully deceived G R N Minchin . . .
ANDERS CLAUSAGER Wolseley Register Historian Moseley, Birmingham
According to Gerald Rose, the four Wolseleys which started the 1903 Paris-Madrid race were the 45 hp cars of Herbert Austin and Foster, and the 50 hp cars of Girling and Porter. None finished, Porter’s crashing into closed level-crossing gates and catching fire, killing Nixon the mechanic. WB